Peace at last

On consulting my notes, I am appalled to discover that on April 17th, because it was a Sunday, I failed to post an item I had intended to commemorate the anniversary of the conclusion — only thirty years before — of one of the world’s longest wars. This was the Three Hundred and Thirty-Five Years’ War, between the Scilly Isles (off Cornwall in England) and the Netherlands. Or if gentle reader would prefer, we might call it the Driehonderdvijfendertigjarige Oorlog. It is among my favourite historical wars, both for its duration, and from an humanitarian point of view. (There were no casualties.)

You see, the Dutch took the Parliamentary side in the Second English Civil War of 1642–51. (Quite a few casualties.) They wanted to maintain an alliance with England against the Catholic powers in Europe (Spain in particular), and were expecting Cromwell and his Roundheads to win. Which (woefully) Cromwell did, and even by 1648, his troops had pushed the (saintly) Cavaliers across Cornwall, all the way to extinction at Land’s End. This, however, left the Royal Navy of (His Late Majesty) King Charles still in possession of the Isles of Scilly, some thirty miles farther. But when the Roundheads invaded those, their troops mutinied and went over to the Royal side. Engagements elsewhere led Cromwell to forget about the place entirely.

But his Dutch allies did not forget. This was because the (sadly) much reduced Royal Navy was meanwhile plundering the West Country coast, capturing passing ships of various nationalities and, to the point, taking Dutch vessels. Indeed, it seems the Royalists were having a jolly piratical life out there — the Isles naturally defended by shoals, but the English captains knowing their ways around and through them. The irritation of the Dutch was growing, however.

On or about the 30th of March, 1651, Admiral Maarten Harpertszoon Tromp of the Navy of the United Provinces of the Netherlands (no relation to the Trumps of the New World) arrived safely in the sea roads of these (rather small) islands. He demanded reparations for a long list of depradations. Receiving no acceptable reply, he formally declared war on the Isles of Scilly (a written record was deposited at Pendennis), and then — the tide turning — he sensibly sailed away.

Please, gentle reader, do not berate me for failing to support the claims of this Tromp gentleman; nor try to explain to me that the whole affair was resolved by English treaties with the Dutch at the end of this Civil War, a few months later. I am perfectly aware that the Scillies were never a de jure nation state.

But wars tend to be de facto sorts of things, and the declaration was made by the agent of a sovereign power. The matter was not specifically resolved with the Scillies.

Now, I don’t want to leave the impression that as an Anglo-Saxon Monarchist and Catholic I am prejudiced against the proto-Orangemen from Holland (although of course I am). For to their credit, I will state that when the matter was brought to their attention by historians in anno 1986, they moved promptly to rectify it. A Dutch delegation landed at Hugh Town (let us call it the capital of the Scillies), and the declaration of war was publicly withdrawn.

To their further credit, they also apologized to the inhabitants of the Isles for any anxieties they may have had about an imminent Dutch invasion, through the previous centuries.

What can I add?

There are people who say that all wars are bad, but I disagree with them. I offer this one as an example of just how long and pleasurable a war can be.


Owing to diplomatic oversight, there may have been several longer wars, but the question came to mind, which was the shortest?

According to my cursory researches that would be the Anglo-Zanzibar conflagration of 27th August, 1896. It started at 9:02 a.m., local time.

The casus belli was one Khalid bin Bargash, who had imposed himself as Sultan in succession to his cousin, whom he had probably poisoned. Worse, he had done so without first notifying the British Consul, which was de rigueur. As it turned out, the British preferred another heir, and so sent an ultimatum. Khalid barricaded himself inside the palace, calling out the palace guard.

Well, the British happened to have a few gunboats in the harbour at that moment, and while seriously outnumbered, they were much better armed. They shelled the Sultan’s harem, and a surrender was received at 9:40. The duration of the war was thus thirty-eight minutes.

A good war, in the sense that it was short and decisive, but I’m sorry to say there were quite a few hundred Zanzibari casualties. (The British suffered one sailor, slightly wounded.) Alas, the defunct did not include the offending Khalid, who ran immediately to the German consulate, and found his way from there to German East Africa.