The Battle of Kijkduin was the last battle in the Third Anglo-Dutch War, a final attempt by the combined Anglo-French fleet to make the Dutch fleet under Michiel de Ruyter give up its position behind the sandbanks and clear the way for an invasion from the sea.
Initially, in view of the enemy’s great superiority (140 ships against 75), De Ruyter preferred a defensive posture, but during the Prince’s visit to the fleet on August 12, 1673, it was decided to attack, partly to clear the way for a particularly rich return fleet. This was not to fall into the hands of the English, because this would enable them to prolong the war financially. The coast was considered to be sufficiently defended by artillery and troops to take this step.
De Ruyter then sailed to Texel in search of the enemy, whom he forced into battle off the coast at Kijkduin on 21 August. The vanguard under Banckert attacked the French squadron commanded by the Comte d’Estrees. Initially the French offered fierce resistance, but they soon withdrew and took no further part in the battle.
De Ruyter engaged with the Red Squadron, led by Prince Rupert on the Royal Sovereign, and was later joined in it by the vanguard under Banckert. Against this cooperation, Rupert was not up to the task and he diverted to the west, partly to come to the aid of his rearguard, the blue squadron under Sir Edward Spragge. This was heavily harassed by the captain of the Dutch rearguard, Cornelis Tromp.
Both flagships relentlessly strafed each other and the admirals had to repeatedly change ships because their original bottoms were shot to pieces. During one of these changes, Spragge’s sloop was struck by a cannonball, killing the admiral.
Rupert and De Ruyter again clashed, but when the former perceived that he could expect no more help from the French, he had to give up the battle and accept the retreat.
No ships were captured on either side. However, on the English side many ships were badly damaged and many lives were lost, while only four of De Ruyter’s fleet had to be sent home for repairs and he himself could stay at sea for another full month. Typical of the discipline that prevailed under De Ruyter is the fact that reports from the time mention that the Dutch fired two to three shots in the time that the English fired one shot. Unlike both battles at Schooneveld earlier that year which remained undecided, the Battle of Kijkduin was a clear victory for De Ruyter. In early 1674, peace was concluded.
The painting depicts the duel between Cornelis Tromp and Sir Edward Spragge, at the moment when the great mast of the Royal Prince is shot off. In the foreground an English ship of the blue squadron sinks. The sailors jump overboard and try to get to safety in a lifeboat. This is not historically accurate, as this was the third time both fleets had clashed without losing a single ship except for some burners and the English yacht Henrietta.
Storck may have taken this liberty to indicate that this was a Dutch victory. On the left in the background Isaac Sweers’ White Elephant, which was helpful in repelling the Blue Squadron.