Michiel de Ruyter Biography

Michiel de Ruyter, a 17th century Dutch admiral, is widely regarded as the most accomplished and skilled admiral in the history of the Dutch Republic. Rising from humble beginnings, he quickly rose through the ranks of the navy, showcasing his natural talent for strategic decision-making and innovative thinking. Throughout his naval career, de Ruyter engaged in numerous battles against raiders from Europe and the Caribbean, consistently emerging victorious despite being outnumbered. His bold tactics, expert maneuvering, and effective use of ship cannons earned him near miraculous triumphs, notably during the raid on the Medway. However, it was not only his military prowess that endeared him to others; de Ruyter’s generosity and respect towards his crew, associates, and acquaintances made him a beloved figure among those who worked with him.

Quick Facts

  • Nick Name: Bestevaêr
  • Also Known As: Michiel Adriaanszoon De Ruyter
  • Died At Age: 69
  • Family:
    • Spouse/Ex-: Anna van Gelder (m. 1652), Maayke Velders (m. 1631 – 1631), Neeltje Engels (m. 1636 – 1650)
    • Father: Adriaen Michielszoon
    • Mother: Aagje Jansdochter
    • Children: Engel de Ruyter
  • Born Country: Netherlands
  • Military Leaders
  • Dutch Men
  • Died on: April 29, 1676
  • Place of death: Syracuse, Italy
  • Cause of Death: Killed In Action: Wounded

Childhood & Early Life

Michiel de Ruyter was born on March 24, 1607, in Vlissingen, in the Dutch Republic, to Aagje Jansdochter (mother) and Adriaen Michielszoon (father). Keeping with the Zeelander tradition, he was employed at sea at the age of eleven, working as an apprentice to a boatswain. In 1622, he joined the Dutch Army as a musketeer during the ‘Eighty Years War’ to fight against the Spaniards. Between 1623 and 1631, he worked as a mercantile fiduciary for the Lampsins Brothers, a Vlissingen-based merchant house in their Dublin office. After the death of his first wife, he returned to the sea as first mate of a whaling fleet operating around the Jan Mayen Islands.


In 1637, Michiel de Ruyter was given command of a private ship which was to hunt for raiders operating around Dunkirk, a duty that he fulfilled successfully for three years (1637 to 1640) years. He captained the ‘Haze’ in 1641, a merchant ship refitted to man-of-war specifications to aid the Portuguese in their fight against the Spanish armada. Despite little success, he distinguished himself in naval combat. After his fleet was disbanded, he returned to merchant service for the next decade or so. By 1651, he had made sizeable profits from trade and was ready to retire. However, the First Anglo-Dutch war a year later forced him out of retirement. Between 1652 and 1654, he took command of a fleet of privately commissioned warships. In the Battle of Plymouth, he successfully protected America-bound, Dutch conveys from 47 English warships, defeating them in the process. In 1653, he turned down the offer to become supreme commander of the Dutch fleet but was persuaded to accept the position of Vice-Admiral of Amsterdam Admiralty a year later, shortly before the war ended. In 1664, he battled the English again and successfully took back the Dutch slaving stations off the coast of West Africa. When the Second Anglo-Dutch War began in 1665, Michiel de Ruyter was tasked with attacking the English forts and shipping routes in the Caribbean, and while successful his fleet also sustained considerable damage to ships along with many casualties. The next year, he notched another significant victory in the Four Days’ battle. Beaten in the St. James Day battle, he fell gravely ill in 1667, but recovered in time to lead an audacious raid on Medway in the heart of England. Such was the extent of this victory, that it ultimately forced the English to settle for peace. Despite his failing health, he took command of his fleet again in 1672 to defend the Dutch Republic against an English invasion and defeated the English at Solebay. It was followed by a string of naval victories at Texel and Schoonveld the next year. Commanding a combined Dutch-Spanish fleet in 1676, he engaged the French fleet, and while he gained a victory at Stromboli, the battle of Agosta, four months later proved fatal for Michiel de Ruyter.

Major Works

During the Second Anglo-Dutch war, he oversaw the Raid on the Medway in 1667. Leading the Dutch fleet, they sailed up the Thames estuary, caught the English Navy off-guard at the port, burned many of their ships, ruined the port, destroyed the cargo and even managed to tow an English flagship, HMS Royal Charles back home.

Awards & Achievements

For his heroics in liberating Nyborg from Swedish occupation in 1659, Michiel de Ruyter received a knighthood from Frederick III of Denmark. He received the Order of St. Michael from Louis XIV in 1666.

Family & Personal Life

Michiel De Ruyter was thrice married. He married Maayke Velders on 16 March 1631, who died in childbirth later that same year. His second marriage was with Neeltje Engels in 1636, and their union produced four children. Two years after her unexpected passing, he married Anna van Gelder, a widow who bore him two children. He passed away in Syracuse on 29th April 1676 after sustaining a fatal injury to his left leg a week before the battle of Agosta. He received a state funeral back home on 18th March, 1677, and was buried in the Nieuwe Kerk in Amsterdam.


There are numerous statues erected in his memory, prime among them being the one at his hometown Vlissingen, Hungarian town of Debrecen. Six ships from the Royal Netherlands Navy are named after him and another seven ships carry the name of ‘De Zeven Provinciën’, his flagship. Besides, many towns in Netherlands who have streets named after him, the 2015 movie ‘Admiral’ depicts his life. He is also regarded as one of the founders of the Netherlands Marine Corps, which dates backs to 1665.

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