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. 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). 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. 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  and two other preliminary versions of the order of battle in The National Archives dating from the end of April and early May. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. These agree (with explainable exceptions) with reliable data from July 1673. 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.
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. 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.
SOLEBAY BRITISH FLEET LIST
RED SQUADRON James, Duke of York, Prince
Rate Ship Guns Men Captain Casualties
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
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  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
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*
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
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
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
NOT IN LINE, SQUADRON UNKNOWN
6 Deptford ketch 12 45 William Anguish
6 Cleveland yacht 8 30 William Faseby
6 Merlin yacht 8 30 Jacob Baker
6 Kitchen yacht  6 30 William Wright
6 John’s Advice hospital 16 40 Ralph Frary
6 Katherine hospital 12 40 William Grist
JOINED AFTERNOON OR EVENING
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  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 
? Providence 6 45 William Andrews
- 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.
- Journals and Narratives of the Third Dutch War, ed. R C Anderson (Navy Records Society, 1946) 395-6; Dutch casualties, 405-7.
- British Library, Egerton MSS 928, fos 90v-91r.
- Journals and Narratives, 80-1.
- 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.
- TNA SP29/306, fo. 192.
- Calendar of State Papers Domestic Series Charles II, 1672, F. H. Blackburne Daniell ed. (London, 1899), 77, 84, 86, and 89.
- Ibid., 193.
- See Notes 4 and 5, plus Journals and Narratives, 164-184.
- National Maritime Museum, DAR/9, fos 15v-16r; some are from NMM AND/37, a bound fleet list dating from 1672 before Solebay.
- TNA ADM 8/1.
- Journals and Narratives, 95.
- TNA SP29/310, fos 232-3, 5 June 1672.
- 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.
- Kitchen log, TNA ADM 51/3876.
- 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.
- 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.