chapter  2
12 Pages

Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea: The Logic of Neutrality

In 1781 a small booklet was published in Amsterdam, entitled De Engelsche Tieranny.1 It consisted of four dialogues between a father and his son, in which the father pointed out how the English, since the earliest days of the Dutch Republic, had consistently tried to undermine the Dutch, their commerce and thus their very existence. It gave many examples of the wild and barbaric nature of the English, their notorious unreliability, and their willingness to get their way, if need be through murder and massacre, including most memorably the murder of a king. The execution of Charles I was presented as a ‘crime of the whole nation’. One of the villains of the piece was Richard Holmes, who in 1664 had plundered some Dutch factories in Africa and, on his return, Tike a true Englishman, breathing nothing but rage and revenge and already flushed with the blood of the Dutchmen on the Guinea Coast’, had burnt down the peace-loving fishing village of Terschelling. Happily, the English did not get away with these cruelties. God took it upon himself to castigate them in the Great Fire of London of 1666. Subsequently the Dutch naval heroes De Ruyter and Van Ghent took their own revenge by sailing up the Medway and humiliating the English navy, but they, of course, carefully avoided inflicting any harm on the civilian population.