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men-of-war with 5000 guns, and 22,000 men, 16 fireships and others, making up the whole number to one hundred vessels. His own flagship was called the Seven Provinces, carrying 80 guns and 500 men, and was considered as a marvel of shipbuilding. The young
Prince of Orange brought the Elector of Brandenburg to visit the fleet at the Texel, when many manoeuvres were performed, so as to make a sort of naval review, ending by a grand dinner on board the flagship. The Prince made a liberal largesse, and one of the crew of the Seven Provinces thought to delight him by climbing the topgallant mast and there standing on his head; but the cool-headed William was disgusted at such foolhardiness, and De Ruyter would have punished it but for the intercession of the Elector of Brandenburg.
The English fleet had 81 ships of the line in the Downs, under Prince Rupert, the Duke of Albemarle, Sir George Ayscue, and Sir Thomas Allen. The three months' grace were over, and the Duke of Beaufort was reported to be at Bellisle meditating an attack, while the Dutch fleet was said to be not ready to put to sea. In consequence Rupert started with twenty-five ships in pursuit of the French, but both reports were untrue, the French were in the Mediterranean, and the Dutch had sailed out in three divisions, under De Ruyter, Cornelis van Tromp, and Cornelis Evertsen.
On the 1st of June, Albemarle was astonished at the sight of the sea covered with ships at anchor off the North Foreland. His numbers were inferior through the absence of Rupert's squadron, but he had criticised the caution of Sandwich and felt himself bound to give battle, while, moreover, his vessels, though fewer, were the larger. About one o'clock, therefore, Ayscue, under the white flag, begun the battle with Van Tromp. The combat was tremendous, neither gaining a decided advantage, though Van Tromp's ship was 80 much damaged as to be unmanageable, and two of his squadron were blown up.
Albemarle and Sir Thomas Tiddyman engaged De Ruyter and Evertsen, and there was a continued exchange of broadsides till five o'clock, but on the whole with advantage to the Dutch, as the English were too heavily weighted with guns. Albemarle finally signalled a retreat, fearing to be entangled in the Flemish sands. The Swiftsure, where Sir William Berkeley had done wonders in the onset, was so much damaged as to lag behind, when, in spite of her constant broadsides, she was boarded by Captain Adrianson, and there was a desperate fight on her deck. Sir William, with his back to the companion ladder, refused to yield, and fought on, till a pistol shot struck him in the throat. He dropped his sword, and rushed to the cabin, where Adriansen following, found him fallen across the table quite dead. Distinguished respect was paid to his body.
The battle was renewed on the following day, sixteen more ships having joined the Dutch. Again they fought all day, the most remarkable part of the combat being at the close, when Sir John Harman, Rear-Admiral of the white, was slowly drawing off in his much-damaged Injury. Evertsen sent a fireship after him so enveloped in smoke that no grappling-irons could be seen, even when they had seized the ship. The boatswain sprang into a boat, and with his axe cut the irons off, but a second flaming ship came up. Fifty men in terror jumped overboard, the rigging caught fire, but Harman, sword in hand, restored discipline, had water thrown over the masts, and the Alaming spars cut down. One of these struck him, but though badly scorched and with a crushed leg, he continued to give orders, and the second fireship was sent adrift. Evertsen despatched a third, but the guns of the Injury sunk this midway, and the final broadside gave Cornelis Evertsen his death-wound, while the brave Harman steered for Harwich, and there recovered.
Monk stood for the Thames, and all the next day and all night the battle continued. Monk took all the men out of his disabled ships and left them behind burning, but he had only fifty left, and in the evening tbe Royal Prince, the largest English vessel, with 100 guns, commanded by Ayscue, ran aground on the Galloper sandbank. Albemarle signalled that he could not help her, and Tromp coming up on one side and a fireship on the other, Ayscue was forced to surrender. He and his officers and his most unwilling men were removed, and as De Ruyter thought so large and heavy a prize would be dangerous, he ordered her to be burnt. Tromp was forced to obey, much to his mortification, but the sailors remembered that it was the anniversary of the explosion of the Eendraght, and cheered enthusiastically when she blew up.
By this time Prince Rupert had come back from his fruitless quest of the French, and his arrival with fresh ships swelled the English; but morning showed the Dutch in a desperate condition, and in spite of the Admiral's signals all his abips made sail homewards except that of his Vice-Admiral Van Ness, who came on board the Seven Provinces.
• What can we do?' said De Ruyter; ‘I wish I was dead.'
So do I,' said Van Ness; but we can always die when we like. Let us promise not to part company wherever we go.'
They shook hands and went on deck, and the next moment a cannon ball came through the cabin window and shattered the chairs they had been sitting upon.
Albemarle hoping to have taken De Ruyter prisoner, sent a fireship against him, but the Seven Provinces avoided this, and after one more fierce and desperate onset, the English fleet could not venture into the shallows on the coast of Holland, where their enemies were familiar with the currents; and thus, in spite of their great victory, they had only captured two ships, though they had killed two Admirals, seven captains, and 1800 men, while their own loss was ten ships and 3700 men, besides 2000 prisoners. Some French
officers who were on board were so much struck with De Ruyter's courage and skill, and wrote such an account of it, that Louis XIV. wrote him a letter with his own hand, and sent him the order of St. Michael. As Van Tromp was disgraced by the States for his insubordination, Louis sent him an offer of the command of his own fleet with a huge salary; but Cornelis was too true a patriot to accept this proposal, and remained for a time in private life.
A less faithful Dutchman assisted Sir Robert Holmes to take advantage of the shattered state of the fleet of Holland, by taking a squadron of boats and fireships into the channel between Ulle and Schelling, where 150 merchant ships and two men-of-war bound for the Baltic were lying. They were all burnt, with the neighbouring town of Brandaris, and De Witt was so bitterly enraged that he swore that the war should never cease till he had had his revenge. By the beginning of September De Ruyter was at sea with his repaired fleet, Rupert had gone south hoping to join the Duke of Beaufort, so that Monk's numbers were reduced to sixty-one ships, while De Ruyter had only sixty-four much battered vessels. The two fleets still watched one another, while repairing, and on WhitMonday, the 14th of June, the combat began again, with a desperate and undecided battle, which was ended by a thick fog separating the fleets, when both were frightfully damaged and quite exhausted. Still on the whole, if the weather had been clear, the Dutch would have been the winners; but probably no naval battle ever equalled in fury and obstinacy this combat of giants, as the French historian Sismondi calls it, off the North Foreland.
Charles was at church when the news came to him, and he interrupted the service to have thanks given as for a victory. This offended the people, who held it as a deliverance instead of a victory, and were very sore at the loss of the Royal Prince and the shattered state of the rest of the fleet.
John de Witt was impressed by the English valour. They may be killed,' he said, “they cannot be conquered.' The Dutch rejoiced as for a great victory, and in nineteen days another fleet of sixty was ready. Well might Ayscue exclaim, You have a prompt nation. old John Evertsen came forward again, as patriotically as ever, and on the 2nd of August fought another battle in the same waters, in a calm, the small amount of wind being in favour of the English. Old Evertsen was attacked by Sir Thomas Allen, and the lack of wind prevented De Ruyter from coming to his assistance. The gallant old man died on his deck, a fate he probably preferred to another return as a defeated man to an ungenerous populace.
De Ruyter fought ship to ship with Monk, but had to draw off. Van Tromp had disobeyed orders, and thus had been drawn away in pursuit of Sir Jeremy Smith, so that there was no one to support the little exhausted squadron of the Admiral-in-Chief, where there were so many dead and wounded men that it was difficult to get the guns properly served, and Prince Rupert, spreading his ships into a crescent form, shut them in on three sides. Night gave a respite to the English Channel, but there was a good deal of sickness on board, and De Ruyter had been very severely injured by a fragment of burning fuse which had struck him in the throat. Moreover, Prince Rupert with his fleet appeared midway, and the Dutch were too dispirited to fight with their Admiral unfit to command, so they ran into Boulogne harbour; while Rupert went to encounter the French under the former roi des halles ; but the dry, hot east wind which had blown all the summer suddenly changed, and drove him back to take shelter at St. Helen's, on the 5th of September, while Beaufort got safely into Dieppe.
That wind was a memorable one elsewhere. It had been a hotter summer than even the last, the season of the plague, and everything was dried up, water very scarce, when on the 2nd of September about 2 A.M., a fire was detected in a bakehouse in Pudding Lane, near Fish Street Hill. Water was not to be had, the pipes from the New River were empty, and the whisper ran about that a Papist named Grant had been seen turning off the water. The warehouses holding marine stores soon caught fire, and by the next night all Gracechurch Street was burnt, and the flames were spreading all along the riverside. The Lord Mayor Budworth had hurried to the spot; but at first he did not believe in the urgency of the need, and would not call in the aid of the soldiery, and then he lost his head, and, though active enough, was of little use, and when an old woman advised the blowing up of a row of houses to check the progress of the flames, he demurred because he needed the consent of their owners.
The wind rose more and more, and the flames leapt from roof to roof, seizing on places that seemed out of reach. The night, for ten miles round, was as light as day, and a vast and awful column of smoke and flame extended to the sky, broken by the wind into flakes of fire which carried the destruction further and further. In the midst, the cry broke out that the French, or the Dutch, or the Papists were burning the city and about to massacre the inhabitants; but though this added to the terror, no blood was shed, and indeed the loss of life from the flames was very slight.
The King and Duke of York brought the power of command and organisation. They divided the city into districts, put the Privy Councillors in charge of each, brought in the soldiery, and were always to be found where the need was most urgent and the danger greatest. They took upon themselves to blow up the houses, but till the storm of the 5th abated, the wind often carried the flakes of fire over the spaces, and it was impossible to save St. Paul's Cathedral; though the Duke's resolution, in demolishing all food for fire round the Temple, saved that ancient Church, and on the 6th, the King in like manner preserved Whitehall and Westminster Abbey. On the afternoon of the 6th, the wind began to subside, and with it, the fire; but there was another outbreak in the night near the Temple, and only the King's promptitude, in the demolition of the houses near the Tower, prevented the flames from reaching the magazines there.
By the middle of Friday, the 7th, the fire was really dying down, after raging for five days, though it smouldered in the ruins for weeks after. People observed that it had begun at Pudding Lane and ended at Pie Corner. All the space between the Tower and the Temple lay in ashes, St. Paul's was a black pile of ruins, so were eighty-eight more churches, the Exchange, the Custom House, part of the Guildhall, almost all the beautiful old halls of the City Companies, four of the City gates, 400 streets, containing 13,200 houses, and between three or four millions of property. Some goods, chiefly books, had been stored in the crypt of St. Paul's as a safe place, but they were so heated as to burst forth into flame four days after when the air touched them, and completed the utter destruction of the Cathedral buildings.
In the fields, chiefly between Highgate and Islington, were 200,000 houseless people, most of them beggared. Charles, who for once was showing the better side of the character of Henri IV., exerted himself with all his might to have them fed and lodged, and work in repairing soon was to be found. There was an inquiry into the cause of the fire. A poor mad Frenchman accused himself, but was so evidently insane that he was not convicted, and there could be do reasonable doubt that the fire was the result of accident. Still the habit of attributing every misfortune to the Papists made it habitual with the populace to reproach them with the fire on every occasion when hatred broke out against them.
Rebuilding was next to be undertaken. People flocked back to the ruins, helped by friends, and set up little sheds, and John Evelyn, and Christopher Wren, the nephew of the Bishop of Ely, who had suffered so much during the Rebellion, both sent in plans for a new and splendid city on a regular scheme. Rights of property, however, interfered with any such system, but the ruins were cleared, and enough of St. Paul's patched up for a solemn service of fasting and mourning on the occasion of the fire held on the 10th of October. William Sancroft, who had been made Bishop of London on Sheldon's promotion, preached an eloquent, plain-speaking sermon on the vices of the nation, not sparing Charles himself, who was present, and again showed himself like his Bourbon grandfather, by honouring, though not obeying, the plain-spoken preacher.
St. Paul's, however, was past repair, and Wren was commissioned to prepare plans for that and for many more of the London churches, not reproducing their Gothic architecture, which the taste of the time despised, but in that adaptation of the Classic style to modern requirements which is known as Palladian, from Palladio, an Italian architect of the cinque cento.