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Maarten Tromp
A portrait of Tromp by Jan Lievens.
Birth nameMaarten Harpertszoon Tromp
Born23 April 1598
Brielle, Dutch Republic
Died31 July 1653(1653-07-31) (aged 55)
Battle of Scheveningen
Allegiance Dutch Republic
Years of service1607–1653
Coat of Arms

Maarten Harpertszoon Tromp or Maarten van Tromp (23 April 1598 – 31 July 1653) was an army general and admiral in the Dutch navy during much of the Eighty Years' War and throughout the First Anglo-Dutch War. Son of a ship's captain, Tromp spent much of his childhood at sea, during which time he was captured by pirates and enslaved by Barbary Corsairs. In adult life, he became a renowned ship captain and naval commander, successfully leading Dutch forces fighting for independence in the Eighty Years War, and then against England in the First Anglo-Dutch War, proving an innovative tactician and enabling the newly independent Dutch nation to become a major sea power. He was killed in battle by a sharpshooter from an English ship. Several ships of the Royal Netherlands Navy have carried the name HNLMS Tromp after him and/or his son Cornelis, also a Dutch Admiral of some renown.

Early life

Born in Brielle in the Netherlands, Tromp was the oldest son of Harpert Maertensz, a naval officer and captain of the frigate Olifantstromp ("Elephant Trunk"). The surname Tromp probably derives from the name of the ship; it first appeared in documents in 1607. He was baptized 3 May 1598 in St. Catherine's Cathedral.[1] In 1606, the Tromp family moved to Rotterdam where Tromp's father was appointed by the Admiralty of Rotterdam as captain of the frigate Olifantstromp. His mother supplemented the family's income as a washerwoman. In 1607, at the age of nine, Tromp went to sea with his father aboard the Olifantsdorp, of the Rotterdam squadron, commanded by Commodore Mooy Lambert, as part of the Dutch fleet of Lieutenant-Admiral Jacob van Heemskerck, with the objective of blockading Dunkirk and the Spanish coast and intercepting the Spanish fleet being sent to drive the Dutch from the East Indies. On 25 April, a fierce battle ensued at the Battle of Gibraltar, resulting in a great Dutch victory.[1][2][3][4]

In 1610, after his father's discharge because of a navy reorganization, the Tromps were on their way to Guinea on their merchantman when they were attacked by a squadron of seven ships under command of the English pirate Peter Easton. During the fight, Tromp's father was slain by a cannonball, where after the battle his body was thrown overboard by the boarding party. According to legend, the 12-year-old boy rallied the crew of the ship with the cry "Won't you avenge my father's death?" The pirates seized him and sold him on the slave market of Salé where he ended up serving as a cabin boy. Two years later, Easton was moved by pity and ordered his redemption.[2][5][6]

Set free, Tromp supported his mother and three sisters by working in a Rotterdam shipyard. He went to sea again at 19, briefly working for the navy, but he was captured again in 1621 after having rejoined the merchant fleet, this time by Barbary corsairs off Tunis. He was kept as a slave until the age of 24 and by then had so impressed the Bey of Tunis and the corsair John Ward with his skills in gunnery and navigation that the latter offered him a position in his fleet. When Tromp refused, the Bey was even more impressed by this show of character and allowed him to leave as a free man in 1622.[4]

Naval career

Maarten Tromp was supreme commander of the Dutch fleet during the later part of the Eighty Years' War and throughout the First Anglo-Dutch war. He is widely considered the best Dutch naval commander during most of this time.[7] Tromp's former superior, Admiral Piet Pieterszoon Hein, once told a friend that Tromp as a seaman and a commander possessed a sound character that distinguished him from all the captains he had ever known.[8] Tromp joined the Dutch navy as a lieutenant in July 1622, entering service with the Admiralty of the Maze based in Rotterdam, serving aboard the Bruynvisch.[2] On 7 May 1624, he married Dignom Cornelisdochter de Haes, the daughter of a merchant; in the same year he became captain of the St. Antonius, a fast sailing dispatch and escort yacht.[4] His first distinction was as Lieutenant-Admiral Hein's flag captain on the Vliegende Groene Draeck during the fight with Ostend privateers in 1629 in which Hein was killed, after which Tromp returned home with his body.[9]

Eighty Years' War

  Maarten van Tromp
by Jan Lievens  

During the Eighty Years' War, (1568–1648), Tromp was appointed as full captain in 1629 at the initiative of stadtholder Frederick Henry himself, where Tromp demonstrated that he was very successful in fighting the Dunkirkers as a squadron commander, functioning as a commandeur on the Vliegende Groene Draeck. Despite receiving four honorary golden chains, he was not promoted further. The Vliegende Groene Draeck foundered and new heavy vessels were reserved for the flag officers while Tromp was relegated to the old Prins Hendrik.[10][4] After Tromp's first wife died in 1634, with whom they had three sons left for Tromp to support, he subsequently left the naval service that year in disappointment. He became a deacon and married Alijth Jacobsdochter Arckenboudt, the daughter of Brill's wealthy schepen and tax collector, on 12 September 1634.[4]

In 1637 Tromp re-enlisted in the Dutch navy and was promoted from captain to Lieutenant-Admiral of Holland and West Frisia, under the Stadtholder, Frederick Henry, Prince of Orange. This occurred following the resignation of Lieutenant-Admiral Philips van Dorp, and the dismissal of Vice-Admiral Jasper Liefhebber, and other flag officers due to incompetence, neglecting the Dutch navy which had fallen into a deplorable state, with several captains resigning their commissions and seeking service with the army.[11][12] With the resignation of van Dorp on 27 October the States of Holland once again asked Tromp to accept the command of the Dutch navy.[13] Tromp accepted but under the conditions that afforded him greater authority than was allowed for the navy’s previous commanders, remembering how badly the fleet had been neglected by them under van Dorp.Tromp insisted on a greater number of ships, which were to be well outfitted with supplies, and well manned. The States gave Tromp their solemn promise that they would grant all his requests. The terms of Tromp’s official appointment from the Stadtholder further strengthened his position. Witte de With a year younger, very brave but brutal and ill-tempered, was appointed as his vice-admiral. Both were born in Den Briel and served as flag captains under Piet Hein.[14] Although formally ranking under the Admiral-General Frederick Henry of Orange, he was the de facto supreme commander of the Dutch fleet, as the stadtholders never fought at sea. Tromp was mostly occupied with blockading the privateer port of Dunkirk.[11][13]

With his flagship, the Aemilia', Tromp promptly re-established the neglected blockade of Dunkirk and took steps to hinder the transportation of Spanish troops to Flanders.[15] Tromp out-maneuvered Oquendo's fleet which was bound for Flanders but was forced to retreat to England at the Downs, behind the sandbanks of the Kentish coast, where they remained trapped, while a prolonged debate preceding the Wars of the Three Kingdoms continued in London. Tromp was already familiar with the channel from his cruising during 1637 and 1638, and sailed to Calais Roads, blocking the southwestern entrance of Dunkirk, where he resupplied his fleet from Calais with the support of Cardinal Richelieu. Now with a reinforced fleet Tromp, in spite of the objection of Charles I, who was on good terms with the Spain,[16][a]. attacked on 21 October, during the Battle of the Downs, destroying a large proportion of Oquendo's armada.[17] During the Fight in the Channel, a preliminary action to the Downs, Tromp was the first fleet commander known for the deliberate use of line of battle tactics,[15] marking the end of Spanish naval power.[18][19] For his landmark victory Tromp was rewarded by the States-General and knighted by Louis XIII of France, a close Dutch ally in the war against Spain. Shortly thereafter his second wife died. Tromp married again in 1640, to Cornelia van Berckhout.[20] In 1643 the deputy of parliament in Holland made a loud protest in the General Assembly against the Prince of Orange for his orders to Tromp to allow two of the frigates bought by English royalists in Dunkirk, for his use and command.[21]

During his career, his main rival was Vice-Admiral Witte de With, who also served the Admiralty of Rotterdam (de Maze) from 1637. De With temporarily replaced him as supreme commander for the Battle of Kentish Knock. Tromp's crew would not permit De With, who had a reputation of severity when disciplining a crew, to raise his flag on their ship, and insisted that he use the Prins Willem[b] as his flagship.[22] Tromp's successor was Lieutenant-Admiral Jacob van Wassenaer Obdam.[23]

Tromp commanded the Dutch squadron that escorted Queen Henrietta Maria in 1643 when she returned from the Hague to King Charles I. Opposed to her returning to England the Parliamentarian squadron under William Batten threatened to attack the Queen's convoy when it landed at Bridlington but was thwarted by Tromp to withdraw.[20]

First Anglo-Dutch War

  Ships in the First Anglo-Dutch War, 1652,
by Abraham Willaerts  

In the First Anglo-Dutch War of 1652 to 1653, Tromp commanded the Dutch fleet in the battles of Dover, Dungeness, Portland, the Gabbard and Scheveningen.[24]

Prior to the war, Oliver Cromwell and the Rump Parliament had issued an ordinance prohibiting foreign trade and requiring all foreign fleets in the North Sea or the Channel to lower their flag in salute and as a sign of compliance. A Dutch embassy was in London trying to negotiate a lifting of the Navigation Acts, but without much success.[25] On 19 May 1652, Tromp was cruising in the English Channel with a fleet of forty ships between Nieuport and the mouth of the Meuse River, with general orders to protect Holland's commerce, while keeping watch over the English fleet who were searching and seizing Dutch merchant ships prior.[26] British Admiral Robert Blake had recently seized seven richly laden Dutch merchant ships, off the coast of Fairlight.[27] Blake was now lying in Dover Roads with fifteen ships, while eight others were anchored in Bourne in the Downs.[26] When Tromp failed to lower his flag in salute, Blake, aboard his flagship the James, believing Tromp had just received orders from a dispatch ketch to commence battle, fired two warning shots, without ball. The Battle of Dover was began when Tromp refused to strike his flag and instead hoisted a red battle flag in defiance,[28] which prompted Blake to fire a third gun, hitting Tromp's ship and wounding some crew members. This was followed with Tromp returning fire with a warning broadside from his flagship Brederode. Blake in turn fired a broadside and a five-hour battle ensued.[29] The fighting continued until nightfall, where both sides withdrew, the battle having no distinct victor.[30][31] Shortly after the battle a board of commissioners, which included Cromwell, after questioning witnesses, had concluded that Tromp had deliberately provoked hostilities. Subsequently Holland withdrew its three ambassadors from Westminster,[32] and on 8 July 1652 England declared war against Holland.[30]

Tromp with a larger fleet than he had ordered for, sailed to the Downs and found that Blake had made it to the north-east coast, where he set sail for the Thames River. Near the mouth of the river he came upon an English squadron, commanded by Sir George Ayscough, who had the advantage of the weather gage, thus preventing Tromp to engage effectively. Subsequently, Tromp decided to return to the Netherland coast, which was a decision that was not at all well received by the Dutch government, resulting in his removal from command, with Admiral de Ruyter taking his place.[33]

On 8 October 1652, with Tromp's command still in suspension, Dutch Vice-Admiral Witte de With underestimating Blake, with 60 ships, attempted an attack at the Battle of the Kentish Knock, but ended with Blake sending the defeated de With back to the Netherlands. Although de With was the more adept tactician, he was no match against Blake's force, that included the heavy English ships the Resolution, and the Sovereign, the two largest war ships in the world at the time.[34][c] The significance of De With's defeat was received over-optimistically by the Council of State, leading them to assume that Blake now had control over the English Channel. The Council subsequently dispersed their fleets to protect English interests in the Baltic Sea, and Newcastle, while another fleet was sent to reinforce the squadron in the Mediterranean. This left Blake with about forty ships that were in anchor in the Downs, and a situation that was compounded by a lack of funds to pay for badly needed repairs and for the crews.[35][36]

Subsequent to de With's defeat, Tromp was reinstated as commander, on 8 May Tromp, which proved to be a big boost for Dutch navy morale, which was the highest it had been since he was dismissed months before in July.[37] The Battle of Dungeness occurred on 30 November 1652, and proved to be the most important Dutch victory during the war, with Tromp's fleet winning for the Dutch the temporary control of the English Channel. A great convoy of 300 merchant ships was ready to leave the Netherlands headed for the Bay of Biscay, accompanied by a large fleet of 73 warships and a small number of fireships which were sent in escort to protect it. Tromp was in command, with Jan Evertsen and De Ruyter were his subordinate commanders. Admiral Blake had seriously underestimated Dutch strength, possibly due to poor visibility, as his fleet was outnumbered, two-to-one. Blake, nevertheless, shadowed the Dutch fleet which was sailing parallel along the English coast towards Dungeness, with the coastline beginning to bend to the south.[38][39] As the fleets were approaching Dungeness Point Blake's fleet became pinned against the shore bringing the two fleets close together. Tromp subsequently hoisted the red battle-flag and advanced on Blake’s new flagship, the Triumph.[40] The battle that developed involved only a part of the Dutch fleet as the winds were preventing the others from engaging in a timely fashion. The re was much hand-to-hand fighting that lasted until about 5:00 pm with the advance of nightfall, with the Dutch fleet prevailing, taking several British prizes, while Blake retreated to the mouth of the Thames.[38][39] Tromp's victory over the British prompted a marked turning point for the British navy.[41][d]

The naval Battle of the Gabbard, took place on 2–3 June 1653, (12–13 June 1653 Gregorian calendar) off the coast of Suffolk, England near the Gabbard shoal. Tromp, aboad his flagship Brederode with, Vice-admiral Witte de With aboard the Vrijheid, was in command of 98 ships and six fireships, divided in five squadrons, while Generals at Sea George Monck and Richard Deane were in command of 100 ships and five fireships, divided into three squadrons.[42] Tromp's fleet was organized mostly for mélée fighting and were largely crewed with soldiers for that purpose, while the English employed the use of superior firepower.[43] Admiral Robert Blake joined the English fleet on 3 June. Though his fleet was very low on ammunition Tromp decided for a direct attack, but at the time the winds became almost still, leaving the Dutch fleet vulnerable in the face of superior enemy fire. Subsequently the Dutch lost seventeen ships to capture or sinking, while the English lost none. Deane was killed during the action. It was one of the most costly defeats ever suffered by the Dutch, leaving the English in control of the English Channel.[42]

  Battle of Scheveningen,
Tromp's final battle    

During the Battle of Scheveningen, the last battle of the war, on 31 July 1653, Tromp was killed by a sharpshooter in the rigging of William Penn's ship.[24] Tromp's flagship, the Brederode, broke through the English line where an intense battle ensued, resulting in Tromp's imminent death. Tromp's last words were, "It is all over, 0 Lord, be merciful to me and thy poor people." Members of his crew carried the mortally wounded Tromp below deck to his cabin, where he died only a moment later.[44] His acting flag captain, Egbert Bartholomeusz Kortenaer, on the Brederod] kept up fleet morale by not lowering Tromp's standard, pretending Tromp was still alive.[45] At this point Evertsen assumed command, and with this the Dutch admirals returned to their ships and resumed battle with "unabated vigour".[46] The loss of Tromp was a severe blow to the Dutch navy.[24] The battle proved to be a tactical victory for the English, but a strategic victory for the Dutch in that they had the blockade removed.


Commemorative medal of Maarten van Tromp, struck 1653 shortly after his death
(Diameter: 7.18 cm / 2.82 in)[47]

Tromp was held in high esteem in the Dutch navy and with the general public. His death was a severe blow to the Dutch navy but also to the Orangists, who sought the defeat of the Commonwealth of England and the restoration of the Stuart monarchy. Republican influence strengthened after Scheveningen, which led to peace negotiations with the Commonwealth, culminating in the Treaty of Westminster. He received a state funeral in August 1653 at the Oude Kerk in Delft where a monument was erected to his honor. Tromp was survived by his second son, Cornelis Maartenszoon Tromp (1629-1691), who was also a distinguished naval officer.[20]

See also


  1. ^ Tromp had received secret instructions from the Stadholder, Frederick Henry, Prince of Orange, to disregard English objections.[16]
  2. ^ Dutch for "Prince William"
  3. ^ The Resolution had 70 guns, and the Sovereign had 102 guns. See:  • HMS Sovereign of the Seas  and   • English ship Prince Royal (1610
  4. ^ British naval historian Andrew Lambert maintains that the Dutch victory was a "salutary reminder" that the British were dealing with a major and capable opponent, causing Blake to submit his resignation, which was declined, and prompting a Court of Enquiry to further look into matters, while the Council of State supported Blake's contention that he had to have absolute authority in such matters, with added subordinate commanders, and an increase in sailor's pay, while insisting for the same professional standards that existed for the army. This was followed with a large tax increase to fund these improvements.[41]


  1. ^ a b Wijn, 1997, p. 37
  2. ^ a b c Historiek, essay
  3. ^ Encyclopedia Britannica, essay
  4. ^ a b c d e British Civil Wars Project (BCW), Essay
  5. ^ Vere, 1955, p. 28
  6. ^ Wijn, 1997, p. 39
  7. ^ Konstam, 2011, p. 30
  8. ^ Vere, 1955, p. 42
  9. ^ Vere, 1955, p. 43
  10. ^ Vere, 1955, p. 47
  11. ^ a b Wijn, 1997, p. 42
  12. ^ Mets, 1902, p. 128
  13. ^ a b Hinds (ed.), 1864, v. xxiv, p. 328
  14. ^ Journal of Maarten Tromp, C.R. Boxer
  15. ^ a b Jones, 1966, p. 40
  16. ^ a b Israel, 1995, p. 537
  17. ^ Stradling, 1979, p. 208
  18. ^ Warner, 1963, pp. 38-39, 42
  19. ^ Wijn, 1997, p. 46
  20. ^ a b c British Civil Wars Project (BCWP), Essay
  21. ^ Hinds (ed.), 1925, v. xxvi, pp. 267-278
  22. ^ Clowes, 1897, v. 2, p. 168
  23. ^ Gardiner, 1897, v. 1, pp. 133-134
  24. ^ a b c BCW, 2010, Essay
  25. ^ Jones, 1966, pp. 48-49
  26. ^ a b Hannay, 1886, pp. 77-78
  27. ^ Gardiner, 1897, v. II, p. 117
  28. ^ Lambert, 2008, p. 52
  29. ^ Dixon, 1852, pp. 191-192
  30. ^ a b Low, 1872, p. 36
  31. ^ Hyde, Edward, Earl of Clarendon, 1717, pp. 459-460
  32. ^ Gardiner, 1897, v. ii, pp. 118-119
  33. ^ Low, 1872, pp. 36-37
  34. ^ Lambert, 2008, p. 54
  35. ^ Atkinson, 1898, pp. 203
  36. ^ Lambert, 2008, p. 54-55
  37. ^ Lambert, 2008, p. 55
  38. ^ a b Clowes, 1897, v. 2, p. 173
  39. ^ a b Hannay, 1886, pp. 98-100
  40. ^ Lambert, 2008, p. 55
  41. ^ a b Lambert, 2008, pp. 56-57
  42. ^ a b Clowes, 1898, v. 2, pp. 187-189
  43. ^ Jones, 1996, pp. 42, 129
  44. ^ Gardiner, 1897, v. 1, pp. 346-347
  45. ^ Rickard, 2009, Essay
  46. ^ Clowes, 1897, v. 2, pp. 195-196
  47. ^ Clowes, 1897, v. 2, p.196,


1 Annotation

Second Reading

Bill  •  Link

Lieutenant-Admiral of Holland.
The English translation of this epitaph runs thus:
For an eternal memorial.
You, who love the Dutch, virtue and true labour, read and mourn.
The ornament of the Dutch people, the formidable in battle, lies low, he who never lay down in his life and taught by his example, that a commander should die standing, he, the love of his fellow citizens, the terror of his enemies, the wonder of the ocean.
Maarten Harpertszoon Tromp, a name comprehending more praise than this stone can contain, a stone truly too narrow for him, for whom East and West were a school, the sea the occasion of triumph, the whole world the scene of his glory, he, a certain ruin to pirates, the successful protector of commerce; useful through his familiarity, not low; after having ruled the sailors and the soldiers, a rough sort of people, in a fatherly and efficaciously benignant manner; after fifty battles in which he was commander or in which he played a great part; after incredible victories, after the highest honours though below his merits, he at last in the war against the English, nearly victor but certainly not beaten, on the 10th of August 1653 of the Christean era, at the age of fifty six years, has ceased to live and to conquer.
The fathers of the United Netherlands have erected this memorial in honour of this highly meritorious hero.
---Description of the Principal Tombs in the Old Church at Delft. G.Morre, 1907.

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Chart showing the number of references in each month of the diary’s entries.