Book review Book Review: "A DISTANT STORM: The Four Days' Battle of 1666" by Frank Fox


Staff member
Dec 25, 2017

Vienna, Austria
Book Review:
A Distant Storm: The Four Days' Battle of 1666
by Frank Fox

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  • Hardcover: 440 pages
  • Publisher: Jean Boudriot Publications (December 1996)
  • Language: Englisch
  • ISBN-10: 094886429X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0948864292
  • Size / Product Dimension: 31,8 x 23,9 x 3 cm

Synopsis from Cover:

On Friday, June 1st 1666, a large English fleet met a larger Dutch fleet in battle off the mouth of the Thames. A victor not beeing declared by nightfall, the contest resumed on Saturday. The antagonists pounded away all that day, sparred intermittently on Sunday, and then on Monday practically knocked each other to pieces. That afternoon, the outnumbered English at length abandoned the "field" to conclude what had been the greatest engagement fought on the seas in all the age of sail. This tremendous encounter has long fascinated naval specialists, partly because of the sheer length and magnitude of the battle and partly because of the colossal mistake that led up to it. In view of the considerable controversy and speculation surrounding the affair, it is perhaps surprising that this is the first English-language book to be written about it.
Many readers will already be familiar with the rough outline of the campaign: the English, at war with both France and the Netherlands, heard incorrectly that a French fleet was approaching to join the Dutch. Prince Rupert, one of the English cvommanders, sailed with a strong squadron to meet the French, only to have the Royal Navy´s weakened remainder under the Duke of Albermarle encounter Michiel de Ruyter´s Dutch fleet. Recalled shortly before the battle, Prince Rupert returned in time to take part in the final day´s fighting but could not reverse the outcome. Beyond that basic sequence of events, questions abound. What intelligence made the English think the French were near? What, precisely, was Rupert expected to do, and what prompted his recall? Why did the Duke of Albermarle choose to give battle at a disadvantage? Was he simply overconfident? Published accounts in English say little about the French fleet. Where was it, and why did it not join the Dutch? Did Louis XIV betray his allies? As for the fighting itself, historians are much at odds over tactics and manoeuvres. Even such fundamentals as where the action took place and the strength of the opposing forces have been matters of dispute.
Most of these questions are answered here with reasonable certainty. There are several surprises, especially the hitherto little-suspected role of Ireland in the division of the fleet. But much remains in doubt. The Four Say´s Battle was an event of such overwhelming complexity that for some witnesses it literally defied description. The classic case (though unfortunately not unique) is a lieutenant´s log in which day-to-day activities were normally set forth in minute detail; but for the battle, there is no information other than the infuriating excuse that "ye particulars are too long for a journall"! Against the background of such problems, this book is a "Tour de Force" of scholarship, and will be recognised as the definitive account.

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About the author

A graduate of the University of Notre Dame and former Supply Officer in the U. S. Navy, Frank Fox is an independent naval researcher with particular interest in the second half of the seventeenth century. He is the author of "Great Ships: The Battle Fleet of King Charles II (click on title to see Review!)" (1980); "A Distant Storm: The Four Days' Battle of 1666" (1996); and "The Four Days' Battle of 1666: The Greatest Sea Fight of the Age of Sail" (2009, a revised but less illustrated version of A Distant Storm); and, with Richard Endsor, editor of "The Great Ordnance Survey of 1698, a Facsimile" (2013). He has been a frequent contributor to The Mariner's Mirror, the journal of the Society For Nautical Research; and most recently contributed an article for the Transactions of the Naval Dockyards Society (June 2012) entitled "The London of 1656: Her History and Armament". He is currently studying the Caribbean campaigns of the Second Anglo-Dutch War; and, with Dr Peter Le Fevre, circumstances of ship losses in the Battle of Beachy Head in 1690. He is a member of the Advisory Committee for the current licensee for archaeological diving on the wreck of the London in the Thames under the supervision of Wessex Archaeology Ltd and English Heritage.

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I: The Generals
II: The Royal Navy
III: The Ships
IV: Guns, Flags and the River Thames
V: Preparations
VI: Lowestoft
VII: The Indian Prize
VIII: The Other Side of the Hill
IX: The Division of the Fleet
X: Rupert's Expedition
XI: The French
XII: The Morning of the First of June
XIII: The First Day
XIV: The Second Day
XV: The Third Day
XVI: The Fourth Day
XVII: Aftermath
XVIII: Sequel
XIX: Epilogue

A: Instructions for the Division of the Fleet
B: The English Fleet at Lowestoft
C: The Dutch Fleet at Lowestoft
D: The English Fleet at Bergen
E: Smith at Tangier, December 1665-March 1666
F: The English Fleet in the Four Day's Battle
G: The Dutch Fleet in the Four Day's Battle
H: The English Fleet in the St. James's Day Fight
I: The Dutch Fleet in the St. James's Day Fight
J: Holmes in the Vlie
K: The French Fleet, 1666
L: Ordnance and Manning - English
M: Ordnance and Manning – Dutch

The list of illustrations:
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The author is not limiting the content on the battle by itself, but describing the overall historical and naval situation in a much wider view.
The battle was part of the 2.nd Dutch-English war, so he is explaning the events also before the battle. The reader is getting introduced in the leadership of both conutries as well as the admirals, enlighting also the political and commercial backgrounds. Unfortunately we learn less about the dutch, but more about the english side.
The author is describing in detail the swimming material, the ships and their outfitting and the development of tactics from the previous war. The first major battle of the war in 1665 was at Lowestoft, followed by the raid of Bergen of the same year, as well as the key events after the Four Days Battle - the St. James Day Battle, Holme's Bonfire and the Dutch raid into to Medway.
The key to the success of this book are the four chapters examining the Four Days themselves. Fox has produced a detailed but clear account of the battle, switching neatly between the English and Dutch points of view, and between the events themselves and the behaviour of the commanders, captains and men. One surprising feature of the battle that emerges very clearly from Fox's text is that it was a rare example of a major naval battle fought between two commanders of the highest ability - George Monck, Duke of Albemarle for the English and Michiel Adriaansz de Ruyter for the Dutch, and as a result saw a number of impressive manoeuvres on both sides.
The text is supported by some useful maps showing the movements of the two fleets or relevant squadrons, and by a good selection of plates, many shows extracts from Willem Van de Velde the Elder's contemporary sketches of the battle and of the ships involved. Detailed lists of the sources and illustrations as well very informative appendices are completing this outstanding book.
If you are interested in this period, historical background and the ships and naval battles of this time - a highly recommended book. Unfortunately not cheap, but worth the money.

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More Look Inside photos you will find in the next post .....
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