The Spanish Navy 1688-1715

Spanish Navy
Spanish ship of the line Nuestra Senora de la concepcion y de las animas
Nuestra Señora de la concepcion y de las
Ánimas painted by Martín Amigo in 1690
the first proven Spanish 3-decker
History of the ship at

1 Before the Nine Years War

1.1 General decline of the Spanish Navy

Spain had a long naval tradition, but by the end of the 17th century the navy had become weak by neglect and mismanagement. During the Nine Years War and the War of the Spanish Succession the Spanish Navy was so small that all its attention seemed to go to bringing in the Treasure Fleets. It is true that the Treasure fleets were its most important objective, but the Spanish navy did do more than that. What I want to do on this page, is to aggregate some lesser known details and to paint a more detailed picture.

1.2 Declining number of ships

During the Franco-Dutch War (1672-1678) the Spanish Navy proved unable to keep a grasp on the Mediterranean. It fought as a junior partner in the indecisive Battle of Stromboli (January 1676), the indecisive Battle of Augusta (April 1676) and the lost Battle of Palermo (June 1676). During the last battle the Spanish had about 10 ships of the Line, while the Dutch brought 13 and 4 smaller ones. These had to fight 28 French ships of the line and 1 smaller. These numbers prove that the Spanish Navy had slipped to a position where it could only act if the French were engaged elsewhere, or foreign fleets came to help them in the Mediterranean.

1.3 French claim sovereignty in the Mediterranean

During the War of the Reunions, the Spanish navy was unable to act against the French bombarding its ally Genoa into submission with the Bombardment of Genoa (1684). That same year a fleet of 27 Spanish and Genoese galleys was unable to capture the single French ship of the line Le Bon of 66 guns 400 men. The Bon lost the merchants it escorted, but escaped to Livorno with 2 dead and 50 wounded OHC 5 Aug 1684.

On 23 August 1684, only 10 days after the treaty that led to a cessation of hostilities in the War of the Reunions, France dispatched a squadron to the Straits with orders that aimed to change the terms of this treaty. Tourville was ordered to demand a salute by the Spanish ships before he saluted them, and to fight them if they refused. Tourville stayed at sea in November to find the Spanish Admiral and to make him salute the French first OHC 11 Nov 1684. In 1685 the Marquis de Preuilly also forced the Spanish to greet him first Mémoires de Marquis de Villette. In 1686 the French extended their intimidation campaign by arresting the Dutch warships of Van Ewyck and Manard in full peace, which led to a fight.

Just how far the French were willing to go became clear in a saluting incident in 1688. The Chevalier Tourville, French VA with 3 ships met Admiral Papachino with 2 ships. The French insisted that the should greet them, because they were with more. The Spanish insisted on the contrary because Papachino was an admiral. OHC 01 July 1688 On 2 June two Spanish ships under Papachino OHC 8 July 1688 transporting troops from Malaga to Oran got into a saluting conflict with 3 French ships 6-7 miles from Alicante. This led to a fight in which the Spanish fought for 4 hours and got 80 killed and over 100 badly wounded. The fight ending when the Spanish agreed to salute the French OHC 6 July 1688.

2 The Spanish Navy in the Nine Years War

2.1 Some Spanish ships and activity

Spanish fleet list for 1691
Ship Guns theater
Conception y las Animas90 Ocean Not namedEquipping in Biscay
De Hoop 70 Med. Hoop / Esperanza
Karel II Cap. Vlaanderen70 Med. Carel II
Drie Koningen 70 Ocean Los tres Reyes
St. Jacob Alcala 70 Ocean
Koninklijke Admiraal 62 Med. Perhaps the St. Rosa?
OLV Atoche 60 Med. NS d'Atocha
St. Pieter Alcantara 60 Med. St Pedro de Alcantara
St. Thomas Villa-Nueva 60 Ocean
St. Theresa van Jesus 60 Ocean Theresa de Jesus
St. Jheronimus van Napels60 Ocean St Geronimo
St. Dominicus van Napels54 Ocean St. Domingo
St. Jan van Oostenrijk 56 Ocean
St. Ignatius 50 Med. St. Ignacio
St. Francisco d'Assisi 50 Med. Francisco
St. Thomas Aquino 50 Med. St. Thomas d'Aquino
St. Laurens 50 Med. St. Lorenzo
Ship 2 in Biscay ? Ocean Not namedEquipping in Biscay
Ship 3 in Biscay ? Ocean Not namedEquipping in Biscay
't Sacrament 34 Ocean
Een Petache van Castilia26 Med.
St. Theresa van Napels 24 Ocean Theresa de Napoles
Een Pink 20 Med. St. August (prob.)

In early October 1688 Matheo de la Haye made a voyage with 6 ships in order to support the garrison of Oran. These returned on 12 November 1688 OHC 23 Dec 1688.

In December 1687 4-5 warships were getting prepared to sail with 2,000 soldiers to Terra Firma OHC 6 January 1688. These sailed only in June 1688 OHC 17 August 1688. The Dutch merchant Stad Sevilla of Govert Visser had been bought and would be the Petache of the fleet. The Zeeland ship of Pieter Meyster was bought and would be the Advice yacht OHC 19 June 1688.

On 27 June 1689 the warship San Lorenzo arrived in Cadiz from Terra Firma, and last Havana. After sailing for 14 days a thunderstorm had separated it from 3 warships, a Fluyt and an advice yacht from New Spain. These arrived a few days later, but the Admiral or Capitana and a captured smuggling ship remained behind OHC 30 July 1689. On 5 July the Capitana arrived with the prize OHC 13 August 1689.

In August 1690 12 warships and 3 burners were getting equipped in Cadiz, and two warships in Biscay. They were to cruise for the fleet from new Spain and the galleons OHC 26 August 1690

In late 1690 Spain tried to get the new three-decker N.S. de la Concepcion y de las Animas, that had been launched elsewhere, but was being finished in Santona, to sail from Santona to Cadiz. 'On 11 October the Spanish Admiral on a beautiful ship of 92 guns and over 200 men left together with 2 ships of 70 guns each. But he returned due to contrary wind.' OHC 7 November 1690. The page about the ship has that the St. Juan and St. Carlos were escorting it. An attempt to sail in late October failed, and the 3 ships had to winter in Santona because of some lacking necessities OHC 21 November 1690 and AC 21 November 1690 explicitly speaking about 3 big Spanish warships.

On 26 May 1691 the Armada ships Don Carlos and St. Ignatius arrived in Cadiz from Biscay AC 30 June 1691 On 10 June 1691 the Armada ships San Carlos and San Juan left Cadiz for Barcelona OHC 14 July 1691 With only a Carlos II appearing in the list for 1691, it seems that the San Carlos was one of the 2 other ships in Biscay in early 1691. On 8 October 3 ships from Biscay were expected in Cadiz OHC 6 November 1691. On 16 September 1691 a 'new Spanish Admiral arrived from passage and kept cruising', which was almost certainly the Conception, because it was mentioned as 'from Biscay'. On 21 September the 'Conception and St Rosa' arrived back from Ceuta, almost certainly the warships of that name. The pink was named as St. August OHC 20 October 1691. On 13 October the Armada returned from Barcelona, and on 15 October it left 'with the new admiral (i.e. the ship of the admiral)' to cruise for the Gallions OHC 20 November 1691

Spanish fleet actualy named as sailing
ShipCaptain guns builtFurther activity
Hoop Antonio Ramos 1) 70 Flag of d'Aguilar 1691
St. Rosa Mateo de la Haya 1) 62? VA Salmono
Los tres Reyes Juan de Sturiaga 1) 70
NS d'Atocha Pedro Ponze de Leon 1) 60 blown up early Nov. 1691
St. Ignacio Andres de Yssasi 1) 50
Theresa de JesusJuan de Ojeda 1) 60
Theresa de NapolesBarthelome Bont 1) 24
St Pedro de AlcantaraMatheo Mas RA 1) 60
St Geronimo Alexandro Norengue 1) 60
St. Domingo Joseph Valoer 1) 54
2 unnamed burners 1)
Carel II Papachino 2) 70
Francisco Juan de Nestares 2) 50
St. Lorenzo Alonzo Fernandez de Cordoba 2)50
St. Thomas d'AquinoMelendo Suarez 2) 50
St. August Rodrigo Pardo 2) 20?
Mater Dolorosa Peter van Hetrik 2) A 'pink' from Oostende
San Carlos 3)
San Juan 3)
1) left Cadiz OHC 14 Aug 1691
2) left Cadiz 28 April 1691 OHC 2 June 1691
3) left Cadiz for Barcelona 10 June 1691 OHC 14 July 1691

2.2 1691: A successful campaign

In early 1691 the Spanish published a list of 23 ships they were going to equip. Some doubted that this would succeed, but by cross reference with ships actually at sea, this succeeded quite well. We give the list because it allows some double check on ship names and guns.

On 28 April 1691 Honorato Bonifacio Papachino left Cadiz with 5 warships and a pink to bring troops to Barcelona OHC 2 June 1691 The 3,000 troops were landed in Barcelona in early June.

On 11 July the Spanish main fleet under d'Aguilar left Cadiz with 10 ships and 2 burners. Also in July 1691 a French fleet of 8 warships and 6 frigates as well as 23 galleys bombarded Barcelona. The Spanish main fleet that had orders to watch for the Treasure fleet, then got orders to sail east and to battle the French. On 20 July it passed Cadiz, and on 23 July AC 28 August 1691 is was united with Papachino's squadron united before Malaga AC 14 August 1691.

On 22 July the French then started an attack on Alicante, which lasted till the 29th. Having information of the approach of the Spanish fleet, the French then retreated AC 28 August 1691. D'Aguilar then continued to Barcelona OHC 25 September 1691. Whatever the exact circumstances or the numbers of ships involved in these actions, the Spanish fleet proved it could reliably execute missions while the bulk of the French fleet was in another theatre.

The Spanish main then got back to its main task, and sailed back to catch up with the Treasure fleet. On 6 October the armada passed Alicante OHC 6 November 1691. Also in early October the armada passed Malaga on its way back to Cadiz OHC 6 November 1691. On 15 October the armada left Cadiz to cruise near Cape St. Vincent OHC 20 November 1691.

On 30 October 1691 the treasure fleet from the Americas began to arrive in Cadiz. On 31 October 2 gallions came in, but 3 others only came in on 4 November, due to adverse winds. This was a tense situation, because a French fleet of 13-15 ships and 2 burners had been in sight of the Spanish fleet on 28 October. D'Aguilar had sent two of his best sailing ships, the D'Atocha and the Tres Reyes, to reconnoitre, but the Atocha landed in the middle of the French fleet, and was taken after fierce resistance OHC 4 Dec 1691.

2.3 1691: Comparing the Spanish with French

The French and Spanish main battle fleets in 1691
Size FrenchSpanish
100+ guns   2
90+ guns   3 1
80+ guns 12
70+ guns 14 4
60+ guns 26 6
50 guns 11 8
Total: 68 19

Having the list of 1691 for both Spain and France, we can make a comparison of the Spanish fleet to the French main battle fleet in the Channel, which was the strongest at sea in 1691. Note that therefore many French ships are not in this list. This goes especially for all their 40 gun ships, 4 ships of the line in Toulon, and 6 ships of 50-60 in Dunkirk.

The conclusion of this somewhat detailed comparison is that the Spanish fleet was no match for the French. Not in numbers, and also not in quality. The power was not something like 70:20, but far worse for Spain, more like 100:20.

However, it also shows something else. France could hardly challenge the Alliance in the Channel, and the Spanish in the Mediterranean at the same time. For that it would have to send a detachment to the Mediterranean that would significantly weaken its ability to challenge the alliance in the Channel, and by 1691 its main battle fleet was already weaker than that of the alliance.

2.4 1692: A fight near A Coruna

Spanish ships near A Coruna 1692
Ship Captain guns built Comment
San Juan **** 62 Taken to La Rochelle**
San LorenzoA.F. de Cordoba***50***
San Carlos ****
San Felipe
Ship names from: OHC 09 Sep 1692
** From Gazette de Lyon 9 Sep 1692
*** In 1691: OHC 02 June 1691
**** In 1691: OHC 14 July 1691 from Cadiz to Barcelona
French ships near A Coruna 1692
Ship* Captain* guns built Further activity
Le Neptune La Cassinière 50
Le Vermandois De Levi 60
Le François De Beaugeais Le Goux 52
* From Gazette de Lyon 9 Sep 1692

In early August 1692 4 small Spanish ships of the line that escorted a fleet of 8 merchants near A Coruna, several of the ships loaded with shipping supplies. On 5 August 1692 this convoy encountered a small French fleet. After some fighting 3 of the Spanish warships left the San Juan alone. It was captured and brought to La Rochelle.

Three of the warships later arrived in Cadiz with 1 merchant ship, the other were supposed to have taken refuge somewhere. An appraisal of the outcome might be a bit more difficult than it is at first sight. The San Juan was loaded with cables for the Treasure Fleet. It might very well be that there was a specific order to get to Cadiz at all cost. The fleet to New Spain indeed sailed soon after.

The battle was nevertheless a very disappointing battle for the Spanish Navy. High over, 4 Spanish ships had lost from 3 comparable French ships. It pointed to a problem with either the men or the ships, and probably both. Dutch observers speculated that the 3 Spanish captains would get punished for leaving the other, thus blaiming the failure on a lack of courage. The real cause might be inexperienced crews on bad ships. It might have been impossible to get the ships to fight.

3 The Spanish Navy in the War of the Spanish Succession

There is a statement about the situation of the Spanish navy at the beginning of the war of the Spanish Succession. It is that the Spanish had forgotten how to build warships and only knew how to build merchantmen for the Indies and the Americas1. It furthermore stated that the Spanish fleet consisted of six galleys anchored at Cathagena, rotten by time and inactivity, 6 galleys rented at Genova and 1 more, for a grand total of 13 galleys2.

For the Spanish navy at Vigo there are two different accounts: The first one is: Jesus Maria Joseph of 70 guns commanded by General Don Manuel de Velasco; La Buffona 54 guns, commanded by admiral Don Joseph Chacon; La Capitana de Assogos 45 guns commanded by Don Fernando Chacon3. In another account these consisted of: Notre Dame de la Marice 36 guns; La Trinité 34 guns and La Capitana 50 guns4. I hold the first one to be true. There were also 15 gallions, 3 large merchant vessels and 2 other merchant ships.

Spanish fleet 2nd rates
ShipCaptain guns builtFurther activity
Nuestra Señora de la concepcion y de las Ánimas 94 b1690 Santanderbu Cadiz 1705
Santisima Trinidad 80/96 b1692 bu 1706
Spanish fleet others
ShipCaptain guns builtFurther activity
Jesus Maria Joseph Don Manuel de Velasco 70 Sunk at Vigo
Santa Maria 70 captures in the siege of Oostende page 510 clowes
Capitana? 64? beached March 17045
Porta Coeli? 60 captured March 17046
Santa Teresa? 60 captured March 17047
La Buffona Don Joseph Chacon 54 Sunk at Vigo
La Capitana de AssogosDon Fernando Chacon 45 Sunk at Vigo
San Nicolas ? 24 armed merchantmancaptured March 17048

4 Notes

1) Bacallar y Siena in the French translation, Amsterdam 1756 Volume 1 page 102: 'On avoit oublié l'art de construire les vaisseaux; le roi n'avoit que ceux qui faisoient le commerce des Indes & quelques Gallions: six Galeres consumées par le tems & par l'inaction étoient á l'ancre á Carthagene. Telles étoient les forces de l'Espagne, & les préparatifs d'une guerre inévitable...'.
2) Bacallar y Siena in the French translation, Amsterdam 1756 Volume 1 page 103 in combination with page 102.
3) Europische Mercurius under January 1703, page 83 for these names of the 3 Spanish warships.
4) Europische Mercurius under January 1703, page 99 for these names of the 3 Spanish warships.
5) De Jong Nederlands Zeewezen page 633, has that on 7 March 1704 Baron Wassenaer Starrenburgh with the Gelderland (64) encountered a Spanish ship of equal strength, believed to be the Capitana of the fleet returning from Buenos Aires. After a long fight its captain put it ashore west of Cape St. Mary and thus wrecked it.
6,7,8) De Jong Nederlands Zeewezen page 633 has that while cruising south of Cape Spartel the Zeeland privateer Willem Credo discovered 5 Spanish ships of which two with 60 guns and one with 26, and informed Rooke, who sent 5 English ones to chase. Laird Clowes page 506 has that George Rooke had ordered RA Thomas Dilkes to chase to the south-west with the Kent (70); Bedford (70) and Antelope (50). On 12 (/22?) March 1704 they took the Porta Coeli; Santa Teresa and San Nicolas.