By the beginning of the sixteenth century, disciplined
pike-armed infantry had become the backbone of Europe’s increasingly
professional armies. At the same time, firearms had become lighter and
convenient enough to be used by infantry in battle. Such handheld firearms
could inflict heavy casualties upon pike-armed forces arrayed for battle but
suffered from the very serious shortcoming that the harquebusiers were
vulnerable while performing the slow and complicated steps involved in
reloading their weapons. Under El Gran Capitan, the Spanish commander Gonzalo
Fernandez de Cordoba (1453-1515), Spanish forces began to combine blocks of
pike men with blocks of harquebusiers. Such formations, called tercios, were
successful combined-arms units. The harquebusiers deployed outside the pike
square and fired into the enemy lines. If the enemy charged, the harquebusiers
could retreat into the pike formation for protection. Thus a tercio combined
continuous fire with the shock power of the pike. The devastating potential of
these tactics was demonstrated at the Battle of Cerignola (1503). A French
force of cavalry and Swiss mercenaries attacked Fernandez de Cordoba’s Spanish
forces deployed behind a ditch. The fire of the harquebusiers was so severe
that the French formations broke apart, whereupon Fernandez de Cordoba’s
pikemen charged. The disordered French were overwhelmed and suffered heavy
casualties. These tactics put a premium on the pikes and handguns but reduced
the need for cutting weapons such as halberds and glaives.
Tercio. “Third.” The name derived from the tripartite division common to early modern infantry squares, especially the main infantry unit in the 5th-16th-century Spanish system. Tercios started at 3,000 men, but heavy tercios could have up to 6,000 men each, formed into 50 to 60 ranks with 80 men to a file. They were super-heavy units of armored and tactically disciplined pikemen, supported by arquebusiers and lesser numbers of heavy musketeers on the corners. To contemporary observers they appeared as “iron cornfields” which won through shock and sheer mass rather than clever maneuver. Others saw in the tercio a “walking citadel” whose corner guards of clustered arquebusiers gave it the appearance of a mobile castle with four turrets, especially after the reforms introduced by Gonzalo di Cordoba from 1500. He wanted the tercios to better contend with the Swiss so he added more pikes at the front but also many more gunmen to replace the older reliance on polearms. These formations might have only 1,200 men. The new tercio was still heavy and ponderous on the move, but it was a more flexible unit with much greater firepower that could dig in for defense or advance to destroy the enemy’s main force as circumstances suggested. This reform first paid off at Cerignola (1503). At Pavia (1525), tercios destroyed the French under Francis I. For two generations after that most opponents declined battle against the tercios whenever possible, and they became the most feared infantry in Europe. They remained dominant for nearly a hundred years. Their demise came during the Thirty Years’ War when more flexible Dutch and Swedish armies broke into more flexible, smaller regiments. These units smashed the tercios with combined arms tactics that also employed field artillery and a return to cavalry shock.
Battle of Cerignola, (April
Spain’s “Gran Capitan” Gonzalo di Co’rdoba had been beaten
by a Franco-Swiss army at Seminara in 1495. To counter Swiss tactics, at
Cerignola he dug a ditch in front of his line. This broke up the cadence of the
Swiss pikers, exposing them to murderous Spanish arquebus fire. Once the enemy
lines grew ragged Co’rdoba sent his tercios forward. These were newly reformed
units with added pikes and more arquebusiers, which gave the Swiss a taste of
their own famous “push of pike.” The Spanish infantry drove the Franco-Swiss
troops backward and downslope, while Spanish cavalry pursued and cut down
individual soldiers as they ran. The French artillery train was captured.
Naples fell to Co’rdoba on May 13. While the pike remained an integral part of
the Spanish tercio, it was the arquebus and musket that gave the formation its
power at Cerignola. The battle was the beginning of the end for Swiss infantry
Battle of La Bicocca,
(April 27, 1522).
During the Italian Wars (1494-1559) Francis I assembled an army of 25,000, including thousands of Swiss mercenaries, and marched to take back Milan which he had earlier lost to Charles V. Waiting to meet him with 20,000 Spanish and Italian troops, supported by German mercenaries, was Marchese di Pescara. The Habsburgs were positioned behind a sunken road and were well dug in. Their musketeers stood in four ranks partially concealed by heavy hedges and unusually, with pikemen to the rear. The Swiss in French employ charged with their usual ferocious abandon only to see a third of their number fall to the massed Habsburg gunmen. Each rank fired in turn, then retired, a countermarch tactic developed to maximize the fire effect of the new “Spanish musket.” That heavier weapon had been used in a siege at Parma in 1521 but this was its first test in a field battle. It was devastating: 3,000 Swiss fell dead or wounded inside 30 minutes. No more would the Swiss used outdated pike and halberd tactics in the face of opposing firearms. Henceforth, the Spanish tercio was admired as the best infantry formation in Europe, ahead of the suddenly outdated Swiss square. Francis withdrew toward Venice, his ally.
The survival of Spanish moderates and liberals in government
posts, because of their competence, bothered extreme royalists, who
increasingly gathered around the childless king’s brother, Don Carlos. Royalist
irregulars called Volunteers, who rallied to Fernando in 1823, wanted places in
the army that had been denied them by the professionals, whether conservative
or liberal. In 1827 “aggrieved” royalists rebelled in Catalonia and
The revolution of 1830 that brought Louis Philippe of
Orleans to the French throne as the “bourgeois king” triggered
several abortive liberal risings in Spain that served chiefly to provide the
liberal cause with martyrs. Spanish clericals and conservatives grew more attached
to Don Carlos, whereas their opponents put their hope in the new queen, Maria
Cristina of Naples. Aged twenty-three, she had won the heart of the older king.
After some wavering, Fernando issued a Pragmatic which declared that her child,
whether daughter or son, would succeed to the throne. The tradition of the
House of Bourbon was the Salic law-that only a son could succeed to the throne.
Maria Cristina had two daughters, Isabel and Luisa. When Fernando VII died in
1833, Isabel, aged three, became Queen Isabel II, and her mother, Maria
Cristina, regent. In opposition, Isabel’s uncle. Don Carlos declared himself to
be King Carlos V.
The regent soon replaced Fernando’s last chief minister,
conservative Francisco Cea Bermudez, with moderate Francisco Martinez de la
Rosa, a onetime “jailbird.” He presided over the drafting of the
Royal Statute of 1834, a sort of constitution bestowed by the crown. It
provided for a twochamber Cortes, with an upper house that resembled the
English House of Lords with archbishops, bishops, grandees, and titled nobles,
plus designated appointees; and a lower chamber of deputies, to be elected
indirectly by a restricted electorate. Its functions were consultative, and the
ministers remained responsible to the crown. No bill of rights was included.
The liberal direction of Spain was paralleled in Portugal and encouraged by
Britain and France. They joined with Spain and Portugal in a new Quadruple Alli
ance to preclude foreign interference. Whereas many moderate liberals were satisfied,
other liberals were not, and in the provincial capitals the Progressives, the
heirs of the exaltados, began to dominate the political debate. The differences
of Moderates and Progressives would be played out against the background of the
Don Carlos, a vain, closed-minded man, soon had followers in
arms, chiefly in the Basque Country, Navarre, Aragon, and rural Catalonia.
These were regions where the Church was strong and with significant populations
of poor but proud smallholders, regions that enjoyed historic privileges which
seemed threatened by the centralizing policies of impatient liberals. Their
battle cry proclaimed God, king, fatherland, and regional privileges (fueros).
Conservative soldiers, former guerrilleros, and sometime bandits formed the
core of the Carlist forces. While Don Carlos announced that their commander in
chief was the Virgin of Sorrows, their best general was a professional soldier
and hero of the War of Independence, “Uncle” Tomas Zumalacarregui. He
drove government forces from the countryside of Navarre and the Basque Country
but lacked the heavy equipment necessary to conquer the well-garrisoned and
liberal capitals of Bilbao, San Sebastian, and Pamplona. When Don Carlos
arrived in Spain in 1835, he pressured Zumalacarregui to assault Bilbao. The
assault failed, and Zumalacarregui died of wounds. The First Carlist War
sputtered on until 1840. Both sides massacred prisoners and terrorized
civilians. Attempts at compromise based on the betrothal of Queen Isabel II to
Don Carlos’s son, Carlos Luis, count of Montemolfn, foundered on Don Carlos’s
intransigence. In 1837 the Carlists paraded to the outskirts of Madrid, but
found no popular support and withdrew. By 1839, on the northern front the
government arrayed 100,000 men and 700 guns, under General Baldomero Espartero,
against the Carlists’ 32,000 men and 50 guns, under Rafael Maroto. A
professional officer, Maroto knew his side had no chance; so with Espartero he
signed the compromise of Vergara, which allowed the Carlists to lay down their
arms, and the regular officers who had served Don Carlos to return to the army
without loss of rank. This gave the Spanish army a notoriously high ratio of
officers to men. By 1840 the war was over. Don Carlos fled to France, where he
settled at Bourges, under the gaze of an unfriendly French government.
‘While their future depended on the defeat of the Carlists,
the politicians in Madrid wrangled over revenues and constitutional questions.
The task of finding money to meet war costs went to an energetic banker of
Cadiz and London, Juan Alvarez Mendizabal. His enemies noted that he was both a
Jew and a Freemason. Early in 1836 he rammed through a measure that had
profound consequences: the disamortization (release from mortmain, a kind of
entail), appropriation, and sale of all Church lands that did not di rectly
support parishes, hospitals, or schools. For an idea long around, the moment
had come. Mendizabal and his allies hoped that the chief beneficiaries of
disamortization would be members of the middle class, who would purchase Church
lands and become wedded to the liberal cause in order to keep them. For the
Church hierarchy it was the last straw. The bishops broke irrevocably with
liberalism and privately put their hopes on the Carlist side. Rome refused to
confirm many of the Spanish crown’s episcopal nominees, and half of Spain’s
dioceses were soon without bishops. As Church wealth dwindled, perhaps
one-third of Spain’s clergy renounced their vows and quit.
The disamortization of Church lands formed part of the
liberal economic program to encourage increased agricultural productivity
through greater private entrepreneurial activity. The common lands of the
former Church domains were also privatized, which led to more peasant unrest
and several violent insurrections over the following thirty years. The same
environmental and technological constraints that had always affected Spanish
agriculture persisted, and the new patterns of ownership led to no marked
increase in productivity.
In elections under the Royal Statute of 1834, the
Progressives got the edge in the municipalities, and the unruly urban militias
they dominated demanded the restoration of the Constitution of 1812.
Demonstrations in Madrid in August 1836 caused the sergeants of the Royal
Guards at the summer palace at La Granja to confront the regent over the
matter. Faced with the “Sergeants’ Revolt,” she agreed to accept it
and made it the business of the Cortes to undertake the necessary revisions. In
1837 she promulgated a new Constitution that provided a Cortes with a senate,
appointed by the crown from lists submitted by designated provincial electors,
and a Congress of Deputies, for which 4 percent of the male population could
Dominated by Moderates, the Cortes gave the central
government tighter control over Spain’s municipalities in 1840. Progressives
took to the streets and rioted. Much of the tinder for riot and unrest was
provided by office seekers. In Spain, as in the United States at the time, the
spoils system reigned. The party that won power dismissed officeholders of the
losing party and rewarded its own followers with their jobs. Government jobs
had long been the chief aspiration of ambitious university graduates in a Spain
that produced more lawyers than engineers, physicians, or scientists. Called
pretendientes, those out of office became a fixture on the Spanish scene.
Depending on family support to eat, they conspired and agitated to restore
their party to power. With the transfer in 1836 of the University of Alcala to
Madrid, as the Universidad Central, university students joined the politically
restless elements of the capital.
To restore order, the regent in desperation appointed
General Espartero as prime minister. The first of the political generals who
dominated Spanish politics for the next two dozen years, he was the son of a
carter of La Mancha and identified with the Progressives. Given his humble
origins, he also made clear that the army provided a career open to talent.
When Espartero and the regent differed, he used the need to end disorder to
coerce her into yielding the regency to him. Maria Cristina’s position was
already compromised by her marriage, soon after Fernando’s death, to Augustin
Munoz, a sergeant of the Guards, whom she had her daughter make a duke and
grandee. Maria Cristina and Munoz departed for France.
With Espartero regent and Progressives once more in control
of the Cortes, the number of men enjoying the franchise was doubled. A
pronunciamento by Moderates in the Basque Country was quickly squelched, and
Basque privileges were curtailed. Concern over a swing to the right in
Barcelona led to a more radical Progressive rising and the establishment of a
popular junta, with budding labor unions involved. Unruly mobs dismantled part
of the royal citadel erected by Philip V, and the Barcelona junta challenged
the liberal doctrine of free trade and called for protectionism. Then tax riots
broke out, and by the end of 1842, order had collapsed. Angry, Espartero refused
to compromise with Barcelona, turned his artillery on the city, then stormed
Many Progressives abandoned Espartero in disgust and joined
the Moderates. When their coalition won control of the Cortes, Espartero
dissolved it. All over Spain disgruntled garrisons and municipalities
pronounced against him. Moderate General Ramon Narvaez returned from exile in
France and engineered Espartero’s fall. Rather than make Narvaez regent, his
rivals had the Cortes declare Queen Isabel II to be of age, a year early since
she was only thirteen. But Narvaez would dominate the government for most of
the next ten years.
Spain’s economy began a slow expansion with the restoration
of order in most of the country, which was maintained by the newly established
paramilitary Civil Guard. Growth was more pronounced on the periphery:
Catalonia and Valencia on the Mediterranean, western Andalusia, and the Basque
Country. Old and New Castile remained poor, and Madrid seemed bloated by
contrast. Also poor were Aragon and Galicia; Extremadura and rural Andalusia
were the poorest of all. By midcentury, Spain’s population neared 15 million,
an increase of more than 3 million since 1800.
Spain’s political elite, centered on Madrid and including
the court, the politicians, the army, the bureaucracy, and the press, now
fussed about the queen’s marriage. The Church hierarchy was not out of the
picture, though it was still offended by its loss of landed wealth and the
restrictions placed on religious orders. Great Britain and France also had
ideas. Isabel II, with her mother remarried and exiled to France, grew up
spoiled, indulged, overweight, and sensual. To every candidate for her hand
objections sprouted. What seemed most logical, her marriage to the Carlist
heir, Mon- temolfn, foundered on his claim that he was already King Carlos VI.
In the end she married the least objectionable candidate, her first cousin Don
Francisco de Asfs, son of her uncle, the duke of Cadiz. Aged twenty-four, Don
Francisco de Asis was a fastidious army officer whose sexual relations with the
queen derived from his sense of duty. Many attributed her unhappy situation to
duplicitous French diplomacy. When Britain objected to a French proposal that
she marry a son of King Louis Philippe, his son, the manly duke of Montpensier,
married her sister, the Infanta Luisa. Suspicion grew that the French hoped
Isabel and her ascetic consort would be childless and that Montpensier’s
offspring would succeed to the Spanish throne. Isabel II and Don Francisco de
Asis soon lived in separate quarters, but she bore four daughters and a son who
survived early childhood and, despite questions regarding their paternity, were
accepted as legitimate. Notoriously she took many lovers, mostly macho army
officers. Although most regarded her behavior as scandalous, they admitted her
marriage was unhappy.
Following Isabel’s marriage in 1846, a Carlist rising
surfaced in Catalonia on behalf of Montemolin. Called the Second Carlist War
and fueled by peasant unrest, it peaked in 1848 but was quelled by 1849. Coping
with it brought Narvaez back to power in late 1847. In 1848, a year of
revolution in much of Europe (which cost King Louis Philippe his throne in
France), he kept a firm grip on the political life of Spain and sent an
expeditionary force to Rome in 1849 to support the pope against revolutionaries
there. In 1851 a coalition of disgruntled Moderates and ultraconservatives
forced him from office once more. They were aided by court cabals that included
Francisco de Asis, who found his niche in government through intrigue. The new
government of Antonio Bravo Murillo dismissed the Cortes, which had a splendid
new palace, and attempted to rule by decree, influenced by developments in
France where Napoleon III seized power.
Epitome of the first-rate ‘ship of the line’, Santísima Trinidad was
designed to lead a fleet into battle and to withstand a heavy cannonade. The
concept of staying-power in the face of gunfire was becoming increasingly
These eighteenth-century scale drawings are guides to the installation
of the supports for a canvas roofing to cover the entire upper deck. They were
made before the vessel’s conversion to a four-decker.
The largest warship of the eighteenth century, with four
decks of guns, the Spanish flagship was engaged in two of history’s great naval
battles, at Cape St Vincent and Trafalgar. It was known as the ‘Escorial (royal
palace) of the Seas’.
The Royal Shipyards at Havana, Cuba (then a Spanish
possession) were a major building site for warships. Costs were less than in
Spain and there were large timber resources, especially of hardwoods not
available in Spain, like the American cedarwood used in Santísima Trinidad. It
was the seventh Spanish warship of the name, confirmed by a royal order on 12
March 1768. Its designer was the King’s naval architect Matthew or Mateo
Mullan, an Irishman, and building was supervised by his son Ignacio.
It was launched as a three-decker of unusually large
dimensions. Spanish shipbuilding was of high quality, perhaps the best of any
nation. The ships were strongly built and generally of larger size for their
gun-rating than British vessels, which made them both more stable as
gun-platforms and better able to withstand attack.
A Spanish 70-gun ship was about 1540 tonnes (1700 tons)
compared to the 1134 tonnes (1250 tons) of a comparable British ship. This
tradition of size and strength gave the builders of 1769 confidence to
construct the largest warship of the time. Ships of this size were rarities: between
1750 and 1790 the British Navy had only six ships of 100 guns. The French also
built a few very large ships. In 1788 the French Commerce de Marseille exceeded
Santísima Trinidad in size, being 63.5m (208ft 4in) long, with a beam of 16.6m
(54ft 9in), but carried fewer guns, 118 on three decks (captured by the British
in 1793, it was broken up in 1802), and Océan and Orient, of 1790 and 1791,
carried 120 guns.
Years of action
In its first years the ship was probably not in commission
but held in readiness. With the declaration of war by Spain on Great Britain in
July 1779, it entered service as flagship of the Spanish fleet, under Admiral
Luis de Cordoba y Cordoba, operating with allied French ships in the English
Channel and the western approaches. In August 1780 it led an action which
resulted in the capture of 55 British merchant vessels from a convoy. In 1782
it participated in the second siege of Gibraltar, as flagship of a combined
fleet 48-strong of Spanish and French ships, but failed to intercept a British
In 1795, in a bold enhancement of its gun-power, a fourth
deck was installed, joining the forecastle to the quarter-deck and raising the
number of cannon carried from 112 to 136. This made Santísima Trinidad by some
way the most heavily-armed ship of its time. Back in service in 1797, it was
the Spanish flagship at the Battle of Cape St Vincent on 14 February, and
suffered major damage, partially dismasted and with over half the crew killed
or wounded. Santísima Trinidad struck her colours to HMS Orion, but before the
British could take possession, they were signalled away, and the ship was
rescued by Pelayo and Principe de Asturias, and limped back to Cadiz for
Particularly after the construction of the fourth deck,
giving the ship a very high freeboard exposed to sidewinds, Santísima Trinidad
did not have good sailing qualities and gained the nickname ‘El Ponderoso’.
Unlike contemporary French and British naval ships, its hull was not
copper-sheathed. A further disadvantage, according to French observers, was a
poorly-trained crew and the poor quality of many of the guns. With the greater
part of the Spanish fleet, the ship’s home base was Cadiz.
In the course of its 38-year plus career, the Santísima
Trinidad was careened or refitted three times, and spent almost 20 of those
years out of service. This last was typical of ships in other navies: if there
was no war on, crews were discharged and the ship held ‘in ordinary’. Ships in
reserve had their guns removed, to reduce strain on the innumerable joints and
brackets of the hull and gun-decks.
At Trafalgar, captained by Francisco Javier Uriarte and
carrying the pendant of Rear Admiral Baltasar de Cisneros, it was flagship of
the Spanish squadron, painted dark red with white stripes. In line just ahead
of Admiral Villeneuve’s Bucentaure, it was in the thick of the central battle,
heavily raked by broadsides from HMS Neptune.
After four hours, by 2:12pm, all three masts were gone; an
eyewitness wrote: ‘This tremendous fabric gave a deep roll, with a swell to
leeward, then back to windward, and on her return every mast went by the board,
leaving it an unmanageable hulk on the water.’ The ship was compelled to
surrender (as painted below in the Surrender of the Santísima Trinidad to
Neptune, The Battle of Trafalgar, 3 PM, 21st October 1805 by Lieutenant Robert
After the battle it was taken in tow by HMS Prince, but in
the storm which followed, the tow could not be held, and Santísima Trinidad was
scuttled on 22 October.
The British invasion of Cuba was a failure for reasons that this map of the well-defended position they established in Guantanamo Bay did not reveal. An attack on the major port of Santiago was planned, but the British troops were landed in the bay more than eighty miles away. This foolishly exposed them to a long and dangerous advance through woody terrain ideal for Spanish guerrilla action. The troops suffered heavily from disease, did not reach their goal and were re-embarked. Santiago was to fall to American attack in 1898. An earlier British attack on Cartagena (in modern Colombia) and a later one on Panama, both in 1741, also failed.
The War of Jenkins’ Ear, an armed
conflict between Britain and Spain, arose from longstanding Anglo-Spanish
antagonism fostered by illicit British trading activities in the Spanish
Caribbean and the determined, often brutal, attempts by Spain’s colonial guarda
costa (‘coast guard’) vessels to suppress such ventures. Popular feeling,
incited by opponents of the Walpole ministry in London and a vigorous merchant
lobby opposed to diplomatic efforts, further intensified pressures conducive to
war. The immediate events that precipitated
open hostilities were the alleged sinking of several British merchant ships by
Spanish privateers, the suspension of the asiento or slave supply contract, and
the intensification of Spain’s search and seizure claims against British
smuggling vessels, and, marginally, the ill usage suffered by one Capt. Robert
Jenkins, Master of the brig Rebecca. Legitimately bound for London from Jamaica
with a cargo of sugar, Jenkins’s ship was plundered and his ear severed by the
commander of a Spanish coast guard vessel near Havana on 9 April 1731.
The case received brief publicity,
subsided, but then was revived (together with other, similar incidents) during
a stormy Commons debate in March 1738. Although modern research has established
that, contrary to historical tradition, Jenkins never appeared personally to
present the missing ear; his plight was highly dramatized and contributed to
the momentum of the political opposition campaign urging an immediate offensive
against Spain. This appealed to national sentiment and commercial interests
alike. Temporizing, Walpole arranged the Convention of Pardo with Spain, which
provided compensation for vessels, lost but avoided the crucial issue: Spain’s
continued determination to suppress all smuggling attempts. Confronted with
growing public and parliamentary indignation, Walpole finally had to yield and
war was declared on 19 October 1739.
In the lacklustre naval operations that
followed, Admiral Vernon (1684–1757) sacked Porto Bello (in modern Panama) in
November 1739, but the attack on Cartagena (Colombia) in early March 1741
failed due to spirited Spanish resistance, tropical disease, and dissension
between British army and navy commanders. Commodore George Anson, operating
with a small squadron off Chile, marauded coastal areas, and then
circumnavigated the globe in the HMS Centurion (1740–1744), capturing Spanish
treasure along the way. Attempts to seize Cuba in December 1741 and raids along
the Florida coast were largely fruitless, resulting in heavy British casualties.
Gradually the war overseas petered out into desultory forays against Spanish
shipping and ineffectual attempts to isolate Spain from her colonies before
becoming enveloped and overshadowed by hostilities in Europe (War of the
Austrian Succession, 1740–1748) in which Britain, by means of mercenary forces,
supported Austria against France (who had joined Spain) and her German allies.
While in its altered, Continental dimension
the war enabled Britain to contain threatening Bourbon expansionism in key strategic
areas abroad during the period 1742–1748, overseas it failed to achieve the
initially anticipated sweeping victory over Spain. Small-scale Anglo-Spanish clashes in
Caribbean and Mediterranean waters produced little monetary or strategic gain,
clearly indicating that naval action was not the solution to Britain’s
commercial grievances at this time, nor the key to much-needed political
The hostilities against Spain that
commenced in October1739 were primarily fought out in the Americas. This was
wholly appropriate, as the conflict, though the product of Anglo-Spanish
tension on a variety of issues, was principally about British access to trade
with the Spanish colonies in the New World. The Spanish had taken a tough line
on illegal commerce, notoriously lopping off the ear of Robert Jenkins, the
captain of a merchant vessel. British commercial interests lobbied for
protection, the parliamentary opposition pressed for the Government to take a
firmer line, and public opinion became increasingly outraged. In London,
particularly, the agitation for war was vociferous. Sir Robert Walpole’s
ministry reluctantly accepted the need for hostilities when negotiations with
the Spanish broke down. The first major action was Admiral Vernon’s capture of
Porto Bello, only a matter of weeks after the formal beginning of the conflict.
Vernon’s victory fed absurdly optimistic expectations of easy pickings at the
expense of the decaying Spanish empire, and a large expeditionary force was sent
to the West Indies in 1740, employing both regular troops from Britain and
soldiers raised specifically for the purpose in the North American colonies.
Affair in the Windward Passage on December 27, 1740
The affair in the Windward Passage on December
27, 1740, in English accounts, which would be January 7, 1741, in the calendar
being used by the French and Spanish. Britain and Spain were at
war but Britain
were not. Ogle sighted a battle squadron and chased it. During the chase, the
leading British ships got the idea that the chased vessels were Spanish ships
masquerading as French. There was a similar incident in the Mediterranean.
British, Rear-Admiral (of the Blue) Sir Challoner Ogle
Princess Amelia, 80
Princess Caroline, 80
Prince Frederick, 70
This list does not include 4 ships of 60-80 guns that parted company as a
consequence of storm damage soon after the fleet left England, on October
31/November 11, 1740.
The success at Porto Bello was not to be
repeated, however. Attacks in the spring and summer of 1741 on Cartagena in
modern-day Colombia and Santiago in Cuba were humiliatingly repulsed. Disease
made terrible inroads into the army and navy, and arguments between the naval
and military commanders made effective cooperation impossible.
Cartagena de Indias 15 March-20 May 1741
Order of battle of the British forces to
attack over Cartagena de Indias (today in modern-day Colombia)
Vice admiral Sir Edward Vernon – Commander in Chief
Rear admiral Sir Chaloner Ogle – Second in command
Commodore Lestock – Third in command
37 ships of line: 8 tree deckers 80 guns, 7 two deckers 70 guns, 16 of 60 guns,
5 of 50 guns. Besides 12 frigates, 9 fire ships and 100 transport ships.
Crew warships: 17,000 seaman
Land forces: General Lord Cathart Death voyage England-Jamaica
General Thomas Wentworth Second, assumed command the land forces compound:
two regiments – infantry of line 2,000 men
six regiment – marines 6,000
two regiment – Americans 2,500
armed slaves 500
Total: 29,000 soldiers and seamen.
City governor – Don Sebastian Eslava
Commander Naval forces – Liutenant-General(vice admiral)Don Blas de Lezo.
Ships of His Catholic Majestic:
GALICIA 70 GUNS Capt Don Juan Jordan. Flagship of Lezo – Captured and burnt
SAN CARLOS 70 GUNS Capt Fuentes Scuttled in Bocachica (in the bay)
AFRICA 70 burnt
SAN FELIPE 70 burnt
DRAGON 60 Capt Don Francisco Obando
CONQUISTADOS 70 Capt Don Felix Cedran
TOTAL 410 GUNS
The two last was scuttled and today his rest has been recovered and some parts
are the Naval Museum.
Bay Castles at entrance to the port and Bocachica:
San Luis 85 guns
Baradero Battery 15
San Jose 21
Total 142 guns
two regiment -infantry 2,000
Total 6,500 soldiers and seamen
The English were defeat by the Spanish guns
and the illness as malaria and others.
The English burnt 6 ships that could not sail again.
9,000 soldiers and seamen dead
8,600 wounded and sick
Spanish casualties were 600 dead
A Spanish squadron with 12 ships of line was the Habana and another 12 French
ships in Haiti, but these never jointed in for the Cartagena.
NOTES: This was a great British defeat. They came to Cartagena with the commemorative medals for
the victory and had go home with them.
In opening battle of Bocahica 18,000 canon shot were fired in 21 days of
combat, day and night between the fortress, Spanish squadron and the English warships.
The British troops, after having remained
inactive on Jamaica for some months, were ordered home at the end of 1742.
Thereafter, only limited operations took place in this theatre while the
Spanish were Britain’s only enemies. Some attempts were made to foment native
rebellion on the mainland from British bases on the Mosquito Shore of
Nicaragua, and an attack was made by a Royal Navy squadron on Spanish ports on
the Caracus coast in early 1743. By this time, the war on the North American
mainland had similarly run out of steam. Georgia, the southernmost British
continental colony, had been a source of irritation to the Spanish since its
foundation in 1732, though from the British perspective one of the virtues of
the new settlement was that it could act as a buffer to protect valuable South
Carolina, and its lucrative rice trade, from Spanish incursions.
Unsurprisingly, therefore, as soon as hostilities began in 1739, there was
sporadic skirmishing on the frontiers of the colony. James Oglethorpe, the governor,
led an expedition of troops from Georgia and South Carolina against the great
Spanish fortress of San Agustín in Florida the following year. The defences
were too strong for Oglethorpe’s force to make any impact, and the siege was
lifted. In 1742 the Spanish attacked Georgia, only to retreat in the face of
stiff resistance. Desultory raids were carried out by both sides into 1743, but
effectively the war on this front had settled into a stalemate.
In the Pacific Ocean, meanwhile, Capt. George Anson was engaged in his famous circumnavigation. The original intention was that Anson would sail to the Pacific coast of Central America to attack Panama while Vernon was taking Cartagena. However, his ships and crews suffered terribly in rounding Cape Horn. Anson raided Paita (now in Peru), and then decided to set out across the Pacific for home. By the time he reached Canton, the expedition had been reduced to one ship only. The captain’s fortunes then brightened: on 20 June 1743 he captured the Nuestra Señora de Covadonga, a Spanish treasure ship carrying much gold and silver to Manila from Spanish America. Anson and his tiny band of surviving sailors reached England, to a hero’s welcome, in June 1744. When the Spanish war began, there was some anxiety about a landing in Britain or Ireland. But no such attack was launched, despite the precedent in earlier Anglo-Spanish conflicts, most recently in 1719, when a small Spanish expeditionary force reached Scotland with the intention of supporting an uprising on behalf of the deposed Catholic Stuart dynasty, which had been removed from the thrones of England, Scotland, and Ireland in 1689-90. Nor did the outbreak of fighting in 1739 lead to the dispatch of British troops and ships to attack the Spanish mainland, which again was at odds with the experience of previous eighteenth-century wars. In the Spanish Succession struggle, some 29,000 British or British-paid troops were serving in the Iberian Peninsula by 1707, and were to remain there until near the end of the conflict. Although operations inland were difficult and ultimately unsuccessful-which might have deterred repetition-there were some spectacular successes on the coastal fringes of Spain: Gibraltar and Minorca were seized in 1704 and 1708, respectively, remaining as British possessions after the war. Even in the brief Anglo-Spanish conflict of 1718-20, there had been a raid on the Atlantic coast of northern Spain, in which Vigo’s fortifications and shipping were destroyed. But if there were no landings on the Spanish coast, the port towns of which were judged to be too strongly defended to risk an attack, a British fleet under Adm. Nicholas Haddock was supposed to blockade Cadiz and prevent Spanish troops from being deployed in Italy. British efforts in the Mediterranean were no more effective than in the Americas: the Spanish and French fleets successfully transported a Spanish army to Italy in November 1741. Adm. Thomas Mathews, the new commander of the British naval forces in the Mediterranean, began a loose blockade of Toulon the following April, and in February 1744 there was an indecisive engagement with the Franco-Spanish fleet, which resulted in an acrimonious (and highly political) dispute between Mathews and his subordinate, Vice Adm. Richard Lestock.
During the time of the discovery of America, most of the
conquerors were males. However, there were also women, who for years they went
unnoticed for the official historiography. Among them, there stands out Isabel
Barreto de Castro. According to the chronicles, she was born in Pontevedra in
1567 – she was baptized in the parish of Santa Maria la Mayor. Since she was a young
girl, she stood out for her restless spirit, and ended up embarking on the
adventure of the New World. She left for the City of Reyes (present Lima)
together with her family in 1585 and there she met the elderly Alvaro de
Mendaña, with whom she got married.
The islands have been inhabited for thousands of years. In
1568, the Spanish navigator Álvaro de Mendaña was the first European to visit
them, naming them the Islas Salomón.
Mendaña planned to travel again to archipelago to take
possession of it, setting out in 1595 they went there from the port El Callao.
During the trip, Alvaro of Mendaña died from malaria and Isabel Barreto took
charge of the expedition. According to the chronicler, fleet pilot, Pedro
Fernandez de Quiros, who traveled with them, “(Mendaña) left by universal
and named heiress by Governor to Isabel de Barreto, his wife, because of His
Majesty he had commission with power to name whoever wanted to. ”
This is how Isabel de Barreto became the first female
admiral of the Spanish Navy, as owner and mistress of the Santa Isabel galleon.
According to documents of the time, the cruelty of the new admiral cost the
hanging of several sailors that had contravened her orders. Again, in words of
Quiros, was “of manly character, authoritarian, untamed, will impose her
will despotic to all who are under her I send”. Isabel, accused of cruelty
by the crew, demonstrated a strong personality with great leadership and great
determination. She had an uncompromising attitude and managed to maintain
severe discipline of the crew of tough and adventurous men, always willing to
conspire and mutiny.
Subsequently, Isabel set course to the Philippines, where he
contracted second marriage before returning to the viceroyalty of Peru. She
remarried to general Fernando de Castro, again crossing the Pacific Ocean to
Mexico, and then settled in Buenos Aires, where they lived for several years,
before returning to Peru.
It is said that Isabel crossed the Atlantic Ocean for the
last time to Spain to defend her rights over the Solomon Islands, because the
King had granted the right to colonize the islands to Pedro Fernández de
Quirós. She may be buried in Castrovirreyna (Peru) or in Galicia (Spain), in
Mendaña/Barreto/Quirós 1595 expedition:
El Callao, April
Paita (Perú), June
Las Marquesas de
Mendoza (Marquesas Islands), July 21 – August 5.
(Pukapuka, Cook Islands), August 20.
(Niulakita, Tuvalu), August 29.
(Tomotu Noi), Recifes (Swallow Islands), September 8.
(Nendö, Santa Cruz Islands), September 8 to November 18. They attempted to
found a colony, where Álvaro de Mendaña died, October 18.
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
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
Santisima Trinidad y Nuestra Senora del Buen Fin 70-guns
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.
Navío Nuestra Señora del Pilar de Zaragoza, 50-guns 1732-1750. A Manila
Galleon of the eighteenth century.
Pacific Routes-Manila Galleons
After the discovery of a sea route from the Philippines to
Mexico in 1565, the Spanish began employing a highly profitable, though
dangerous, trade route. Ships especially outfitted to carry large cargoes set
sail from Acapulco, carrying silver mined in the Americas, and headed to
Manila, where the metal was exchanged for Chinese silks, porcelains, and ivory,
as well as for fragrant goods from the Spice Islands and jewels from Burma,
Ceylon, and Siam. The galleons then returned the much sought-after Asian goods
back to Acapulco, where they were carried overland to Mexico City and then sent
across the Atlantic to Spain. The first Manila galleon set sail for Acapulco in
Twice each year the Spaniards dispatched the fabled Manila
galleon from Acapulco with silver bullion bound across the Pacific to the
Philippine Islands, claimed by Spain upon their discovery by Ferdinando
Magellan in 1521. On its return passage the galleon found the favorable
westerlies at the latitude of Japan and then sailed down the California coast
with the current to Mexico, bringing back rich cargoes of silk goods. Spain’s
Atlantic trade was also highly regulated. A fleet of vessels sailed from Spain
to the Caribbean each spring and returned home the following winter. Spanish
naval vessels protected the flota, as it was called, from the warships and
privateers of European rivals as well as from the pirates who infested the
Caribbean and Bahamian waters. Fortified harbors at Cartegena on the Spanish
Main and Havana on the island of Cuba gave further shelter to the fleet. In
1565 Spain had also established a settlement in Florida at St. Augustine to
protect the strategic Straits of Florida, through which its plate fleet sailed
on its passage home late each winter.
Whereas the wind-aided passage from Acapulco to Manila took
only eight to ten weeks, the return trip from Manila to Acapulco took between
four and six months. Navigating the treacherous Philippine archipelago with an
overloaded galleon often took over a month, and many ships that did not
complete the journey before typhoon season began perished in the rough weather.
Because the profits from the Manila galleon trade averaged 30 to 50 percent,
adequate provisions were often rejected in favor of loading more goods on the
galleons. Consequently, many ships saw 30 to 40 percent of their crews perish,
with losses of 75 percent not uncommon in some years. Despite these risks,
however, the Manila galleon trade continued for nearly 250 years, remaining an
important source of income for Spanish merchants.
In the absence of any other centre of settlement in the
whole Pacific, the Manila galleons were the only lifeline between New Spain and
the Philippines. With the whole economy of Spanish Manila depending on them,
they braved the winds and made the voyage once every year from Acapulco to
Manila, and back again to Acapulco. In the last decades of the sixteenth
century, as many as three or four ships might sail together. In 1593 the
Spanish government, responding to years of protests from traders both in
America and in the peninsula, restricted the sailings to two ships a year, with
a limit on the amount of goods they could carry. Later, in 1720, a decree
established that two ships should be the rule, though it remained normal for
only one ship to do the crossing.
The sailings were unique in world history. The first galleon
crossed the Pacific in 1565, the last sailed in 1815: for two and a half
centuries the ships maintained, almost without a break, their perilous and
lonely voyage across the vast ocean. Vessels sailed from Cavite in Manila Bay
in June or July, helped by the monsoon winds out of the southwest. They drifted
for five or more months across the Pacific. When they arrived in Acapulco a
fair was held at which the goods were traded. At Acapulco they loaded up with
silver and passengers, then returned in March to catch the northeast trade
winds back across the Pacific.
The trip from Manila was the ‘longest continuous navigation
in the world’, lasting an average of six months, though there were ships that
did not make it in less than nine. The voyage was always accompanied by high
mortality, without counting the extreme risk from storms. A witness in Mexico
reported how one vessel, the Mora, ‘left China on the first of July 1588 and
arrived in Acapulco on the third of February, after forty-three people had died
on the voyage’. There were many terrible cases, like the Santa Margarita in
1600 which was beaten about by storms and in eight months was only able to
reach the Marianas, by which time a mere fifty of the two hundred and sixty on
board had survived; of the survivors all were killed by natives save one who
escaped to tell the tale. In 1603 the San Antonio, which carried the richest
cargo known till that date, as well as many of the Spanish élite fleeing from
the Chinese uprising in Manila, was simply swallowed up by the sea somewhere
out in the Pacific. In 1657 one ship reached Acapulco after more than twelve
months at sea: all on board were dead. Laden with fabulous treasure and the
coveted prey of all, the vessels succumbed to the enemy only four times and
always to the English: in 1587, 1709, 1743 and 1762. Many more, unfortunately,
to a total of well over thirty, fell foul of storms or simply disappeared at
sea. The return from Acapulco was shorter, an average of four months.
The conditions of life on so long a crossing are fully
documented by an Italian apothecary, Francesco Gemelli, who made the voyage in
There is hunger,
thirst, sickness, cold, continual watching, and other sufferings, besides the
terrible shocks from side to side caused by the furious beating of the waves.
The ship swarms with little vermin bred in the biscuit, so swift that in a
short time they not only run over cabins, beds and the very dishes the men eat
upon, but fasten upon the body. Abundance of flies fall into the dishes of
broth, in which there also swim worms of several sorts. In every mouthful of
food there went down an abundance of maggots. On fish days the common diet was
rank old fish boiled in water and salt; at noon we had kidney beans, in which
there were so many maggots that they swam at the top of the broth.
George Anson’s capture of a Manila galleon by Samuel Scott.
PRINCIPAL COMBATANTS: Britain vs. Spain
PRINCIPAL THEATER(S): West coast of Spanish America and
MAJOR ISSUES AND OBJECTIVES: Britain hoped to launch a
preemptive strike against Spain in anticipation of the War of the Austrian
Succession in Europe by cutting off Spain’s supply of wealth from the Americas.
OUTCOME: Britain failed to prevent Spain from entering the
European war or to do much damage at all strategically, though Commodore George
Anson’s diminished fleet did manage to harass Spain’s West Coast outposts in
America, to capture one treasure-laden Spanish galleon, and to pave the way for
British expansion in the Pacific.
APPROXIMATE MAXIMUM NUMBER OF MEN UNDER ARMS: Britain,
slightly in excess of 1,000; Spain, unknown
CASUALTIES: Britain, around 1,000 dead, mostly from illness
When the tangled web of European alliances appeared to be
leading Britain into what would become the War of the AUSTRIAN SUCCESSION in
1740, the English Crown dispatched Commodore George Anson (1697–1762) to raid
Spain’s Pacific coast possessions—Chile, Peru, and Mexico— and to attack
Spanish galleons on the high seas. Embroiled in the machinations of Prussia’s
Frederick the Great (1712–86) against the presumptive heir to the Austrian
throne, Maria Theresa (1717–80), Britain’s royal command hoped to avoid a
head-to-head conflict with Spain on the Continent by cutting off its supply of
income at the source, Spain’s American colonies.
Given the commission in 1739, Anson was unable actually to
begin his mission until mid-September of 1740 because of compounded delays in
provisioning and in finding enough men—the mission, after all, required by its
very nature that he circumnavigate the world. The tardy departure, however,
cost Anson the element of surprise on which he had counted. Though the Spanish
had become aware of British intentions and Spain’s colonies had been warned to
prepare for attack, Anson nevertheless set sail with a fleet of six
warships—his flagship Centurion, plus Gloucester, Severn, Pearl, Wager,
Tyral—and one supply vessel, Anna Pink. All were poorly manned, since the
entire squadron boasted only 977 sailors, mostly untrained. There were some
200-plus marines among them, but they were fresh recruits with only minimal
knowledge of the sea. Anson was lucky to have even them—an urgent request from
Anson for more soldiers before shipping out had netted him a contingent of
patients from a local hospital. Leading an ill-trained force in a late start
against a ready enemy made many, including Anson himself, believe the mission
was doomed from the start.
Once at sea, matters only grew worse. Another effect of starting
in September was that Anson would have to approach Cape Horn in the autumn,
when the westerlies were at their peak. By the time Anson’s fleet began to be
battered by gale-force winds, the ships’ crews were all suffering from a severe
outbreak of scurvy. Whipped about by storms and manned by sailors debilitated
with scurvy, only three ships in Anson’s fleet—Centurion, Gloucester, and
Tyral—survived the passage round the Horn. Anson’s fleet was cut in half, his
fighting force, such as it was, reduced by some two-thirds, and his original
mission effectively dead in the water. But Anson was a capable and imaginative
commander, and he simply redefined his objectives. He set sail for Acapulco,
fighting his way up the coast and hoping to ambush the famed “Manila Galleon,”
a Spanish treasure ship—the Nuestra Señora de Cavadonga—before it left the
Mexican port homeward bound to Manila. Anson missed the Spanish ship by two
weeks, arriving at Acapulco in September 1741.
For two years after rounding the Horn, Anson ravaged the
western shores of the Americas, working his way up the coast first to Mexico
and then beyond. After he had lost two more ships, Anson, determined to
continue around the globe, decided to make a north Pacific crossing to China.
When he reached the Portuguese settlement of Macao (near modern-day Hong Kong)
on November 13, 1742, he arrived only with his flagship and some 210 men.
Nevertheless, the Centurion was the first British warship to sail into Chinese
waters, and its arrival created an uproar. The Portuguese, worried about the
precarious trade agreements and protocol arrangements they had made with
Chinese leaders in Canton, initially refused Anson’s request for provisions and
repairs despite pressure from Britain’s East India Company. After careful
negotiations with the Chinese, Anson secured his provisions and— recruiting
more men—set sail in the spring of 1743, once again hoping to intercept and
capture the Nuestra Señora de Cavadonga.
Sailing with a reinforced crew fueled by dreams of immense
wealth, Anson departed Macao heading south toward the Philippines. In the South
China Sea Anson lay in wait for the Manila-bound treasure ship. Greatly
outnumbered but with superior weaponry and a greedy crew hungry for loot, the
Centurion captured the Cavadonga after a fierce battle on June 20, 1743.
Victory was sweet for the beleaguered Englishman. The booty came to somewhat
more than 1.3 million pieces of eight and some 35,000 ounces of silver, worth a
total of about £400,000. Thus fortified, Anson and his crew continued on their
voyage around the world, arriving in London in June 1744 to a conqueror’s
welcome as the treasure they had captured was paraded through the streets in 32
Anson may have failed at his mission, meeting none of the
objectives set for him by the Royal Navy command, but his world cruise,
highlighted by the sailing of the first British warship into Chinese waters and
by the capture of the Manila galleon, became one of the more famous voyages in
naval history. Despite the loss of all but one ship and more than 1,000 men,
Anson returned a national hero, and his cruise sparked a wave of British
expansion into the Pacific. Anson, a man of some imagination and initiative at
a time when the Royal Navy was known for anything but the vision and pluck of
its officers, not only became George, Lord Anson, the leading admiral of his
day, but also went down in history as the “Father of the Modern British Navy.”
W. V. Anson, Life of Admiral Lord Anson, the Father of the British Navy,
1697–1762 (London: J. Murray, 1912); S. W. C. Pack, Admiral Lord Anson: The
Story of Anson’s Voyage and Naval Events of His Day (London: Cassell, 1960); L.
A. Wilcox, Anson’s Voyage (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1970).