Landguard Fort, Nathaniel Darell, and the Battle Nobody Remembers

The doors were not open when the Dutch attacked.

Today marks the 352nd anniversary of the Battle of Landguard Fort, in which the militia of Landguard Fort repelled an invading Dutch force. Not that many people will know that.

It was a minor battle in truth, not only relative to all the other battles in which England has engaged, but within the war itself. The battle occurred towards the end of the Second Anglo-Dutch War (1665-1667), in the aftermath of the more famous Raid on the Medway, during a time when peace negotiations to end the war were already well underway. 

Such is the obscurity of the battle that the commander of the defending English forces, Captain Nathaniel Darell, does not have an Encyclopaedia—nor even a Wikipedia—entry. Such is Darell’s obscurity that on the Wikipedia entry for the Battle of Landguard Fort his name is misspelled—twice, in two different ways. Such is Darell’s obscurity, that every time I type his name, I have to double-check it’s right. Indeed, the gratitude given towards Captain Darell for his leading role in defending his country amounts to little more than having a locomotive named after him some near four centuries after his deed, and being depicted in a terrible painting that hangs inside Landguard Fort’s gallery.

“What on earth does ‘perspective’ mean?” – The painter, probably.

Despite these academic oversights, the Battle of Landguard Fort does have two distinctions that should rightly make it more well known than it is. It is recorded as the first engagement of the Duke of York and Albany’s Maritime Regiment, the precursors to the Royal Marines; and it is also recorded as the location of the last landed invasion of England by a foreign force.

Langer Point, where the Dutch probably didn’t land.

It is argued, mainly by me but others are welcome to follow suit, that it is because the defence of Landguard Fort and the port of Harwich by Captain Darell and his men was successful that the battle is not more widely known to the masses. England is the birthplace of the pessimist: it is our natural state of being to focus more on our defeats than our victories. The Raid on the Medway is infamous in that sense, because it was a humiliating defeat for England and its navy, one which led to an effective naval blockade of London and the transferral of sea power around the Channel and coast of southern England to the Dutch. Had the attack on Landguard Fort succeeded and Harwich fallen, and had the Dutch taken control of the eastern coast as it had the southern, then perhaps Landguard Fort and its garrison would be spoken of more often. And make no mistake, had Harwich fallen, there is no doubt that the Dutch would have been on their way to total victory. Harwich was—is—a deep-sea port and the only safe anchorage, a place to anchor a navy and resupply it without the need to return to port, between the Thames and the Humber. With a blockaded capital and the Dutch having free rein over the south, east, and perhaps even the north, then England’s already weak position at the negotiating table would have been far worse. 

But, thanks in no small part to the leadership of Captain Darell, the idea of a captured Harwich and England surrendering itself to an invading Dutch force is nothing but a flight of fancy best left to the pages of an alternate history novel. 

Instead, he led the day’s defence of the Fort, fending off several waves from the 1500 or so Dutch soldiers who landed on the edge of Felixstowe and made their way towards the Fort. Of course, Darell was not the only person responsible for the successful defence. The defending forces were aided by a passing galley bombarding the Dutch forces as they marched towards the Fort, killing Colonel Thomas Dolman the Dutch commander in the process. The forces were eventually reinforced by a militia headed by the Earl of Suffolk, who was slightly less effective than the galley in providing support. After a day of stop-start battle and constant Dutch attacks, retreats and regroups, de Ruyter called off the attack for good and sailed away from Harwich to resume his role in the blockade of London.

The battle might have gone quicker, had this existed in the 17th century…

At the battle’s end, one hundred and fifty or so Dutch lay dead; the English dead numbered no more than ten. Captain Darell was for his own troubles wounded during the battle, taking a bullet to the shoulder. A letter from the Privy Council in the aftermath of the victory thanks Darell for his service, as well as gives him a bonus of sort for being wounded in action during the defence.

…or this.

By the end of the month, the war was over and Landguard Fort and Captain Nathaniel Darell returned to their usual obscurity, save in the minds of the few people who preserve both his memory, that of the battle, and the overall structure of Landguard Fort.

Landguard Fort Courtyard

Today, Landguard Fort is under the ownership of the Landguard Fort Trust, and is open to the public. On July 6 and 7 Landguard Fort will be hosting Darrel’s Day, its yearly commemoration of the captain and the battle.

Perhaps if you go, you’ll see me there. But I won’t make myself known to you. For to do so would remove my veil of anonymity.

I mean, it’s just awful, isn’t it?

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