When one thinks of war, pictures of bloody battles, shooting, muddy trenches, or armadas sailing across the ocean come to mind. The two world wars, as well as the American Civil War and the Vietnam War, are the first conflicts that come to mind. The length of a battle can range from a few days to months or even years.
However, it may be difficult to believe, but a strange ‘battle’ between the Netherlands and the Isles of Scilly holds the record for the longest ever war. The Isles of Scilly, located off the western coast of mainland Cornwall and bathed in the Gulf Stream’s warmth, was the site of the world’s longest-running war until 1986.
However, not a single shot was fired during these three centuries of ongoing warfare, and there were no casualties.
Conflict In England
To understand the roots of the 335-Years’ War, we must go back to the Second Civil War (1642-1648), which was fought between Oliver Cromwell’s Parliamentarians and the Royalists, often known as the Roundheads and Cavaliers. Cornwall was one of the final strongholds of the Royalists, but it fell into Cromwell’s hands in 1648. Because Britain was an island nation, it only possessed one asset in the form of its navy, which had announced allegiance for the Royalists. As the Parliamentarians surged over the country, the Navy was forced further back, until the Isles of Scilly became its only safe haven. Sir John Grenville, the owner of the Isles at the time, was a personal friend of Prince Charles (later King Charles II) and hence an ardent Royalist.
This was the country’s worst conflict in its history on mainland England. As a percentage of the country’s population, more people died in this war than in any other, with slightly less than 4% of the entire population of the British Isles dying as a result of the conflict.
Meanwhile, the Dutch were gaining independence from Spain in the Eighty Years War across the English Channel. Thanks to the protestant Queen Elizabeth 1, the English had been allied with the Dutch from the start of the war. When the Netherlands acquired independence, they naturally wished to keep good relations with England, but they had to choose who to support during the Civil War. The Dutch chose to ally with the Parliamentarians since it appeared that they would overthrow the Royalists. This includes the Dutch Navy’s assistance. The Royalist Navy put up a fierce fight in the Scilly Isles, seizing a number of Dutch ships and a large amount of cargo.
Admiral Maarten Tromp of the Dutch Navy landed in the spring of 1651 to demand compensation. He is said to have declared war on the Isles of Scilly after receiving no response. A final push by the Parliamentarians resulted in the surrender of the remaining Royalist ships in a matter of weeks. The Dutch, realizing they were no longer in danger, made sail for home. It appears that they overlooked one little detail: the Scilly Isles were not properly a country in their own right, so the peace treaty was never signed.
Years passed, decades passed, centuries passed, and the fight with the Dutch became part of local folklore. The legend that the islands were still at war with the Netherlands was passed down through the generations. No one seemed to know whether or not it was true.
How It Ends?
The continuous fight became mythology on the Isles of Scilly until a local historian and a member of the island council in 1985, Roy Duncan, began to look into the matter. He wrote to the Dutch Embassy, requesting that they investigate the situation. After much digging, it appeared that no record of a peace treaty having ever been signed existed. On April 17, 1986, the Dutch Ambassador came to the Isles of Scilly to sign the peace treaty, putting an end to what is now known as the 335-Years’ War.
The legality of the declaration of war has remained a point of contention to this day. Some historians say that Tromp lacked the right to declare war and was only blustering in the hopes of recouping losses and damages. Even if his claim had merit, it would almost certainly have been resolved in the 1654 treaty between England and the newly constituted Netherlands.
Jonkheer Rein Huydecoper, the Dutch ambassador, was summoned to the islands to officially conclude the “war.” On April 17, 1986, exactly 335 years after the war began, a peace treaty was signed, bringing an end to the world’s longest war without casualties.
The 1986 ceremony commemorating the signing of the peace treaty was more of a publicity stunt than a significant international event. The signed declaration of peace remains on display in the Council Chambers in Hugh Town on St. Mary’s Island, and a quirky incident of British history has allowed the Isles of Scilly to lay claim to a place in the record books
Despite being the longest war in all of history, the 335 Years’ War is an excellent example of how diplomacy and history may be used to disclose information about our world that we would not otherwise know.