The British Fleet at the Battle of Solebay, 28 May 1672

This week, this blog returns to one of its principal focuses, raising awareness of seventeenth century naval history and particularly that of the ‘Restoration age’. To that end, I’m delighted to welcome back, as a guest blogger, Frank Fox, the author of Great Ships: The Battlefleet of King Charles II and The Four Days Battle of 1666. For some time, Frank and I have been attempting to put together a more definitive listing of the British ships that fought at the battle of Solebay than any currently available in other sources, and this is the outcome.

NB I’m aware that the formatting of this post is askew on mobile devices, so I’d strongly recommend that you read it on a PC or laptop. 


The intensely violent Battle of Solebay, fought on 28 May 1672 (7 July, New Style) was the first of four great fleet actions of the Third Anglo-Dutch War.  The outnumbered Dutch under Michiel de Ruyter surprised the Anglo-French fleet under James, Duke of York, lying at anchor in Southwold Bay (Solebay).  A Dutch fireship burned the first-rate Royal James, killing Admiral of the Blue Squadron Edward Montagu, Earl of Sandwich, and hundreds of others.  The Dutch lost two smaller vessels.  Though indecisive in material terms, Solebay was a strategic victory for the Dutch in frustrating the allies’ hopes for an early invasion of the Netherlands by sea.

In this battle the French formed the van squadron of the allied fleet, taking up what the British normally called the White Squadron.  The Duke of York’s Red Squadron was in the centre, and the Blue Squadron formed the rear.  The French and Dutch squadrons at Solebay are known in considerable detail and with reasonable confidence, but the British fleet is not.[1]  For over 70 years, the usual source for the British squadrons has been R. C. Anderson’s Journals and Narratives of the Third Dutch War (Navy Records Society, London, 1946).[2]  As we noted on this blogsite two years ago concerning the Battle of the Texel, Dr Anderson compiled his fleet lists when the Public Record Office (as it was then known) and the British Museum had not yet reopened after World War II.  He relied on published sources and the Dartmouth MSS which the National Maritime Museum had secured at his home well removed from London.  He thought the closed repositories would add little to what he already had.  This indeed sufficed to show that the French authorities who had listed the British squadrons were badly in error.  But the limitations in his sources made it impossible to produce more than minor improvements.  Using evidence unavailable to him, we find that he omitted three men-of-war present throughout (the Constant Warwick, Richmond, and Garland) plus several that arrived later in the day.  He had not enough information to show the intended order of fighting, placed the Advice and Success in the wrong squadrons, and offered nothing on warships smaller than fifth-rates, or fireships.  We address these wants below as best we can.

Of greatest importance, one of us (Davies) found among the Egerton Manuscripts in the British Library an extensive but incomplete English casualty list for Solebay recorded on the order of battle as it stood on the morning of 28 May 1672.[3]  That this is the fighting order is apparent from comparing the Egerton document with other fleet lists drawn up earlier:  the ships present at the Buoy of the Nore on 2 May given in Lieutenant John Narbrough’s journal printed by Dr Anderson [4] and two other preliminary versions of the order of battle in The National Archives dating from the end of April and early May.[5]  Of the 43 ships that appear in these sources and the Egerton list, all are in the same stations relative to each other.

On 28 May, the British squadrons had fifty men-of-war of the fourth rate or larger.  Fifth- and sixth-rates normally were not in the battle-line, so their names are indented in the list below.  There was, however, an oddity in the Solebay fleet.  A misaligned column in a printed fleet list issued by the Lord High Admiral on 30 April made the 28-gun fifth-rate Forester appear as a fourth-rate.[6]  Perhaps because of this, the little Forester was assigned a place in the main line.  What her captain, Henry Killigrew, chose to do in the event is unknown.  As usual in large seventeenth-century British fleets from 1665 on, the vice-admiral of the Blue Squadron commanded the rear division so a fairly senior flag-officer would be in charge at the head of the line if the fleet fought in reverse order – as it did on this occasion.

Several vessels unlisted on the order of battle of 28 May were not far from the fleet when the Dutch opened fire about 7 a.m.  The fifth-rates Guernsey and Mermaid and the sixth-rate Portsmouth sloop were at Harwich for minor repairs and maintenance, while the sixth-rate Drake came there early that morning with a message from the fleet.  The fifth-rate Algier was scouting nearby off the Gunfleet Sand, and the Henrietta yacht was en route from the Downs to Southwold.  On hearing the broadsides all rushed for the scene, the Drake ignoring orders to stay and have her hull tallowed.  The battle extended over a vast area, even south of Aldborough, so these vessels had to sail only 10-12 miles to be in sight of the fighting.  The winds were foul, however, so the recruits would have taken a while to get there.  The Henrietta yacht joined the fleet at 3 p.m., though the arrival times of the others are not recorded.[7]  Perhaps the last was the Mermaid which was preparing for careening and had to frantically hoist her guns back aboard before sailing, as related by her Swedish captain, Eric Sieubladh.[8]  These ships probably never reached their intended posts along the line, but these are indicated below (‘R-v’, for instance, means Red Squadron, vice-admiral’s division).

For the sixteen fireships that took part, stations are known for most from early versions of the order of battle and accounts of the action.[9]  We give the fireships in a separate list, identifying their divisions except three unrecorded.

Because Admiralty and Ordnance Office records are weak and conflicting for the first half of 1672, we give guns and complements mostly as shown in the order of battle of August 1672.[10]  These agree (with explainable exceptions) with reliable data from July 1673.[11]  Manning figures are intended complements.  Most ships were undermanned, though not all – a muster aboard the fleet flagship Prince the day before the action showed 965 men aboard including the Duke of York’s retinue.[12]

The Egerton MSS order of battle and casualty list is an extremely valuable document, but it is not quite complete; the numbers of wounded are missing for all of the hardest-hit ships.  The explanation is that after a battle, the division muster-masters needed to know the men killed immediately because this directly affected their oversight of the ships’ books.  The wounded list could wait.  In this event, the seriously damaged ships retired into the Thames before reporting their wounded.  However, one of us (Fox) found a second casualty list compiled by Navy Commissioner Anthony Deane a week after the battle for the thirteen damaged ships that had gone to Sheerness Dockyard.[13]  These fill the major gaps in the Egerton MSS data.  A few conflicts are here resolved in favour of Deane’s later, corrected numbers.  Casualties are still lacking for some vessels, perhaps because they were not with their divisions the day after the action.  The horrific losses in the burned Royal James are nowhere recorded, so our figure is an uncertain guess.  Asterisks in the list below indicate ships lost, and commanders killed.

Special Acknowledgement:  Many thanks to Effie Moneypenny for photographing documents in the British Library, The National Archives, and the Caird Library of the National Maritime Museum. 




RED SQUADRON     James, Duke of York, Prince


Rate         Ship                 Guns    Men    Captain                             Casualties

                                                                                                          K             W

Van Division

3             Resolution           68       400    John Berry                        30           72

4             Bristol                  54       220    Charles Wilde                    4

1             London                100    750     V.A. Sir Edward Spragge  11           28

2             Old James           70        500    John Hayward                  12           20

4             Sweepstakes       40        170    George Canning                1             3

3             Dunkirk               64        340    Francis Courtney

4             Diamond              48       220    Thomas Foulis                    10           25

3             Monck                  58       340    Bernard Ludman                  8           14

5             Dartmouth           40       150     Richard Sadlington              1             7


Centre Division


4             Yarmouth            52           240    Robert Werden                  1             7

3             Dreadnought      58           360    Arthur Herbert                    2             14

3             Cambridge         70           400    Sir Frescheville Holles*     28           18

3             Fairfax [14]         66           400    George Legge                  30           42

2             Victory                84           600    Earl of Ossory                   24           68

1             Prince                 100          900    Sir John Cox*                   43           52

6             Fanfan                  4             30      John Pybus

1             St Michael           98           700    Sir Robert Holmes            31           90

3             Monmouth         70           400     Richard Beach                  19           34

4             Adventure           40           170     John Tyrwhitt

2             Royal Katherine   76           530    Sir John Chicheley           49           55

4             Phoenix               40           185     Richard Le Neve               1             10

5            Garland                34           150     John Wyborne                   2


Rear Division


3             York                     58           340      Thomas Elliott                    14           35

4             Greenwich           60           280       Levi Greene                       2             5

3             Anne                    60           340       John Waterworth*              11           11

1             Charles              100          750       R.A. Sir John Harman        50           79

2             Rainbow              56           410        James Storey                   32           104

5             Forester               28           140        Henry Killigrew                   2             3

4             Dover                   54           200        John Ernle                         12           23

4             Constant Warwick 40           170       Thomas Hamilton

5             Success                 30           155        George Watson                 2             2



BLUE SQUADRON      Edward Montagu, Earl of Sandwich*, Royal James*


Van Division


3             Gloucester              58           340      William Coleman                  23           22

4             Bonaventure           48           220      Richard Trevanion                3             10

2             St George                64           400     Jeffrey Pearce*                     18           22

1             St Andrew               98           750     R.A. Sir John Kempthorne     20           61

6             Spy sloop                 4             30      John Withers

3             Warspite                  70           400     Robert Robinson                   11           14

4             Antelope                  48           220     Richard White                         3             4

3             French Ruby            66           400     Thomas Room Coyle              3             4


Centre Division


3             Montagu                 60           360     Thomas Darcy                          8             34

4             Leopard                  56           280     Peter Bowen                             3             9

3             Rupert                     66           400     Sir John Holmes                      32           59

1             Royal James*         100          800     Richard Haddock                  c.700

2             Henry                       80           580     Francis Digby*                         49           65

3             Edgar                       70           400      John Wetwang                        13           7

4             Crown                      50           200      William Finch                            5             7

4            Mary Rose                48           220      William Davies

4            Princess                    54           240      Richard Munden                      15           17


Rear Division


3             Mary                         60           360        John Brooks                            3             2

4             Ruby                         48           220        Stephen Pyend

2             Triumph                    70           500        Willoughby Hannam*              10           6

1             Royal Sovereign      100         850         V.A. Sir Joseph Jordan           15           24

2             Unicorn                     64           420        Richard James                         3             4

4             Tiger                         46           180        John Turner                              1             4

3             Plymouth                  60           340        Roger Strickland                       5             16

4             Advice                       46           220        Dominic Nugent                        9             16

5             Richmond                 28           130        Nepthali Ball                              7             17

6            Emsworth sloop          6             30         David Trotter




6             Deptford ketch            12           45           William Anguish

6             Cleveland yacht            8             30          William Faseby

6             Merlin yacht                  8             30          Jacob Baker

6             Kitchen yacht [15]         6             30          William Wright

6             John’s Advice hospital 16           40           Ralph Frary

6             Katherine hospital        12           40           William Grist




5             Mermaid   B-v               30           140        Eric Sieubladh

5             Guernsey                      30           150        Leonard Harris

5             Algier   R-v                    32           160        Thomas Knevett

6             Drake                            14            70          John Temple

6             Henrietta yacht             12            30          Thomas Lovell

6             Portsmouth sloop  R-r    6            30          Edward Pearse




R-v         Supply                            6             35           Henry Williams

R-a         Castle                            8             45           Thomas Wilshaw                 1             2

R-a         Bantam*                         6             40           Henry Pattison                    2             3

R-a         Katherine*                      6             35           Thomas Andrews

R-a         Fountain*                       10           35           Robert Stout                       1             3

R-r          Ann & Christopher          8             40           William Humble

B-r          Success                          6             30           Matthew Dawson

B-r         Ann & Judith*                   6             35           Joseph Harris                      5             5

B-a         Robert [16]                      4             30           Richard Collins

B-a         Rachel                             6             30           John Kelsey

B-a         Thomas & Edward           6             35           John Holmes

B-a         Alice & Francis*               6             40           Ezekiel Yennis*

B-v         Francis                             4             22           Robert Fortescue

?             Hopewell                          6             35           Ralph Wrenn

?             Samuel & Ann                  6             35           Richard Haddock [17]

?             Providence                       6             45           William Andrews




  1. For the French, Eugène Sue, Histoire de la Marine Française (Paris, 1835), vol. II, 343-4; for the Dutch, Gerard Brandt, Het Leven en Bedryf van den Heere Michiel de Ruiter (Amsterdam, 1684), 652 et seq.


  1. Journals and Narratives of the Third Dutch War, ed. R C Anderson (Navy Records Society, 1946) 395-6; Dutch casualties, 405-7.


  1. British Library, Egerton MSS 928, fos 90v-91r.


  1. Journals and Narratives, 80-1.


  1. The National Archives, SP29/306, fo. 193; identical version dated May in SP29/310. These references and Note 4 give stations for some small vessels on our fleet list.


  1. TNA SP29/306, fo. 192.


  1. Calendar of State Papers Domestic Series Charles II, 1672, F. H. Blackburne Daniell ed. (London, 1899), 77, 84, 86, and 89.


  1. Ibid., 193.


  1. See Notes 4 and 5, plus Journals and Narratives, 164-184.


  1. National Maritime Museum, DAR/9, fos 15v-16r; some are from NMM AND/37, a bound fleet list dating from 1672 before Solebay.


  1. TNA ADM 8/1.


  1. Journals and Narratives, 95.


  1. TNA SP29/310, fos 232-3, 5 June 1672.


  1. In September 1672 the Fairfax had 72 guns, having exchanged her lower deck armament for smaller weapons, offset by an increase in total number: Journals and Narratives, 188-9; cf. TNA WO 55/1652, gunner’s return of 1666.  Whether this occurred before Solebay is unknown.


  1. Kitchen log, TNA ADM 51/3876.


  1. The Robert evidently changed her squadron sometime after 2 May, the only vessel that seems to have been so reassigned; cf. Journals and Narratives, 80 and 167.


  1. The uncle of Captain Richard Haddock of the Royal James, his fireship arrived 21 May; The Camden Miscellany, vol. 8 (1883), ‘Correspondence of the Family of Haddock 1657-1719’, E. M. Thompson ed., 13.





  1. Ian Yeates says:

    I am the proud owner of a 1756 edition of Capt. George Berkley’s “The Naval History of Great Britain” down to the year 1756 (right up to date!). Book XVII addresses the activities of the navy in the Seventeenth Century but has surprisingly few details on this engagement, save for some brief paragraphs lamenting the loss of the Earl of Sandwich – “…honour’d and lamented.” (pg 513) – in the Royal James. The volume has very very details in terms of the ships engaged and so forth, but it is, of course, extremely interesting in terms of how the episode (and much else) has been recorded.

    Your article is most interesting with impressive detail and research. Thanks for it,



  2. Daniel Caramagno says:

    Looks fine on my iPad. Love it. Will it be part of a book someday…..? Liked Frank Fox’s books on the Four Days Battle.


    • J D Davies says:

      Not sure about a book – for one thing, a new book on the third Anglo-Dutch war (not by either Frank or myself) is meant to be due out soon.


  3. Geoff Lavery says:

    Fascinating reading. Thanks. Are some of those killed buried in Southwold or other churches in the area (eg Aldeburgh) or would they have been buried at sea off the coast here?


    • Dr Peter Le Fevre says:

      I don’t know if this is any help. After battle of Beachy Head in 1690 many of the killed were buried where they were landed- 6 were buried in Rye. The only way otherwise to find them is to search the relevant parish registers


  4. Lehmann Bernd says:

    Excellent piece of research! Thank you very much for this great narrative and the encompassing OOB!


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