Since ancient times, naval battles had been largely a matter of melee and mayhem, of one-on-one ship rammings and brawling deck fights. But the 17th century would see a major advance in the way fleets fought: the line of battle—ships a’sail in single file, pouring broadsides into the enemy. It was a revolution in naval warfare—and it came along as England and Holland vied for dominance of the seas.
The three naval wars waged between these rivals “would be the bloodiest in history,” notes historian Clark G. Reynolds. England had triumphed in the first war (1652–54) and also had won the first round—the June 1665 Battle of Lowestoft—in this, the following clash of the emerging empires. And the fight looming in the spring of 1666 was destined to be, in terms of scale and duration, not only the most epic naval battle of the Second Anglo-Dutch War, or of the century, but of an entire age. The protracted, cannon-blasting slugfest would carry on for four long days. Frank L Fox, whose book on the Four Days’ Battle is the definitive volume on the subject, aptly dubs it “the Greatest Sea Fight of the Age of Sail.”
William Laird Clowes, The Royal Navy: A History from the Earliest Times to 1900, vol. 2 (London: Samson, Lowe, Marston, and Company, 1898), 266–78.
Frank L Fox, The Four Days’ Battle of 1666: The Greatest Sea Fight of the Age of Sail (Yorkshire, UK: Seaforth, 2018), 182–270.
David Howarth, British Sea Power: How Britain Became Sovereign of the Seas (New York: Carroll & Graf, 2003), 216–18.
Clark G. Reynolds, Navies in History (Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1998), 50–57.
N. A. M. Rodger, The Command of the Ocean: A Naval History of Great Britain, 1649–1815 (New York: W. W. Norton, 2004), 71–75.