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The Burning of HMS 'Royal James' at the Battle of Solebay
1672
Willem Van de Velde the Younger

The Burning of HMS 'Royal James' at the Battle of Solebay 1672 Willem Van de Velde the Younger

The Battle of Solebay was the opening battle of the Third Anglo-Dutch War, 1672–1674. On the evening before, Admiral Edward Montagu, 1st Earl of Sandwich, urged the Duke of York to take the fleet to sea to avoid the risk of being surprised by the Dutch while at anchor on a lee shore in Solebay (Southwold Bay, Suffolk) on the English east coast.

The advice was not taken and the Dutch fleet, commanded by Lieutenant-Admiral Michiel de Ruyter, did appear and attacked Sandwich's unsupported squadron in the bay. Sandwich, in the 'Royal James', was heavily engaged with the squadron of Admiral Van Ghent, who sent in two fireships. The 'Royal James' sank them both but a third fireship, commanded by Jan van de Rijn, grappled the English flagship and set her ablaze. When she was engulfed by the flames Sandwich tried to escape by boat, but it was swamped by people who jumped into her with him and he was drowned.

In the left foreground is a Dutch ship sinking, with only the fore part above the water but with bowsprit and foremast still standing. This is presumably a fireship expended in an attempt to burn the 'Royal James'. In the left background is the de Ruyter's 'Zeven Provincien'. She is engaged to port with the English vice-admiral of the blue, Sir Joseph Jordan in the 'Royal Sovereign'. Her blue flag at the fore is shown above the smoke as she stands back towards the 'Royal James' after a vain attempt to weather the Dutch.

Ahead of de Ruyter is the rear-admiral of his squadron, J. van Nes in the 'Ridderschap'. The 'Royal James dominates the right side of the painting. She is shown in port-broadside view with Jan van Rijn's fireship, the 'Vrede', in flames and about to run aboard her by the fore chains. The 'Royal James' has her torn topsails set and her fore and main courses have the clews hauled up. Sandwich's blue flag at the main is blowing out in the light wind. Men are shown jumping overboard and hanging to the rigging to avoid the fire both fore and aft.

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