United Provinces send a fleet to Portuguese Tangier

By the mid Seventeenth century The Dutch East India Company (Vereenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie – i.e. VOC) was the most formidable trading company in the world.

Growth of Dutch Republic Trade Late C16th & Early C17th 

Spain and Portugal were the first European countries to develop the technology to reliably sail across the Atlantic and around Africa into the Indian Ocean and the China Sea, and they shared the rights to trade with the non-European world between themselves.

However during the late C16th the newly independent United Provinces, strategically located on three major rivers, expanded their herring fisheries and developed maritime trade with the Baltic States. Herring, bricks and tiles were traded for grain, wood and tar. Grain helped sustain a growing urban economy and was also sold on into southern Europe via the network of rivers.

The introduction of a stock-market and a modern banking system encouraged investment in spread risk and encouraged investment on more speculative ventures. Ship builders gained from the cheap import of wood, hemp and tar, improved their designs and used the new technology of windmill driven sawmills to produce cheap, efficient merchant ships.









With the increased size of the merchant fleet trade expanded in volume and distance, and a flourishing Mediterranean trade developed, bringing lucrative products and new shipping technology.

Dutch Republican merchants observed the success of Queen Elizabeth's English ventures to the orient and the subsequent formation, in 1601, of the English East India Company, an innovative joint-stock company organised to spread the risk of the long and expensive voyages to the Spice Islands.







In 1602 the Dutch established their own joint-stock company, VOC, with the expressed purpose of dominating trade with the Far East – and establishing a monopoly over the spice trade by ejecting other European powers. Like the English East India Company, the Dutch company was given wide-ranging powers to wage war - arming itself to trade with, conquer, settle and administer foreign territories. The VOC expanded rapidly, ousting less belligerent countries from their early trading advantage.

In 1619 the VOC conquered Batavia (modern Jakarta, Indonesia) and fortified it as their Headquarters in the Orient.

In the following years the VOC ruthlessly pursued its quest for a monopoly over the Spice Island trade - killing local inhabitants and rivals, destroying crops wherever it thought necessary to ensure its dominant position. Most infamously several thousand natives of Great Banda were massacred for resisting the company takeover of the nutmeg trade. Many more enslaved or deported. More than 50,000 clove trees were destroyed in other parts of the Moluccas to establish a monopoly for Ambon.








The Westindische Compagnie (Dutch West India Company, WIC or GWC) was established in 1621.

In 1634 the WIC conquered the Spanish island of Curaçao which was an important producer of salt, followed by a number of other Caribbean islands.

In the five years between 1637 and 1644 WIC attacks against Portuguese and Spanish territories in South America established Dutch Brazil. Sugar plantations flourished from the Amazon to the São Francisco River, enabling the company to undercut the African produce and dominate the European sugar trade.

WIC expeditions from Brazil conquered the Gulf of Guinea area on the African coast, the hub of the slave trade to the Americas, and Portuguese Angola.

Meanwhile as trade to the Mediterranean continued to increase, the Dutch merchant fleet grew and by the mid 1600s the Dutch Republic had made inroads into the Portuguese trading regions of Africa, Brazil, India and the Far East and were colonising North America. By calling on the merchant fleet to arm themselves, the Dutch could field a navy of more than a hundred ships, far more than any other northern European navy.

Competition from England

However, with the demise of Charles I, the English Commonwealth decided it would not be safe from invasion by European Catholic powers until it had a strong navy. Within a few years the Rump parliament had organised the building of a large number of heavily armed ships, and in 1652 manufactured reasons to declare war on the Dutch Republic. Defeat in that war left the Dutch at a trading disadvantage when transporting goods to and from England, but spurred the building of a more powerful Dutch navy which could challenge the English.

By 1661 when Charles II was negotiating his betrothal to Catherine of Braganza, the Dutch had been in a trade war with Portugal for many years. Portugal, fighting for its independence from Spain, was looking of help from England, and was in no position to defend Tangier against a concerted attack.

In October the Earl of Sandwich was ordered to the Mediterranean with a fleet of fifteen men-of-war. His orders were to subdue the Algerian corsairs, who were particularly active in capturing English merchantmen, and to ensure the safe handover of Tangier to the newly appointed governor, Lord Peterborough and then escort Catherine of Braganza to England.

Peterborough embarked 3,000 soldiers on his transports in the channel in early December, but had delayed his departure for week after week, for no obvious reason. At this critical period when most of the Portuguese garrison had left the city and the new occupiers had not even left England, the Dutch Republic sent de Ruyter to the Mediterranean with a fleet of seventeen warships.









Sandwich failed to persuade the Dey of Algiers to cooperate by diplomatic means and resorted to a bombardment. He became aware of the Dutch naval presence and despatched his second in command, Lawson, to patrol the Straights, whilst he took five ships to Tangier fully expecting to be confronted by the de Ruyter with Dutch fleet, or find a combined Dutch-Spanish fleet assisting a Moroccan attack on the city.

To his pleasant surprise Sandwich found no warships at Tangier, but he anchored in the Bay of Tangier to resist any attempt at Dutch occupation and awaited the overdue Peterborough, who eventually arrived many weeks later, on 29th of January.

I have seen no direct evidence that De Ruyter had orders to take any action regarding Tangier, but it seems likely he was sent to take advantage if an opportunity arose.

Fact Check

Main Source:

Israel, JI., Dutch Primacy in World Trade 1585-1740 (Oxford: OUP, 1990)