De Zeven Provinciën was a Dutch ship of the line, originally armed with 80 guns. The name of the ship was also written as De 7 Provinciën. The literal translation is “The Seven Provinces”, the name referring to the fact that the Dutch Republic in the 17th century was a confederation of seven autonomous provinces. The vessel was originally built in 1664-65 for the Admiralty of de Maeze in Rotterdam, by Master Shipbuilder Salomon Jansz van den Tempel.
The ship served as Admiral Michiel de Ruyter’s flagship during the Second Anglo-Dutch War, taking part in the hard fought Dutch victory in the Four Days Fight, the bitter defeat at the St. James’s Day Battle, and acting as a command post as well as blockading the Thames during the Raid on the Medway. The vessel gave a good account of itself throughout the war, although it was partially dismasted during the Four Day’s Fight.
De Ruyter used De Zeven Provinciën as his flagship during the Third Anglo-Dutch War of 1672-1673. The ship served in all four major battles against the combined English and French fleet, fighting in the Battle of Solebay, the first and second Battle of Schooneveld and, in possibly its greatest moment, at the Battle of the Texel.
In 1692, the ship, now armed with only 76 guns, fought at the Battles of Barfleur and La Hogue during the War of the Grand Alliance. The vessel was severely damaged during the fight and, in 1694, De Zeven Provinciën had to be broken up.
De Zeven Provinciën measured, in English Feet, approximately 151 ft long by about 40 ft (12 m) wide by a little over 15 ft (4.6 m) deep. It was originally armed with 12 36-pdrs and 16 24-pdrs on the lower deck (although this had been changed to an all 36-pdr battery by the time of the Third Anglo-Dutch War), 14 18-pdrs and 12 12-pdrs on the upper deck, and 26 6-pdrs on the forecastle, quarterdeck, and poop deck.
Emerging from success after success won by fleets of “Sea Beggars” during the Eighty Years’ War (1568-1648), the Navy of the “Generality” of the United Provinces should have been one of the strongest in the world entering into this period. In fact, it had been badly neglected by the States General in the final years of war with Spain. In 1650 it was still primarily a fleet of armed merchantmen rather than purpose-built warships, though it was by far the largest such fleet in the world. The merchant marine of Holland alone employed nearly,000 seamen, without counting tens of thousands more experienced seamen of the vast Dutch fishing fleets. The Dutch fleet had a major structural flaw beyond simple neglect and non-purpose-built ships: there was no “Dutch Navy” per se. Instead, there were five provincial admiralty colleges operating out of Amsterdam, Holland (“North Quarter”), Friesland, the Maze (Rotterdam), and Zeeland. Each admiralty supported a discrete fleet maintained by its own naval establishment. Ships of these five establishments were supplemented, but only ad hoc, by powerful armed merchant fleets owned by the Dutch East India Company (VOC),West Indies Company, and smaller joint stock companies. Some Netherlands cities maintained small navies (directieschepen), used to escort only their own municipal ships in convoy. All this represented the overall radical constitutional decentralization of Dutch national life and politics. This was in striking contrast to the centralized and centralizing naval administrations of the main sea rivals of the Dutch: England, and later, France. Worse still for the Dutch, in the late 1640s the five admiralty colleges sold off many of their ships in response to the end of the long war with Spain. As tensions rose with England, in 1651 the States General reversed course and voted funds to build a navy of 226 warships, up from the extant number of just 76. However, this measure produced only three additional warships by the start of hostilities with England in 1652. Moreover, the largest of existing Dutch ships mounted no more than 50 guns. That meant England had 14 ships as big as or larger than even the most heavily armed Dutch man-of-war. English guns were also heavier, in addition to being more numerous, with longer ranges and greater power as ship-smashers.
One short-term result of the vote was the outbreak of the First Anglo-Dutch War (1652-1654), even though the Navy was then divided by mutinous crews and political quarrels between the Orangist Admiral Maarten van Tromp and the republican Regents of Holland. The weakness showed at Kentish Knock, where nine Dutch ships deserted and Admiral Witte Coneliszoon de With was refused boarding by other ships after losing his flagship and taking to the sea in a ship’s boat. The Dutch Navy suffered from other physical disadvantages in addition to having smaller and undergunned ships. Its harbors did not lie windward of the enemy, as did English ports, and it was forced to disperse to multiple harbors by the lay of the Atlantic coast of the United Provinces and by a strategic need to protect more important Baltic routes. The poor quality of Dutch ships was quickly revealed in the first of three Anglo-Dutch wars, as Dutch ships were dismasted and holed in large numbers by heavier English guns and superior tactics of the English fighting instructions. The States General ordered the fleet rebuilt after the war, laying hulls for 60 men-of-war by early 1654. However, complaints of admirals about the smallness and poor design of even these new ships were ignored. The Regents of Holland thus continued to build numerous small, undergunned warships, with the largest still mounting just 54 guns. This probably reflected the much higher interest of merchants in seeing construction of fast convoy escorts and in coastal defense, over creation of a true battlefleet. Crucial reform was finally introduced following the war. The States General proclaimed that new ships belonged to the Generality of the United Provinces, not to the five independent admiralty colleges. The latter were thus denied the usual temptation to sell off warships for short-term profit upon the end of the most recent conflict. Slowly, though unsurely, a national Dutch Navy began to take shape.
The Dutch Navy was much better prepared to fight the Second Anglo-Dutch War (1665-1667). By then it had launched much larger ships, though the largest still had just 70 guns. The Dutch also put to sea with many more professional officers and had adopted improved tactics: the Dutch Navy first fought in line of battle at The Downs (June 1-4/11-14, 1666). But the English had been busy building battleships, too. Their new designs mounted more and heavier guns than the largest Dutch warships. In April 1665 the English had eight First-Rates of 70 guns or more, where the Dutch had just four, and the largest English battleships had 90 and 100 guns. Moreover, Dutch crews were rife with political tension, with some refusing to sail or fight under certain officers or certain colors (that is, the State’s flag vs. the dynastic banner of the Prince of Orange). The Dutch Navy subsequently fought many worthy battles and escorted numerous convoys to and from the Baltic and Mediterranean. It was fully engaged against the English for a third time during the Third Anglo-Dutch War (1672-1674). Thereafter, the Dutch were more concerned with fighting the French Navy during a series of minor and major wars: the War of Devolution (1667-1668), the Dutch War (1672-1678), the Nine Years’ War (1688-1697), and finally the War of the Spanish Succession (1701-1714). The last two conflicts were fought in alliance with the old foe of Dutch commercial and naval power, the Royal Navy.