Robert E. Lee famously observed, “It is well that war is so terrible, otherwise we should grow too fond of it.” The horrors of any war ultimately become so unbearable that one side will lay down its arms and put an end to the fighting. In one case, it took nothing more than a spilled kettle of soup to convince a warring nation to pursue peace.
The year was 1784. The Netherlands existed as two territories at that time. The northern territory, known as the Republic of the Seven Netherlands, found itself in conflict with Joseph II, Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire.
The dispute centered around access to the trading harbors of Ghent and Antwerp. The Scheldt River was under the control of the Netherlands, and since 1585, access to the river had been cut off. This left the Holy Roman Empire without easy access to the Belgian trading harbors. Joseph II had enough of it, and he demanded the Netherlands reopen the river and allow his ships to make use of the trading route.
Joseph sent three warships, including the state-of-the-art Le Louis. Given the might of the Holy Roman Empire and the comparatively-lightweight Dutch navy, Joseph expected his adversaries to immediately rethink their position about the river.
Unfortunately for Joseph, no one on the Netherlands side read the memo that they were supposed to just roll over and abandon their claim. On October 8,1784, the Dutch ship Dolfijn sailed out to meet the intimidating warships. When the ships continued on their intended course, the Dolfijn opened fire.
Only one shot was fired. No one was hurt, but it did succeed in overturning a soup kettle on the deck of the Le Louis. It was either really good soup, or the crew of the Le Louis just decided that access to the Scheldt River wasn’t worth all this fuss. In either case, Le Louis signaled its immediate surrender, and the fleet turned around and returned to port.
The conflict became known as the Kettle War. Listing total wartime carnage as some spilled soup, the war came to an official end the next year when the two nations signed a treaty, formally recognizing the Netherlands’ right to keep the Scheldt River closed.
Learn about history’s shortest war.