White Jacket (mr_machiavelli) wrote in sailhistory,
White Jacket

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A poem on the battle of Chatham

I recently managed to finally acquire the diaries of Samuel Pepys, secretary to the admiralty in the reign of Charles II and James II. On the accounts of the Netherlandic raid upon Chatham, a poem was included by one Sir John Denham from Poems on State Affairs. The poem in question relates the story of the Netherlandic conquest of the Thames at the close of the third Anglo-Dutch war (1665-1667). As a Netherlander I find these poems very interesting, but I thought I would not only be indulging in shameless chauvinism, but also offer something which some of you might find useful yourselves. Since, of course, it also tells of the neglectful state of the English defenses under Charles II, who would not even be bothered during all of these events, instead opting to isolate himself in Whitehall palace with friends. In either event, I present to you Sir John Denham's poem;

"Painter! Let thine art describe a story,
Shaming our warlike island's ancient glory:
A scene which never on our seas appeared
Since our first ships were on the ocean steered;
Make the Dutch fleet, while we supinely sleep,
Without opposers, Masters of the deep;
Make them securely the Thames-mouth invade,
At once depriving us of that, and trade;
Draw thunder from their floating castles, sent
Against our forts, weak as our government:
Draw Woolwich, Deptford, London, and the Tower,
Meanly abandoned to a foreign power.
Yet turn their first attempt another way
And let their cannons upon Sheerness play;
Which soon destroyed, their lofty vessells ride,
Big with the hope of the approaching tide:
Make them more help from our remissness find,
Than from the tide, or from the eastern wind,
Their canvass swelling with a prosperous gale,
Swift as our fears make them to Chatham sail:
Through our weak chain their fire-ships break their way,
And our great ships (unmanned) become their prey,
Then draw the fruit of our ill-managed coast,
At once our honour and our safety lost:
Bury those bulwarks of our isle in smoke,
With their thick flames the neighbouring country choak;
The Charles* escapes the raging element,
To be with triumph into Holland sent;
Where the glad people to the shore resort,
To see their terror now become their sport.
But, Painter! fill not up thy piece before
Thou paint'st confusion on our troubled shore:
Instruct then thy bold pencil to relate
The saddest marks of an ill-governed state.
Draw th' injured seamen deaf to all command,
While some with horror and amazament stand:
Others will know enemy but they
Who have unjustly robbed them of their pay;
Boldly refusing to oppose a fire,
To kindle which our errors did conspire:
Some (though but a few) persuaded to obey,
Useless, for want of ammunition, stay:
The forts designed to guard our ships of war,
Void both of powder and of bullets are:
And what past reigns in peace did ne'er omit,
The present (whilst invaded) doth forget."

*The Charles mentioned here is not King Charles II, but the ship Royal Charles which took part in the sacking and burning of the Netherlandic coastal town of Scheveningen at the onset of the Anglo-Dutch wars. The Royal Charles was one of the ships taken as a prize in retribution to committed English atrocities, hence the line: "Where the people to the shore resort, to see their terror now become their sport."

The conquest of the Thames resulted in the signing of the Peace of Breda shortly thereafter, as English diplomats suddenly showed far greater willingness to compromise to Dutch demands.
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