At the time when John Spink was just beginning his business in London in the mid-1660s, the capital had just gone through the horror of the Great Plague, followed by the destruction wrought by the Great Fire and was in the depth of a military crisis which had already been running for over a decade. Hardly inspiring times to set up a new business! John Spink founded his goldsmith's and pawnbroker's business near Lombard Street in London around 1666 (though the actual date is not certain). The Great Fire of 1666 caused a temporary disruption and relocation but Spink returned to Lombard Street when it had been rebuilt after the devastation and remained there for over a hundred years. In 1770 the fi rm moved to 2 Gracechurch Street, where they traded in jewellery and coins, and the fi rm of Spink and Son was established in 1772.


But war (and even the possibility of a naval attack on London) was very much in the air when John Spink fi rst went into business, with Britain engaged in a series of on-and-off naval encounters with her great commercial rival, the Dutch. Its threats and anxieties were very much refl ected in the famous Diary of Samuel Pepys, in the works of other contemporary commentators like John Evelyn and in the new regular "news sheets" and offi cial journals which were just beginning to appear in London in the 1660s (the London Gazette was fi rst published on 7 November 1665).

At the beginning of the 17C, Anglo-Dutch relations were very good - based on their common defence of the Protestant religion and Britain's assistance to the Dutch States during their wars of liberation against the Spanish. But as the century progressed, the Dutch began to build up their trading power, replacing the Portuguese as the main European The Commonwealth Naval Medal Of 1649-50 By Thomas Simon traders in Asia and gaining control of the hugely profi table Far East trade in spices, as well as developing their links with Europe and in the Baltic. There was an enormous expansion of the Dutch merchant fl eet, giving Holland the largest mercantile fl eet of Europe - bigger that of all other nations combined. At the same time, the Dutch warship fl eet also grew in size and power. By the 1640s, Britain and Holland were serious international trading rivals. 

The English Civil War, after 1642, seriously weakened England's naval position. Its navy was as politically divided as was the country so that the Dutch were even able to take over much of England's maritime trade with its North American colonies. However, peace between Spain (its ancient enemy) and Holland in 1648 greatly reduced the need for a large and costly Dutch fleet, which was rapidly decommissioned. But England's new republican "Commonwealth" under Oliver Cromwell created a powerful navy, greatly expanding the number of ships, directly to confront the Dutch threat to its international trade and to take advantage of the relative decline of Spain.


Cromwell's government took an overtly aggressive attitude to the Dutch. In 1651 Parliament passed the first Navigation Act, which directed that all goods imported into England must be carried by English ships from the exporting countries, thus excluding what were mainly Dutch middlemen. The Commonwealth, aiming to revive an ancient perceived "right" for England to be recognised as the 'lord of the seas', demanded that all other ships strike their flags in salute to English ships, even in foreign ports. On 29 May 1652, Lieutenant- Admiral Maarten Tromp refused to lower his flag to salute a passing English fleet, the result being a naval clash known as the Battle of Goodwin Sands, following which the Commonwealth declared war on Holland on 10 July. Thus began the First Dutch War (1652-54). 


After some inconclusive skirmishes during 1651, the English decisively won the first major battle when General at Sea Robert Blake defeated Vice-Admiral de Withe in October 1652. However, overconfident in their success, and believing that the war was all but over, the English divided their fleet and in December were routed by Admiral Tromp off Dungeness. The Dutch were also victorious in March 1653 off Leghorn, Italy, and won effective control of both the Mediterranean and the English Channel. In the winter of 1653 Admiral Blake and General George Monck rethought the whole system of naval  tactics and the English navy drove the Dutch navy out of the English Channel in the battle of Portland and then out of the North Sea after the battle of the Gabbard. In the final battle at Scheveningen in August 1653 Tromp was killed but as both nations were exhausted, peace negotiations ended the First Dutch War in April 1654 with the Treaty of Westminster. 

After the Restoration in 1660, the new king, Charles II, promoted a series of anti-Dutch mercantile policies, believing that a combination of English naval power and privateering would cripple the rival Dutch Republic; Samuel Pepys recorded that war fever swept London at the time. The Second Dutch War, provoked in 1664, saw a number of English naval victories such as the taking of the Dutch colony of New Netherland (including Fort Amsterdam, now New York), but also Dutch victories, such as the capture of thePrince Royalduring  the "Four Days Battle" in 1666.

In June 1667, the Dutch inflicted one of the most humiliating defeats the British ever suffered. In a naval raid led by Admiral de Ruyter, a Dutch fleet sailed up the Thames, broke through the defensive chains guarding the Medway, and actually burned part of the English fleet as it lay docked at Chatham; they towed away as prizes theUnityand theRoyal Charles- the latter being the flagship and pride of the English fleet. After this important victory, the expanded Dutch navy remained for years the world's strongest and the Dutch Republic at the zenith of its power.

Dutch success had a major psychological impact throughout England, with London feeling especially vulnerable at a time when it was also dealing with the devastating effects of the Great Plague and the Great Fire - a period of anxiety well reflected in theDiaryof Samuel Pepys, himself anincreasingly important administrator for the Navy Board. All these factors led to the rapid signing of a peace treaty at Breda in 1667. 

The advent of a Dutch monarch in England in 1688, in the form of William of Orange (William III) somewhat altered the whole situation, with William anxious to sponsor the development of the English fleet rather than the Dutch and to use English military and naval power to aid Holland in its continuing conflict with FranceIn the wake of such embarrassing failures, there was nothing for it but to rapidly rebuild England's navy and re-assert some form of naval authority. Although there was little support for another naval campaign in a war-weary country, Charles II was bound by the Treaty of Dover to assist the French King Louis XIV in his attack on the Republic. When the French army faltered before Dutch land defences, an attempt was made to invade Holland by sea but the Dutch fleet under Admiral de Ruyter won a series of strategic victories against Anglo-French fleets (e.g. at the battle of Solebay in June 1672) and prevented invasion. After these failures the English parliament forced Charles to make peace in 1674, ending the Third Dutch War (1672-74).