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Frank Fox is well-known for his work on Charles II's Battlefleet, published many years ago, by Conway in 1980. Copies of this command good prices on the second-hand market.

 

His account of the Four Days Battle in 1666 is the best re-telling of a Naval encounter which I have ever read, and reveals an astounding knowledge allied with what must have been years worth of research in archives in Western Europe. It is far more than a bare narrative of events and their consequences.

 

The historical setting, the Navy, the ships, officers, crews and customs, of the English and Dutch are all well described, which is what one would expect of any decent book. What sets this apart is firstly its readability, with no feeling of tedium or excessive quoting of statistics at any point; secondly the really clear and interesting explanation of just how much influence the shoals, tides & currents of the Thames Estuary and North Sea had on events; and thirdly the amount of clarity which is given to the abilities, shortcomings, characters, desires and motives of the various commanders and captains. 

 

The development of Naval tactics during the period (when the line of battle was first brought into use by the English fleet) is very well set out, with the contrasting tactical methods of the protagonists clearly explained and thoroughly analysed. The battle of Lowestoft the year before, and the St James' Day battle later in 1666 are recounted and their places and consequences in the Second Dutch War made clear.

 

The decisive part in the year's events played by the French fleet, which never fired a shot in anger, and hardly saw an enemy ship at all, is analysed thoroughly. It was the perceived threat of Louis XIV's fleet which caused a large number of the Navy's best ships to be detached from the main fleet, leaving the remainder vulnerable. This was a mistake of catastrophic magnitude, made much worse by faulty intelligence and lack of scouting ships to report events. This meant, among other things, that the English commander was unaware that the Dutch fleet had sailed, for a week after it had set forth.

 

This book will bring to its reader a deep understanding of the factors influencing Naval Battles in the Restoration period. I feel as though I have been thoroughly educated from reading this, but also, thoroughly entertained.

 

All the best,

 

Mark P

 

 

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