Michiel de Ruyter

Painting of de Ruyter by Ferdinand Bol, c.1667. Original in the collection of the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich.

Born: 1607
Years of Service

Michiel Adriaenszoon was born in Vlissingen in the Dutch Republic 24 March, 1607. First going to sea at the age of 11, Michiel briefly served in the Dutch army, fighting against the Spanish in 1622, before returning to the merchant fleet in that same year. He worked for the Lampsins merchant company, both as a cargo supervisor on voyages, and as a privateer, conducting coastal raiding in the Mediterranean in the company ship Den Graeuwen Heynst. It is believed this is where he adopted the surname de Ruyter, from the Dutch for "raider". In 1631, he married his first wife, who died in childbirth, and the child died shortly after. His second marriage, in 1636, resulted in five children, though one of them also died shortly after birth. De Ruyter was given command of a privateer in 1637, hunting French raiders that were attacking Dutch merchant ships. Four years later, he distinguished himself in fighting against the Spanish, as third in command of a fleet sent to aid the Portuguese. He returned to the merchant fleet for the next decade, but his wife died in 1650. He married his third wife in 1652, and retired, but was recruited as a junior flag officer that year after the outbreak of the First Anglo-Dutch War. De Ruyter scored several successes during the War, but he declined command of the Fleet after the death of Maarten Tromp, both for political reasons, and because he thought himself unfit for the command. In 1665, he accepted the position of Vice Admiral for the Admiralty of Amsterdam (the Dutch Navy was composed of five sub-navies), and moved to the city. De Ruyter saw further success in anti-piracy operations in the Mediterranean, and in the Baltic against the Swedish. During the later operations, he befriended King Frederick III of Denmark. In 1664, he recaptured a number of Dutch outposts in Africa from the English, and then raided the Carribbean into 1665. Upon his return home, he was given command of the Dutch Fleet, due in large part to being politically neutral, on top of his myriad of successes. He scored a major victory over the English in June, 1666, and oversaw the Raid on the Medway the following year, which resulted in major damage to the English fleet, and the capture of their flagship HMS Royal Charles. He was kept ashore from 1667-71, but returned to Sea during the Third Anglo-Dutch War to decisively defeat the combined Anglo-French fleet at the Battle of Solebay. Things did not go as well for the Dutch on land, but de Ruyter remained commander of the Dutch fleet after the assassination of Johan de Witt, and the transfer of power to the Orangist faction. After several further decisive victories by de Ruyter, and with the waning of support at home, the English broke off the War. De Ruyter was sent to the Mediterranean to support the Spanish against the French in 1675, and had further success, despite the lack of support that he received from Spain. He was hit by a cannonball on 22 April, 1676, and died from the wound a week later. While his body was being transported home, it passed a French fleet, which fired gun salutes in respect. De Ruyter was given an elaborate state funeral, and buried in Amsterdam.