The other day whilst browsing Cornish related topics on Reddit, I came across an incredibly long war – perhaps one of the longest in world history. The so-called Three Hundred and Thirty-Five Years War of 1651-1986, which surpasses even the likes of the famous Anglo-French Hundred Years War (which, of course, as we all know lasted 117 years with many periods of peace in-between). What was more interesting was how it was waged between the Dutch and the Isles of the Scilly, the small islands that lay off the coast of Cornwall. And what was even more fascinating was how this war was not actually waged at all: not a single shot was fired in more than three centuries.
So, what is this war all about? For contextual reasons we will need to go back to the time of the English Civil War in the 1640s, in which the west-country – particularly Cornwall – was a strong Royalist stronghold for Charles I. Many of the war, such as the heroics of Sir Bevil Grenville and the 7 foot tall Anthony Payne, are woven into the fabric of Cornish history. However, by the late 1640s, the Royalist cause had been stamped out; King Charles was arrested, put on trial and then beheaded, whilst the Royalist navy fled to the Isles of Scilly to utilise it as their base.
Until 1651, these ships engaged in piratical activity (something which reminds me of the actions of the Lancastrian Earl of Oxford during the time of the Wars of the Roses, in which he captured St. Michael’s Mount for a brief time in the 1470s). The Dutch were not particularly pleased by such actions and so sent Lieutenant-Admiral Harpertszoon Tromp to the Isles of Scilly to demand reparations. However, it appears these remaining Royalists did not engage with Tromp, leading to the Dutch to declare war on the Isles of Scilly.
All of this was largely moot, because later in 1651 the Parliamentarians forced the Royalists to surrender, thereby leading to their removal from the Isles of Scilly. The Dutch-Scilly War was ended without a shot being fired, and thereafter it was largely forgotten about and became the stuff of local legend.
That was until the 1980s, when local historian Roy Duncan investigated the issue further. He came to the conclusion that there was no official peace treaty, leading to the Dutch ambassador to visit Scilly in order to officially conclude the war. This happened 335 years after the declaration of war in 1651, thereby creating a comical episode in the history of warfare.
However, others have attempted to pooh-pooh the whole idea of a Dutch-Scilly war. Key points include how Tromp himself did not have the authority to declare outright war, and also how the Isles of Scilly was not sovereign territory. Others have noted how the 1654 peace treaty between England and the Dutch would have resolved any lingering issues, due to the Isles of Scilly being firmly under the English government’s control by that time.
Yes, the above are very valid and convincing points. But I’m all in favour of the Isles of Scilly retaining their claim to one of the weirdest and longest wars in human history. Therefore, the Three Hundred and Thirty-Five Years War can retain its place on this blog.