Spain's Forgotten Naval Renaissance

Hearts of oak - but those of the Don, not John Bull. John Harbron argues for a revaluation of the expertise, both of men and materiel, which made Spain a formidable naval foe on the eve of Trafalgar.

Generations of Englishmen and women, their teachers and, all too often, British maritime writers of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries have forgotten that two centuries after the defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588, Spain re-emerged as a great naval power with the largest fleet in its history. Many in the Anglo-Saxon world also believe that 217 years after the Armada's demise, the French fleet was the only one Nelson defeated in the Battle of Trafalgar and not the powerful combined squadron of thirty-three ships-of-the-line of both the French and Spanish navies.

In every aspect of naval accomplishment, Spain during the eighteenth century designed, built and manned one of the great navies of the long age of sail. Between 1701 and 1797, Spain had constructed no fewer than 227 navios or ships-of-the-line. In terms of sea-keeping qualities, many of them were among the best in Europe.

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