Michiel de Ruyter was the most famous admiral in the Republic of the United Netherlands’ history. He fought in nearly all of their naval battles, and his career ended in 1706 when he fell from a mast and died.
Michiel de Ruyter was one of the most well-known and respected Dutch admirals, so it’s difficult to imagine beginning his life without knowing who he is — but we’ll give you a shot anyways. Michiel de Ruyter came from an ordinary family living near Rotterdam where they were farmers and fishermen before joining the military service. He was born in 1607, the eldest son of Boudewijn Hendricksz de Ruyter and Aeltje Jansdochter Boshuijzen. In those days, the Netherlands was fighting a war against Catholic Spain for its independence. Michiel joined the navy at a young age as a cabin boy on his uncle’s ship. He learned his seamanship skills on the job, and he quickly moved on to command a ship of his own.
In 1632, a peace treaty was signed between Spain and the Netherlands, but the Netherlands continued to fight on its own for independence from King Philip IV of Spain. Michiel de Ruyter soon became one of the most respected naval commanders during this time period. In 1639, he led a raid of the Spanish-occupied port city of Dunkirk, France. The operation was a success, and it allowed the Netherlands to maintain its alliance with England. In 1666, he helped the Dutch regain their independence from Spain, and by 1674 Michiel de Ruyter led his fleet into battle against England in the War of English Succession. In this war, Michiel de Ruyter fought alongside his son Cornelis de Ruyter who also became a famous Dutch admiral.
In 1676, a devastating fire destroyed much of the capital city of Amsterdam and killed thousands of people leaving 100,000 homeless. This massive catastrophe broke the power of the Dutch city-state and allowed King Louis XIV to seize control of Holland and take away its independence. Michiel de Ruyter continued to lead his fleet against the French invaders, but the war ended in 1678 with a peace treaty that basically recognized France’s land victories. In 1688, Michiel de Ruyter helped rescue William III from a mutiny incited by his own wife Mary II. The Dutch sailors were angry at William for his support of Catholic James II during the Glorious Revolution, so they took control of his ship Resolution and tried to force him off the throne.
Michiel de Ruyter remained loyal to William, and he helped him retake control of Resolution. Michiel de Ruyter then led a naval attack that defeated the mutinous army on land and recaptured Amsterdam for William III. In 1690, the Netherlands and England formed a new alliance against France and Spain in another war known as the War of Spanish Succession. This time, the war was fought over who would inherit King Charles II’s throne — his son Charles or his brother James. Michiel de Ruyter led his fleet into battle at Beachy Head where he fought against the English navy at the Battle of Beachy Head on July 10th, 1690. The Dutch were less than pleased to see the English come to their aid and help them defeat Spain and France, and this helped spark a rivalry between the two countries that’s lasted for centuries.
In 1702, English Admiral George Rooke defeated Michiel de Ruyter in one of his final battles against him during the War of the Spanish Succession. This began Michiel de Ruyter’s career as an admiral whose success was overshadowed by his rival Admiral Rooke. In 1704, Rooke captured Michiel de Ruyter’s last ship but refused to take him prisoner — which angered Michiel de Ruyter. Michiel de Ruyter served in the navy until his death, which occurred after he fell from a mast and broke his neck at the Battle of Scheveningen on August 30th, 1706.
And here are some interesting facts about Michiel de Ruyter:
He had six children with his wife Catherine van Buren. Two of them were named Cornelis and Abraham while some others died while growing up. He was heartbroken when the eldest son Sebastian died in 1653 at age 19 while fighting in the Spanish navy against his father’s navy. His wife died in 1660.
He was born in the village of Heemstede, some 50 miles from Rotterdam. He went to sea at an early age, and by the time he was 20 he had his own schooner at command. He often gave his ship’s captain warnings about approaching enemies, but sometimes he would lie about their strength.
He died on October 2nd, 1707, after falling from a mast of his ship while fighting against the English fleet near Scaveningen. The Dutch had suffered a serious defeat at Scheveningen on August 30th, 1706 against the English during the War of Spanish Succession.