Isabel Barreto de Castro

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 1612.

Route of Mendaña/Barreto/Quirós 1595 expedition:

    El Callao, April 9, 1595.

    Paita (Perú), June 16.

    Las Marquesas de Mendoza (Marquesas Islands), July 21 – August 5.

        Magdalena (Fatu Hiva)

        Dominica (Hiva Oa)

        Santa Cristina (Tahuata)

        San Pedro (Moho Tani)

    San Bernardo (Pukapuka, Cook Islands), August 20.

    La Solitaria (Niulakita, Tuvalu), August 29.

    Solomon Islands:

        Tinakula, September 7.

        La Huerta (Tomotu Noi), Recifes (Swallow Islands), September 8.

        Santa Cruz (Nendö, Santa Cruz Islands), September 8 to November 18. They attempted to found a colony, where Álvaro de Mendaña died, October 18.

    Guam, January 1, 1596.

    Manila, February 11.


Spanish 60-gun Heavy Escorts

SLR0436; Warship (1730-40); Spanish; 60 guns, stern view

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.


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 1573.

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 1697:

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.

Anson’s Cruise (1740–1744)

George Anson’s capture of a Manila galleon by Samuel Scott.


PRINCIPAL THEATER(S): West coast of Spanish America and Manila, Philippines

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 and shipwreck

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 wagons.

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.”

Further reading: 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).

Spanish Armoured Frigate, Numancia

In South America in March 1866, the French-built Spanish ironclad Numancia bombarded Valparaiso, Chile, in the presence of the warships of several nations including the U. S. “seagoing” monitor Monadnock. Numancia then went on to bombard the Peruvian port of Callao on 2 May 1866.

Spanish armoured frigate, built 1861-64. Numancia was one of the last survivors of the ironclad frigates that were built in considerable numbers for most navies in the 1860s. The French had built the first, Gloire, in the late 1850s and Numancia was built by the French shipyard of La Seyne. She was laid down in 1861, launched in 1863 and completed in November 1864, and was an iron hulled, fully-rigged three-masted broadside ironclad frigate. She had a ram bow, a single slightly raked funnel, and a raised forecastle and quarterdeck. Her original armament of 34 68-pdr guns was carried on the main deck broadside. She had a complete waterline belt which extended up over the main deck battery. It was 130 mm (5.1 in) thick over the guns and 120 mm (4.7 in) over the machinery, but tapered to 100 mm (3.9 in) at the ends. Her French-built compound reciprocating engine drove a single six-bladed screw, and she made 12.94 knots with 3708 ihp on trials.

She was rated as a line of battle ship by the Spanish, and immediately after delivery was sent to join the Spanish Squadron in the Pacific, which had been sent out to harass the coast of Peru. In company with the unarmoured wooden steam frigate Reina Blanca she fought an inconclusive action with the joint Chilean-Peruvian squadron off Tubilda near Huite on March 1, 1866, and she also took part in the bombardments of Valparaiso and Callao later in the same year, after which the squadron returned to Spain.

Juan Bautista Antequera: He distinguished himself in the the rebellions Alicante and Cartagena (Murcia), for which he was granted the Cross of San Fernando. In command of the brig Galiano in Havana he fought against pirates. During the war of Africa, in 1859, took part in the battles of River Martin, Larache and Arcila, being granted promotion to Colonel of Marine Infantry. During the Spanish-South American War of 1865, he took command of the armored frigate Numancia under the orders of Admiral Casto Méndez Núñez present at the bombing of Valparaíso and the battle of Callao. He later made the circumnavigation trip around the world back to Spain with Numancia.

By the 1870s her original armament had been replaced by a smaller number of 254- mm (10-in) and 203-mm (8-in) Armstrong RML (rifled muzzle-loading) guns. In 1873-74 she was seized at Cartagena, Colombia by the Intransigentes during the three-sided civil war, and in 1873 she rammed the Spanish corvette Fernando el Catolico, which sank.

After this she saw little service for the next 20 years, but the thick iron hull remained in good condition, and she was completely rebuilt at La Seyne between 1896-98. Her rig was reduced to two pole masts with fighting tops, she was reboilered, and was rearmed with four 200-mm (7.9-in), three 150-mm (5.9- in), ten 140-mm (5.5-in) QF, 12 47-mm (1.85- in) four 70-mm (2.76-in) and two 37-mm (1.46-in) guns and two 36-cm (14-in) torpedo tubes. Fortunately for the United States, perhaps, she was not ready in time to take part in the Spanish-American war, and in the early years of the twentieth century she became a gunnery training ship. She was reduced to harbour duties, and then scrapped in about 1920.


In the 1860s relations between Spain and its former colonies Peru and Chile deteriorated into open warfare after the Spanish seized Peru’s guano-rich Chincha Islands. Admiral Casto Mendez Nuñez steamed from Spain on board the newly built ironclad Numancia to take command of a Spanish squadron off the coast of Chile. He bombarded the port of Valparaiso in February 1866, then moved north to Peru, choosing the fortified naval base at Callao as his target.

The fighting Peruvians brought up two home-built ironclads, the Virginia-style casemated Loa and Victoria, which was purportedly a monitor-type ironclad powered by a locomotive engine. However, it is doubtful that the Peruvians, ingenious as they were, could manufacture a revolving-turret ironclad with their resources. More effective were the Peruvian turret shore batteries, whose return fire killed 43 Spaniards, compared to 200 Peruvian dead. The Spanish fleet had 245 guns on board, arranged in broadside. The Peruvian armament totaled around 90 guns, including some very heavy shore guns in armored emplacements. On the morning of May 2, the Spanish ships advanced within range and a ferocious gun duel began; it lasted six hours. The Spanish vessels received many hits, especially Numancia, deliberately positioned by Mendez Nuñez in the place of greatest danger. More than 40 Spanish officers and men were killed and a further 160 were wounded, including the admiral. But the Spanish had the better of the duel, silencing almost all the shore guns with their more skilful shooting. There were some 600 Peruvian casualties, including the minister of war Juan Galvez, killed in the destruction of an armored strongpoint. The Spanish squadron subsequently left for the Philippines, leaving the bombardment without consequence. Returning home to Spain, Numancia became the first ironclad to circumnavigate the globe.In Spain, during the Cartagena Revolt (July 1873), revolting Cantonists seized the naval base, taking control of globe-circling ironclad frigate Numancia, as well as Vitoria, Tetuan, and the ironclad corvette Mendez Nunez. The Spanish government, now bereft of most of its navy, hit upon the idea of declaring the insurgents pirates. Thus when the Cantonists threatened to bombard Almiera if a ransom were not paid, the German turret ironclad Friedrich Karl and the British box battery ironclad Swiftsure seized two insurgent unarmored warships and returned Vitoria to the Madrid government. Vitoria then clashed with the insurgent-held Tetuan. Badly damaged in the encounter, Tetuan was blown up in Cartagena harbor by the rebels to avoid capture. That October, the entire rebel ironclad fleet put to sea to engage the government squadron, which now included its one remaining ironclad, Vitoria. That single government ironclad apparently was enough to beat off the rebel fleet in an ironclad naval battle almost lost to history. After some coastal bombardments by government ironclads and unarmored warships, the civil war finally ended in May 1876.

Name: Numancia
Namesake: Numantia
Builder: Forges et Chantiers de la Méditerranée, La Seyne,
Laid down: 22 April 1862
Launched: 19 November 1863
Completed: 17 December 1864
Commissioned: 1865
Refit: 1897–98
Struck: 1912
Fate: Sank while under tow, 17 December 1916
General characteristics (as built)
Type: Broadside ironclad
Displacement: 7,305 metric tons (7,190 long tons)
Length: 95.6 m (313 ft 8 in)
Beam: 17.3 m (56 ft 9 in)
Draft: 7.7 m (25 ft)
Installed power: 3,770 ihp (2,810 kW)
Propulsion: 1 shaft, 1 Horizontal return connecting rod compound steam engine 8 boilers
Sail plan: Ship rig
Speed: about 13 knots (24 km/h; 15 mph)
Range: 3,000 nautical miles (5,600 km; 3,500 mi) at 10 knots (19 km/h; 12 mph)
Complement: 561
Armament: 40 × 68-pounder smoothbore guns
Armor: Belt: 100–130 mm (3.9–5.1 in) Battery: 120 mm (4.7 in)


Agustina Domenech’s exploits in the siege of Zaragoza inspired one of the few heroic etchings in Goya’s series “The Disasters of War.”

Napoleon Bonaparte’s invasion of Spain in February 1808 set revolutions in motion throughout Latin America. It created a different kind of popular movement in Spain itself: resistance. For six years, Spanish patriots, men and women alike, fought against the French occupation in small irregular bands and provided critical support to the British Army in the Peninsular War against France. Twenty-two-year-old Agustina Zaragoza Domenech (1786–1857), who kept a key artillery position from falling into French hands at the first siege of Zaragoza, became the face of that resistance—so much so that British poet Lord Byron and Spanish artist Francisco Goya both created works celebrating her heroism.

Napoleon’s invasion of Spain had its official roots in long-simmering tensions between King Carlos IV of Spain and his son Ferdinand. Fearful that his father intended to remove him from the succession, Ferdinand asked Napoleon to help him depose his father.

If Ferdinand had been patient, the throne would have fallen into his hands without the risk of inviting Napoleon to invade. Carlos IV and his wife were not popular with their subjects. In March 1808, a public uprising forced Carlos to abdicate in favor of Ferdinand. The new king arrived in Madrid on March 24, one day after French commander Joachim Murat entered the city at the head of the French army. Dissatisfaction with Carlos IV’s corrupt government was so strong that many Spaniards greeted the French as liberators. By the end of April, it was clear the French had come to conquer, not to liberate.

On May 2, rumors spread that the French planned to forcibly remove the remaining members of the royal family to Bayonne, where Carlos and Ferdinand were now held captive, having abdicated in favor of Napoleon’s brother. Violent protests erupted in Madrid. A cavalry unit made up of the Muslim slave soldiers known as Mamluks, a souvenir of Napoleon’s invasion of Egypt, charged the protesting crowd, which was armed with little more than cudgels and knives. Once the protestors were dispersed, Murat’s men rounded up everyone they could find who was armed. Executions lasted through the night and well into the morning.

The brutal repression of the May 2 protest fueled resistance across Spain.

Agustina Zaragoza Domenech was the wife of Juan Roca, a Spanish sergeant stationed at Barcelona. With Ferdinand’s abdication, the Spanish army owed its allegiance to Joseph Bonaparte—and indirectly to France. Plenty of Spanish soldiers were unhappy with this arrangement, including Roca. Like many other Spanish soldiers, Roca fled French-occupied Barcelona after the May uprising in Madrid and made his way to Zaragoza, where General José de Palafox had organized resistance against the French. Domenech followed her husband there with their four-year-old son. Soon after reaching Zaragoza, Roca was sent to join a force some hundred miles away, leaving Domenech on her own in Zaragoza when the French army besieged the city on June 13.

Palafox held the French off for two months, from June 13 through August 15, with an improvised force of soldiers and townspeople—similar to those that have defended besieged cities throughout history. Domenech, like other women in the city, took on the tasks women traditionally performed in a besieged city: bringing food and water to the men on the city walls and caring for the wounded.

On July 2, 1808, the French launched a new attack on the city walls. As Domenech approached an artillery battery near the Portillo gate on the east wall of the city, a French shell destroyed the battery’s earthwork defenses and killed or incapacitated most of its gunners before they could fire their last round. The French army stormed the position. Domenech took a linstock—a long pole designed to hold a burning length of wicking, known as a “slow match”—from the hand of one of the fallen soldiers and fired the loaded twenty-four-pound cannon. Hit by a round of grapeshot at close range, the French retreated. Domenech received a medal, a small pension, and an honorary commission as a lieutenant for her bravery.

Domenech was not the only woman to fight at Zaragoza. By all accounts, many women took part in the city’s defense. At least two others received official recognition for their services. French horsemen surrounded a peasant woman named Casta Álvarez (1776–1846) as she delivered food and water to a key artillery battery. She grabbed a musket and bayonet and joined the battery’s defense. She received a pension and a medal for her role. Manuela Sancho (1783–1863) was wounded defending the convent of San Jose during the second siege. General Palafox, who clearly saw the promotional value of women warriors, mentioned her with honors. She, too, received a pension for her services at war’s end.

Battle of Mühlberg (Saxony), (24 April 1547)

Charles V as victor at the battle of Mühlberg, 1547, by Titian. The armour shown in the portrait is preserved in the royal palace in Madrid.

The first battle took place on April 24, 1547, at Mühlberg (near Leipzig). By this time, imperial forces, under Don Fernando Alvarez de Toledo, Duke of Alba (1508-82), were well prepared, whereas the dilatory league had not gathered all of its strength; in fact, it had even lost some forces that defected to the Holy Roman Empire. Thirty-five hundred imperial troops allied with a papal army of 10,000-13,500 troops in all-engaged 9,000 German Protestants under John Frederick (1503-54), elector of Saxony, and Philip (1504-67), landgrave of Hesse. The result was disaster for the forces of the league, which suffered heavy losses, compared to only 50 casualties on the Catholic side. Both Protestant commanders, John Frederick and Philip, were taken prisoner, and the war abruptly ended.


A1: Coselete This veteran pikeman of the Duke of Alba’s army, which has just crossed the Elbe river, wears an open-faced burgonet helmet and half-armour – a Nuremberg cuirass, without tassets (though these may be carried with the baggage train). The Spanish monarchy purchased armour from many sources, and most of the pieces in the Royal Collection in Madrid were made by German craftsmen. The short breeches (in the English term, `upper stocks’) show the influence of the Landsknecht troops alongside whom the Spaniards fought in Charles V’s Imperial army; made in one piece with, or laced to, the hose (`nether stocks’), these are taken from a painting of 1536-44 now in Avila Cathedral. The sword is a typical 16th-century model, with protective `gavilanes’ at the hilt.

A2: Pica seca This young man is on his first campaign, and has only the minimum essentials: his pike, a narrow-brimmed pot helmet, and (hidden here) a sword, which may be an old-fashioned family heirloom. This helmet shape is the true `Spanish morion’. His simple homespun clothes are based on contemporary paintings showing poor men and servants; the short cloak was sometimes hooded. A2a, 2b: Two more examples of contemporary helmets, as widely worn throughout European armies – transitional forms that might equally be termed `cabasset’ or `morion’.

A3: Arquebusier The quality of his clothing shows him to be a man of some substance. He wears one of the styles of bonnet seen in art of the period. His expensive leather jacket, slashed and scalloped, bears a large red Burgundy Cross sewn to the breast as a sign of his nationality. He too wears Germaninspired hose, made in one piece but appearing as `upper’ and `nether stocks’. The powder, priming powder and bullets for his arquebus are carried in a horn, a small flask and a bag. Matchcord might be carried ready for use wrapped around the arm or waist, but since it was hygroscopic it was important to keep spare lengths dry inside the clothes or under the hat. Period illustrations of `snapsacks’ or haversacks are very rare, but the soldiers must have had somewhere to carry food and small effects – particularly the arquebusiers’ bullet-moulds, flint-and-steel and tinder boxes. The artist Vermeyen, who accompanied the 1535 Tunis expedition, shows nearly every pikeman carrying what seems to be a snapsack, but one soldier is clearly drinking from his, so perhaps they are waterskins?

(Weapons and armour: Spanish Army Museum; Wallace Collection; Imperial Arsenal, Vienna. Clothing: La infanteria en torno al siglo del oro, 1993; Conde de Clonard, Album de la infanteria española, 1861; Jan Cornelis Vermeyen, `The Landing at La Goulette’; Cornelis de Holanda, `Pilate Washing his Hands’, Avila Cathedral)

The Treaty of Crépy with France in 1544, followed in 1546 by a long truce with the sultan, left Charles V free to deal with more domestic matters. But his rivals acted first, and in July 1546 they moved against him from two directions. A large army under Philip of Hesse and John Frederic, Elector of Saxony, marched upon Charles from the north, while another approached from the south-west. Charles could well have been in grave peril had it not been for two unexpected factors. First, his enemies preferred to negotiate rather than attack, which gave the emperor ample time to raise troops. Second, and more surprisingly to the Schmalkaldics, one of their most important members, Maurice the Margrave of Misnia, defected to the imperial side. Maurice was Elector John Frederic’s cousin, and so opportunistic was his move that he quickly overran much of the elector’s territory. Unsurprisingly, John Frederic then chose to march north with the bulk of the Protestant army to evict Maurice, leaving Philip of Hesse isolated. Charles V struck eagerly and successfully at this latter, weaker target while his foes were so conveniently divided.

Meanwhile, John Frederic took his revenge on his cousin Maurice the Margrave of Misnia and ejected him from Thuringia. He then added to his triumph by annihilating an army of seven thousand men sent by Charles and put under the command of Albert of Hohenzollern-Kulmbach. Charles, however, advanced at the head of some thirty thousand men to confront him, and as John Frederic only commanded half that number he withdrew across the River Elbe at Mühlberg and broke down its bridge. John Frederic was desperately short of allies because Philip of Hesse had begun futile negotiations with Charles, the evident intention being to save his own domains.

The Schmalkaldic War

The Schmalkaldic War began in 1546. Insisting that he was acting against disobedient vassals, rather than Protestants, Charles used Spanish troops under the Duke of Alba to defeat the leading German Protestant, Elector John Frederick of Saxony, at Mühlberg on 24 April 1547. The Elector was captured, and, two months later, the other Protestant leader in opposition, Philip of Hesse, who had been defeated first, surrendered. Victory in Germany helped Charles strengthen Habsburg authority in Bohemia where some of the nobility had looked to the Schmalkaldic powers who had prepared to invade the kingdom. Charles had been helped by the neutrality of France (a consequence of the secret terms of the Peace of Crépy) and by the support of Protestant princes who hoped to benefit personally: Duke Maurice of Saxony (a different branch of the dynasty) and Margrave Albert Alcibiades of Brandenburg-Kulmbach. The victory reflected the combination of military and political factors characteristic of the conflict in the period, not only of the Wars of Religion, but also of the Italian Wars. Charles exploited his victory to dictate peace terms at the `Armed Diet’ of Augsburg. The Electorate of Saxony was transferred to Maurice in 1550.

Charles V’s defeat of the Schmalkaldic League at the Battle of Mühlberg was both the first major battle fought by Spanish troops in northern Europe and the greatest success for the Habsburg military system after Pavia. It was also a victory that owed as much to political as to military circumstances. A contest between the Emperor and the alliance of Lutheran princes and cities had been in the offing since the creation of the League in 1531, but it was only in 1546 that, having recently made peace with Francis I, Charles decided to resolve the religious division in the Holy Roman Empire by force. He proceeded carefully to win over certain Protestant princes and to obtain assistance from the German Catholics.

In the summer of 1546, while he was assembling his army, the League, led by the Elector John Frederick of Saxony, moved first and opened hostilities on 14 August. Charles’s preparations were not complete, but the League’s attempts to invade the Austrian duchies were thwarted by a skillful defensive campaign conducted by the Duke of Alba along the Danube in the autumn of 1546. At the same time Duke Maurice of Saxony, who had been won over by the Emperor, invaded the Electorate and forced John Frederick to retreat.


By early 1547 Charles had both completed the assembly of an army of 30,000 Spanish, Italian, Netherlandish and German troops and forced a number of League members into neutrality. In April he advanced into Saxony, catching John Frederick, who had remained curiously indecisive during the first months of 1547, with his army dispersed. Having only some 15,000 men with him the Elector was retiring on his capital, Wittenberg, when Charles’s scouts encountered his outposts near Mühlberg on the Elbe.

Charles had collected a sizeable number of boats on his side of the Elbe with which to make a pontoon bridge, but a local peasant, whose farm had been destroyed by the elector’s men during their withdrawal, happily disclosed to Charles’s army the location of a ford. The crossing began on the very dark and foggy morning of 24 April 1547. The river was wide, and thus it was that an astounded Schmalkaldic army suddenly felt bullets whizzing round them. Their experience of firearms was with arquebuses and pistols, which they knew were of too short a range to reach across the Elbe. But the Duke of Alba, Charles V’s general, was employing a new, heavier, long-range version, which was fired from a forked rest and had been given the name of `musket’.

The tough Spanish infantry led the imperial army during its crossing. The musketeers felled the occupants of boats on the far shore and the vessels were then taken by other Spaniards who clambered on board with knives between their teeth. They were followed over the ford by the light cavalry, and then came Charles himself at the head of his reiters, a scene immortalised for ever in a painting by Titian. The vanguard hastily secured the far bank and began to construct the planned bridge of boats to facilitate the progress of the rest of the imperial army.

John Frederic, Elector of Saxony, was taken completely by surprise. His camp lay three miles beyond the river, and he had eaten a leisurely and hearty breakfast before learning of the disaster. Without even considering a counterattack, he gave orders for his army to retreat to the safety of Wittenberg. Once Charles realised what had happened, he sent the Duke of Alba on ahead to harass his opponent’s withdrawal. The Protestant army had gone scarcely three miles when its rear was attacked. Sensing that the heavy reiters would soon be upon him too, John Frederic resolved to stand and fight. This gave Charles the opportunity to draw up his army in battle array, and he wasted no time in sending in squadrons of reiters and other cavalry units against the elector’s more vulnerable mounted men on the wings. On the imperial right, Maurice the Margrave of Misnia used old-fashioned mounted arquebusiers, who softened up the Saxons sufficiently for a triumphant charge. Other imperial mounted troops completed an encirclement by bursting out of cover on the road to Wittenberg. Great was the slaughter. The elector, having defended himself with the sword, was captured and taken before his emperor. He was eventually imprisoned for life, and all his domains, together with the title of Elector of Saxony, went to Maurice the Margrave of Misnia. Thus did the Battle of Mühlberg put an end to the Schmalkaldic League through a combination of cavalry and infantry tactics, old and new. Philip of Hesse, who might have saved John Frederic, paid for his inaction by a similar sentence of imprisonment.


Yet, strange to relate, there was one more act to play: the newly promoted Maurice, Elector of Saxony, reasserted his Protestant sensibilities and made an alliance with France against Emperor Charles V. However, his delusions of grandeur came to an abrupt end at Sievershausen in 1553. The battle included a skirmish between rival squadrons of reiters, and an anonymous bullet from a wheel-lock pistol felled the erstwhile Margrave of Misnia. He died two days later.Charles’s success in reducing the number of his opponents while concentrating his own forces left John Frederick practically isolated. Charles was thus able to deploy a massive numerical superiority at the decisive moment while the bold seizure of the crossing of the Elbe by the Spanish infantry gave him the crucial tactical advantage.