Calling the shots: political interaction
This fear of espionage in Europe brings us to the point where any analysis of the political interaction between patria and the Asian possessions must begin: European politics. The VOC was a Dutch Company, falling under Dutch law, officially acting in the name of the Estates-General in matters of politics and war, and dependent on the Republic for the extensions of its Charter. This meant that treaties between the Republic and other European nations officially extended to the VOC’s empire in the East, and that European politics had a strong influence on what happened on the other side of the Cape.
In the first two chapters, the complexities that this fact brought along were already touched upon. In the first few years after the Company’s founding, the interests, as well as the enemies, of the Republic and the Company were virtually the same, and at any rate the political and military dimensions of what was in essence a trading company were still insignificant. However, as the VOC increasingly became a military and political actor, and started using violence as a tool to influence the trade, the plot rapidly thickened. This became very pertinent, for one, when Portugal broke away from the Spanish Empire and concluded a peace agreement with the Republic in 1641. This treaty was officially also binding for the VOC, but did not at all coincide with its market strategy of driving out the Portuguese and attaining a monopoly position. The Company did everything it could to postpone the peace, so as to be able to make more conquests in Southern India. The period here under study, as I hope will become clear in the coming paragraphs, saw similar complications.
With England, the Dutch Republic was at peace in 1656. The First Anglo-Dutch Sea War, mainly a conflict over trade hegemony sparked off by the English Navigation Act of 1651, had been concluded by the treaty of Westminster in 1654. However, neither the war nor the treaty had removed the root of hostilities, i.e. the commercial rivalry between the two nations, which would remain at an uneasy peace until, in 1665, open war broke out again.
This uneasy peace and ongoing commercial rivalry extended beyond the line as well. Rivalry in the colonies, particularly the West Indies, would be an important cause of the Second Anglo-Dutch War. In the East Indies, no open hostilities actually broke out in the years here under consideration, and the Companies nominally stuck to the peace in Europe. Nonetheless, both the English and the Dutch East India Company certainly probed into the grey area between commercial competition and acts of war. The continuing English trade with Bantam, the kingdom to the west of Batavia with which the Company had an on-and-off war throughout the 1650s and 1660s, annoyed the government in Batavia greatly. Repeated English attempts to run through a VOC blockade before the harbour of Bantam in 1657, and, worse still, a similar English action at the Goa blockade in that same year, seriously tried Maatsuiker’s patience. The Dutch Company, in its turn, was also taking measures which hardly seem consistent with a peaceful disposition towards the English, for one by signing a treaty with Aceh on October 5th 1659 which gave the VOC the right to keep the English away from the Achinese coast, by force if necessary. The English, of course, kept on coming anyway, and Maatsuiker, somewhat disappointed, informed the directors that he was not going to use violence, “knowing what is at stake for Your Honours in this matter.”
An even bolder action against the English was taken on Ceylon by Van Goens, on his own initiative. Van Goens was leading the military campaign against the Portuguese in India, when in July 1660, without any orders from either patria or Batavia, he suddenly marched on the cities of Cottiar and Trincomalee, which at the time did not have a Portuguese presence and were owned by the Raja Singha, the ruler of central Kandy Kingdom. Van Goens explained himself by stating how he had gotten wind of English plans to establish posts there and get hold of part of the cinnamon trade. Van Goens, who was trying to obtain a complete cinnamon monopoly and had already vented his dislike for the English ships in the area previously, had decided to beat them to the punch. This brought with it the risk of greatly angering the Raja Singha, and in any case reduced the number of troops Van Goens would be able to throw against the Portuguese, as the new conquests would have to be garrisoned. Even angrier than the Raja Singha, however, was Maatsuiker, who thought that Van Goens’ action had been reckless and premature.
All in all, the peace to which the English and the Dutch East India Companies were bound was quite at odds with the trading ambitions and notions of monopoly that formed the prime motivation for the actions of both Companies. Perhaps there was no open war, but the disposition of the two companies toward one another was certainly hostile and suspicious. In this case, the tension between peace and commercial rivalry in Asia was mirrored by developments in Europe, where commercial rivalry was also the cause of mutual animosity. Indeed, European and Asian politics mutually influenced each other here, as developments in the colonial realm would be an important part of the casus belli in 1665.
With regard to the Portuguese, on the other hand, the VOC did not need to show any restraint at all. By the start of the period here under study, Portugal and the Dutch Republic had officially been at war for five years. A ten year truce between Portugal and the Republic, which had been put into effect on the 12th of June 1641, had actually collapsed before its expiration. A revolt in Brazil against the Dutch rulers, which had begun almost the moment the open war had come to an end, and at times received hardly concealed support from Portugal, had increasingly soured the atmosphere between the two nations, until negotiations between them collapsed in the course of 1649. Open hostilities in the West Indies had already resumed, when, on the 25th of March 1651, the Estates-General decided to break off negotiations with the Portuguese ambassador. Preparations for a seawar in Europe were made, an admiralty fleet to Brazil was supposed to come to the aid of the Dutch West India Company, and the VOC was allowed, indeed encouraged, to resume hostilities with the Portuguese. Before however the Dutch Republic or the VOC undertook anything noteworthy against the Portuguese, the war with England broke out. This war took up all the military resources of the Dutch Republic, and enabled the Portuguese to retake the colonies in Brazil, which were definitively lost to the Republic.
Once the treaty of Westminster had ended the war with England, it became clear that the Portuguese conquest of Brazil had changed the political balance between Portugal and the Netherlands. In the negotiations up to 1651, the various Portuguese ambassadors had always tried to trade off concessions on Brazil, where the WIC was in a precarious position, with promises regarding the East Indies, where the VOC was far stronger than the Estado da India Oriental. Now that Brazil was lost to the Dutch, this pattern was broken. The Dutch Republic no longer needed to show any scruples in Europe or Asia to protect its interests in Brazil. While preparations for a sea war in Europe were underway, the Estates-General once again encouraged the VOC to undertake action against the Portuguese.
This time, the VOC hardly needed any encouragement. As already mentioned, the XVII, in their autumn meeting of 1654, had decided to send out 5090 heads in the coming year. Now that the war with England was over, the directors were confident that their outward fleets would be safer, the lack of manpower about which Maatsuiker was complaining could now be solved, and something could finally be undertaken against the Portuguese. The large injection of manpower coincided with the Ambonese Wars being practically won by 1655. Suddenly the Company had a great amount of military resources at its disposal to throw against the Portuguese in India, and it was quite ready to deploy them. Before the encouragement of the Estates-General could have possibly reached Batavia, Maatsuiker could announce to patria that he would soon send out a fleet of 12 to 14 ships under the command of Gerard Hulft to confront the Portuguese on Ceylon. He acted accordingly a month later, sending out a fleet with 1200 soldiers.
Only adding to the sense that the time had come to act against the Portuguese, was the Vertoog of Rijckloff van Goens. Having had a true lightning career in Asia, Van Goens had arrived back in patria as commander of the return fleet in September 1655. He had requested repatriation, officially to be able to see his son. We might however also suspect some of his motives to be of a more ambitious nature: repatriation enabled Van Goens to directly inform the directors of his ideas on how the Company should be run. He had taken some time out on his way to the Netherlands to entrust these ideas to paper, and his honourable discharge from Company service by the meeting of the XVII on the 2nd of November 1655 enabled him to present the Hoogmogende Heren with the result of his writings.
In this report, Van Goens had something to say about practically every region where the VOC was active, but if we would have to summarize the whole report into one slogan, it would be something like: “War cannot be avoided; it can only be postponed to the advantage of others.” The Portuguese and the English, according to Van Goens, were jealous of the Company’s possessions and would take whatever the Company would let them. Worse still, “those insidious snakes” the Moors (a name which he generically applied to Makassarese, Muslim traders in South-India, rajas in the Western Quarters and all other Muslims), were bent on eradicating the Company throughout Asia, not only because of the trade but also from religious motives. If the Company was to hold its own in Asia, so Van Goens reasoned, it needed to be able to make a fist. The Spice Islands should be equipped with larger garrisons to keep Makassar at bay, the Portuguese should be beaten out of Ceylon, Diu and Macao (which could be done within two years, Van Goens expected), and the Company should no longer allow the Moors in Coromandel to play around with them, and use force there in order to inspire some respect for the Company again:
“It is not unknown to me to what little degree the Company’s current state will allow war all around, and with God as my witness, I would never advise it except in times of crisis. One cannot overlook that war is an unjust exercise and a clear and important ground for God’s anger with mankind, as one man beats and punishes the other at his will. But rationally observing the present troublesome situation of the Company, I dare state that Your Honours will have no choice, and the sooner the better, than to set an example, in order to restore our ruined state. […] The Moors have been warned often enough, but never did any action follow so far.” 
It is interesting to note how Van Goens interpreted the situation in Asia not only in terms of profit and trade, but also in terms of a religious clash and a matter of prestige. Here, then, was a highranking VOC official with a Conquistador mentality.
Van Goens’ plans fell into favour with at least some of the directors: one of the Chambers had put his possible re-employment in Company service on the agenda of the spring meeting of 1656. Interestingly enough, another agenda point brought in for that same meeting was whether the expensive campaigns on Ceylon could not be brought to an end. Apparently, there were some conflicting views on the course the Company should take. At any rate, Van Goens’ supporters seem to have won out in the end: he was once again hired by the Company on the 6th of April, and set sail to Batavia with the autumn fleet, in order to execute part of his own great plan. We will just follow him along for the moment, as he will take us straight to the other end of the decision-making process: the battlefields in Asia.
Van Goens arrived in Batavia on the first of July 1657, one month before the annual blockade fleet to Goa would set out. As “commissioner, admiral and commander-in-the-field of the Western Quarters”, he was supposed to set sail with this fleet, to start driving the Portuguese off Ceylon, Diu and the Malabar Coast. He actually stayed in Batavia for another month to read up on the situation, and followed after the blockade fleet with six ships on the 6th of September. He joined the blockade before Goa on the 19th of November, after an unusually long trip, and sailed southwards with four ships on the 10th of December.
Before the renewed outbreak of hostilities, the Dutch had been in possession of two strongholds on Ceylon: Galle and Negombo, and surrounding areas. Between these two cities lay Colombo, which the Company had vainly attempted to conquer during the campaigns of the late 1630s. This, however, had been the first (and last) Portuguese stronghold targeted by Gerard Hulft’s campaign, who had arrived before the city in October 1655. A siege had ensued, during which Hulft’s 1200 soldiers vainly attempted to conquer the city on its 800 defendants for months. Gerard Hulft himself had been killed during the siege. When the city finally surrendered eight months after the beginning of the siege, only 73 Portuguese soldiers and a few hundred citizens turned out to have survived the unceasing mortar bombing of the months before.
With the fall of Colombo, the entire west coast of the island had come into possession of the Company, and the Portuguese presence on the island was limited to the area surrounding Jaffanapatnam and Mannar, on the north of the island. This, then, was the region on which Van Goens concentrated his military efforts. The details of his campaigns will be the topic of the next chapter; here it suffices to say that by the 23rd of June 1658, Jaffanapatnam, Mannar and the stronghold of Tuticorin on the Coromandel Coast had all fallen to Van Goens’ forces. After a short pause to get things in order on the island, Van Goens continued his campaigns, conquering various Portuguese strongholds on the Coromandel and Malabar coasts. His spree of conquests there would only be brought to a temporary halt by the end of 1658, when Van Goens, lying before Cannanore on the Malabar Coast at the time, received word from Batavia that he should immediately cease his campaign and send 500 of his soldiers to Batavia. This time, the enemy there was not Makassar, but “hot fever”, which was decimating the garrison there. In order to keep the region safe from possible Makassarese attacks, Maatsuiker had recalled these troops, telling van Goens that the campaigns in the Western Quarters would just have to wait. Van Goens grudgingly complied, and subsequently spent his time putting things in order on Ceylon.
In the meantime, it became clear that Van Goens’ assertive personality and strong ideas on how the Company should be run, led to trouble with his functioning within the Company hierarchy. Very soon after his arrival on Ceylon, he got into conflict with Governor Van der Meijden. The task of a VOC commissioner was always of a temporary nature, and therefore he had no fixed place within the Company hierarchy. Ideally, he would of course cooperate with local VOC officials to get the task done. Van Goens, however, was very dominant vis-à-vis Van der Meijden from the very start, causing a conflict of competence between the two, which was further reinforced by the personal disliking the two seem to have taken to one another from day one. Van Goens overruled Van der Meijden in decisions on the garrisons of Ceylonese cities, as he needed the troops for his own campaigns, and also suggested that his conquests on the north of Ceylon would fall under the direction of the Coromandel Coast, and not under the governorship of Ceylon. In various letters, Van Goens claimed that this made more sense from an administrative point of view, but the fact that he held Laurens Pit, governor of the Coromandel Coast, in much higher personal esteem than Van der Meijden, would also seem to have played a role in this suggestion.
The disagreements between the two gentlemen were soon taken to the higher authorities by Van Goens, who on the 7th of July 1658, during his brief stay on Ceylon, sent a report to Batavia in which he accused Van der Meijden of being incapable and miserly. These kinds of formulations about Van der Meijden were repeated in many subsequent letters. Things finally came to a head in 1659. On the 14th of April, the fortress of Quilon, one of Van Goens’ conquests on the Malabar Coast, had been evacuated by Van der Meijden, as a combined attack by the local ruler and the Portuguese was expected, which the small garrison would not be able to withstand. Van Goens, who was on Ceylon at the time, but had not been consulted on the matter, was outraged when he heard of the evacuation. Mutual accusations now reached such a level that both gentlemen uttered their willingness to come to Batavia to explain themselves and clear their name. In the end it was Van der Meijden who went to Batavia for a formal hearing, provisionally leaving the governorship of Ceylon in the hands of Van Goens. Van der Meijden arrived in Batavia on the 13th of June 1660, and by the 24th of August it was clear to the Hooge Regeering that Van Goens’ accusations were completely unbased. On the 29th of October he was on his way back to Ceylon.
In the meantime, the atmosphere between Van Goens and Batavia had also steadily soured for a host of other reasons. Although the Hooge Regeering was impressed with the conquests Van Goens had made in such little time, the letters from Batavia also show an increasing tiredness with his attitude. Van Goens kept on bombarding Batavia with all kinds of far-reaching and often unrealistic plans, like the demolition of the fortress in Jaffanapatnam in order to replace it with four smaller forts, the addition of northern Ceylon to the Coromandel governorship, a plan to turn Colombo into the “perfect harbour” by sinking off three or four old ships in front of it (whereas patria wanted the fortress torn down as it was hard to defend and not useful as a harbour), and an ambitious long-term plan of building fortresses all around the island. Van Goens would hardly ever take no for an answer, and after receiving a negative response from Batavia, would simply request to reconsider, insisting that his plans were really sound. At least as worrying to Maatsuiker and his Council was the fact that Van Goens often took decisions completely on his own initiative, and only informed Batavia as soon as the deed was done. Above, the attack on Trincomalee and Cottiar was already mentioned; another case in point is constituted by the thousands of Portuguese prisoners made with the conquest of Jaffanapatnam and Mannar. These needed to be sent back to Europe: Van Goens had sent many of them up to Batavia without prior correspondence, which caused huge trouble there. Furthermore, Van Goens’ had promoted various people to high-ranking positions and had raised their salary accordingly, which was really the prerogative of Batavia, expressing his hope that they would endorse his nominations afterwards. In a letter written August 28th, 1659, an indignant Maatsuiker refused these nominations in phrasings that dangerously stretched the rules of politeness.
Maatsuiker faithfully informed the directors of his various considerations regarding Ceylon and Van Goens in his extremely complete general letters, often citing both Van Goens’ opinion and his own. In the general letter of January 17th 1658, for one, Maatsuiker informs the directors of Van Goens’ plans to build new fortresses, notably in Madure on Ceylon, and advises against this, as it might anger the local nayak. In the same letter, he explains the controversy surrounding the division between Ceylon and Coromandel. He advises against Van Goens’ plan, and instead suggests evacuating Paliacatte and making Coromandel a directorship, explicitly leaving the final decision up to the directors. Although Maatsuiker’s general style is rather polite, we also notice how he is quite discontented with Van Goens, explaining to the directors how for one the prisoner-issue got him into serious trouble. Similar complaints in the general letter would continue throughout the period here under study.
Van Goens however, also had the means to communicate with patria. Like the Cape Colony, the Western Quarters regularly corresponded with patria directly. Looking at a map of the VOC Charter area it is not hard to see why: for most VOC posts, corresponding through Batavia made perfect sense not only from an organisational but also from a logistic point of view. For the Cape Colony this was obviously not the case, as practically all ships headed for Batavia stopped there anyway. The Western Quarters, in this respect, were a somewhat ambiguous case. Communication to and from the Western Quarters was already often done by an overland route, instead of through Batavia; although not very secure, as many letters never arrived, the overland route was usually worth a shot, as it was much faster. We therefore often find information for the Western Quarters sent two times: through Batavia in the general letter, and in a direct overland letter. In their 1657 spring meeting, the Gentlemen XVII contemplated sending the Eis van Retouren to the Western Quarters overland from then on. Just after the end of our period of study ships sailing directly to and from Ceylon became usual as well. Although the Western Quarters officially had the same status as all the other VOC posts, their geographical position thus gave them a slightly exceptional position within the VOC command structure.
This aspect of the Western Quarters was handily exploited by Van Goens, who was assertive enough to start making use of the overland route as a private channel of communication with patria. This direct communication started innocently enough: in a letter sent on the 8th of February 1660, he mainly directly updated patria on the situation and his accomplishments as a commissioner, and requested that free citizens be sent to Ceylon, as he was planning to turn it into a settler colony. This plan he had previously suggested to Batavia and it had the full support of Maatsuiker. He did add that as far as he was concerned, the settlers could be sent directly to Ceylon, without bothering to sail via Batavia. Once again, looking at the world map this seems reasonable, but we might also imagine that Van Goens making direct requests to patria, which could subsequently be fulfilled without Batavia’s involvement, were a precedent not at all to the liking of Maatsuiker.
Soon, Van Goens was shaping precedents which were a lot more dangerous still. On the 31st of July that same year, just after his conquest of Cottiar and Trincomalee, he decided to inform both patria and Batavia of this by letter at the same time, explaining and defending his decision directly to patria instead of leaving this to Maatsuiker, as would have been usual. Worse still, in the same letter to patria, he disputed several decisions taken earlier by Maatsuiker, trying to convince his friends in the XVII of the good sense of his plans for the division of Ceylon and Coromandel, and the new fortress plan for Jaffanapatnam. A direct letter to patria on the 3rd of February 1661, then, left nothing to interpretation: Van Goens wrote to the directors that he had noted how his actions were not always appreciated by Batavia, but that he acted in good faith, and that Batavia apparently blamed him for his vigour rather than for any weakness. Van Goens was exploiting the geographical position of Ceylon to go right over the head of his superior Maatsuiker, short-circuiting the chain of command. This required quite some guts, as copies of his letters to patria were always sent to Maatsuiker. Although not quite escalating a conflict with Batavia or operating outside all control, Van Goens was certainly violating the rules of the game, self-righteously believing that it was in everyone’s best interest if he pursued his own agenda.
In Van Goens’ case, his character, combined with his geographical location and his apparent powerful friends in the Netherlands, led to a situation where the central guidance from Batavia became less self-evident. It would appear that Van Goens deliberately created this situation to have his way. In other cases, however, circumstances, big distances and bad communication simply prevented the power structure from functioning optimally. This, for one, was the case with the failed attack on Macao in the first months of 1661. Attacking Macao, the Portuguese gateway to the China trade, had been high on everyone’s agenda for a long time. It had been one of the spearheads of Van Goens’ 1655 Vertoog. Maatsuiker had also been keen to undertake something against Macao for a while: in January 1658, he wrote to the directors that it would be desirable to drive the Portuguese from Macao as soon as possible, as the English were also trading there now. The various other campaigns, the epidemic in Ambon, and, not unimportantly, an expected invasion of Formosa by Coxinga, however, prevented him from equipping a sufficient fleet for this purpose.
It is interesting to note Maatsuiker’s laconic attitude with respect to an attack by Coxinga. In his letter of December 1659, he wrote how they were once again expecting an imminent invasion, but then added how they had expected this attack for years, and it simply never happened. On the 10th of March 1660, however, a panicked governor Coyet sent out a junk against the northern monsoon, specifically to inform Batavia that he was expecting an attack by the 27th of March. Maatsuiker, receiving the letter on the 4th of April, was still not wholly convinced of the severity of the situation, but finally decided to just take Coyet’s word for it. By the 23rd of April, he sent out three ships, bringing fifty soldiers, great amounts of ammunition, and the promise of a larger fleet as soon as it could be assembled. This larger fleet, twelve ships with a total of six hundred soldiers on board, was ready to set sail by the 17th of July. Maatsuiker decided to make the best of the situation, and ordered the fleet to sail to Macao and beat the Portuguese out of it, should Coxinga not have landed at Formosa. At least something good would come out of this expedition, as Maatsuiker’s plan to rid Macao of Portuguese would finally become reality.
Things would however turn out entirely differently. Van der Laan, a rather undertaking character who shared with Maatsuiker his disdain for Coyet’s panic, did not head straight for Formosa but headed for Macao, apparently to conquer it. The fleet was however hit by two storms, one on the 12th and the 26th of August, which dispersed it and wrecked one of the ships with 128 soldiers on board. Disoriented and not capable of undertaking anything against Macao without the entire fleet assembled, some of the ships made for Macao and waited. In the end, however, too few ships showed up to risk an attack, and the various ships decided to just try and make it to Formosa. As the ships trickled in there in September, Coxinga’s attack turned out not to have taken place, but Coyet was so terrified that it would still come, that he overruled Maatsuiker’s plan and added most of the fleet’s soldiers to the garrisons in and around Taiwan, allowing the ships to continue to other destinations. The attack on Macao therefore never took place, and the city would remain Portuguese until 1999.
Receiving word that the attack on Macao had not taken place, and that Coxinga was nowhere in sight of Taiwan, around the turn of the year, Maatsuiker became positively furious. In the general letter of the 26th of January, the otherwise so business-like Maatsuiker filled several pages venting his anger and disappointment with Coyet, who had once again been wrong about Coxinga and had subsequently kept the fleet before the coast of Taiwan, in contravention of his orders to attack Macao. And now it was too late, Maatsuiker bitterly wrote: Macao had been in a very bad state of defence, but by now the Portuguese would have gotten wind of the VOC’s plans to attack it, and the place would have been properly defended. Meanwhile his valuable soldiers, which would have been very useful elsewhere, were tied up before the coast of Taiwan defending the island against an imaginary enemy. And all because of this unreasonable fear of Coxinga. Shortly afterwards, however, Coyet’s fear turned out not to be so unreasonable at all: on the 29th of July 1661, Maatsuiker sent a coded letter with an English ship, informing patria of the ill tiding that on the 30th of April, Coxinga had landed on Taiwan, and was now laying siege to Fort Zeelandia. Maatsuiker had already sent off a fleet of ten ships carrying some 700 soldiers to come to Taiwan’s aid, which had set sail on the 5th of July.
Meanwhile in Europe, peace talks between the Portuguese and the Dutch were finally making headway. Holland in general and Amsterdam in particular had been lukewarm about the war all along, as it was expensive and bad for business. By 1659, public sentiment in Holland had really turned against the war. Portugal, which now had to fight the Dutch Republic and Spain at the same time, was faring very badly, and the Portuguese embassy to the Republic had received a very free hand from the Portuguese court to establish peace. The ambassadors now approached Johan de Witt, raadspensionaris of the province of Holland. They were hoping to turn the anti-war sentiment in the most powerful province of the Republic to their advantage, and were willing to make big concessions to achieve peace. Their hopes proved justified: on the 19th and 20th of October, the States of Holland discussed a draft-treaty which was the result of these negotiations.
At least two trade organisations with their main office in Amsterdam were however less than enthusiastic about the prospect of peace: the Dutch West India Company, and the VOC. Now that the VOC’s war machine was finally getting up steam, and the complete expulsion of the Portuguese from Asia slowly became a realistic goal, a peace treaty which was also effective ‘beyond the line’ would ruin everything that the VOC had been striving for. Before the concept-treaty was even discussed by the States of Holland, the directors wrote a remonstrance to the Estates-General. Being, well, slightly economical with the truth, the remonstrance stated that the VOC had only started the war against the Portuguese under pressure from the Estates-General, and that the added costs of sending more soldiers and ships had put pressure on the dividends the Company was able to pay. These costs had not been compensated for by the conquests made. Their solution to this clearly uncalled for and unprofitable war was therefore all the more surprising: the war should either continue, or the Portuguese should simply cede the places that would reasonably have been conquered by the Company if the war had continued. We might wonder what Portuguese places did not fall into that category in the eyes of the directors.
Peace with Portugal was, however, not yet endorsed by the entire Estates-General, mainly because of a very successful lobby by the West India Company with the States of Zeeland and Groningen. The West India Company wished restitution of certain regions in Brazil as well as a huge war indemnity. The bickering over this matter, as well as a change of the guard within the ranks of the Portuguese diplomats, soon made clear that the final peace agreement would not come around for a while, if at all.
This delay gave the Company a chance to still undertake something in the East. Maatsuiker, however, was juggling too many things at a time to be able to make an extra effort against the Portuguese in India. By the time he was informed of the peace talks in Europe, he was not only short on troops because of Coxinga’s threat and the recent epidemic on Ambon; in January 1660, war had also broken out with Makassar. Hostilities had ceased by the end of 1660 again, but no treaty was as yet ratified and a conquered fortress near Makassar was still heavily garrisoned by VOC forces. The only thing Maatsuiker could do was hope with all his heart that peace would not come for another while, as he definitely wanted the Portuguese south-Indian possessions conquered.
The hands of the directors in the Netherlands were not thus tied. They might have usually held their hand on the wallet, but found the conquests upon the Portuguese important enough to forego their careful spending for once. Before Maatsuiker had even entrusted his thoughts about the peace to paper, on the other side of the world the directors had decided to send out a fleet with 1500 souls directly to Ceylon, to conquer the remaining Portuguese strongholds on the Malabar Coast. In their letter of the 7th of January 1661, they informed Batavia of the fleet, and insisted that all possible effort should be made, from Batavia as well, to drive the Portuguese from India. This sudden haste of the Gentlemen XVII was mainly inspired by developments in Europe: in April 1660, Charles II of England had been restored to power, and was now conducting negotiations to marry the Portuguese princess Catherine of Braganza. The ties between England and Portugal were thus reinforced, and the English offered their aid in establishing peace between the Republic and Portugal, as their now revalued ally needed this peace very badly. This enforced English mediation helped the peace process back on the rails, much to the dislike of the directors. In addition, there was the fear that part of the dowry would consist of Portuguese colonies. Suddenly seeing the English flag raised over the various places that the VOC was now trying to conquer, was not an attractive prospect to the directors.
The expedition seemed somewhat ill-starred from the very beginning. The Nieuwenhove, which set sail to Batavia with the letter on the 10th of January, immediately ran into trouble. It was back in the Wielingen within a few days, and only set sail again on the 7th of February. The subsequent voyage, however, was quite speedy, and the ship arrived in Batavia with the letter on the 10th of August. A direct voyage to Ceylon with the same news and one hundred soldiers, was however less successful. The Zeepaard, which left for Ceylon on the 1st of March, never arrived on Ceylon: incredibly, by mistake of the master, the ship made a quite uneventful and speedy passage, and arrived on the 28th of August… in Batavia.
Van Goens therefore learned of the orders and reinforcements the long way around: via Batavia. Maatsuiker and Council, upon receiving the news from Europe, had decided not to send a blockade to Goa that year (the blockade fleet, not having left yet, was slightly late anyway), but instead concentrated all available resources on a final and hopefully decisive campaign on the Malabar Coast. They had immediately sent out the ships Sluis and Rode Leeuw to Ceylon with 150 soldiers and the news, in the meantime preparing a larger fleet. As preparations for the blockade fleet had already been underway, the fleet was ready remarkably soon: in the first week of September, a total of eight ships, carrying 768 soldiers, set sail to Ceylon. These numbers would probably have been a lot higher had it not been for the soldiers at that moment tied up at Taiwan.
When the ships from Batavia bringing the news arrived in Galle, Van Goens was on the Coromandel Coast, for an inspection round of the Dutch factories there, as well as an attempt to conquer Sao Thomé. The orders from patria had specified that Van der Meijden should take command of the campaign, unless Van Goens was still around in which case he should take command. Van Goens was supposed to finally return to Batavia after his inspection round, thus concluding his commissionership which had by now lasted four years. On the first of September, however, a ship sent from Ceylon came before Sao Thomé, ordering Van Goens to drop what he was doing and immediately return to Ceylon with all available ships and soldiers.
When Van Goens finally arrived in Colombo on the 3rd of October, bringing a large army of his own veteran soldiers as well as soldiers he had lifted from various Coromandel garrisons, the waters around Ceylon were slowly filling up with VOC vessels. Batavia, having expected some overcrowding in the harbour of Galle, had sent its ships to the north of island, near Cape Coromin. From the West, however, only the galiot Parkiet had come in by the end of October. This insignificant ship had not even been part of the expedition fleet, but had left from the Netherlands more than a year ago. It had still been at the Cape when the Nieuwenhove arrived there, and it may be assumed that the news of the imminent actions in southern India prompted it to finally get going. Van Goens, however, was anxious to get started: the northeastern Monsoon was just coming through, hailing the start of the season in which the Portuguese would have to be driven from India. In less than five months, rain, storms and sandbanks before the coast would make campaigning utterly impossible. Van Goens was determined to start his campaign by the end of the first week of November, with or without the expedition fleet that the directors had so painstakingly assembled for him.
Fortunately, in the first few days of November three more ships came in. One of these was the flute Hilversum, which had also not been part of the expedition fleet but had strayed for more than a year and was now finding itself near Ceylon in the middle of all the action. And finally, two ships of the expedition fleet came in on the first of November after a seven month voyage: the Beurs van Amsterdam and the Raadhuis, bringing some 250 soldiers. In spite of the troops being held up at Taiwan and the better part of the expedition fleet from patria still being nowhere in sight, the buildup of ships and troops around Ceylon was now becoming impressive: 21 ships and 6 chaloops, carrying a total of 2139 soldiers, 1550 sailors, 240 Lascars (Singhalese soldiers in Company service), and 180 slaves. Despite Van Goens’ worries about the quality of most of these soldiers, this would just have to be sufficient. On the 5th of November, the fleet set sail. Via Tuticorin and Cayalpatnam, where supplies were taken in and negotiations with local rulers were conducted, the fleet set sail to Quilon, which was quick to surrender on the 7th of December. The fleet was now joined by two more ships of the expedition fleet from patria, the Rijzende Zon and the Huis te Swieten, of which many of the people on board were however sick and weak from the journey.
For the details of this ensuing campaign I will once again have to refer to the next chapter; here it suffices to say that the heavily defended Portuguese city in Cochin was in the end fruitlessly besieged by the VOC, with great loss of life. By March 1662, with the summer monsoon rapidly approaching, it became clear that the fortress would not fall before the start of the rain season, and what was left of the besieging army retreated.
Meanwhile, Formosa had fallen. On the 1st of February 1662, Coyet had surrendered fort Zeelandia, on the condition that he could peacefully evacuate the fortress and return to Batavia. Macao had not been conquered, and now, the other route into the Chinese trade had also been lost to the Company. Back in Europe, things had taken an ill turn for the Company as well. On the 6th of August 1661, a peace treaty between Portugal and the Republic had been signed. Another remonstrance by the Company two months earlier, attempting to postpone the date at which this peace would take effect ‘beyond the line’, had proven fruitless. Two months after the signing, the peace would also take effect outside Europe. The news of the peace reached Batavia by the end of April, at about the same time the survivors of the Fort Zeelandia ordeal arrived in Batavia, and the arrival of the news of the failed siege of Cochin. The game finally seemed up for the Company. In spite of the conquest of Ceylon and the complete expulsion of the Portuguese from the Coromandel Coast, we might imagine that many people in the Company ranks would be disappointed: Macao, Diu, Goa, Cochin and Mozambique were all still Portuguese, and Formosa, oh shame, had been definitively lost. Little had come of the masterplan which Van Goens had presented to the directors six years ago, and of which he himself had just miserably failed to realise an important spearhead.
The Company had, however, not yet played its last card. The treaty with Portugal had been signed but not yet ratified. The treaty specified that this should be done within three months, i.e. before the 6th of November. Here, however, the process ran into some trouble. England, which had been so instrumental in establishing the peace, very much disliked a clause giving its Dutch rival trade rights in Portuguese ports, and over this point was willing to send the parties back to the negotiation table. Under English pressure, the Portuguese did not ratify the treaty until May 1662. In addition, the state system of the Dutch Republic required that all the separate provinces ratified the treaty, and for the time being, Gelderland, Zeeland and Groningen simply refused to do so. Prestage suspects that the refusal of these provinces was the work of the VOC. Whatever the case, the VOC soon saw enough difficulties emerging around the treaty to decide to just ignore it.
For their part, the directors were ignoring the treaty with fervour and enthusiasm. At the same time that Maatsuiker must have been smashing dishes against the wall in Batavia over so much bad news coming in at the same time, the directors were sending out another extra fleet. In the third week of April 1662, a total of six ships carrying at least 1400 souls set sail with orders to drive the Portuguese from Mozambique and then continue to India. Both from the Cape Colony and Batavia, patria had been receiving news of the precarious position of the Portuguese in Mozambique, due to disease and conflict with the local population. This little island was to the Portuguese what the Cape was to the VOC: ships heading for Goa (or increasingly Cochin, as Goa was blockaded all the time and Cochin took over some of the functions of trade and information hub), usually called there. For the Portuguese, this port of call was even more important than the Cape to the VOC, as Goa could only be reached for a few months a year, at the end of the winter monsoon. Many Portuguese ships had to ‘winter’ in Mozambique to await that moment, or sometimes didn’t make it to Goa in time and were mercilessly blown back to Mozambique. Without this ‘buffer harbour’, the functioning of the Portuguese carreira da India, and by implication the entire Portuguese empire, would be seriously disrupted.
This expedition, however, never reached Mozambique, or the Indian coast for that matter. As will be described in the next chapter, the only enemy it had a serious struggle with was the monsoon, and the latter won convincingly. The expedition fleet would eventually make it to Batavia, without having fired a single shot at any Portuguese vessel or stronghold.
In Batavia, the news of the postponed peace had immediately been cause for the preparation of another campaign to the west coast of India. In July, upon returning to Batavia and learning of the green light to continue the war against the Portuguese, Van Goens had immediately written a campaign plan. This was somewhat redundant, as the Governor-General and Council were already resolving upon action. The surrender of Fort Zeelandia, however undesirable in itself, had brought a good number of soldiers back to Batavia. Added to the reinforcements that had arrived from patria in the last year and the soldiers of last year’s campaign, the Company was able to once again amass a sufficient force to attempt to conquer Cochin, hopefully Diu, and perhaps even Goa itself. Aware of the precarious position of the Portuguese in Europe, the Hoge Regering expected that very few Portuguese reinforcements would have arrived in either Goa or Cochin. Its only worry was that the English might aid in the defence of the various Portuguese stronghold, as it might well be the dowry to Charles II, and therefore their own future colonies, they would be defending. The Hoge Regering resolved not to be too careful with the peace with England this time, and already thought up some smart legal arguments with which the fighting forces could later justify violence against the English.
Van Goens was once again to take command. However, when the fleet was ready to set sail, he was seriously ill. It was therefore Jacob Hustaert who commanded the fleet of thirteen ships, with a total of 800 European soldiers as well as 134 Mardijkers, Ambonese and Bandanese on board, which sailed from Batavia on the 26th of August 1662. When Van Goens had recovered by the 10th of September, he set sail with two ships and orders to lift as many soldiers as possible from the various Ceylonese garrisons before sailing to Cochin and retaking command. He would finally join Hustaert’s fleet on the 14th of November before Cochin, bringing 400 veteran soldiers and 500 Lascars. In the meantime, Godske, who had been sent ahead and was now commanding an army of soldiers lifted from the various Malabar garrisons, had also arrived at Cochin with some 500 soldiers. Hustaert had learned that only three frigates had managed to reach Goa that year, and that fear of a VOC attack on Goa had limited reinforcements to Cochin to 100 soldiers and a great amount of ammunition. The English were nowhere to be seen.
Considering the rather hopeless situation of the Portuguese in Cochin, the city held out for an admirably long time. The siege really took off as soon as Van Goens arrived in November. Assessing the situation, he immediately abandoned his plan of sending off part of the army to conquer Diu: all his resources would be needed here. After a long siege and various smaller actions in the surrounding area, the Company forces stormed the Cochin fort on the 6th of January 1663. After a bloody fight with heavy losses on both sides, Portuguese commander Sermento, having no expectations of any reinforcements or relief, decided to negotiate a surrender. On the 7th of January, the Portuguese laid down their arms.
In Europe, meanwhile, the treaty between Portugal and the Republic had finally been ratified on the 4th of November 1662. The directors, in their extra meeting called together in December that year because of Formosa’s fall, also took the opportunity to resolve that the overseas possessions would be informed of the peace overland, and that all clauses in sailing instructions on bringing damage to the Portuguese would be struck. The war was finally over, although the last rearguard skirmishing would continue for a while, at least in Europe. The new Portuguese resident in The Hague, Diogo Lopes Ulhoa, disputed the legitimacy of the conquest of Cochin and Cannanore as soon as he heard of it. The Estates-General, however, would have nothing of it, and insisted that because of Portugal’s own attitude, the Company’s military actions had been legitimized. Negotiations on this point would drag on into 1666, when the Estates-General proposed that the VOC would retain Cochin and Cannanoor, in exchange for which the overdue payment of the Portuguese war indemnity to the Republic would be cancelled. This was unacceptable to Ulhoa. In the end, however, the cities were kept as a guarantee, and would only be returned until the war indemnity was paid off. Portugal, being in no position to pay the indemnity or take measures against this decision, never got its cities back, which was exactly how the Estates-General, not to mention the directors, had wanted it.
It is a pity that the distribution of the book remains so very limited. The book, although old-fashioned, is an incredibly thorough source study on the correspondence between Van Goens, Batavia and patria. For the better part of the work, Ottow limited himself to sifting through the thousands of pages of correspondence between Van Goens and other parties, and summarizing these letters, rendering the jungle of documents related to Van Goens very accessible and thus opening up an episode of VOC history which has received too little attention so far.