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The Spanish Navy 1700-1800


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Hello folks,


A few years ago, I was drifting through the aisles of "Half Price Books" in Austin, TX when I came across a copy of this book in the military history section:




I paused, due to a fascination with military history passed on by my father and maternal grandfather, both former military members themselves.  I especially loved naval military history, and couldn't pass up a chance to read a book about the other side at Trafalgar.  I skimmed through the book, there was more to read than I had time for, plus I didn't have the funds to purchase the book if I did want it, but I'm a decent speed-reader, so I read what I could and found that I really wanted the book.  It's quite an excellent read for anyone who wants to know more about the Spanish Navy in the years leading up to Trafalgar.

A little about the author, taken from the author description on the inside of the book:


John D. Harbron

John D Harbron is/was a Foreign Affairs Analyst for the Thomson Group of newspapers in Canada, specialising in Caribbean and Latin American affairs.  He served in the Royal Canadian Navy during the Korean War and later worked for the Department of National Defence in Ottawa.  A fluent Spanish speaker, whose postgraduate work was done at the University of Havana, he has been decorated by the government of Spain for his written contributions to Hispanic American studies.


As to the book itself:   "it is the first English language book to look at Spanish naval forces in the century before Trafalgar, and provides a long overdue reassessment of the aims and achievements of the service.  Following a brief overview of the factors which shaped development and the main maritime events, more detailed chapters cover Spanish warship design and construction and the much-maligned officer corps, concluding with sections on the battle itself and its significance to Spain."


I need to sketch out a rough draft for a summary of the book, or at least parts of it, but I did take some pictures/scans of paintings, drawings, and important information concerning the Spanish Navy with my phone and will post them here in the meantime.  Any questions, just ask and I'll see if I can find the answers in the book.

Lastly, BUY THE BOOK, it's well worth the read!



List of Spanish Ships of the Line (1714-1825)













Spanish Shipyards Producing Line Ships in the 18th Century:





That's a lot of lineships produced in Havana.  The main reasons being a scarcity of timber in Spain and the resiliency of the tropical woods in the New World, but I'll be more informative on this at a later point.  I may do a chapter by chapter summary, but let me go a little deeper on the ships produced in Havana:


Havana Shipyard Production (1700-1800):


2 Columns, left and right, across both pages:




Fates of Spanish Line Ships during the 18th Century




The Spanish Navy List (1794)




Number of Officers in Armada Española (1795)



Official Complements of Spanish Warships (Undated)



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I looked over Chapter I and found it to be more or less a summary of the fortunes of the Spanish Navy after Trafalgar amid other subjects.  I feel it would be better to start with Chapter II: The Spanish Ships of the Line.  What follows is a summary of the first section of the chapter:


Gaztañeta and Patiño


Spain underwent a rebuild of her navy between the years 1700 and 1790, quite literally a "let's start from scratch" build,  during a century of conflict no less!  Some Spanish historians have searched for reasons other than the genius of Nelson as to why Trafalgar was lost, and a general theory that has cropped up has been that Spain needed more than a century, a peaceful one at that, to restore her sea power to fight the British at sea on as equal terms as possible.  On top of this is a further theory that Spain had had to commit her new ships and semi-trained crews before they were ready for such an engagement.  Due to most wars of the 18th Century being the results of dynastic struggles, even the best of Spanish naval administrators and builders were frustrated by events beyond their control.  There was simply not enough time to create a naval learning curve to make the Spanish Navy the equal of the British Navy.


The Spanish Navy had more extended roles to maintain around the world than just about any nation in the world during the 18th Century, including Great Britain's.  This fact required the Spaniards to build a fleet that challenged the Royal Navy, but never quite equalled it.  In the Caribbean alone, the Armada Española  often had to split into three fleets, two of which were commercial, and the last functioned as a local naval squadron.  The commercial fleets were the Flota a Nueva España (Fleet to New Spain, also more simply known as La Flota or The Fleet), which operated between Cádiz and Vera Cruz, and the Galeones a Tierra Firme y Perú (Galleons to the Continent and Peru), which ran from Cádiz to Cartagena de Indias in modern Colombia.  Unlike the Vera Cruz squadron, it was rarely called La Flota.


Unlike the 16th Century, where the galleon's primary function was as a warship, in the 18th Century, the Spanish galleon was a cargo ship.  However, the commercial galleons were often armed for self protection since the galleons on the Caribbean routes often carried silver back to Spain from both Mexico and Peru.  Due to a lack of navíos (the Spanish word at the time for ships of the line, or large warships), that was quite persistent at the time, to escort these convoys, the navíos themselves would carry the coinage back, since they were already armed and ready for marauding English and Dutch vessels, national or otherwise.


The local naval squadron in the Caribbean was called Armada de Barlovento (Windward Squadron), its primary purpose to defend both La Flota and the Galeones from attack.  However, due to the many conflicts of the period, ships meant to complement the Armada de Barlovento were assigned to fleet duties in European and Mediterranean waters.  The presence of Havana as fortress, port, point of arrival and departure for the Spanish fleets, as well as seat of the Spanish empire's largest overseas naval shipyard constantly required a naval defence facility on a level that Great Britain never had to maintain.  The same could be said, to a lesser degree, of Manila in the Pacific.  The British rarely sent fleets to the Caribbean unless in times of war.


Except for Spain, no major maritime state of the age of sail, and during its imperial period (England, Holland, Sweden, Venice, and France) had permitted their navy to wither away to the same extent.  By the end of the 17th Century, and following one hundred years of national decline since the death of Philip II in 1598, there was no entity known as the Spanish Navy.  However, during the beginning of the 18th Century, the Spanish would produce several notable naval administrators and shipbuilders that would revive the Spanish Navy, men such as the Marqués de EnsenadaAntonio Gaztañeta, Jorge Juan, GautierJuan de Acosta, and Romero y Landa.  Although no Spanish sovereign would repeat Peter the Great's personal effort to learn shipbuilding, both Felipe V and Carlos III would play a central management role in Spain's naval revival during the 18th Century.


Spain's revival began badly.  The Navy was no longer an effective fighting force and while she remained the world's largest imperial and maritime power with colonies to be defended in Africa, Asia, and the Americas, Spain had ceased building warships.  At the Zorroza shipyard on the river mouth near Bilbao, two navíos sat on the stocks, incomplete, for fourteen years (1686-1700) because construction bills were not paid.  In 1700, there was no national navy, only sever ineffectual "regional fleets".  They failed to defend both the Spanish Mediterranean and Bay of Biscay coasts, as well as the vast and distant maritime frontiers of New Spain.  Yet, by 1740, Spain had 46 ships of the line in service.  Twenty years later, the second reign of Carlos III, the navy's budget accounted for 18% of the total expenditures of the Spanish crown.  A number of naval administrators with experience as naval architects and planners designed and authorized the construction of the speedier and more seaworthy classes of navíos that, by the mid 18th Century, had captured the interest of the Royal Navy's shipbuilders.


Before the new navy could be jump started though, an infrastructure of larger astilleros reales (royal shipyards) had to be created.  Between 1710 and 1740, the shipyards used were a number of smaller, older ones located along the Basque coast (Northeastern Spain, Atlantic coast bordering the Pyrenees Mountains that separate Spain and France).  Before newer, larger shipyards were opened at Cartagena, Guarnizo, and El Ferrol in the 1740's, only 24 new navíos had been built.  This forced Spain to acquire navíos from both France and Genoa in the years prior.  The shipyard at Havana, which had built 33 navíos ranging from 52 to 70 guns between 1700 and 1740, became the largest builder of navíos for the Spanish Navy during the 18th Century.  A grand total of 74 of the Armada Española's 227 ships of the line built during the 18th Century came from the royal shipyard in Havana.  The new shipyards at Guarnizo and El Ferrol(both of which were considerably expanded during the 1770's) built another 88.  La Carraca (at Cádiz), and Cartagena: 26 more.  After 1740, the Basque shipyards as well as another shipyard at San Feliu de Guixols (Catalonia region in Northeastern Spain, Mediterranean coast) stopped building navíos.  Another small yard at Puerto Mahón(Minorca) could not build the larger ships of the line that were designed later in the century.


Havana launched its first ship, the 50 gun Santa Rosa in 1700 and its last, a 40 gun frigate named Anfitrite in 1797.  The shipyard built a grand total of 198 naval vessels, ranging in size from the 12 gun goleta (schooner) Nuestra Señora de Loreto to the legendary 120 gun Santísima Trinidad.  The shipyard is also notable for building the 70 gun Princesa in 1739(More on her later and why she's so notable).  La Carraca built its first navío, the 60 gun Real Familia in 1732.  Guarnizo constructed Spain's first three-decker, the 114 gun Real Felipe in 1732.  Guarnizo also build the second navío with the name San José.  This was the 112 gun ship of the line that Nelson captured in the Battle of Cape St. Vincent on 14, February 1797.  El Ferrol built the 74 gun Guerrero in 1735.  The Geurrero served 89 years of continuous service until broken up in 1844.


Spain's revival as a naval power required assistance from the French, in terms of their methods for shipbuilding coupled with Spanish management.  After 1700, Spain's geographical proximity became a dynastic one when Philippe Duc d'Anjou, grandson of Louis XIV, became King Felipe V.  Spain's naval revival began during the War of the Spanish Succession from 1701 to 1713, before the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713.  The French court sent Jean Orry, a French financier and confidant of King Louis XIV, as well as a student of the brilliant French politician Jean Colbert, to introduce the new administrative order that transitioned from councils of aristocrats that advised the Hapsburg kings, to new specialized ministries with teams of bureaucrats and experts.


As previously stated, the Spanish naval revival began during the War of the Spanish Succession, when King Felipe V started a royal commission in 1712, under the Duque de Veragua, that appointed Bernardo de Tinajero de la Escalera the job of defining naval needs.  Tinajero was at the time, secretary to the old Council of the Indies, and the first of the able naval administrators that oversaw Spain's re-emergence as a naval power.  His abilities had him recognized early by Jean Orry, promoting him to Secretary of the Navy(independent of the Council of the Indies) in 1714.  Quite literally, Tinajero became Spain's first Minister of the Navy.  Although the French felt that the greatest need for Spain's Navy was to bolster their strength in the Mediterranean, Tinajero pressed for the maintenance of naval strategic superiority in the Atlantic and Caribbean theaters.  While Spain was forced to purchase her ships of the line from the French and Genoese, Tinajero recommended that:


1.  A shipyard built that could build and service large warships.

2.  The use of American sources of timber from Mexico, Venezuela, and Cuba

3.  The implementation of naval construction theories of one Admiral Antonio Gaztañeta.


Antonio Gaztañeta was 43 when he was promoted to admiral.  The son of a naval captain, he was a "senior pilot" of the navy, and had written two major studies in navigation, as well as a seminal study on changes in warship construction.  It was Gaztañeta who essentially became Spain's first "Director of Naval Construction".  Gaztañeta broke with the traditional Spanish warship design set in place by the late 17th century naval designer, Captain Francisco Antonio Garrote, and also proposed a new type of navío to meet specific needs of the Spanish navy.  Whereas Garrote expounded the concept that a warship basically was an armed merchantman, as well as the key design element being the width of the vessel at the waterline, thereby thinking of cargo-capacity in terms of the maximum displaced cubic volume in the hull, Gaztañeta proposed a new type of warship that focused on the length of the first full deck, usually the lowest gun deck, of the vessel.  Where Garrote's warships were stable gun platforms, they lacked in maneuverability and were also very slow.  Gaztañeta drew plans for slimmer, more streamlined hulls, plans that continued to influence Spanish warship construction until the advent of screw propelled warships.


Gaztañeta's design became the San Fernando class of 60 gun navíos (the same San Fernando from PotBS for those that played the game).  While technically a ship of the line, the class was not designed to fight in traditional fleet battles.  They were instead designed and built for the ongoing needs of imperial Spain, essentially the convoy protection for La Flota as well as the mercury fleets that were invaluable to refining the silver coming from the New World.  The need for escorting warships was so crucial that at one point, nearly sixty years prior, La Flota had temporarily terminated operations due to, in part, the lack of escorts to protect it during the long voyages to New Spain across the Atlantic and the pirate infested waters of the Caribbean.  Spain also needed fast warships for regular patrol duties in the New World as well as carrying dispatches between administrators in the New World and the motherland.


The new navíos were more lightly armed than most English and French contemporaries that were either under construction or in service.  This proved disastrous, demonstrated by the Cape Passaro action of 11, August 1718.  The standard Gaztañeta 60 gun warship measured about 1000 tons and carried 24x18lb cannons on the first deck, 26x12lb on the second deck, and 10x6lb positioned on the forecastle and quarterdeck.  This flaw was demonstrated at Cape Passaro, an action that Gaztañeta himself commanded from the Spanish side, when a British fleet under the command of Admiral George Byng destroyed engaged and destroyed the Spanish force.  Both fleets were fairly equal in number of ships, but there was a vast disparity in terms of guns.


Spanish Force:


navíos of 70 guns each
navíos of 60 guns

navíos of 50 guns

3 frigates of 40 guns

2 frigates of 30 guns

3 frigates of 26 guns

1 ship of 14 guns

7 galleys

balandras (single masted arsenal guard ships)

2 fireships.


British Force:

1 90 gun ship of the line

2 80 gun ships of the line

8 70 gun ships of the line

7 60 gun ships of the line

2 50 gun ships of the line

2 24 gun frigates


Naval historians of an Anglo bent tend to only give passing notice to this particular action, but a Spanish scholar summed up the result as:

"Nevertheless, the principal defect of the Spanish Navy was that the unique nucleus of its forces was not conceived to confront a squadron of ships of the line, but to protect the merchant vessels of the Carrera de las Indias".


The action at Cape Passaro, severely reduced the empires ability to defend the trade routes and lifelines.  The remaining ships totaled a mere 26 ships of the line to defend Spain's colonial empire.  Despite the setback at Cape Passaro, the navy did not go in decline once again, but bounced back, following Gaztañeta's basic designs until the 1740's.  Gaztañeta's success in revolutionizing Spanish warship design carried over to a man named José Patiño, who oversaw the rebuilding of the navy for the second time.  Patiño can be considered the father of the modern Spanish Navy.  Among his accomplishments as Intendant of the Navy, he founded the Spanish Marine Infantry, as well as schools for marines at Cádiz and schools for engineers and artillery at Barcelona, as well as shifting importance of shipyards from sites that had been vulnerable to hostile occupation to sites that were more defendable.  In the twenty years of his administration, he was in charge of the construction of 58 navíos and 9 frigates, built at both Guarnizo and Havana.  After the loss of the fleet at Cape Passaro, Patiño's main task for the next ten years or so was to build a new fleet.  In 1722, Spain had only 22 ships of the line.  By the time he died in 1736, 50 more were in the water, many of that number belonging to the San Fernando design by Gaztañeta, as the basic needs of the empire had remained the same.  However, building navíos solely for escort duty was not enough.  The losses of Gibraltar and the naval base at Puerto Mahón in Minorca, both victims of the British, and the growing contraband trade carried out by British and French merchant vessels in Spanish controlled waters in the Caribbean and Pacific required larger ships of the line to be built.  Patiño oversaw the construction of a single navío of 100 guns, two of 90 guns, nine of 80 guns, and two more of 70 guns.


The final product of the period overseen by Patiño and Gaztañeta was Spain's first three-decker, the Real Felipe of 114 guns, considered one of the best ships of the age of sail and as important as England's Sovereign of the Seas and France's Ville de Paris.  She was launched at Guarnizo in 1732 and the third Spanish warship of her name.  She mounted 30x32lb bronze cannons on the lower gun deck, 32x24lb cannons on the middle gun deck, 30x12lb cannons on the upper deck, and additional 22x8lb cannons on the forecastle and quarterdeck.  Built according to the specifications set by Gaztañeta, her actual designer was Cipriano de Autrán.  Her firepower and construction quality were evident at the Battle of Cape Sicié(Also known as the Battle of Toulon) in 1744 where she twice resisted assault by four British vessels.  At the end of the battle she remained mauled and dismasted and was towed to Cartagena by a frigate.  Her damage was apparently so great that she did not fight in another action and was broken up in 1750.




Gaztañeta's designs coupled with Patiño's administrative and bureaucratic qualities were critical to Spain's resurgent Navy at the start of the 18th Century.  The emergence of Havana as the primary shipyard and the new warship design allowed Spain to once more provide a realistic threat to the British Navy, a fact that did not go unnoticed by the British Admiralty.  Scholar Douglas Inglis wrote:


"by the time of Patiño's death in 1736, Spain possessed a professional navy of considerable strength, with its own independent system of construction, supply and maintenance."


Professor W N Hargreaves-Mawdsley, a British scholar living in 18th Century Bourbon Spain, summed up Patiño's overall place in rebuilding Spanish institutions:


"Thanks to him, Spain could sustain with honour a war against that colossus, Great Britain."



Note: I omitted some aspects of Spanish shipbuilding, feeling I can cover it in a later segment as a whole for the century.  Next segment will deal with Jorge Juan and the Marqués de Ensenada and their impact on the Spanish Navy's revival during the mid 18th Century.

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  • 2 months later...

Im not dedicated Naval Historian, but I’m historian and you got right the most part of it.  (im more into politics + economics lately)


The core issue with Spanish Fleet Power at the end of XVI-XVII century was the focus on continental America as main extraction point of silver and gold, also securing Cuba and la Española as safe stops in Caribean. That unique situation develops the "Bullicionismo" an economic theory based around the accumulation of precious metal. This metallic ore capitalization used by the crown to fuel the European wars and general expenses damaged the trading and production assets in the Kingdoms of Spain. Also a big part of that silver went to private hands due to corruption, redistributed to Europe or lost in Manlia Galeon (Direct trade Mexico-Philippines).


The early arrival of Brits, French and Dutch corsairs make the route between Caribbean Sea and Cadiz Bay unsafe so instead of try to claim the sea the crown "fortify" the route with again the main goal was to secure as much silver and gold from the Reinos de Indias as they could. So as the century advance they bring in Italian fort designers to secure key spots like Cartagena de Indias, Havana, Santo Domingo and south Florida with state of the art forts (Star Forts) these sites work as stops from the "Carrera de Indas" bi-annual trip between Cartagena and Seville. The "Carrera de Indas" secures the passage between Caribe and Peninsula and private traders could join in to make the trip. Private trade and merchant fleet was quite weak due too even Caribean waters not so safe after the relocation of part Barlovento Fleet in Europe. 



PD: Maybe my grammar quite bad, english is not my 1st language  but I hope you get the point. 

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