Longest War With Fewest Casualties

With the signing of a peace treaty on this day in 1986, the Three Hundred and Thirty-Five Years’ War between the Netherlands and the Isles of Scilly came to an end. It was the longest war with the fewest casualties.

The “war” broke out in 1651, with the end of the English Civil War. During that war, the Parliamentarians beat the Royalists from London to the edges of England, until the Royalists were forced to retreat to the Isles of Scilly off the southwest coast of England. The Netherlands had sided with the Parliamentarians in the civil war and so sent the Dutch navy to fight the Royalist fleet in Scilly. But the Dutch navy was no match for the Royalists, who routed them. They were in fact so badly beaten, that the Netherlands demanded reparation for the Dutch ships and goods taken by the Royalists. When they received no reparation, the Netherlands decided to declare war on the Isles.

On 17 April 1651, a letter in Whitelocke’s Memorials states, “Tromp came to Pendennis and related that he had been to Scilly to demand reparation for the Dutch ships and goods taken by them; and receiving no satisfactory answer, he had, according to his Commission, declared war on them.” Soon after the declaration of war on 17 April 1651, Parliamentarian forces forced the Royalists to surrender and the Netherlands left the Isles of Scilly without firing a shot. Because the “war” itself was dubious–involving a small port, no armed conflict, and an obscure objective–no nation officially declared peace.

The Netherlands and the Isles largely forgot about the “war” and carried on with their respective foreign interests. Though they were not actively engaged in conflict, they were still technically at war because no treaty had ever been signed between the two combatants.

In 1985, historian and chairman of the Isles of Scilly Council Roy Duncan wrote to the Dutch Embassy in London to dispel the myth that the islands were still at war. Thanks to the letter, the two parties decided it was finally time to declare an official end to the “war.” Dutch ambassador Rein Huydecoper visited the Isles and the two parties signed a peace treaty on 17 April 1986, 335 years after the “war” began. At the signing, the Dutch ambassador joked that it must have been harrowing for the Scillonians “to know we could have attacked at any moment.”

Thus ended the longest war–with no casualties–ever fought. Or not fought.