- Yuan Dynasty Period Piracy
- Ming Dynasty Period Piracy
- Qing Dynasty Period Piracy
- Some Famous/ Infamous China & East Indies Pirates
Customize a China tour
Some Famous/ Infamous China & East Indies Pirates
- Lord Koxinga
- The Europeans Arrive
- The Arrival Of The Portuguese Sounds The Death Knell For Wokou Piracy
- Fernão Mendes Pinto
"Sixteen men on the dead man's chest,
Yo, ho, ho and a bottle of rum,
Drink and the devil had done for the rest,
Yo, ho, ho and a bottle of rum!"
– Pirate's Anthem, from Treasure Island, by Robert Louis Stevenson
Zheng Chenggong, aka Koxinga, was born Zheng Sen in Japan to a Chinese father – Zheng Zhilong, a merchant cum merchant-pirate, the latter thanks to the Chinese tributary system that forced even well-intentioned merchants to collude with the Wokou pirates and to eventually themselves become pirates and/or smugglers – and to a Japanese mother and native of the city of Nagasaki whose surname (her given name has inexplainably been lost to posterity) was Tagawa, and who served as a domestic in the household of a Japanese feudal lord. Despite his resistance to the Ming Dynasty's unfortunate foreign trade policy, Zheng Zhilong was an ardent supporter of the Han Chinese Ming Dynasty, and his son, Zheng Sen, followed in his father's footsteps in this regard (both in the piracy and in the loyalty toward the Ming Dynasty).
Zheng Zhilong was a close associate of the remnant Ming Dynasty – sometimes called the Southern Ming – that existed parallel with the Qing Dynasty for a number of years, as the Qing Dynasty sought to establish itself throughout the country. The Southern Ming was a dynasty in retreat as it relocated farther and farther southward in the face of Manchu pressure. At one point the Southern Ming, under the rule of the Longwu Emperor, had beaten a retreat all the way southward to Fujian Province, where the Longwu Emperor sought shelter under the protection of the wealthy merchant and ardent Ming Dynasty supporter, Zheng Zhilong.
In appreciation of the generous support of the Zheng family, the emperor bestowed a new auspicious family name upon Zheng Zhilong's young adult son, Zheng Sen, namely, "Chenggong", meaning "success", and gave the young man the title of Guo xing ye – or Guoxingye, as it is more commonly written – meaning "Lord of the Imperial Surname", which, in its Angliziced form was rendered as Koxinga, the name by which the young man, as a formidable pirate, would later be known, though, to the Chinese people, and in particular, to the inhabitants of Taiwan, Zheng Sen is known neither as a pirate nor as "Koxinga", but as a national hero by the name of "Chenggong".
For most of his short adult life, Koxinga fought against the Qing Dynasty. Like his father, he was an ardent supporter of the Han Chinese Ming Dynasty, and like his mother and all of Japan, he considered the Manchus, whom the Japanese considered as primitive barbarians, unworthy to rule China. In fact, so great was the Japanese resentment against the Manchu rule of China that the Japanese publicly refused to play along with the Chinese tributary system that rendered all other states vassal states of China (in truth, the Japanese had long since, even under the Ming Dynasty, ceased to play along with the Chinese pretence that China was the overlord, while Japan and all other countries were "subjects", or vassal states).
Koxinga's father eventually surrendered to the Qing Dynasty in exchange for being appointed as governor of Fujian Province. Koxinga and his mother refused to surrender and instead Koxinga took command of his father's merchant fleet cum rag-tag navy and devoted himself to harrassing Qing interests along the coast, especially along the Fujian coast where his father was now the governor, with the Qing government's blessings. Qing forces mounted an assault against the Zheng hometown, probably in order to take Koxinga's mother prisoner as a means of putting pressure on Koxinga, but before the Qing forces could capture her, Tagawa committed suicide.
The new Southern Ming emperor was now the Yongli Emperor, but Fujian Province was no longer a safe haven for a Ming patriot, therefore the Yongli Emperor and his loyal entourage fled westward to the jungle-like, subtropical terrain of southwestern China, in particular to the area of present-day Yunnan Province. It is at this point that those who see Zheng Sen as Chenggong or as Koxinga that the interpretations differ, for while those who view Zheng Sen as a national hero will say that the national hero was powerless to aid the Yongli Emperor, therefore he remained at sea to harass the Qing government as best he could, as well as harassing Qing interests along the coast, while those who see Zheng Sen as little more than a pirate view him as a self-serving opportunist who was more interested in the booty he could plunder than in standing side by side with the Yongli Emperor.
But Zheng Sen did indeed continue to do battle with the Qing forces, mainly because the latter saw a threat in Zheng Sen as long as he was free to operate on the coast of China, and therefore the Qing government pursued Zheng Sen. The Qing government even tried to pressure the father to rein in the son, but Zheng Sen ignored his father's appeals. The Qing government then sent a large naval force against Zheng Sen, who had in the meantime ensconced himself on the island archipelago of Jinmen, just off the Fujian coast from the city of Xiamen.
Due partly if not mainly to a freak storm, the more powerful Qing forces were miraculously defeated by Zheng Sen. Since the Qing navy had been severely decimated, and since Zheng Sen had had the forsight to have one of his subordinate contingents occupy the large and strategic island archipelago in Hangzhou Bay, the Zhoushan Archipelago, thus denying the Qing forces a sea base from which to operate, Zheng Sen, after the defeat of the Qing Navy at Jinmen, ruled China's coast all the way from present-day Shanghai in the north to Guangdong Province in the south.
It was during this period that Zheng Sen turned his attention to the enormous island of Taiwan, which was under the rule of the Dutch. If you take the view that Zheng Sen truly was a selfless national hero, then you will believe that Zheng Sen recaptured Taiwan for the sake of China. If you take a somewhat more jaded view, you will say that Zheng Sen took Taiwan from the Dutch perhaps partly for the spoils (the Dutch had amassed quite a bit of wealth there) and partly to have a stronger base from which to operate – either as a Ming patriot or as a self-serving pirate. In any case, Koxinga, as we will now call him, since that is how he is known subsequently in the West, launched a series of attacks on the Dutch forces on Taiwan beginning in 1661, eventually causing the Dutch commander, Frederik Coyett, to surrender in 1662.
According to the historical record, which one might reasonably say is slanted in favor of the view that Zheng Sen is a national hero, Koxinga intended to use Taiwan as a base from which to launch naval attacks against Qing interests on the mainland. A skeptic might say that it is hard to imagine that Koxinga could envision himself in any realistic position to make even a serious dent in mainland China, much less retake all of mainland China from the Manchus. (Okay, there was a plan to sail up the Yangtze River, whose mouth empties into the East China Sea just north of the Zhoushan Archipelago (at the time under the command of Koxinga) and retake the ancient capital of Nanking (present-day Nanjing), for a short time the capital of Southern Ming before the Southern Ming leadership was pushed farther south and eventually completely "off the map", i.e., to the jungle terrain of southwestern China – but this was probably at best a fantastic plan.)
It is much easier to imagine that Koxinga was interested in fortifying the island of Taiwan, which would become his mini-kingdom (from which he could of course make pirate raids against the mainland – in the name of Ming patriotism, of course (what's the saying, "Patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel"?)). In any case, we will never know which is the true interpretation, opportunist or deserving national hero, because Zheng Sen, alias Chenggong alias Koxinga died of malaria on Taiwan in 1662, aged 37 (or maybe he was aged 39, since the exact date of Koxinga's birth is apparently as uncertain as his mother's given name is unknown), the same year he had conquered the island from the Dutch.
There are numerous memorials, from busts to full statues to temples, in Chenggong's honor in the village of Anping, city of Tainan, Taiwan, where Chenggong is accorded the status of a deity. Indeed, Chenggong is also worshipped as a deity in Fujian Province as well as round about the world wherever the Chinese diaspora from that era (think: the coolie era) spread, and this tradition is kept alive to this day by the Chinese diaspora, which today numbers many newer Chinese emigrants from the area in question, not just the descendants of coolies. Even on Taiwan, it is said that the name "Koxinga" will draw a blank stare, but if one mentions the name Chenggong, faces light up and the national hero's praise is sung.
The Dutch hightailed it to their base in the Spice Islands, their "capital" away from home, Batavia, or Sunda Kelapa cum Jayakarta cum Jakarta. Taiwan remained under the rule of Koxinga's son for some 20 years, though the island, under the rule of Koxinga's grandson, eventually fell to Qing forces in 1683 with the decisive Battle of Penghu (the reference is to the Penghu Islands – the Pescadores, in English – home of the former Dutch trading post, situated in the southern reaches of the Taiwan Strait), and Taiwan became administratively subordinate to Fujian Province.
Eli Boggs – was as unlikely a pirate as one could imagine, for he had the face of a cherub and the corresponding youthfulness, and he dressed like an English dandy. Eli Boggs, whose birthdate no one seems to have known for certain, had a ransom of $1000 on his head, and was eventually captured by another American pirate, Bully Hayes. Besides piracy, Boggs apparently ran an extortion racket in Hong Kong similar to the extortion rackets that would be common to the Cosa Nostra (the Sicilian mafia clan) seventy-five years later in the US (and, as well, common to the Triads, the oriental, mafia-like drugs- extortion clans that operate in Hong Kong, Macau, Amsterdam and elsewhere in Southeast Asia, as well as in Chinatowns around the world), whereby merchants were required to pay protection fees to Boggs in exchange for being left alone.
Boggs was renowned for his cruelty. It is claimed that on one occasion he had the body of a merchant who had refused to pay the protection fee cut up in cubes and delivered to Hong Kong's other merchants as a warning of what happened to a merchant who refused to pay up. It was also claimed that Boggs was equally as ruthless to his victims at sea, taking pleasure in murdering them cold-bloodedly, an act that surely helped to cement his reputation among ordinary pirates, as here was a man who was not only not afraid of getting a bit of blood on his hands, he would do it with a smile.
Boggs' youthful, almost effeminate good looks stood him in good stead when he was eventually tried in a court in Hong Kong. No one would testify against him (his comrades in arms had probably spread the word that anyone who did was a dead man), and in the end, the jury, though they found Boggs guilty of piracy (that much was a well-established fact), just couldn't see the eloquent, youthful cherub – and well-dressed dandy – who stood before them as a cold-blooded murderer, so Boggs was instead imprisoned in Hong Kong for three years, to be deported afterward to the US.
It is claimed that Eli Boggs did not serve out his sentence in Hong Kong, that instead he was released on grounds of poor health. Nor is anything written about Boggs' return to the US. Boggs seems to have disappeared from the face of the earth! Perhaps Boggs had friends in high places, or had acquired friends in high places, thanks to his pirate comrades and thanks to the riches that he had stashed away. No one knows for certain what happened with the very mysterious Eli Boggs, yet another bizarre detail that adds to the cloak of mystique surrounding one Eli Boggs.
William Henry "Bully" Hayes (ca.1828-77) – was quite likely never a pirate in the usual sense, but was instead, at best, an opium smuggler and a blackbirder, i.e., one who kidnapped East Indians (or Chinamen) – and not through piracy, mind you, but simply by nabbing ususpecting islanders, individually or in small groups – and then selling them as slaves, for there was indeed a market for slaves in the East Indies, such as on the island of Fiji, where there were large sugar plantations. This would seem to corroborate the story that it was Hayes, serving in some capacity for the British Crown, who eventually laid Eli Boggs in irons, since the profession of the blackbirder and that of the bounty hunter are not all that far apart.
According to authors James A. Michener and A. Grove Day, Bully Hayes was "a cheap swindler, a bully, a minor confidence man, a thief". Moreover, the authors insist that there is no evidence to suggest that Hayes ever captured a ship by force, whether acting in the capacity of a privateer or as an outright pirate. Hayes had a reputation for being something of a big spender when in the company of his superiors. It is said that he squandered much of the gains he acquired, some of which was as a tag-along privateeer on board the HMS Bittern, where Hayes would come in for the kill, as it were, on a smaller vessel, after the Bittern had decommissioned a pirate ship, and Hayes would be allowed to keep a portion of the goods thus recovered from the pirates.
The other side of Bully Hayes, the one he showed to everyone else but the Royal Navy (suggesting that Bully Hayes was what one today would all a 'suck-up, kick-down' type, i.e., one who ingratiates himself to his superiors, but who is mercilessly harsh toward subordinates), was that of a con man and a shyster; Hayes would run up bills with the tailors, hoteliers and restaurateurs of Hong Kong and other Chinese ports, then abscond without paying a cent, a practice he repeated in the East Indies and in Australia. On his final departure from China, Hayes loaded a hundred or so coolies on his ship in Swatow (present-day Shantou, situated some 300 kilometers, as the crow flies, farther up the coast from Hong Kong) enroute for Australia.
At sea, Hayes convinced the coolies to pay him, in addition to the price of the Swatow-Sydney fare, the alleged fees and taxes (nonexistent, one presumes!) that they would each be charged for entering Australia. When he was approaching Sydney Harbor, but still a ways out to sea, and as the tugboat that would be safely towing his ship into Sydney Harbor approached, Hayes the shyster flooded his ship's bilges in order to make it look as if his ship was about to sink at any moment, and when the tugboat came alongside, Hayes had all of the Chinese passengers transferred to the tugboat, assuring the captain of the tugboat that if he would be so kind as to deliver the passengers safely to Sydney Harbor, he could collect the standard salvage fee for rescuing Hayes' boat on his return. Needless to say, when the captain of the tugboat returned, there was no sign of the shyster Bully Hayes!
Almost fittingly, Bully Hayes met his end at the hand of a member of his own crew, his cook, Peter "Dutch Pete" Radeck, on the last day of March, 1877 – a pity, one is tempted to say, that it didn't happen a day later, on April Fool's Day!
Thomas Tew, Gentleman Pirate
Thomas Tew, aka the Rhode Island Pirate, a rightly famous gentleman and pirate, had a very short but highly successful career as a privateer cum pirate. Tew lived in an earlier era – about 200 years earlier than Hayes and Boggs. Most of what we know of Thomas Tew is so laced with fiction that it is hard to sort the truth from the fiction (we may be more in the presence of Baron von Münchhausen here than of the buccaneer, Henry Morgan!), so I leave it to you to do the sorting. It has been rumored that Tew was born, as his nickname above suggests, in the American east-coast state of Rhode Island, but this cannot be established with certainty. Another theory says that Tew was born in the UK, specifically, in Northamptonshire, England. It is also claimed that his wife and two daughters resided in New York City, where they lived a very fashionable life, but there is no concrete evidence to prove that he even had a nuclear family.
What is known about Thomas Tew for a certainty is that, while living in Bermuda – ie., the isolated island located some 1200 kilometers due north of the Virgin Islands (the latter being located just east of Puerto Rico in the West Indies) and some 1500 kilometers due east of the port city of Savannah in the US state of Georgia – Tew eventually obtained a letter of marque authorizing him to serve as a privateer, attacking and plundering pirate vessels operating in the waters of the West Indies, or, in the case at hand, perhaps anywhere between West Africa and the West Indies. With his letter of marque in hand, Tew was able to find wealthy backers who would finance his purchase of the ship he would need, its outfitting with the requisite armaments and its provisioning, including the acquisition of a capable crew. Tew purchased a Bermuda sloop (note that the Bermuda sloop was typically 3-masted – see below – and as such was technically a schooner), the Amity, weighing 70 tons and equipped with 8 cannons, albeit of unknown caliber, though it must be said that in these early years, cannons were not nearly as heavy and as long-ranged as they would be in the late 19th century.
Figure 14: The 3-Masted Bermuda Sloop
West Indian Bermuda was under French administration at the time, as was Gambia on the West African coast, which is where the French authorities who had issued the letter of marque to Tew wished for him to patrol. But hardly had Tew reached open water than he declared his intention to make his mark as a pirate, not as a privateer, and Tew asked if he could count upon the backing of the Amity's crew. The crew is alleged to have replied:
"A gold chain or a wooden leg, we stand with Tew!"
Which simply says that in good luck or bad, the pirates would stand with their captain. However, few pirates show allegiance to a captain when luck turns sour, so this was surely an easy oath to take, and was taken in "good times", i.e., with the entire voyage before them and with a ship full of provisions. As things would turn out, pirate captain Tew would only have one unlucky voyage, though that voyage would be his final one. But first, to Thomas Tew's happier voyage...
Tew sailed southward along the northern coast of South America, surely restocking at port cities along the easternmost tip of Brazil, as Ferdinand Magellan (CE 1480-1521) had done. (Ferdinand Magellan is the famous Portuguese explorer who charted the theretofore unknown course from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean – indeed, Magellan gave the latter its name – round the Cape of Good Hope, and Magellan was also known for discovering the Strait of Magellan, the sea route that passes between mainland South America (Chile) and the tip of South America, the island of Tierra del Fuego.) Magellan's – and surely also Tew's – route, after departing Brazil, continued diagonally across the Atlantic Ocean and round the Cape of Good Hope at the tip of Africa. In fact, due to the increasing incidence of piracy along the Barbary Coast during the 18th and 19th century especially, many ships preferred to avoid the West African coast altogether, sailing the same route as Magellan to Brazil, and then on around the cape.
This latter 'Brazil to the Cape of Good Hope' leg of the journey was long, full of strong currents, strong winds and high seas, full of fear of the rolling deep and fraught with blood-curdling tales about an ocean that could swallow a ship within minutes, and without trace, but also a long journey that was devoid of the least possibility of securing new provisions until the cape was reached.
Rounding the cape, Tew proceeded north, hugging the shoreline and sailing in between the island of Madagascar and the mainland, then on northward along the coast of present-day Somalia, easing westward into the Gulf of Aden, and finally making his way into the shipping lanes of the Red Sea, where ships laden with spices and silk- and cotton fabrics as well as tea – and sometimes with chests full of gold and silver coins – would be plying the waters between the East Indies and the Levant (raw silk from China was now being woven into luxuriously delicate fabrics in the workshops of Damascus (viz., the fabric known as Damask) and Gaza (viz., the fabric known as Gauze).
Note that the spices and other goods such as silk that arrived in Europe by sea, brought by the Saracens (i.e., the Muslim traders of the eastern Mediterranean), travelled this route, disembarking either at Jiddah on the Arabian Peninsula or near Cairo, and from these ports, on to Europe. These routes existed parallel with the European "spice trade" (meaning also trade in silk- and cotton fabrics, in tea and porcelain, etc.) voyages around the Cape of Good Hope. The Portuguese used these very same sea routes all through the first century of their East Indian spice trade when they were the only Europeans trading directly with the "Spice Islanders". Having arrived in the Red Sea in 1693, Tew spotted a large, heavily-laden Mughal-Indian ship enroute from India with goods destined for the marketplaces of Istanbul.
Inexplicably, the ship surrendered immediately, without putting up a fight, even though there was a large contingent of soldiers on board. It turned out to be a real treasure trove for Tew and his pirate crew: spices, silk, ivory and jewels, as well as gold and silver coins worth £100,000 alone. The share came to between £1,200-£3,000 per crew member, depending on the crew member's rank, which was a fortune in those days, while Tew kept £8,000 for himself.
It is claimed that Tew, having become drunken with greed, as it were, was minded to hang around in the Red Sea in order to plunder other ships, but the ship's quartermaster – a sort of vice-captain elected by the pirates in order to check the autocratic power of the captain – taking the temperature of the crew, insisted that they head back for Bermuda immediately, which they did. Tew paid off his backers royally, and is said to have visited New York City, where he is alleged to have met with Benjamin Fletcher, the colonial Governor of New York (see the image below, a depiction of the alleged encounter between Tew and the colonial governor that was later painted by Howard Pyle (1853-1911), an alleged meeting in which Tew excitedly recounts his voyage to the governor).
Figure 15: Thomas Tew Telling Tall Tales to Governor Fletcher
Tew's second pirate cruise ended tragically... The optimistic Tew obtained another letter of marque, this time from Governor Fletcher himself, and set sail with the Amity and his crew of optimistic pirates directly for the Red Sea via the same route as before. Arriving in a densely trafficked Red Sea in 1695 (other pirates had heard about Tew's good luck, so the place was crawling with pirate ships, plus the Indian ships now sailed in convoys, both of which facts should have served as a warning of sorts to Tew, but were ignored), Tew spotted a convoy of Mughal-Indian ships enroute to ports farther up the Red Sea.
Tew kept close tabs on the convoy during that first day, but by nightfall, the sky was black and the convoy managed to slip past him. Realizing his bad luck at first light, Tew raced off in pursuit, catching up with the tail end of the convoy and overtaking one of the better-looking targets, later identified as the Fateh Muhammed ("Muhammed the Conquerer"). Tew attempted to block the ship's path, coming in close in order to board her, but the Indian ship surprisingly gave battle, and, very unluckily for Tew, he was hit by a cannon ball that killed him (disemboweled him!) instantly.
The rest of the crew was demoralized and surrendered, but by this time another pirate ship, the Fancy, captained by an Englishman by the name of Henry Every, overtook the Indian ship, captured it and looted it, freeing the crew of the Amity. It is not known where Tew was buried, but given his state, it is most likely that he was delivered up to Davey Jones' Locker (i.e., the bottom of the sea), there in the middle of the Red Sea.
"Sixteen men on the dead man's chest,
Yo, ho, ho and a bottle of rum,
Drink and the devil had done for the rest,
Yo, ho, ho and a bottle of rum!"
One can buy an exquisite if somewhat compacted replica (model) of Thomas Tew's 3-masted Bermuda sloop, the Amity (see below) for about $50 on eBay,
Figure 16: Model of Thomas Tew's Bermuda Sloop, the Amity
and the Rhode Island brewer, Newport Distilling Company, sells several alcoholic beverages in honor of the famous gentleman pirate, including – of course! – rum!
Figure 17: Yo, Ho, Ho and a Bottle of Thomas Tew's Pirate "Brew"!
Lastly, The St. Augustine Pirate & Treasure Museum in St. Augustine, Florida, just south of Jacksonville –and next door to Bermuda, if you will (well, there's nothing really next door to Bermuda except for miles and miles of salt water, though, in spirit, St. Augustine, Florida could be said to be "next door") – is home to Thomas Tew's sea chest, the only known sea chest that can be traced back to a real, once-living pirate.
Piracy during the later period, the Colonial Era when British and Dutch ships plied the waters of the Far East, was endemic, since many ships "loitered" in open view in harbors such as those along the Pearl River Estuary, pretending to be legitimate ships by day – and indeed, they occasionally were, i.e., they were occasionally hired to freight goods up and down the estuary – were in reality pirate ships that would slip out of harbor at night and prowl the shipping lanes, or which, either day or night, would slip out of harbor and wait in open waters if they had learned about the imminent departure, or arrival, of a merchant ship laden with valuable cargo.
Naturally these double-dealing pirate ships were heavily armed, for they had to protect themselves against piracy, their captains would have insisted. But the true purpose of their armaments was of course to attack merchant ships. Every sailor on board such a ship wore a cutlass at his side and had a pistol tucked in his belt. They fooled no one, but since they had the perfect excuse for arming themselves in this manner – as did the truly legitimate ships – it was impossible to rid harbors of this pestilence without outlawing the legitimate use of armaments.
Figure 18: "Okay, so I forgot my pistol, wanna make somethin' of it?!"
The piracy in Chinese waters only ended when the Chinese government took acton against it. As long as the British were smuggling opium into China, to the detriment of the Chinese state's coffers, the Qing government had no incentive to stop the piracy. Eventually however – and as a result of the terms of surrender at the close of the opium wars – the Qing government legalized the import of opium, and began taxing it. Therewith the Qing government had an incentive to crack down on piracy. In addition, an expanding economy eventually provided jobs to idle hands that would otherwise have been tempted to resort to piracy.
Moreover, the stream of coolies continued to flow out of China, lessening the pressure on the available jobs in the country, while those who returned generally returned as wealthy (relatively speaking) entrepreneurs, which further created jobs. In the final analysis, piracy is more a political-economic problem (i.e., a weak-state problem) than an ethical or moral problem, though thievery, whether on land or at sea (piracy), is an integral part of human endeavor, as there will always be some souls who are tempted to take whatever shortcut to riches is available.
Note on the Anglo-Dutch Wars: The First Anglo-Dutch War (1652–54) ended in a victory for Britain, ruled at the time by Oliver Cromwell. The Second Anglo-Dutch War (1665–67) was won by the Dutch, thanks mainly to the famous sea battle, the Four Days' Battle, that was one of the longest – perhaps THE longest – sea battle in history. It was fought out off the coast of North Foreland, the northernmost part of the Isle of Thanet, not far from the ancient (and present-day) city of Kent, from the 11th to the 14th of June, 1666, and though the Dutch won the battle, both sides suffered great losses. In fact, it is claimed that the Four Days' Battle, part of the Second Anglo-Dutch War, is the principal reason why the third war between these two principals would end inconclusively.
Figure 19: Four Days Battle of the Second Anglo-Dutch War (1665–67)
The Dutch had the numerical majority in the Four Days' Battle, with 84 mostly-new, well-equipped ships compared to Britain's 56 ships of various vintage, though on the third day, the British fleet would be joined by a smaller fleet of 20 ships that had been sent to the bottom of the English Channel to block France, England's official ally, should the French get it in their heads to show up, since England wished to keep the spoils of this victory for itself, but, as it turned out, there was no victory and thus no spoils.
The Third Anglo-Dutch War (1672–74) quickly congealed into a stalemate of sorts, and the British were eventually forced to give up this fruitless war by its own parliament, which refused to finance it further. The Third Anglo-Dutch War was part of the broader, Franco-Dutch War (1672–78), involving, besides Britain and Holland, France, Sweden, Denmark (which, at the time, included Norway), Spain, and three pre-Bismarck German principalities, two of which fought on the Anglo-French-Swedish side – the Bishopric of Münster and the Archbishopric of Cologne (Köln, in German) – and another, Brandenburg, which fought on the Spanish-Dutch-Danish side.§ Thus the conflict quickly spread, causing even Spain, Holland's former foe and master, to join the effort on Holland's behalf, and drawing in the major Scandinavian countries, some on one side, others on the other side.
§ Otto von Bismarck (1815-1898), the Prussian Prime Minister from 1862 to 1890, would unify the German principalities, creating the outlines of modern-day Germany. Bismarck was the first Chancellor of the German Empire which he created, though Prussia was still ruled by monarchs, or kaisers, the last of which, Wilhelm II had dismissed Bismarck and foolishly and rashly took Prussia into a war that evolved into WWI. Wilhelm soon abdicated, being incompetent in every way, and Germany and its Austrian ally as well as their other ally, the Ottoman Empire, lost the war.
In many ways, the Franco-Dutch War was the first world war, since it eventually touched almost all of Europe, while North America at the time was parcelled into European colonies (they became part of the conflict) and Australia was not yet even a British penal colony. For example, the Swedes, who were allied with the British and the French, squared off repeatedly, both on land and at sea, with the Danes, and the Swedes also squared off with Brandenburg, which was on the Dutch-Spanish-Danish side, while Brandenburg in turn even squared off with another German principality, the Bishopric of Münster.
Yet, the principals, Britain and France on one side and Holland on the other, had mixed feelings about engaging too exclusively. For example, both Britain and France were loath to defeat Holland decisively, each fearing that the other would gain an advantage from such a conclusive victory, therefore the war against Holland became a slow, half-hearted war of attrition, where parts of it were fought, as indicated, by proxies, such as the Scandinavian skirmishes.
The upshot of the conflict was that Holland and Britain, the main protagonists, eventually settled their affairs mutually, with Britain receiving New Amsterdam (present-day New York City in the USA) and Holland being allowed to retain the colony of Surianme on the northern coast of South America, which Holland had captured from Britain (Surianme is sandwiched between British Guyana to the west and French Guyana to the east). The French were content, because, while they wished to see Holland taken down a notch, they did not wish to see their British foe acquire such pearls as Rotterdam and Amsterdam on the Continent.