While the Royal Navy stagnated in the age of the establishments, the French and Spanish were building bigger and better ships. In style this model of a Spanish ship has much in common with British practice, and British shipwrights were employed in the Spanish dockyards, especially Irish Roman Catholics who were forbidden employment under the British crown. The decoration however is rather different, with a horse as figurehead and a heavy carving on each quarter of the stern. This model cannot be positively identified but it bears an eagle and snake on the stern, from the coat of arms of Mexico. It may be the Spanish 60-gun ship Nueva Espana, built in Havana in 1740. It has oar ports between the lower deck gunports, a feature only found on much smaller British ships, but one which might have proved useful in the lighter winds of the Mediterranean, where it might still be necessary to fight galleys in calm weather.
The increase of European corsair attacks on the Spanish West Indies and Main (north coast of South America) from the 1520s required improved defensive measures, but especially from the 1540s when American shipping peaked during the richest discoveries of silver in Peru. These attacks, in peacetime and war, transcended international law just as the religious struggles of the Mediterranean did, especially as Spain in the late 1530s forbade foreign entry into American waters. The Spanish crown thus had to accept, reluctantly, the realization that local militias, inadequate fortifications and private armed patrols in the Caribbean were no substitute for regular, systematic transatlantic convoys, escorted by regular navy galleons and protected at the points of departure and arrival by permanent coastal patrols of galleys and small sailing warships. Such a system took several decades to evolve and in the face of perhaps 100 enemy corsairs operating yearly-70 off Spain and 30 in the Caribbean. Between 1535 and 1546, most of the attacks occurred off the Atlantic coast of Spain, and the colonists in America generally had to fend for themselves. But the arrival of many corsairs on plundering as well as smuggling ventures in the Caribbean during the 1550s caused the crown to experiment with countermeasures that became permanent after 1560. These came in the form of direct government regulation of Spanish America’s maritime defenses, embodied in an annual escorted convoy sporadically from 1553 and permanently from the 1560s. The major tool became the escort for this convoy, the Armada Real, two to twelve galleons, created in 1568 and commanded by Pedro Menendez de Aviles. Two plate (silver) convoys sailed annually, the spring voyage to the Antilles and Vera Cruz, the late summer expedition to Cartagena on the Spanish Main and Nombre de Dios at the Isthmus of Panama. Both wintered in the Caribbean, then rendezvoused at Havana the following March for the return voyage to Seville.
Expensive though the Armada Real was, it achieved for Philip II the desired effect of acting as a deterrent to corsair attacks on the plate fleets. To be sure, the Real could not stop corsair depredations of coastal settlements, especially as they intensified along the Spanish Main from the late 1560s. French, English and Dutch even began to cooperate in common cause against the Spanish imperial monopoly, sometimes in small squadrons of twelve ships or more off the Spanish coast and in the Caribbean. Such dangers could only be thwarted by largely ineffective galley patrols in both places, or by more successful Spanish and (from 1552) Portuguese galleons between the Iberian coast and the forward island base in the Azores. The Ottoman naval offensive of the 1560s also brought Turkish and Barbary corsairs in squadrons of six galliots or more into the Atlantic to join in the assault. Indeed, a Turkish corsair squadron entered the anchorage of Cadiz during the late summer of 1568 and burned three of Menendez de Aviles’ original twelve galleons preparing for the first sortie of the Armada Real. But the Moslem danger diminished as the Ottomans pulled back to their Central Mediterranean defense perimeter during the 1570s, and the Armada Real assumed its permanent escort role. Even following Menendez’ departure to lead an expedition against Holland in 1574 (when he died), the system continued with unqualified success for over two centuries. Stragglers from the convoy occasionally fell prey to corsairs, but the Armada Real was rarely intercepted by any formidable enemy force over the ensuing decades, the first time not coming until 1628.
Looking for something else, I recently found the following in ‘Trafalgar and the Spanish Navy’ by John D. Harbron (it documents the Spanish SOL from early 18th Century) about the armament of early Spanish SOLs:
4th Rate and fast sailer, 60 Gun Ship (Service Year 1717)–24 x 18#, 26 x 12#, 10 x 6#
Harbron indicates that the these 60’s were not designed to fight in a line of battle against the capital ships of their time but were heavy escorts, intended to defeat British and French privateers and pirates in the Caribbean and elsewhere. They were used to escort the Gold and Silver convoys from the Caribbean across the Atlantic to Spain. One voyage was also made during the early 1730s around the Cape of Horn to the Pacific to escort in the great Manila galleons. This was only on their last leg of sailing into Panama.
Manila Galleons: what a target for your large well organised Pirate! Alas somewhat out of the league your average pirate, as would be the Spanish convoys escorted by those special anti-pirate 60-gunners.
Nostra Senora de Covandonga 50-guns 1731-1743
Nostra Senora del Pilar de Zaragoza 50-guns 1732-1750
This is from an article published in Warship 1991 ‘The Last Manila Galleon’ In the article they describe the last Spanish Galleon’s that sailed between Manila in the Philippines across the Pacific to Acapulco on the west coast of Mexico.
One of the last Manila Galleon’s were the Covandonga captured by Anson in 1743, the Pilar which broke up on the voyage to Acapulco in 1750 and the ships built to replace Covandonga and Pilar at Manila the
Nuestra Senora del Rosario y los Santos Reyes 60-guns 1746-1762
Santisima Trinidad y Nuestra Senora del Buen Fin 70-guns 1750-1762
These were enormous ships; Rosario was 188 ft overall with 156 ft keel, 56 ft beam, and a 26 ft depth in hold and was pierced for 60 guns the Santisima Trinidad was even larger. For comparison the Spanish navy at that time had designed a 60 gun 4th rate as the best ship for their needs, these commonly measured 143 ft in length and 39 ft in breadth.
The Rosario and Santisima Trinidad were terrible sailers; they had enormous upper works and could only sail in a following wind. In 1756 Santisima Trinidad took over 7 months to make the voyage from Manila to Mexico, 82 passengers died on the voyage including the former governor of the Philippines returning to Spain.