Sunday, 17 April 2011

A Scilly War that lasted 335 Years (1651-1986)

I love historic quirks.

One that I was unaware of until this week was that of the 335 year war between the Isles of Scilly and the Netherlands! Today, April 17th, is the 25th anniversary of the signing of the Peace Treaty in 1986 which ended this unlikliest of rivalries!

Isles of Scilly
Republic of the Seven United


It apparently all began during the English Civil War. Cromwell's Parliamentarians had taken control of mainland Britian, forcing the Royalist Navy to retreat to the Isles of Scilly, which lie off the Cornish coast and which were under the ownership of Royalist John Grenville.

The United Provinces of the Netherlands had been supported by the English in its Eighty Years War against Spain. Having finally gained official independence from Spain in 1648, they therefore sought to maintain their English alliance and sided with Cromwell's Roundheads.

The Dutch Navy suffered losses at the hands of the stubborn Royalist Naval fleet based in Scilly and on March 30th 1651, Admiral Maarten Harpertszoon Tromp arrived in Scilly to demand reparation from the Royalist fleet for the Dutch ships and goods taken by them.

According to Whitelocke's Memorials (cited in Bowley, 2001), a letter of 17 April 1651 explains:

"Tromp came to Pendennis and related that he had been to Scilly to demand reparation for the Dutch ships and goods taken by them; and receiving no satisfactory answer, he had, according to his Commission, declared war on them".

As mainland Britain was under Parliamentary control, this was therefore a Declaration of War on the Scilly Islands themselves and themselves alone.

Royalist Defeat
Just months later in June 1651 and without a shot having been fired, the Parliamentarians forced the Royalist fleet to surrender. The Dutch Navy left as a result but did not officially declare peace with the islands.

Peace at Last!
In 1985, Roy Duncan, a historian and Chairman of the Isles of Scilly Council, wrote to the Dutch Embassy in London to dispose of the "myth" that the islands were still at war. Embassy staff found the myth to be accurate and Duncan invited Ambassador Jonkheer Rein Huydecoper to visit the islands and sign a peace treaty.

Peace was declared on 17 April 1986, 335 years after the "war" began.

The Ambassador joked that it must have been harrowing to the Scillonians " know we could have attacked at any moment".

Well, indeed!

1 comment:

  1. News to me.

    Also, its news to me that 1986 was 15 years ago. 1986 happened to be the year I joined the SDP and 2011 happens to be the 25th anniversary.

    Maybe you'd like to check the 2nd line. hehehehe

    If you ever happen to be in Huntingdon, I must recommend going to the Oliver Cromwell museum. I was there on New Years Eve 2010. Oliver Cromwell is one of my heroes in history.

    Meanwhile, I will commemorate the 25th anniversary of the signing of the peace treaty.....