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The Dutch in the Medway

[words Rudyard Kipling, music Peter Bellamy; notes on The Dutch in the Medway at the Kipling Society]

The Dutch in the Medway is one of twenty-three poems written by Rudyard Kipling for C.R.L. Fletcher’s A School History of England (1911).

Tundra sang The Dutchmen in 1980 on their Greenwich Village album The Kentish Songster. They noted:

In 1667, 80 Dutch warships, 25 fireships and about 18,500 soldiers and sailors commanded by De Ruyter sailed up the Medway and caused acute embarrassment to the British Navy. Having occupied Sheerness for three days, though, they decided to go home, but not before creating a thoroughly discreditable episode in our national history. Rudyard Kipling was moved to write this protest some 250 years later, and the use of the tune The Farmer’s Boy was the idea of Don Morgan of the excellent ‘Curate’s Egg’.

Peter Bellamy sang The Dutch in the Medway on his privately issued cassette of 1982, The Maritime England Suite, accompanied by Dorothy Collins on piano and Ursula Pank on cello. He recorded it again, this time with Jim Ellison providing bass harmony, in 1989 for his album Rudyard Kipling Made Exceedingly Good Songs. He notes:

Also from the School History, more cautionary thoughts on the dangers of unpreparedness in an uncertain world, the moral here stemming from De Ruyter’s humiliation of Charles II’s run-down navy.

Dave Webber and Anni Fentiman sang The Dutch in the Medway in 2002 on their album Away From It All. They noted:

In the 1660s our restored monarchy was really living it up at court and there was little money for the Navy. We were having continuous skirmishes with the Dutch and Admiral De Ruyter saw that the British navy was in a sorry state and took the opportunity to sail up the River Medway and take a prize of the ‘Royal Charles’ which he towed away from right under its nose. De Ruyter tied a broom to his topmast to show the world he had swept the British out of the North Sea.

Kipling commented on many events in history and this song comes from the sailor’s perspective. The tune, of course is by Peter Bellamy.

Doug Eunson sang The Dutch in the Medway in 2016 on his and Sarah Matthews’ CD Song and Laughter.


The Dutch in the Medway


If wars were won by feasting,
    Or victory by song,
Or safety found in sleeping sound,
    How England would be strong!
But honour and dominion
    Are not maintainèd so.
They’re only got by sword and shot,
    And this the Dutchmen know!

The moneys that should feed us
    You spend on your delight,
How can you then have sailor-men
    To aid you in your fight?
Our fish and cheese are rotten,
    Which makes the scurvy grow—
We cannot serve you if we starve,
    And this the Dutchmen know!

Our ships in every harbour
    Be neither whole nor sound,
And, when we seek to mend a leak,
    No oakum can be found;
Or, if it is, the caulker,
    And carpenters also,
For lack of pay have gone away,
    And this the Dutchmen know!

Mere powder, guns, and bullets,
    We scarce can get at all;
Their price was spent in merriment
    And revel at Whitehall,
While we in tattered doublets
    From ship to shop must row,
Beseeching friends for odds and ends—
    And this the Dutchmen know!

No King will heed our warnings,
    No Court will pay our claims—
Our King and Court for their disport
    Do sell the very Thames!
For, now De Ruyter’s topsails
    Off naked Chatham show,
We dare not meet him with our fleet—
    And this the Dutchmen know!