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Blake stormed their fastnesses. His fellows seemed amphibious. They fought as well on land as on water. It was hard work driving out the cavaliers, but it was at last accomplished. When Blake curled his moustache and said it ought to be done, you might rely upon his doing it.
The next important event with which the name of Robert Blake became illustrious was the war with the Hollanders. There was much of kindred feeling between the Dutchmen of the United Provinces and the men of the English Commonwealth; both were Protestant States; both had won their freedom; both were busy in conserving their religious. and political liberties; but the Dutchmen had erred in their estimate of English prowess, they had delayed alliance when it should have been concluded, they had grown jealous of our increasing power, confident of their own invincibility, and "drifted" into war. They carried on the largest trade in the world, and English money circulated freely in the exchange of Rotterdam and Amsterdam, and many a wealthy burgomaster might trace his fortune to commercial dealings with the English. Great, therefore, was the dismay of the Dutch when the Navigation Act was passed by the British Parliament, declaring that no goods, the produce of Asia, Africa, or America, should be imported into England, except in ships belonging to subjects of the English Commonwealth. It was a deadly blow to the Dutch trade. The Dutch ambassador urged the repeal of the law, and went so far as to hint that Holland was prepared to defend its interests. That menace was enough. Parliament claimed those honours to the Red Cross of England in the narrow seas which had been nominally held since the days of Saxon Alfred, and this led to a speedy rupture.
Blake was cruizing in the channel, and there he came up with the Dutch fleet, commanded by Van Tromp. When he observed Van Tromp bear nearer to his fleet than he had any occasion to do, he saluted him with two guns loaded with powder only, to put him in mind of striking his flag; upon which, in contempt, the latter fired on the contrary side of his ship. Blake then fired a second and third gun, which were answered with a broadside. The English admiral, perceiving that Van Tromp's intention was to fight, detached himself from the rest of his fleet to treat with him, and thus prevent the effusion of blood; but when Blake approached, Van Tromp, contrary to the law of nations-the English admiral having come with a design to treat-fired on him a whole broadside. Blake was in his cabin, little expecting to be thus saluted, when the shot broke the windows, and shattered the stern of the ship; this put
him into a violent passion, and curling his whiskers, as he used to do whenever he was angry, he commanded his men to answer the Dutch in his own coin. Blake singly sustained the attack of the Dutch fleet for some time, till his other ships and the squadron under Bourne could join him, and then the engagement grew hot on both sides, when night put an end to it, and the Dutch retired with the loss of two ships, but without taking or destroying any of the English. Blake lost fifteen men in this engagement, and was engaged for four hours with the main body of the Dutch fleet, during which time his ship received a thousand shot. He ascribed his preservation to the particular blessing of God, and his success to the justice of his cause, the Dutch having first attacked him upon the English coasts.
After this signal triumph, Blake remained absolute and invincible in the narrow seas. In less than a month he sent into the Thames more than forty rich prizes. His success reanimated the courage of the Parliament, forty sail and six fire ships were added to the fleet, the navy increased, and the men's wages raised. By the end of the summer the admiral had under his command 105 vessels, carrying 3961 guns.
The Dutchmen witnessed these preparations with concern, but not with dismay; their vast resources and inflexible spirit suggested preparations on an equally magnificent scale. Their renowned admiral was placed in command of a fleet of 120 sail, many of the vessels larger and better equipped than had ever ridden in northern waters. It was confidently supposed by the Hollanders that this fleet would effectually sweep away the English ships, and settle at once the question of English supremacy.
But there was another question which had first to be settled. The Dutch carried on an extensive fishing trade, and every year they fished among the northern islands, and their nets were sweltered with silvery spoil. Their right to fish in these waters was denied by the English, as our own fishermen suffered severely from the invasion. Blake knew that six hundred fishing boats, under a convoy of twelve men-of-war, had appeared among the northern islands, so he fired a parting salute and sailed for that latitude. When he came up with the Dutch he found the draught of fish to have been enormous; the boats or herring busses as they were called were well freighted, and the men-of-war ready to show fight. Blake commenced the attack, and the engagement lasted three hours. It ended in the destruction of three and the capture of nine of the guard ships. The whole fleet of busses was at the mercy of the
conqueror. He might have taken all, but he knew that their boats were the property of poor men, and that their freight was human food; demanding therefore only a tithe of the herrings, he allowed the Dutch fishers to depart unmolested, and was blamed at home as quixotic, rather than applauded as a type of that true chivalry, of which poor Quixot was a parody.
In the meantime Van Tromp appeared with 102 men-of-war and 10 fire ships in the Downs, and Kent was in arms to repel the menacing invader. From Deal to Sandown a double platform was erected mounted with cannon to sweep the shore should the Dutch attempt to land. But a calm kept the enemy as though at anchor in mid channel, and when a breeze sprung up, it blew off shore so that the Dutch were unable to fire in even a broadside. Finding himself baffled, Van Tromp turned his attention to the trading interests of his country. He saw the Baltic traders through the Sounds, the busses disperse to their fishing stations, the Indiamen separate to pursue their several voyages; and then he went and looked out for Blake. But a frightful tempest, in which, in the words of a Dutch writer, the ships "were buried by the sea in the most horrible abysses, and rose out of them only to be tossed up to the clouds," separated the combatants, and completely disabled the Dutch fleet. Blake's ship suffered, but the damage they sustained was slight in comparison with those under the command of Van Tromp, who returned to Holland with forty-two sail only, and was mobbed and dishonoured for a failure which had nothing whatever to do with want of either skill or courage.
A new squadron was rapidly fitted out by the Dutch, and Admirals De Witt and De Ruiter took the supreme command. They fell in with Blake off the North Foreland, and after a long and obstinate battle were disastrously beaten. With this defeat the elements could not be charged, and the Dutchmen began to suspect that they had dealt too hastily and harshly with their old commander Tromp. He was invited to resume his former position, a new fleet was prepared, and accepting the command the old admiral set sail.
It was winter, and in those days a winter campaign was scarcely ever contemplated. Blake had made his usual distribution of the fleet, and, ignorant of the activity in Dutch dockyards, or of the reappointment of Tromp, was unprepared for a great battle. Well aware of this, Tromp appeared off the Goodwins, challenging an engagement. Blake resolved