Allowing for the inevitable artistic licence of any painter who had not been present at the action he is portraying, the various clues as to the identity of this Anglo-Dutch naval engagement are all suggestive of the Battle of Solebay in 1672.
England and the United Provinces of the Netherlands found themselves at war in three successive decades of the mid-seventeenth century and despite the variety of political causes, the underlying rationale for this essentially continuous conflict was commercial rivalry. The first outbreak of hostilities came in 1652, during the Interregnum of the Commonwealth, and lasted for two years before being ended by the Treaty of Westminster from which England emerged relatively victorious. The Second Anglo-Dutch War (1665-67) was instigated by the recently restored King Charles II and, despite several very protracted engagements such as the mammoth Four Days' Battle (1st - 4th June 1666), outright victory still eluded both sides when the Dutch fleet's humiliating attack on Chatham and the Medway (June 1667) ended the fighting somewhat prematurely.
The action fought in Southwold Bay on the Suffolk coast, more usually known as Solebay, was the opening sea battle of the Third Dutch War (1672-74). By 1670, existing Anglo-Dutch rivalry had been further exacerbated by Charles II's intrigues with Louis XIV and it came as no surprise to either side when war was declared early in 1672. A combined Anglo-French fleet under the overall command of James, Duke of York, the King's brother, was assembled to move against the Dutch but first put into Southwold Bay to revictual. Admiral de Ruyter, already at sea and awaiting his opportunity to take the offensive, came upon the allied ships and, with the wind in his favour, attacked them as they lay at anchor in the bay. The action began at about 3 o'clock in the afternoon and, caught by surprise, the allied fleet went into battle in some disarray. De Ruyter soon neutralised the inexperienced French squadron and then concentrated upon the English centre and rear divisions, under the Duke of York and the Earl of Sandwich respectively, using his fireships with great success. The action, which continued until dusk, was so fierce that the Duke of York was forced to shift his flag three times and only the gathering darkness prevented a complete dâcle.
This splendid view of the action appears to show the Duke of York's flagship Royal Prince heavily engaged on both sides by large Dutch men-o'war. If her situation was perceived by her captain to be precarious in the extreme, it is possible that the longboat (shown lower left) has already taken off the Duke of York who had to transfer his flag three times in the course of this ferocious fight.