A galley which Ottoman Sultans used at inshore waters. Built at the end of the 16th century. Length: 40 m; Width: 5.70 m. It is reportedly the only original galley in the world. (Maritime Museum, Istanbul).

On August 14, 1571, a gigantic ship’s pennant of silk damask passed through the congested streets of Naples. Embroidered to the pope’s commission, it was the standard of Christendom, to fly from the tallest mast in the fleet of the Holy League as it sailed into battle. The pope’s banner with a huge golden figure of Christ nailed to the cross loomed over the stocky Spanish soldiers who carried it in procession from the steps of the Church of Santa Clara. As the blue flag moved through the Neapolitan crowds, an unnatural stillness gripped all who watched it go by. An hour before, inside the church, the assembled nobles, officers, monks, and priests had stood silent and unmoving, all their eyes on the admiral of the Holy League, Don John of Austria. Arrayed in cloth of gold, scarlet satin, and white velvet, the young admiral knelt before the altar as the pope’s representative, Cardinal Granvelle, handed him his staff of office and pointed to the great banner behind him. “Take these emblems,” the cardinal exhorted, “of the Word made flesh, these symbols of the true faith, and may they give thee a glorious victory over our impious enemy and by thy hand may his pride be laid low.”

Below the cross of Christ were the emblems of the king of Spain and of the Holy Father, Pope Pius V, with the badge of the Republic of Venice, all linked by a great golden chain, symbolizing the power of faith that bound them together. From that chain, in slightly smaller scale, hung the pendant crest of Don John. The emblems marked a brief moment of unity. For the first time in more than a century, Christendom had combined in force to do battle with the power of “Islam.” The war was sanctified, waged under the protection of the golden figure of Christ. The pope had declared that those who fought in this struggle were to be granted the same plenary indulgences as earlier Crusaders fighting to secure the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. All who died in the shadow of this battle flag would be spared the worst rigors of purgatory.

Eight hundred miles to the east a similar, if less public, ceremony had already taken place. From the treasury of the imperial palace in Constantinople, a bulky bundle wrapped in silk had been brought from Sultan Selim II to Ali Pasha, admiral of the Ottoman fleet. It also contained a flag, but one colored a vivid green instead of the lambent Christian blue. Even larger than the banner that Pope Pius V had entrusted to his commander, this was one of the most potent emblems of Islam. Upon its surface the ninety-nine names and attributes of God had been embroidered in gold. It was reputed that these were repeated no less than 28,900 times. The giant Kufic characters were surrounded and interlaced with endless reiteration of those same names, in a smaller script, so that from a distance the whole surface of the pennant appeared a shimmering network of golden filigree.

The two commanders were opposites—in rank, status, and experience of life. Don John was the acknowledged natural brother of the king of Spain, Philip II, and the by-blow from a few months Emperor Charles V had spent with a young widow called Barbara Blomberg in the imperial city of Regensburg. Don John had come to Naples from fighting a savage war in the mountains of southern Spain, to command the largest fleet ever assembled by Christian Europe. He had never fought at sea before. By contrast, Ali, the Kapudan Pasha of the Ottoman fleet, was a veteran of galley warfare, feared throughout the Aegean and into the far west of the Mediterranean. His origins were more humble, as the son of a muezzin, a mosque servant who called the faithful to prayer. But the two leaders, for all their differences, had much in common. They were like twin paladins from an epic poem: yearning for battle, chivalrous, and honorable. Fate decreed divergent destinies for them. One would die with a musket ball through the skull, his head then hacked off and stuck on the point of a pike. The other would return in triumph, honored and feted, his victory celebrated with paintings, engravings, poems, coins and medals, essays and learned disquisitions through more than four centuries.

Stories of their encounter abound, some closely following facts, others embellished to make a better tale. Quite where history ends and legends begin is still unsure. The battle they fought in the Gulf of Lepanto has a double character: the event itself and its burgeoning afterlife. This afterlife, the mythic Lepanto, came to stand as a synecdoche for the contest between the Islamic and the Christian worlds. In deciphering the meaning of Lepanto, we may find a point of entry into those deeper mysteries. The greater struggle had deep roots. For almost a thousand years the Christian world had felt threatened by the power in the East. Sometimes, with the Crusades in the Levant, for example, in Sicily and in Spain, Christian Europe had taken war to the enemy. Over the centuries a brooding sense of Muslim threat came to mesmerize Christendom. By the sixteenth century conflict was accepted as the natural and inevitable relationship between East and West. Like a child’s seesaw, the rise of the East required the fall of the West. In 1571, the two adversaries sat roughly in balance.

Scholars reinforced a common belief in the danger and evil of “Islam.” The Muslims, according to the Venerable Bede, who wrote in the eighth century, were descended from Hagar, the prophet Abraham’s concubine. Many Muslims believed that she and her son, Ishmael, lay buried under the Kaaba, the great black stone in Mecca, which was the focal point of the Islamic faith. Christians, however, were descended from Abraham’s lawful offspring, Isaac. Worse still than the stain of bastardy, an even darker curse hung over the people of the East. Christians inferred that while all men traced their line back to Adam and Eve, the Muslims were the lineal descendants of Cain, thrust from the presence of God for murdering his brother Abel. For his crime, Cain bemoaned that he would “be a fugitive and a wanderer upon earth … and everyone who finds me will slay me.” They had been forced to dwell “east of Eden.” Between the children of Cain and the other descendants of Adam, there could be only mutual slaughter and revenge for the primordial crime of fratricide. So this struggle grew from a long tradition of atavistic hatred between the peoples of the West and East.

What this meant in practice it is hard to say. Naturally, Christians in battle routinely insulted their enemies as the “sons of Cain,” as “misbegotten,” or “Antichrist.” Muslims decried their enemies with equal vehemence. Conflict between East and West seemed permanent, inevitable, preordained, as much for the Christians as for the Muslims. Yet it did not destroy the skein of mutual economic and political interests that dominated the Mediterranean and the Balkans, the border and boundary between the two worlds. Trade and commercial interests were constantly in play, especially in the case of Venice and the other city-states of the Adriatic, which preferred to negotiate with Muslim power rather than fight it.

The Christian powers in the Mediterranean had much to fear from an Ottoman Empire intent on expansion. The desire for a great victory went beyond political calculations, and not only for the pope, the architect of the grand alliance. After the capture of Constantinople in 1453, many Christians were convinced that the triumphant advance of Islam could only be part of God’s plan. The Islamic scourge was a means to chasten mankind to a better sense of its faults and flaws. Were Christians being punished for the sins of declining faith and, latterly, schism? For more than a century Christian Europe had resisted the Islamic onslaught, but had won few decisive victories. What better sign of renewed divine favor could there be than a great and annihilating victory over the forces of darkness?

Victory was also much in the minds of Sultan Selim II and his advisers in Constantinople. Although the armies of “Islam” had continued to press forward against the infidel, the pace of advance had slowed. Selim’s grandfather and namesake had brought vast territories in Egypt, Arabia, and the Levant into the Ottoman domain. His father, Suleiman the Lawgiver, had captured the fortress island of Rhodes, Belgrade, and Budapest, and held the Hungarian plain almost to the walls of Vienna. Suleiman had destroyed the Kingdom of Hungary in a single day on the battlefield of Mohacs in 1526. Yet Suleiman too had his setbacks. He twice failed to capture Vienna—in 1529 and 1566—and the island of Malta had withstood all the Turkish efforts at storm and siege. In the Mediterranean, the great naval battle in 1538 at Prevesa, just off the Greek mainland north of the Gulf of Lepanto, produced no decisive result.

The Ottoman state was built upon a theory of infinite expansion, and annual war to advance its frontiers. Without conquest it would decay. Moreover, all good Muslims were duty bound to extend the Domain of Peace, and that burden weighed heaviest upon the sultan. Selim II had committed himself to advance the boundaries of righteousness by seizing the island of Cyprus, which was under the rule of Venice. He used the pretext that privateers had sailed from the island to harry his shipping and the coastal towns of Anatolia. By late 1570, it seemed likely that the island would fall to his armies. Even so, he desired much more than the capture of an island. The sultan demanded a dramatic victory from his commanders, another Mohacs. Thus, his admiral, Ali Pasha, knew that he had to achieve the complete destruction of the Christian fleet, and return laden with trophies, slaves, and booty.

The two adversaries gathered their forces from far distant points in the Mediterranean. Throughout the summer of 1571, little clusters of ships moved toward the designated meeting points: Messina for the Christians commanded by Don John, the Aegean for the sultan’s war fleet under Ali Pasha. They were galleys, a type of ship built for the specific conditions of the Mediterranean. Galley warfare occupied its own universe, utterly different from battles fought between the sailing ships of the Atlantic. Long, sitting low on the water, frail by comparison with their solid northern counterparts, war galleys appeared to be able to move regardless of the force or direction of the wind. Although these slender craft carried two or three large triangular sails, their main motive power was banks of oars that extended out forty feet or more from either side of the ship, both banks pulling in unison so that the boat moved forward swiftly in what seemed a series of rhythmic spasms. In their element, with a calm sea and a following wind, they resembled gigantic water beetles skittering on their long legs over the surface of the water. Although the galleys were faster under sail than when they depended on their oars alone, their power of maneuver came from the rowers. It meant that a galley never risked being blown ashore onto a rocky coast, which was a constant danger for the clumsy deep-hulled merchant sailing ships. A galley could move almost as fast backward as it did forward and, with its shallow draft, could negotiate shoals that would strand other sailing vessels.

Over the centuries galleys had developed many forms, some designed to carry cargo, but by the mid–sixteenth century they were evolving for a single purpose: war. The Mediterranean war galley had been adapted over many generations, from the Greek triremes that destroyed the Persian fleet at the battle of Salamis, almost two thousand years before. After 1500, some galleys acquired superstructures at bow and stern, to house guns and fighting men. But the essence of the galley remained the same. As in classical times, galleys were merely a floating platform from which men could board and overcome the crews of other ships, an insubstantial shell for carrying the oarsmen and men-at-arms. Originally, as in the rowing skiffs and caïques to be found in every Mediterranean port, each man had pulled his own oar, but this became a costly option since oars had to be made from expensive well-seasoned timber, much of it imported from northern Europe. From the mid–sixteenth century a new style of rowing appeared that reduced the number of oars. Three or four men, sometimes as many as five, would sit side by side on benches, all pulling in unison on a single massive sweep. It was easy thereafter to add more men to increase the force behind the oars.

The power of a war galley lay in its personnel. Aboard each one would be a number of well-equipped professional fighting men, a battle crew. On Muslim and Venetian ships, many among the rowing crew were also armed and would join the melee. Of the Venetian oarsmen, who were volunteers, those on the end of each bench had a sword and short pike close at hand, while the second man had a bow and a quiver of arrows. As the ships closed, they would leave their oars to the third man and gather, ready to swarm across onto the deck of their victim. No merchant vessel loaded with cargo could hope to outrun a galley pursuing at full speed. Most tried, because the alternative was dire. The galley attack resembled that of a hawk swooping to snatch its prey. The sharp beak of the galley would come closer and closer to the fleeing ship, so close that the crew of the doomed vessel could see its nemesis preparing to board. At that point, many ships yielded; any that continued to run would be showered with arrows or musket fire and the crew killed. For reasons of economy the great bow guns of the attacking galley were rarely used.

Galleys were raptors, living off weaker and less well armed vessels.

Like the carnivorous dinosaur the war galley dominated its environment. But like the dinosaur, it grew progressively larger and more powerful to compete with its own kind until, like the dinosaur, it became increasingly immobile. The tactical power of the Mediterranean war galley, with the teeth and jaws of Tyrannosaurus Rex, depended on a continuous supply of flesh and blood.

Unless a galley could keep its rowing benches filled it could not survive. Much of the ceaseless raiding and predation was to seize not cargo but manpower. When a Muslim vessel took a Christian ship, all non-Muslims aboard would be immediately enslaved. Often the crew and any passengers would be the most valued prize. Some could be ransomed, and others sold for a good profit in the markets of North Africa or Constantinople.

If a Christian galley intercepted a Muslim ship, exactly the same transactions would take place. All non-Christians would be made prisoner and put to work at the oars. But Spanish, French, and Venetian ships preyed as frequently on the ships of other Christian nations. There were many excuses that would permit a war galley to seize a merchant vessel. They might search a Christian ship for “contraband,” claiming that the crew was trading with an enemy. The Knights of St. John, sailing from their fortress island of Malta, were feared by all, Christian and Muslim alike. If they stopped a Christian ship in eastern waters, they would examine the cargo minutely for anything that could be termed illicit. When lacking anything more obvious, they were in the habit of uncovering “Jewish clothing” during a search, indicating that the ship was trading with the Jewish population of Muslim ports. This justified the expropriation of the whole cargo, and the enslavement of the crew.



Battle of Lepanto.

In the curious parallelism that surrounds the events of 1571, at that moment the Ottoman commander, Ali Pasha, was also holding a council of war with his captains, and their opinions were divided in a roughly similar manner. Hassan Pasha, a bey of Algiers, spoke for the overwhelming majority. He acknowledged that the scouts had told them that this was the largest fleet they had ever seen. But he recalled how at Prevesa (in 1538) and at the island of Jerbi, off Tripoli (in 1560), the infidels had faded under Turkish attack. He believed that they were cowards, without spirit, and would flee here, as they had done in the past. The opposite view was presented by Hamet Bey, who suggested it would be a mistake to underestimate the power or unity of the Christians, and that Don John, although young and inexperienced, had proved himself in the war against the Moriscos (Muslims forcibly converted to Christianity) in the Alpujarras mountain range of southern Spain. The Ottoman fleet had everything to gain by playing a waiting game, under the protection of the guns of the Lepanto fortress.

Ali Pasha himself favored an immediate attack, and his resolve was hardened by the long-awaited orders from the sultan. Selim ordered the fleet to capture the Christian ships and to bring them immediately as trophies of war to line the waters of the Golden Horn, below his palace of the New Seraglio in. The order admitted no dissent, and all doubters were silenced Constantinople. The council came to a precipitate end, and the captains returned to their ships to prepare for battle. The efficient Ottoman commissary quickly stocked the hundreds of ships with food and water, and with large quantities of powder and shot, while Ali summoned more troops from neighboring garrisons. He speedily added 10,000 janissaries and 4,000 other troops to his fighting crews.

Meanwhile, the fleet of the Holy League moved south. By October 3, it was off Prevesa, but its advance was halted by high seas and adverse winds from the south. October 4 and 5 were spent battened down, riding out the storm. While the fleet was at anchor, a small vessel heading north from the island of Crete to Venice brought terrible and unexpected news.

Every Venetian in the fleet knew that the Ottomans were besieging the town of Famagusta in Cyprus. The island’s capital, Nicosia, had fallen a few months after the invasion of July 1570. Twenty thousand inhabitants had been slaughtered when the Turkish troops broke into the city, and the rest of the islanders submitted to avoid the same fate. Only the small port city of Famagusta refused to surrender and held out in the hope of relief from the sea. Within hours of the fall of Nicosia, Turkish horsemen were riding around the walls of Famagusta, taunting the inhabitants with the heads of the leading citizens of Nicosia impaled on their lance points. However, Marcantonio Bragadino, the governor in Famagusta, had prepared his command to withstand a long siege and it was clear that the city would resist, despite the frightful example of Nicosia’s fate. By the early spring of 1571 more than 100,000 Turks had gathered around Famagusta. It seemed that it could not hold out for long. But for four months the 4,000 defenders beat back every assault until attacks in July 1571 breached the walls in six places, and the troops in the garrison were reduced to their last barrels of gunpowder. Faced with certain defeat, Bragadino sought an honorable surrender. The terms agreed on August 1 with the Ottoman commander, Lala Mustafa, were unusually favorable: the Venetians secured protection for the remaining citizens, while the garrison would be evacuated to the Venetian island of Crete.

The Turks had lost more than 50,000 men in the capture of Nicosia and Famagusta. The terms granted were remarkable, especially after the massacres at Nicosia. On August 4, Lala Mustafa summoned Bragadino and his staff to his camp. The Venetian commander, wearing the purple robe of a senator, rode out from Famagusta under an ornate parasol (against the searing heat) at the head of his officers and with a bodyguard of forty harquebusiers. He was, according to the records, “serene … without fear or pride.” At the meeting, the Ottoman commander accused him of breaching the agreement for the city’s surrender and demanded hostages. Bragadino responded that this did not form part of the terms. Then, at a prearranged signal, janissaries rushed into the tent and overpowered the Venetians. Outside, the senator’s escort had already been disarmed.

The subsequent events were played out for the benefit of the Ottoman army gathered in a huge mass around Lala Mustafa’s encampment. It seems unlikely that Bragadino expected to survive the surrender, or to see the treaty honored. The Ottomans usually repaid resistance with death, and to allow the defenders to retire with their arms in hand and flags flying was almost without parallel. On previous occasions the Ottomans had invariably slaughtered or enslaved the bulk of their captives, sparing only a few for ransom, or to take the news back to their enemies. After the battle of Mohacs, Sultan Suleiman had “sat on a golden throne” while his soldiers decapitated thousands of prisoners. The Venetians were playing a grim but well-understood role in a gory traditional drama. The performance was designed to be exemplary, and to satisfy the sultan in Constantinople that the long and costly siege had not been in vain. Bragadino’s officers and staff were beheaded in front of him, so that a rivulet of blood flowed across the hard dry ground and washed over his feet.

This was the news brought to the fleet of the Holy League waiting fogbound between the islands of Cephalonia and Ithaca. It stilled any remaining doubts about the need for a battle, which would now, additionally, revenge the death of Bragadino and repay his humiliation many times over. As soon as the fog lifted sufficiently for the fleet to move safely, in the early hours of Sunday, October 7, the whole armada advanced into the open sea, in the mouth of the Gulf of Patras, and some forty miles from the entrance to the well-protected harbor of Lepanto. With the mainland coast in sight, Don John sent two fast ships forward down the gulf to discover if the Ottoman fleet was still at anchor. If it was, it would not slip past the mass of Christian ships rowing down the narrowing gulf toward the straits before Lepanto.

To the north, as the Christian galleys pushed into a stiff breeze, lay the high mountains of Acarnia; to the south, the lowlands of the Morea. The winds came off the high ground, veering back and forth, so the sails on the galleasses could not be used, and the whole fleet slowed to the rowing pace of these ungainly vessels. Shortly after dawn the fleet halted, and moved into the battle formations designated by Don John. He also gave orders that the rams, or spurs, mounted on the prow of each war galley should be cut away. These stout wooden structures were designed to hook into the side of an enemy ship, providing a platform along which boarders could advance. But the spur made it difficult to maneuver the bow guns, which alone had the capacity to cripple an enemy vessel. Don John’s strategy was not to capture the Ottoman fleet but to destroy it. He intended to use his heavy guns to smash the lighter hulls of the Ottoman vessels, boarding where necessary, but first sending as many ships and crews as possible to the bottom of the sea. But the order gave a deeper message to his men: cutting away the spurs was equivalent to throwing away the scabbard of his sword, signifying that it would not again be sheathed unbloodied.

No one had any prior experience of marshaling so large a fleet into battle. Moreover the six galleasses were new and wholly untried weapons. The forthcoming conflict would be like no other at sea, but Don John planned to fight in the open waters of the Gulf of Patras much as he would have fought a cavalry battle on land. However, the scale was vast: the fleet extended in a line for almost four miles end to end. Don John divided the hundreds of galleys into four divisions: the center, which he oversaw in person; two wings; and behind this line the reserve, commanded by a trusted Spaniard, and intended to staunch any breach made by the enemy. The battle tactics were simple: in front would be the six galleasses, and the galleys of the Holy League would row forward at a steadily increasing pace behind them. Once the firefight began, the rowing rate would rise until the galleys covered the last few hundred yards in less than a minute, until they smashed into the enemy, also advancing at full speed. Then all semblance of strategy would vanish in the melee of hand-to-hand fighting. The great danger was that the fast and maneuverable Ottoman galleys would break through the line and swarm around the Christian ships on every side, rather in the way that on land Turkish horsemen would pull down armored Christian knights by weight of numbers.

Although he had never fought at sea, Don John knew his enemy. The war in the Alpujarras, from house to house, from village to village, had taught him that even Muslim peasants would die rather than yield or retreat. The lesson of innumerable galley battles was that once the hardy Muslim fighters gained a foothold on the opponent’s decks, then the chances of survival were small. As a last act before the fray, he ordered that all his ships should be rigged with boarding nets, to act as a fence all along the sides above the rowing decks. The nets would not stop boarders, but they would slow them down, giving the defending crew time to rally. The only effective protection against the rush of the janissaries was firepower. On the Real he trained a force of 300 men, armed with the heavy Spanish harquebuses and muskets, to fire in volley if the enemy did succeed in boarding. But ultimately Don John could not control the flow of the fight on his ships. Success would depend on the spirit and morale of his men. In the early morning light, in a fast small fregata he traversed the line of stationary ships back and forth, shouting encouragement to the crews and soldiers, telling them that God was with them, and reminding them of the fate of Bragadino, for whom they would wreak revenge upon the bodies of their enemy. Cheers rose as he passed each ship. He had ordered that every Christian convict oarsman should be freed so that they could join the Crusade, while Muslim rowers were double-chained, by both hand and foot, to the oars.

Only the best of his soldiers were equal to the Ottomans, and the advantage lay with Ali Pasha, with fresh troops rested, well fed, and eager for battle. Don John’s victory at Lepanto was due to the supremacy of the gun. He had placed the six galleasses in front of his line at intervals, confident that their firepower would disrupt the Ottoman line of battle. As well as the heavy guns, he crammed them full of marksmen with muskets. Later pictures of the battle show the ships bristling with gun barrels, like the spines on a hedgehog. Success would depend on Ottoman willingness to be drawn into the killing zone around these floating fortresses. But if the Ottomans retreated, drawing Don John’s ships farther down the gulf toward the guns of the Lepanto fortress, then the dynamics would alter. There was already a stiff breeze and the sea was running against the Christian ships. The more his oarsmen exhausted themselves, the greater chance that the advantage would slip to the Turks. As in all battles, chance and providence were in command.



Spanish Military Power – First Half of the Eighteenth Century I

In the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries Spain was Europe’s foremost military power. By the later seventeenth century, however, it had lost that primacy. The War of the Spanish Succession represented a nadir of Spain’s military fortunes as war engulfed the peninsula and the Monarchy lost the territories which had hitherto housed two of its three main, permanent fighting forces, the Army of Flanders and the Army of Lombardy, the third being the Army of Catalonia. Indeed, Philip V’s triumph in the succession struggle owed much to the military support of his grandfather, Louis XIV. After the conclusion of that conflict, however, Philip’s Spain reemerged as a significant independent military power.

Spain’s military revival after 1713 owed much to the fact that Philip’s opponents in Europe, notably the Austrian Habsburgs, both were weak and prioritised other theatres of war. Those successes also owed something in the 1730s and 1740s to the support of allies, above all, France, who not only diverted Philip’s opponents in those other theatres, the Rhine and Flanders, but also collaborated with his forces in Italy. Yet Philip could not always find allies, fighting alone between 1717 and 1720, while allies had their own priorities, Louis XV ending the War of the Polish Succession before the Spanish court had achieved all of its objectives in Italy. Philip therefore needed an independent military capability rooted in Spain. He had gone some way towards achieving this in the succession struggle, during which Spain’s Habsburg military inheritance was transformed. The multifaceted overhaul included the replacement of the distinctive tercios by regiments; the introduction of a new hierarchy of ranks and the assertion of greater royal control over appointments; the adoption of new weaponry; the establishment of new corps, including that of engineers; the elaboration of a structure of royal commissaries; and last but by no means least, a marked expansion of the army, which by 1713 was not only larger than that which Philip had inherited but also a standing force stationed in Spain rather than in Flanders and Lombardy.

Unfortunately, however, while much attention has rightly been paid to these initial reforms, Philip V’s army after the War of the Spanish Succession is in many respects terra incognita. Spanish historians have enhanced our understanding of that army in recent decades. But other historiographical trends, including the prevalence of prosopographical studies, mean that they have largely ignored it as the fighting instrument abroad which so impressed contemporaries. They also neglect the sheer extent of the military effort represented by major operations in Africa and Italy and the impact of that effort not only on the army itself, in terms of additional reform and the way this contributed in turn to further progress in the direction of modernisation and state formation, but also on Philip’s subjects.

How far was Philip building on as well as overhauling the legacy of the Spanish Habsburg state? Just how he and his ministers responded to the logistical challenge of major operations and how far they innovated in preferring public, state administration over the private sector asiento favoured by the Habsburgs offer one area of comparison. For many later commentators Philip’s Spain was not only a fiscal-military state but also a nation-state, but it is not at all clear that the composition of his army fully justifies the claim. As for the impact of Philip’s military adventures on his subjects, some have suggested that early Bourbon Spain, echoing developments elsewhere, was militarised, but this too is questionable.

Commitments and Numbers

Philip V oversaw a substantial increase in the size of his army in Spain in the course of the War of the Spanish Succession, during which large numbers of his subjects were mobilised, to a total of 100,000 men in 1714. He continued to maintain large, permanent forces thereafter. As is true in the case of all armies in early modern Europe, it is not easy to be precise about the size of those forces. It is not always clear whether the figures given in contemporary sources or those used by later historians are complete: there was frequently a difference, for example, between a unit’s establishment, that is, the number of men when it was complete, and the number of effectives. This helps explain the widely varying figures sometimes given for the same forces. Nevertheless, as long as we recognise that the official figures, often derived from the periodic musters or reviews, do not always represent the true picture, they remain a useful indicator.

Philip V had lost Flanders and Italy by 1713, but his defence commitments thereafter continued to span the Atlantic. Before the reign of Charles III there was no permanent Army of America. Instead, apart from scattered garrisons in key fortresses there, men were despatched to the Indies as and when required. In 1726 troops were sent to Havana as Anglo–Spanish relations deteriorated between the alliances of Vienna and Hanover and following the departure of an English squadron to the Caribbean, while the outbreak of the War of Jenkins’ Ear in 1739 triggered the departure of more units to Spanish America. Within a few years, however, the war in Europe—in Italy—was once again centre stage: Spanish troops no longer fought in Flanders, but in terms of military priorities Europe came first for the Spanish court, as it had before 1700.

In Europe, Spain’s land frontiers and extensive coastline required constant defence, the new British presence at Gibraltar adding to Philip V’s commitments in this respect before, during, and after the siege of 1727. But the disposition of Philip’s troops in Spain itself was not determined just by external threats; a substantial military presence in the territories of the Crown of Aragon mirrored the fact that the exercise of greater royal authority from 1707 onwards rested on Philip’s assertion of a right of conquest. Throughout the reign large numbers of troops were deployed in Aragon, Valencia, and above all Catalonia. In the summer of 1717, 43 of 81 infantry battalions in Philip’s pay were stationed in the crown of Aragon, 35 of them in Catalonia. Twenty years later it was claimed that there were rarely fewer than 20–30,000 troops in Catalonia, in part to contain its population.

Philip could not neglect either the islands or the garrisons beyond the peninsula. After its reconquest in 1715, a large garrison was also stationed on the island of Majorca, whose strategic importance was increased by the British occupation of neighbouring Menorca and the threat it posed. Indeed, in 1740, following the outbreak of war with Britain, an expedition against Menorca was discussed in Madrid but was abandoned in favour of intervention in Italy. What was left of empire in north Africa and Italy, that is, the coastal garrisons, or presidios, also had to be manned. In Africa these included Alhucemas, Ceuta, Melilla, el Peñón, and, from 1732, Oran. In Italy the presidios meant Porto Longone, off the Tuscan coast. In 1734 Philip, as we have seen, ceded Porto Longone, along with Naples and Sicily, to Don Carlos, but it continued to be garrisoned by Philip’s troops.

The concentration of troops on Spain’s eastern seaboard also reflected the military thrust into the Mediterranean after 1713. Apart from the achievement of a large standing army in Spain itself, the most striking feature of Spanish military activity between 1713 and 1748 was the occasional expeditions overseas, which often triggered a more substantial military commitment. They also helped to determine the size of Philip’s army, which expanded and contracted with his changing commitments in Africa and Italy (table 1). In 1715, following the conclusion of the War of the Spanish Succession, Philip effected a substantial reform, or reduction, but the first cycle of intervention in the Mediterranean triggered the recruitment of about 33,000 men between the summer of 1717 and 1720, an increase of almost 50 percent. There was another bout of cost cutting after 1720, in which most of the new units disappeared. But the War of the Polish Succession and Spanish intervention in Italy meant renewed expansion. In February 1734 José Patiño envisaged raising the number of troops in Philip’s pay by just over 40,000, an increase of 50 percent, to give an army of 123,900. In fact, 20 new regiments were raised, while existing ones were increased in size, such that this target was exceeded, the Spanish army peaking at more than 130,000 men. The end of the Polish succession struggle was followed by another round of reductions, so that war in the Caribbean from 1739 and in Italy from 1741 prompted another expansion. Initially, in 1741, this involved adding a third battalion to existing regiments of just 2 battalions—10 battalions in all, a total of 6,500 men—although all were disbanded by the end of 1744. By means of various separate agreements concluded throughout the war, other units were taken into service. Peace in 1748 was followed by the usual reform.

Recruitment of Foreign Troops

Philip V and Ferdinand VI found men in a variety of ways, some abroad, some at home, preferring volunteers but also using compulsion. Whereas the cavalry was levied almost entirely within Spain, simply because it was easier to recruit, the infantry was much more cosmopolitan. In general, more than 50 percent of the infantry were Spanish, as in 1716 and 1724, but these were years of peace, and the foreign component tended to expand and sometimes to predominate when overseas operations were undertaken. In 1731, for example, of 8 infantry battalions which were to accompany Don Carlos to Italy, just two were Spanish. The foreign component continued to loom large but may have fallen in the course of the War of the Austrian Succession. In 1745 Spaniards contributed 32,500 of the 49,000 infantry in the Infante’s army in Italy, while in the spring of 1747 the marqués de la Mina thought Spain’s contribution to an allied total in Italy of 75,000 infantry would comprise 591/2 battalions, of which 47 were Spanish and the rest, just 20 percent, were foreign. Whatever the explanation for the decline, in the latter stages of the Austrian succession conflict, the Spanish monarch may have been recruiting more of his own Spanish subjects.

Foreign troops were attractive for various reasons, the most important being Spain’s limited manpower. Establishing the population of Spain in the early eighteenth century is no easy matter. Nevertheless, the basic trends are clear and were positive. Spain’s population may have grown by two million between the late seventeenth century and the middle of the eighteenth to a total of about eight million around 1713 and to just over nine million by 1768. Certain areas were more populous, including Galicia, in the northwest, the capital, Madrid, which drew immigrants from the rest of the country, and Andalusia, making these attractive recruiting grounds. Nevertheless, Philip V’s Spain could not boast the demographic resources of France and this fact, as Spanish and foreign commentators made clear, limited the number of Philip’s Spanish subjects who could be diverted into the military without disrupting Spain’s economy and antagonising those same subjects. Foreign troops, on the other hand, were less likely to desert in Spain, where they had fewer kin and friends to shelter them, and, while costly, they might be easily raised in wartime close to where they might have to serve and just as easily disposed of, that is, be demobilised, at the end of a conflict. These factors helped ensure that, like his Habsburg predecessors, Philip relied on a substantial minority of foreign troops rather than on an entirely Spanish army drawn from the Iberian peninsula and islands: 15 of the 18 new infantry regiments levied for Italy in 1717–20 were raised in Italy and Switzerland. While Spaniards may have loomed larger between 1741 and 1748 (above), thereafter Ensenada saw the taking on of foreign units, 28 battalions, as a key part of the solution to the problem of recruitment.

Foreign troops included entire units such as companies, battalions, and regiments as well as individuals, some of them drawn from foreign communities long resident in Spain. There had long been a substantial French contingent in Spain, one swelled during the succession conflict, and this was one source of men. Portuguese, too, were frequently recruited, in large part along the frontier with that state. Another source of foreign recruits was the Irish resident in Spain. Their numbers grew in the early eighteenth century with the influx of many of those who had abandoned Ireland following the Williamite conquest in 1689–91 and who, often after a brief residence in France, moved to Spain during and after the War of the Spanish Succession. For some of these Irish exiles military service was a stepping-stone to high office in Spain. Exemplary in this respect was the career of Ricardo Wall: having fought in the marine corps on the Sicilian expedition in 1718, he served in the army in Italy in the War of the Austrian Succession before being appointed secretary of state by Ferdinand VI.

Some of the foreign units in Philip V’s service were essentially the inheritance of the past and served a nonmilitary as well as military purpose. Thus units of both the Flemish, or Walloon, Guards and the Italian Guards (below), which helped maintain the connection between the Spanish court and the elites of the former Flemish and Italian territories of the Monarchy throughout the century, fought in most of Philip’s African and Italian campaigns. So, too, did various units raised in Italy in the War of the Spanish Succession, units which followed Philip to Spain when Spanish Italy collapsed. Some other Italian units were raised during the later Italian expeditions, between 1718 and 1720 (above), from 1734, and in 1741–42.

Other foreigners served in whole units which Philip V took into pay for a fixed period. This meant above all the Swiss Catholic regiments, whose attractions included the proximity of their recruiting ground(s) to the theatres, notably Italy, where they would serve. In 1720 a capitulation for such a regiment was agreed with one Charles Ignacio Niderist and was renewed in November 1724, and in May 1725 another, for 3,200 men in 16 battalions of 200 men each, with one Charles Alfonso Besler. In 1732 more agreements of this sort were agreed with a number of Swiss officers. The Swiss could be problematic: they were expensive and sometimes effectively went on strike until paid their arrears, as happened on campaign in Italy in 1735. However, the advantages outweighed the disadvantages, and in 1737 Philip renewed the capitulation with Besler for ten years. In the summer of 1742 a number of Swiss officers already in Philip’s service agreed to raise a further 10 battalions, most of which served in Italy. This helped ensure that in the summer of 1745 there were at least 14 battalions of Swiss in Spanish service in Savoy and Nice, totalling about 3,500 men. Spanish commanders and ministers continued to debate the value of the Swiss, but they remained an essential ingredient of Spain’s fighting machine.

The distinction between Spanish and non-Spanish troops should not be exaggerated: between 1717 and 1720 some of the supposed Spanish regiments in Sardinia and Sicily were, necessarily, recruited locally, either from the population of those islands or in adjacent mainland Italy. By the same token non-Spanish units include Spaniards. In 1717 Philip allowed his Irish, Italian, and Walloon regiments to recruit in Spain, in view of the difficulties they faced in recruiting in their home territories, and he did so again during the War of the Austrian Succession. In 1745 all 4 battalions of the Milan and Brabant (Walloon) infantry regiments were recruiting in Spain and Italy. As for the Irish regiments, which, according to privileges granted to the Irish community by earlier Spanish monarchs, were treated as native Spaniards, they recruited more widely in Britain. In 1733, for example, Colonel Raimundo Burk was allowed to complete his Limerick regiment by recruiting English and Scots as well as Irish. Those Irish units also included many Spaniards by 1748. War had thus facilitated, even accelerated, the hispanisation of some of the foreign units in Spanish service.

Whatever their nationality and arguably more important in giving the army of Philip V, the Catholic King, an identity was that it was overwhelmingly Christian and, above all, Roman Catholic. The association of Philip’s cause with Roman Catholicism had played an important role in his winning the succession struggle and remained influential after 1713. In October 1746 deserters from the Irish Ultonia regiment were condemned to the galleys, but that sentence was commuted to perpetual military service following their conversion to Roman Catholicism.


Spanish Military Power – First Half of the Eighteenth Century II

Recruitment of Spanish Troops

Despite Philip V’s reliance on foreign troops, his army was largely Spanish, that is, recruited from among his subjects in Spain. This is hardly surprising. Spaniards had long been prized for their endurance, their fighting qualities, and their supposed loyalty as well as for the fact that they were cheaper and less likely to desert than foreign troops. In addition, the loss of the non-Spanish European territories restricted recruiting opportunities in those areas after 1713. In any case, Spanish efforts to recruit abroad were not always welcome: in 1736 the activities of Spanish recruiters in Rome prompted riots there and the expulsion of all Spanish residents. Practical necessity, then, ensured that Spain itself would see much recruiting activity, especially in 1717–20, 1732, and 1735 and again between 1741 and 1748.

Before 1700 recruitment in Spain had been overseen by the Council of War, guided by the Comisario General. However, the War of the Spanish Succession and its aftermath saw important changes in the role of the council, whose executive role largely passed to the newly established office of Secretary of State for War (below), while in 1704 the office of Comisario General had been replaced by that of Director General of Infantry. In the localities, however, recruitment was still largely left to the bodies and officials who had been responsible for it before 1700, namely, the alcaldes, or magistrates, of the numerous settlements inhabited by a largely scattered population, corregidores, and, where they existed, the officials of the Chancillerías and Audiencias, which in Spain as in the Americas were as much administrative as judicial bodies. Briefly, between 1718 and 1721, and, not coincidentally, at the height of Philip V’s first bid for Italian dominion, there was an abortive experiment with intendants, or intendentes, of the army and provinces; but between 1721 and the full-scale reintroduction of a network of provincial intendants in 1749, the only intendants were those of the army, in the three realms of the Crown of Aragon, Majorca, and the other frontier provinces, Andalusia, Castile, Estremadura, and Galicia, plus the intendants who accompanied each overseas expeditionary force (see below). Local recruitment in Spain during the Wars of the Polish and Austrian Successions was thus largely the responsibility and achievement of an older, effective administrative setup.

Most historians of the Spanish military in the eighteenth century have focused largely on involuntary recruitment and the Bourbon state’s imposition of an obligation to serve. There is good reason for this (see below), but it ignores the preference of monarch and ministers for, and the continued importance of, voluntary enlistment, as many men responded willingly to the recruiting captain or sergeant. Evidence of this is provided by both royal legislation and the discharge certificates given to those leaving the army. In June 1745 one Antonio de Plata, a soldier in the Lisbon infantry regiment, was discharged. When he was press-ganged almost three years later in 1748, his certificate was produced by his wife in support of her petition for his release; according to that document, Antonio had enlisted voluntarily in 1736. Volunteers still accounted for the largest number of recruits in the Spanish army towards the close of the War of the Austrian Succession, when recruiting captains were still expected to find men of this type.

Explaining why men in a society which does not appear to have held the soldier in high regard enlisted is not easy, not least because little evidence survives as to why they did so. However, many of the reasons which have been identified for earlier periods no doubt continued to apply in the early eighteenth century: camaraderie, a desire to escape family, village, or town and embarrassing entanglements there, and, not least for those hoping to escape poverty, enlistment money and army pay: in 1731 recruits in Murcia were offered eight and even sixteen pesos on joining up. Enlistment money, pay at a time when wages were falling in real terms, and the guarantee of food in hard times, as in the thirties and early forties, when harvests were poor and mortality rates high, might also attract volunteers. Some others may have been attracted by the fuero militar, the distinctive military jurisdiction or privilege, the proliferation of which triggered occasional confrontations between the civil and military authorities. Such spats necessitated the imposition of limitations by the crown, not least when the fuero was abused, as it had been under the Habsburgs, to cover fraud. Whatever drew them, volunteers could always be found.

A variant on the system of voluntary recruiting just described, in which all the costs of the levy were borne by the king, was the practice whereby the monarch accepted an offer to recruit a company or even a whole regiment from an individual. The recruiter would then bear those costs before the men entered the royal service in return for various benefits, including the right to appoint officers, otherwise a royal prerogative. This privatisation or devolution of recruitment by means of an asiento agreed with a contractor was not entirely new, having been practiced in the Habsburg era. In some respects it simply represented a variant on the so-called military entrepreneurship of an earlier age. It also manifested a venality which was widespread in Philip V’s Spain. For the applicant, or asentista, it often meant buying promotion within the army or a fixed post or both and also offered the prospect of social advancement. Typically, in 1719 D. Felipe Serrano y Contreras, a “reformed” lieutenant colonel of cavalry, offered to raise at his own cost a company of 100 infantry. To fund this operation he sought permission to burden his entail with loans, to the value of 4,000 ducados. Philip V referred the request to the Council of Castile and its adjunct, the Cámara de Castilla, which monitored and protected entails. The Cámara expressed concern, wanting to consult the heir to the entail, whose interests would be affected by the grant. Philip, however, while acknowledging these misgivings, insisted that the petition be granted, immediately, given his urgent need of troops, implying that the demands of war underpinned the assertion, if only briefly and episodically, of greater royal authority, absolutism, at the expense of traditional practices and constraints.

The speed and economy involved in this method of raising men had great attraction for the king and some of his ministers, but such offers were not simply rubber-stamped by them. Some bargaining was always necessary, as when, in 1719, the Sicilian duke of San Blas offered 300 cavalry. Sometimes, too, the agreement required subsequent adjustment. In 1748 D. Jayme Torrijos was granted the captaincy of a company in the Lisbon infantry regiment in return for raising 70 men, to be delivered to Badajoz in Estremadura. Upon his arrival in Valencia to recruit the men, however, the captain general of that realm, the duque de Caylus, thought the original destination inappropriate. The distance the recruits must travel was too great, with potential loss through desertion and sickness, and the duke urged instead that Torrijos give his recruits to a captain in the Murcia regiment who already had the king’s commission to recruit in Valencia. Last, units raised privately had to be approved by royal officials before being accepted into the king’s service and pay.

Recruiting in this way was both cheap and speedy and highly attractive at the start of a conflict; it may have been the largest single source of new regiments under Philip V. Between 1718 and 1720, 40 battalions of infantry of 13 companies each, 6 cavalry squadrons of 4 companies, and 40 squadrons of dragoons of 3 companies—a total of 664 companies—were raised by this means. During the War of the Polish Succession, of 20 new regiments levied in 1734–35, just 3 were raised at royal expense; as for the War of the Austrian Succession, privatisation of this sort raised 10 new battalions in 1742.

But voluntary recruiting, despite efforts to make the army more attractive by, for example, reducing the length of service (as in 1741, to three years), did not always yield sufficient men. In these circumstances, compulsion of some sort was the answer. Impressment took various forms. It had long been usual to condemn convicted criminals and other malefactors to the African garrisons, which men were reluctant to volunteer for, and the practice continued. In 1701 penalties imposing presidio service laid down in 1684 for the defrauding of the royal tobacco monopoly were confirmed, in 1724 five men condemned after anti-seigneurial disturbances in Galicia were sentenced to service in an African presidio, and in July 1741 the captain general of Catalonia despatched thirty-four convicts to Oran, condemned to presidio service by the criminal court of the royal Audiencia and by the auditor general of the Army of Catalonia. Other convicted offenders might themselves elect such service as an alternative to prison or have it chosen for them by local communities eager to be free of the threat they posed and the cost of their incarceration. In 1748, following the arrest of one Joseph Madrid for defrauding the king’s salt revenues, his community requested that he and two accomplices serve with the army for four campaigns. The courts supplied a steady trickle of men for the African garrisons and for other, regular units throughout Philip V’s reign. Other criminals might seek a pardon in return for military service.

Another tried-and-tested means of forcible recruitment, one which could claim to be trying to solve the problem of delinquency at a more general level, was the impressment of the rootless poor, as had happened before 1700 and during the War of the Spanish Succession. Roundups of this sort were ordered in July 1717, July 1718, 1732, December 1733, December 1744, and in April and June 1745. Philip’s periodic drives against vagabonds coincided with and were driven by his need for troops for operations in Africa and Italy.

Rounding up of this sort was often designated a levy, or leva, to distinguish it from another method of impressment, the so-called quinta. Originally signifying, as its name suggests, the imposition on communities of an obligation to provide one-fifth of their eligible menfolk, the quinta, another tried-and-tested method, inevitably attracted a monarch needing men for his Mediterranean adventures. A quinta was an integral part of the preparations for the Oran expedition in 1732, and, following its departure, another was expected as part of a larger recruitment drive which would both supply more men for Oran and replace 25,000 men recently despatched to Majorca, Italy, and the other African garrisons. In fact, a quinta of 7,153 men was ordered in December 1732, justified as a last resort on the grounds of the king’s failure to find sufficient volunteers. It is no coincidence that the major eighteenth-century Spanish work on this subject, Francisco de Oya y Ozores’s Tratado de levas, quintas y reclutas de gente de Guerra, was published a couple of years later, in 1734, at the height of the War of the Polish Succession. These two means of the forcible recruiting of men remained the poles around which discussion and practice revolved. In 1741 the president of the Council of Castile, which in some respects spoke for the Castilian towns, vetoed a quinta proposed by the secretary for war, but a forcible levy to raise 7,919 men was ordered in December 1741, as Philip V prepared to intervene in Italy. As the Austrian succession struggle progressed, the need for men meant further drives of this sort. In December 1746 Ferdinand VI ordered a combination of quinta and levy to secure 25,000 men for 1747, the largest such mobilisation throughout this period, more than three times the number of men ordered to be levied in 1741–42.

How did it work? The king and his ministers having decided upon the number of men required, the total was broken down into provincial quotas which bore some relationship to demographic capacity. The largest quota in the quinta levy ordered in December 1732, for example, was that assigned the populous Galicia, 878 men, or just over 10 percent of the total number the levy was intended to yield. In Old Castile, by contrast, the province of Burgos, with a much smaller population, was expected to give 367 men, or just under 5 percent of the total, and the city of Burgos, the assembly point for the quotas of that province and for those of Toro, Palencia, Soria, Avila, Segovia, Salamanca, and Valladolid, just 19 men. Quotas remained fairly constant. In December 1741, following Philip V’s decision to impose another quinta, of 7,919 men, the province of Burgos was asked for 400 men and the city itself just 17, a proportionate increase on the number requested towards the slightly smaller overall levy of 1732. Individual quotas were communicated to the provincial officials responsible for their implementation. In December 1746, for example, the intendant of Galicia was informed of that realm’s share (1,181) of the 25,000 men Ferdinand VI hoped to find, and he in turn assigned quotas to the realm’s seven principal cities. The intendant would also contact the local magistrates. The magistrates oversaw the lottery, or sorteo (below), which was increasingly the method used to identify those who should fulfil the community’s quota, and arranged for the men selected to be sent to the assembly point. Captains would then escort the men to the ports where they embarked for their destination.

It was rarely so simple in practice. Quinta levies were unpopular with those called up, and observers were often pessimistic about their likely yield. In 1726 the introduction of quintas provoked riots in Catalonia. Their unpopularity was one reason they were not the first resort of the king and his ministers, who often justified other measures to raise men on the grounds of their reluctance to impose a quinta. Those who could exploited any relevant privileges to avoid being taken. In December 1732 the town of Solera in Cuenca, which was expected to find 76 men, successfully petitioned for exemption from both quintas and levas, pleading its obligation to maintain the royal sheepwalk along which the flocks of the Mesta moved. The following year one of the directors of the tobacco revenues, D. Jacobo Flon, complained that the corregidor of León had included in the sorteo employees of the tobacco monopoly, despite a royal order exempting them. The king ordered the release of any of these men who had been levied and who had been employed in the monopoly fifteen days before the publication of the quintas. Reflecting the unpopularity of levies of all types, new grants of privilege in these decades frequently included exemptions from them.

Not all claims of exemption succeeded. In December 1741 the corregidor of Burgos demanded 3 men of the town of Torrecilla of a total of 82 men assigned the district, or partido, of Logroño. In response, the magistrates of Torrecilla pleaded a royal exemption, granted for ten years, from January 1735, but to no avail. Those unable to plead a privilege sometimes simply fled. Some of those unlucky enough to win this lottery purchased substitutes, resulting in accusations of collusion by officials. In 1735, following an extensive investigation, charges were prepared against the prince of Campoflorido, the captain general of the realm of Aragon, the intendant, and others responsible for the execution of the quintas of 1733–34 there. The charges included allowing those who had been selected in the lottery to buy themselves out. Others who were forcibly levied might be rescued by more violent means: in 1733 a diplomatic incident was triggered when the Dutch ambassador’s servants forcibly freed men who had been impressed in Seville.

Not all resisted, and many fugitives were recovered or replaced, to an extent that although the yield of the forced levies was sometimes poor they did contribute large numbers of men to the various expeditions to Africa and Italy. In January 1742, for example, the corregidor of Burgos delivered up 180 quintados of that province, almost half of its quota of 400 men, who then left for Barcelona and Italy. Two weeks later D. Joseph López Colmenero, the captain of the Burgos infantry regiment, led another 142 quintados to Barcelona, so that just 78 men remained to be found to meet the quota. A week later, the recruiting captain D. Joseph Alberto Bonnet reported the arrival from Soria of 71 men, although he had to dismiss seven of them as ineligible or incapable. From the announcement of the quinta in December 1741 it had taken less than two months for Burgos to raise 96 percent of its quota. Burgos was by no means exceptional, as other cities and provinces too fulfilled their quotas, even if belatedly. Quotas might even be exceeded: in January 1748 Juan Francisco de Urdainz despatched 109 men from Salamanca, more than the 100 demanded from that city and its district. Not surprisingly, local magistrates involved in quintas and levies cited their services and their success when petitioning for royal favours.


Imperial Spain Versus the Dutch: 1621-1639

Before the Battle of the Downs by Reinier Nooms, circa 1639, depicting the Dutch blockade off the English coast, the vessel shown is the Aemilia, Tromp’s flagship.

The battle of the downs, by willem van de velde

Before the truce expired, the Spanish had to figure out a way to recover and then fight off the Dutch. Don Gaspar de Guzmán, Count-Duke of Olivares, thought he knew how. Spain was, like France, not a natural naval power and her most fearsome force was the army and not the navy. The Netherlands could be isolated by the army in Flanders, Olivares believed, its coast blockaded, its trade cut in the Channel by Spanish privateers and its economy ruined before the Spanish invaded its coastline.

Spain had to spread its limited naval forces thinly across the world to protect endless sea lanes and her sprawling empire from Dutch, French or English attack. The main Spanish fleet was the Armada del Mar Oceano, or Atlantic Fleet, created to defend the all important sea lanes across the Atlantic. Without the silver of New Spain (Mexico), Spain’s finances, and with them her ability to wage war, would collapse. By the early 1620s, following a belated construction programme begun in 1617, this fleet numbered 46 vessels. The main naval base, Cadiz, housed 23 vessels and another 18 galleons were stationed at Gibraltar.The Spanish had spent 2.6 million ducats on building some 24 galleons. By 1638, Spanish naval power had never been more impressive.

Truce or not, the Dutch had rounded the Cape of the Horn (Tierra del Fuego) in May 1615 with six warships under Admiral Joris van Speilbergen and routed, with the loss of two Spanish vessels, Admiral Rodrigo de Mendoza’s Armada del Mar Sur (Southern Pacific Fleet). Fleeing into Callao, Mendoza left the intrepid Dutch to plunder much of the Pacific coast of Spanish America.To prevent similar disasters in the Atlantic, the Spanish rebuilt their Convoy Fleet (Armada de la Guardia) specifically to protect the annual silver fleets (Flotas) that sailed from Vera Cruz via Havanna to Cadiz with Mexican silver. The Windward Fleet (Armada de Barlovento) was created under Admiral Fadrique de Toledo and stationed at Havana or Cadiz, depending on need, to clear out the pirates that infested the West Indies and threatened Spanish lines of communications. Yet demands linked to another war with France, which broke out in 1635, depleted both forces. These were still essentially defensive measures that left the Dutch free to grow ever stronger based on their near monopoly on trade with the Baltic. Without the timber from this trade, the Dutch ships would rot; without its naval stores (tar, pitch, rope and hemp), the Dutch Navy would deteriorate; and without Polish grain, its inhabitants would starve. Olivares therefore laid plans in 1626 to cooperate with Poland to build up a joint fleet, with bases either at Riga or Danzig, to prey on Dutch shipping. Plans for a naval base at Weimar or Stralsund were plotted until 1630, when Sweden’s entry into the Thirty Years’ War put paid to these plans.
Olivares was a bold global strategist who was willing to gamble for high stakes. If the Dutch western connection through the Channel could be cut, it would ruin them as much as if their Baltic lifeline were severed. In 1621, Olivares allocated 20,000 ducats to the improvement of Dunkirk and the building of 20 galleons there. The plan was to have 40 galleons at Dunkirk by January 1636. This was possible since the Spanish shipyards, despite shortages of money and skilled labour, were building 50 vessels per year during the 1620s and 1630s. Operating from Dunkirk, Spanish privateers took a heavy and steady toll on Dutch shipping and on the North Sea fisheries, hitting the Dutch in their pockets – their most vulnerable point.

The Downs 1638: Spain’s Final Gamble
By 1638, the Dutch – isolated and hopelessly divided – seemed ripe for the plucking. Olivares planned to crush the Dutch in a pincer between Cardinal Infante’s regulars in Belgium, advancing north of the Meuse-Rhine, and an amphibious landing on the Holland coast. Using Dunkirk as a base for this invasion fleet, the Spanish would send 20,000 men in specially built barges with blunt ends, shallow draughts, 12 guns and a capacity to carry 150 musketeers. Orders were issued for the already overstretched yards to begin mass producing the landing barges. Through their agents, the Dutch soon learnt what Olivares was planning and they laid siege to Dunkirk – the lynchpin of all the Count-Duke’s schemes for total victory. Olivares’ plan may have been bold but it was overly dependent on that single Channel port and it overestimated Spain’s sea power. Both errors were to prove fatal.

Battle of the Downs 1638
This most important of sea battles signalled the ascendancy of the Dutch as the world’s greatest naval power, yet it has often been overlooked. Dutch Admiral Maarten Tromp managed, despite overwhelming odds, to defeat the Spanish fleet off the French coast. Admiral de Oquendo fled with his ships for the dubious safety of Spain’s former enemy, England, at the Downs. After waiting for reinforcements, and realizing that the Spanish would not come out to give battle, Tromp attacked on 21 October. Firing quick rounds and coming in close for a kill, his crews trusted in their audacity against an inexperienced enemy. The Spanish ships were raked with shot, and Tromp then unleashed his fireships with devastating results.The Santa Theresa, flagship of Admiral de Hoces, exploded, taking both the admiral and his crew to the bottom of the sea. Oquendo managed to escape with the remains of his fleet and delivered some, though not all, of the promised troops to the Cardinal-Infante’s army in Flanders.

In July 1639, Olivares concentrated the largest Armada since 1588 under the command of Admiral Antonio de Oquendo. This was a far from ideal choice since the Dutch had worsted him back in 1631 and he was up against an old sea dog, the Lieutenant Admiral of Holland, Maarten Tromp. Tromp had crushed the Spanish at Gravelines in 1588, and he now proceeded to blockade Dunkirk.

Again Olivares’ plans were on a grand scale. Oquendo’s great Armada would sweep up the Channel, defeat the Dutch Navy, relieve Dunkirk and prepare the way for an invasion of Holland. A fleet of 24 galleons assembled at Cadiz under Oquendo, while 63 vessels gathered under Vice Admiral Lope de Hoces at Corunna. A total of 30 transports (including 7 hired English ships) were to carry 8500 troops to Flanders. This Armada was numerically smaller than the one in 1588 (in both ships and men). But the Spanish had learnt the bitter lessons of that tragic year: their galleons had proper gunports, trained crews well able to use their guns and, above all, plenty of artillery. The galleons were faster, better equipped and more heavily gunned than in any previous Spanish fleet. Oquendo set sail on 6 September.

Dutch cruisers spotted this vast Armada of 77 warships and 55 transports just off Selsey Bill in the western approaches of the Channel.The signal was given to prepare for battle.Tromp had only 17 vessels but did not hesitate to attack. The Spanish Armada held good order, waiting to fire until the Dutch were close enough. With superior numbers and a favourable wind, Oquendo was sure he would win. The Spanish fought with customary fervour and at the mouth of the Somme managed to surround the Dutch. However, a number of Spanish ships, including Oquendo’s flagship Santiago, were badly damaged by Dutch fire. Conscious that his fleet’s first priority was to protect the Spanish troops, Oquendo signalled his captains to retreat.The fleet sailed northwards and took refuge at the anchorage of the Downs on the English coast.

Though theoretically neutral, the pro-Dutch English played extremely reluctant hosts to their guests, who were charged through the nose for supplies. The hesitant and self-doubting Oquendo meanwhile agonized over whether to remain while his ships were repaired – giving the Dutch time to grow stronger – or to make a run for Dunkirk.Tromp made better use of his time. Dutch naval reinforcements, both warships and armed merchantmen, were pouring in and when he had more than 100 vessels, Tromp decided to attack. He detached 30 ships under Admiral Witte de With to keep Admiral Sir John Penington’s hovering English fleet at bay, and on 21 October gave the signal to attack.

A descending fog gave Tromp’s battle line, sailing bow to stern, good cover as it came upon the enemy, taking the Spanish by surprise. The Dutch had small, compact warships but good artillery and crews to handle the guns. Generally, the Dutch relied on aggressive close-quarter fighting, sometimes boarding, and the liberal, deadly use of fireships. Given the Spanish superiority in weight, in the height of ships’ sides, in artillery and, above all, in armed crews, Tromp decided to keep a prudent distance. He had 96 warships and 12 fireships. His own flagship, Aemelia, had a mere 46 guns. Like sheep in a pen, the Spanish vessels huddled around Oquendo’s Santiago and the Portuguese flagship Santa Theresa as the Dutch sea wolves bore down. The thick fog made it difficult to distinguish friend from foe and many a Spanish ship fired into the massed ranks of their own fleet.The Dutch moved closer, firing at close range and raking the crowded Spanish decks with deadly shot.The Santiago was so riddled with shot that it looked, the Dutch joked, like a colander.

Tromp now played his ace. Against a disorganized and unnerved enemy whose commander had lost control over his large fleet, the Dutch unleashed the dreaded fireships. These wreaked havoc within the tightly massed ranks of the enemy. Among their victims was the Santa Theresa, which caught fire and blew up with all men on board, including Admiral Hoces.

Oquendo fled with whatever ships he could muster, including the Santiago, to the Belgian coast. It was Spain’s last throw of the dice and the gamble had failed. Spain’s once mighty navy was a shadow of its former self and the Dutch, thanks to Tromp and his intrepid Dutchmen, now ruled the waves.



Tenochtitlán, June 30, 1521

One of the central episodes of the 1520s was, of course, the taking of the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlán—today’s Mexico City—by the Spanish conquistador Hernan Cortés. The question most asked is how so few men could topple an entire kingdom. One answer is that the Spanish force, perhaps 900 men in all, was joined by nearly 100,000 Indian allies, all eager to destroy their hated Aztec oppressors. Disease has never been a respecter of historical odds. Smallpox, which the Spanish brought with them, killed off 40 percent of the population of Mexico in a year, including one Aztec king. But Cortés, who was undoubtedly a remarkable soldier and a born opportunist, was also extraordinarily lucky. As Ross Hassig points out, “There are no shortage of plausible turning points for the Conquest.” Several times the Spanish could have been stopped or annihilated in battle. Like Alexander the Great, Cortés himself missed death only because of the intervention of one of his men—who was killed as he managed to save his leader. Had Cortés been captured, he would have been sacrificed soon after, and the conquest would have crumbled. Once again we are reminded of the heavy-handed role of time and chance.

The question that is almost never asked is: What would have happened if Cortés had been killed or if his expedition had failed? Would the Spanish, as Theodore K. Rabb suggested in the previous chapter, have turned their acquisitive instincts elsewhere—North Africa, for instance? Would another attempt at conquest have been more successful? Would Christianity have been able to make inroads, even if the soldiers of Spain could not? What about the practice of human sacrifice? What sort of nation would have evolved from the Aztec Kingdom? And down the road, what effect would a large and totally Native American nation have had on the growth of the United States?

Cortés and his men leapt across the breach in the causeway to pursue the fleeing Aztecs, only to see them turn and attack. Drawn into the trap, Cortés and sixty-eight other Spaniards were captured and dragged off, leaving scores of others dead on the road. Ten captives were killed immediately and their severed heads were thrown back over the front lines, sowing consternation among the disheartened Spaniards. The remaining fifty-eight were taken to the towering Great Temple, which could plainly be seen from the Spaniards’ camps, made to dance before the statue of the Aztec god of war, Huitzilopochtli, and then, one by one, they were sacrificed. Their hearts were torn out and their faces and hands flayed so they could be tanned and sent among the wavering towns as a warning. Cortés escaped this fate only through the intervention of Cristóbal de Olea, who sprang to his defense, killed the four Aztecs who were dragging him off, and freed his leader at the cost of his own life. The very conquest of Mexico hung on this single act.

The final military event in the conquest of Mexico was the Aztec surrender on August 13, 1521, after the Spaniards broke through the last defenses and fought their way into the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlán. The city lay in ruins and, for four days, the Spaniards’ Indian allies continued to attack the defeated Aztecs, looting the houses and killing thousands. But the events of the Spanish conquest did not have to unfold as they did. There were many points when decisive actions by various individuals, misadventure, or poor decisions could have drastically altered the outcome of the conquest as we know it.

Mesoamerica was discovered by Francisco Hernández de Córdoba, who landed in Yucatan in 1517, where he clashed with the Maya and was ultimately repulsed with devastating losses. This expedition was followed by a second in 1518, under Juan de Grijalva, who also clashed with the Maya but who sailed beyond Yucatan and up the gulf coast to central Veracruz, where he encountered the Aztecs. Even before Grijalva’s return, Governor Velázquez of Cuba authorized a third expedition under Hernán Cortés, but when he later tried to relieve him, Cortés abruptly set sail and reached Yucatan in early 1519 with as many as 450 men. If Governor Velázquez had succeeded in removing Cortés from command before the expedition’s departure, the conquest would have been stillborn.

But having slipped out of Velázquez’s grasp, Cortés followed the route of the first two expeditions until he reached Grijalva’s anchorage on the central Veracruz coast. There, Cortés was greeted by Aztec officials bearing food and gifts, but when the Spaniards refused to accede to Aztec requests to move their camp, the emissaries left. Had the Aztecs met the Spaniards with massive force, again the conquest would have been aborted or forestalled. But they did not, and once they abandoned the Spaniards on the coast, the local tribe, called the Totonacs, established contact and eventually allied with them. The Totonac king could do this because the Aztec empire relied on conquest or intimidation to subdue opponents, and left the local rulers in place. No imperial offices or officeholders were imposed to hold the system together, so this system was also vulnerable to shifts in the local power balance that could quickly and easily alter allegiances. The Spanish arrival was such a change and the Totonacs seized on it.

Having achieved the goals of exploration, contact, and trade, as authorized by Governor Velázquez, many of Cortés’s men wanted to return to Cuba. Had they left, Cortés would have had too few men to continue and, once again, the conquest would have failed. However, Cortés founded the town of Villa Rica de la Vera Cruz a few miles north of present-day Veracruz, appointed a city council under the claimed authority of King Charles V of Spain, which then declared that Velázquez’s authority had lapsed, and elected Cortés as captain directly under the king; he was now free from the governor’s constraints. To gain royal support, Cortés dispatched a ship to Spain with all the gold they had gathered thus far as a gift to the king. To keep his men from deserting, he scuttled the ten remaining ships, giving his men little option but to follow him. Leaving 60 to 150 men in the fort at Vera Cruz, Cortés marched inland with 300 Spanish soldiers, 40 to 50 Totonacs, and 200 porters.

En route to Tenochtitlán, the Spaniards neared the province of Tlaxcallan (Tlaxcala), where they advanced to capture a small party of armed Indians. But they were drawn into an ambush and were saved only by their superior firepower. Attacked repeatedly in the days that followed, the Spaniards suffered many wounded; their supplies were running low. Recognizing that he faced an overwhelming hostile force, Cortés sent repeated peace entreaties to the Tlaxcaltecs. The two sides eventually forged an alliance. The Tlaxcaltecs could have defeated the Spaniards, and had they continued the battle, as their commander wanted, Cortés’s adventure would have ended. But the Tlaxcaltecs had their own reasons for allying with the Spaniards. They had been engaged in a long-term war with the Aztecs and, completely encircled and cut off, their defeat was only a matter of time. The coming of the Spanish offered them an unforeseen way to win. A major tactic in Mesoamerican battles was to breach the opposing lines and turn the enemies’ flanks, which was very difficult to do. But Spanish cannons, the matchlock muskets called harquebuses, crossbows, and horsemen could disrupt enemy lines and, though the Spaniards were too few to exploit these breaches, the Tlaxcaltecs were not. Spanish arms greatly multiplied the effectiveness of the Tlaxcaltec army.

The Spaniards stayed in Tlaxcallan for seventeen days before marching to the province of Cholollan (Cholula). Though welcomed by the Chololtecs, Cortés claimed he learned of a plot to attack him with Aztec help: He assembled the nobles in the main courtyard and massacred them. His reason does not ring true. Cholollan had recently switched their allegiance from Tlaxcallan to the Aztecs, so a Spanish attack was a way to resolve a political problem. A new king was chosen and Cholollan re-allied with Tlaxcallan. Two weeks later, Cortés marched into the Valley of Mexico and reached Tenochtitlán on November 8. He was greeted by Moteuczoma (Montezuma) and housed in the palace of his deceased father, Axayacatl, who had been the king from 1468 to 1481.

An enormous island-city of at least 200,000, Tenochtitlán was connected to the mainland by three major causeways that could be quickly severed. Recognizing the precariousness of his position, Cortés seized Moteuczoma within a week of his arrival, held him captive, and ruled through him for the next eight months.

When Governor Velázquez learned of Cortés’s perfidy, he dispatched Pánfilo de Narváez with a fleet of nineteen ships and over eight hundred soldiers to Vera Cruz to capture him. But on learning of his arrival, Cortés marched to the coast with 266 men in late May and, aided by duplicity and judicious bribery, defeated Narváez.

Meanwhile, Pedro de Alvarado, who had been left in Tenochtitlán with eighty soldiers, claimed he had learned of an Aztec plot to attack them, placed artillery at the four entrances of the walled courtyard of the Great Temple, and then massacred an estimated eight to ten thousand unarmed Aztec nobles trapped inside. Word of the massacre spread throughout the city, the populace attacked, killed seven Spaniards, wounded many others, and besieged them in their quarters. When Cortés learned of the uprising, he began the return march with a force now numbering over 1,300 Spaniards and 2,000 Tlaxcaltecs, and reached Tenochtitlán on June 24.

Once he was inside the city, the Aztecs raised the causeway bridges and the Spaniards were apparently trapped. With their supplies dwindling and unable to fight or negotiate their way out, Cortés took Moteuczoma onto the roof to order his people to stop the attack, but to no avail, and the king was ultimately killed, either by stones thrown from the Indian throng or by his Spanish captors.

Cortés ordered portable wooden spans built to bridge the gaps in the causeways and, during a heavy rainstorm just before midnight on June 30, the Spaniards began their escape. They were quickly discovered, and only a third of the force got away. Cortés reached Tlaxcallan, but not until he had lost over 865 Spaniards and more than a thousand Tlaxcaltecs. Had the Aztecs assailed the fleeing Spaniards immediately and continuously, few if any would have survived. The 440 surviving Spaniards rested for three weeks and then, in early August, marched again and conquered nearby Aztec tributary cities.

The Indians now faced a new, nonmilitary threat. Smallpox arrived with Narváez’s expedition and swept though central Mexico, killing some 40 percent of the population of Mexico in a year, including Moteuczoma’s successor, King Cuitlahua, who ruled for only eighty days. Because the epidemic devastated both the Aztecs and their Indian opponents, depopulation does not, of itself, account for the conquest. But it did produce political disruption: The death of Cuitlahua meant that with the accession of his successor, Cuauhtemoc, the Aztecs had three kings in less than six months.

The first time Cortés entered Tenochtitlán, he had been trapped inside; now he sought to reverse that situation and ordered the construction of thirteen brigantines in Tlaxcallan, using the rigging salvaged from the ships he sank at Vera Cruz. There was an intermittent influx of arrivals from the coast throughout the conquest, and Cortés’s forces had grown to 40 horsemen and 550 Spanish foot soldiers. Accompanied by 10,000 Tlaxcaltec soldiers, Cortés began his return march to the Valley of Mexico.

But Cortés’s first major victory there was political. Since 1515, Tetzcoco, the second most important city of the empire, had been politically divided over who should succeed to the throne. Cacama took the throne with strong Aztec support, but another contender, Ixtlilxochitl, fought a civil war, conquered the area north of Tetzcoco, which he then ruled in an uneasy accommodation with Tenochtitlán. When Cortés entered the valley, Ixtlilxochitl seized the opportunity to ally with him, and the reigning king of Tetzcoco fled. Ixtlilxochitl’s support gave the Spaniards a strong foothold for their attack and provided a secure logistical base. Cortés won the allegiance of disaffected cities in the valley and fought a series of battles with the Aztecs. But since Tenochtitlán was supplied by canoe, Cortés had to control the lake. When the timbers being cut in Tlaxcallan reached Tetzcoco around the first of February, the Spaniards began assembling the brigantines. On April 28, 1521, Cortés launched his ships—each over forty feet long, with twelve oarsmen, twelve crossbowmen or harquebusiers, a captain, and an artilleryman for its bow-mounted cannon. Supported by thousands of Indian canoes, they barricaded Tenochtitlán and cut off its flow of food and water.

The Spaniards now numbered just over 900, and those not on the brigantines were divided into three armies of fewer than 200 Spaniards each and “supported” by 20,000 to 30,000 Indian troops each. On May 22, Pedro de Alvarado led one army to Tlacopan, while Cristóbal de Olid marched to Coyohuacan, and Gonzalo de Sandoval went to Ixtlapalapan. Cutting off three of the major routes into Tenochtitlán, the Spaniards attacked along the causeways, whose narrowness allowed them to concentrate their firepower. The Aztecs responded by building barricades and assaulting the Spaniards on both sides from canoes. But Cortés then breached the causeways, sailed his ships through, and drove off the enemy canoes. In response, the Aztecs limited the ships’ movements by planting sharpened stakes in the lake floor to impale them.

There is no shortage of plausible turning points for the conquest and the examples are far from exhausted by those already suggested. But the likeliest such point, involving the fewest alterations in historical events, took place on June 30, 1521. The Spaniards and their Indian allies had been assaulting the causeways that linked Tenochtitlán to the shore for more than a month. The battles were back-and-forth struggles during which the Aztecs built barricades, removed bridge spans, and destroyed portions of the causeway, both to delay the Spanish advance and as tactical ploys. When the Spaniards crossed these breaches, the Aztecs often redoubled their efforts and trapped them when they could neither easily retreat nor be reinforced. To avoid this, Cortés ordered that no breaches were to be crossed until they had been filled. But, on June 30, when the Aztec defenses seemed to crumble in the heat of battle, the Spaniards crossed an unfilled breech on the Tlacopan causeway. Their ploy having succeeded, the Aztecs turned, trapped the attackers against the breach, took sixty-eight Spaniards captive and killed many more. The captives were all sacrificed and, fearing a shift in the tide of war, most of Cortés’s allies left. Though the Spaniards ultimately survived this reversal and their allies eventually returned, it could easily have been otherwise.


Hispano HA-200

Serge Jamois

The Hispano HA-200 Saeta was a 1950s Spanish two-seat advanced jet trainer produced by Hispano Aviación. It was later developed into the Hispano Aviación Ha-220 “Super Saeta” which was given an attack capability.

The Hispano HA-200 Saeta is a twin-engined two-seat jet trainer aircraft produced by the Spanish manufacturer Hispano Aviación, developed with help of the famous Willy Messerschmitt. The HA-200 was operated by the Spanish Air Force (designation: E.14) and the Egypt Air Force. The HA-220 Saeta is a single-seat ground-attack aircraft variant for the Spanish Air Force (designation: C.10 & A.10).

Helwan of Egypt produced 90 HA-200B, designated Helwan HA-200B Al-Kahira, for the Egypt Air Force under license.

Hispano HA-200 Saeta and HA-220 Super Saeta (Spain) First flown in 1955, the Saeta is an advanced flying and instrument trainer and is currently operated by the air forces of Spain (designated E. 14) and Egypt. The HA-200A was the initial production version for Spanish service, powered by two 3.92 kN (880 lb st) Turbomeca Marbore IIA turbojet engines and armed with two 7.62 mm machine-guns and underwing rockets. The HA-200B is similar but armed with one 20 mm cannon. This version was produced for Egyptian service, being built in Spain and under license in Egypt as the Al-Kahira. The improved HA-200D for Spanish use has uprated equipment and heavier armament. The HA-220 Super Saeta was first flown in 1970 and is a single-seat specialised ground attack version powered by two 4.71 kN (1,058 lb st) Marbore VI turbojet engines. It is operated by the Spanish Air Force as the C. 10-C. Data (HA-220 Super Saeta): Engines as above Wing span (over tip-tanks) 10.93 m (35 ft 10 in) Length 8.97 m (29 ft 5 in) Max T-0 weight 3.700 kg (8,157 1b) Max level speed 700 km/h (435 mph) Range 1,700 km (1,055 miles) Armament can be equipped with a variety of guns, rockets and bombs on two under fuselage and four underwing attachments.