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MICHIEL ADRIAENSZ. DE RUYTER
Michiel Adriaensz. De Ruyter (1607-1676) is regarded as Holland's greatest naval hero and the most renowned Dutch sea officer. Born in Vlissingen (Flushing) of humble origin he took to the seas at the age of eleven. As a 15 year old musketeer he fought his first battle during the Relief of Bergen-op-Zoom against the Spaniards.
Making a swift career he held the rank of first officer in 1631 when only 24 years old. In the same year he married his first wife, Maayke Velders, who sadly died the same year, giving birth to a daughter who would survive her mother by no more than three weeks. In the following years de Ruyter took up whaling aboard the ship Groene Leeuw (Green Lion).
In the summer of 1636 Michiel married Neeltje Engels, with whom he had four children. In 1637 he took his first command and hunted for Dunkirk raiders preying on Dutch merchant ships. Five years later, he bought the Salamander, and sailing as a merchant until 1652, amassed a sizeable fortune trading with the West Indies. Noticeably, he would free Christian slaves at his own expense on a regular basis.
In 1650 his wife Neeltje unexpectedly died, shortly after the birth of their son Engel. Two years later, he married the widow Anna van Gelder and settled for retirement buying an estate in Vlissingen. With the outbreak of the First Anglo-Dutch War in 1652 however, he changed his retirement plans and took command of a Zealandic squadron of privately financed warships. During this war and the two others that would follow between 1652 and 1674, he made his reputation as an outstanding admiral.
Amongst the most memorable of his battles was the battle of Solebay in 1667, when a combined British-French fleet was defeated by superior tactics and manoeuvring skills. Earlier in that same year De Ruyter had already gained fame for the daring and successful Medway Raid. The most important battle of his career was the Battle of Kijkduin, 21 August 1673. This battle against a numerically stronger combined British/French fleet was concluded in favour of the Dutch. Much of the success of this all important battle for the Republic falls to De Ruyter.
After the last Anglo-Dutch War De Ruyter set sail for the Caribbean to attack French territories. Two years later, in 1676, leading the combined Dutch-Spanish fleet, De Ruyter clashed with French commander Duquesne at the Battle of Agosta and was mortally wounded by a cannonball. After the return of the ship almost a year later, De Ruyter was given a full state funeral and was buried in Amsterdam's Nieuwe Kerk on March 18, 1677.
Anna van Gelder (1613-1685) came from a family of seafarers; both her father and her brother were sailors. In 1637 van Gelder married her first husband, a sailor as well and later a captain, Jan Pauwelsz. From the children that were born from this marriage only two survived infancy. Pauwelsz. died during a voyage to the Antillen and she married Michiel de Ruyter in 1652, who she probably knew earlier from her friendship with his second wife, Cornelia Engels.
The pair seemed to have had a close marriage; De Ruyter wrote several times a week to his wife during his time at sea. She travelled with him whenever possible and waved him goodbye when he departed and waited for him upon return.
It was the duty of a Captain's wife to take care of all family business when their husband was at sea. In Anna's case, she also managed all shipping logistics. When De Ruyter wanted to free slaves, it was his wife who arranged for the money. The cargo and remaining stock that returned from abroad was sold at the market by Anna. De Ruyter had a reputation for providing his crew with generous provisions, which contributed to his popularity. This was proof of van Gelder's abilities as a purveyor. Regardless of her busy life managing her husband's affairs and their enormous wealth, she always remained down-to-earth, even doing shopping and the laundry herself. After her death in 1685, she was buried alongside her husband in the Nieuwe Kerk.
Rotterdam, Historisch Museum, Bezeten Bezit, Keuzetentoonstelling uit de verzameling van Mevrouw W.G. Elias-Vaes te Rotterdam, exhibition catalogue, 18 April-1 August 1970, no. 8., thought to be a preliminary drawing for the painting by Willem van de Velde II, in the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam.
On loan to the Zeeuws Museum, Middelburg, 1976-85.