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).
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
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.
Forges et Chantiers de la Méditerranée, La Seyne, France
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
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
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
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.
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.
BATTLE OF MÜHLBERG, 1547
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
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
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
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.
BATTLE OF MÜHLBERG
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.