Battle of Vigo Bay

The Battle of Vigo Bay, also known as the Battle of Rande (Galician: Batalla de Rande; Spanish: Batalla de Rande), was a naval engagement fought on 23 October 1702 during the opening years of the War of the Spanish Succession. The engagement followed an Anglo-Dutch attempt to capture the Spanish port of Cádiz in September in an effort to secure a naval base in the Iberian Peninsula. From this station the Allies had hoped to conduct operations in the western Mediterranean Sea, particularly against the French at Toulon. The amphibious assault, however, had proved a disaster, but as Admiral George Rooke retreated home in early October, he received news that the Spanish treasure fleet from America, laden with silver and merchandise, had entered Vigo Bay in northern Spain. Philips van Almonde convinced Rooke to attack the treasure ships, despite the lateness of the year and the fact that the vessels were protected by French ships-of-the-line.

Battle of Vigo Bay
Part of the War of the Spanish Succession
Battle of Vigo Bay 1702.webp
The Battle of Vigo Bay, by Ludolf Backhuysen
Date23 October 1702[1]
Location42°14′14.12″N 8°43′17.86″W / 42.2372556°N 8.7216278°W / 42.2372556; -8.7216278Coordinates: 42°14′14.12″N 8°43′17.86″W / 42.2372556°N 8.7216278°W / 42.2372556; -8.7216278
Result Grand Alliance victory
 Dutch Republic
Spain Bourbon Spain
Commanders and leaders
Kingdom of England George Rooke
Dutch Republic Philips van Almonde
Kingdom of France Château-Renault
Spain Manuel de Velasco
25 ships of the line
+ frigates and fireships[2]
15 French ships of the line
3 Spanish galleons
+ frigates, fireships, and transports[3]
Casualties and losses
~800 killed[4] All ships burnt or captured
~2,000 killed[5]

The engagement was an overwhelming naval success for the Allies: the entire French escort fleet, under the command of Château-Renault, together with the Spanish galleons and transports under Manuel de Velasco, had either been captured or destroyed. Yet because most of the treasure had been off-loaded before the attack, capturing the bulk of the silver cargo had eluded Rooke. Nevertheless, the victory was a welcome boost to Allied morale and had helped persuade the Portuguese King, Peter II, to abandon his earlier treaty with the French, and join the Grand Alliance.


The accession of the Bourbon Philip V to the Spanish throne in 1700 had aroused little opposition in Spain. In the Spanish American empire, however, officials and colonists resisted French attempts to take over their trade. Dutch and English traders – though officially illegal – were accepted by the Spanish, but in the Caribbean, French admirals who had come to "protect" Spanish silver home to Europe were regarded with intense suspicion.[6] The first French squadron sailed in April 1701 under the Marquis de Coëtlogon, but the Spanish governors would not even permit him to buy victuals, and he returned empty handed.[6] Nevertheless, the weakness of the Spanish navy left the government in Madrid little choice but to rely on French warships for escort duty. Every effort was made to ensure that the bullion was landed in Spain rather than France, from where it might never return.[6]

The naval campaign of 1702 was therefore played out in two distant theatres of America and Spain, linked together by the trail of the Spanish treasure ships across the Atlantic. The American theatre became a scene long remembered in popular English tradition following Admiral Benbow's running battle in August off Santa Marta.[7] However, the Royal Navy's main effort was not off the Spanish Main, but off the Spanish coasts in Europe.[8] Under the leadership of King William III, the Maritime Powers – England and the Dutch Republic – had resolved upon a Mediterranean strategy for the Allied fleets, a policy continued under William's successors following his death in March 1702. It was hoped that this strategy would encourage Portugal to join the Allies, open the Strait of Gibraltar, and secure English naval power in the Mediterranean.[8] Their allies, the Austrians, were also clamouring for a naval presence in the Mediterranean to assist them in achieving their own primary ambitions – the capture of Spain's provinces in Italy. To meet these ends, the Anglo-Dutch fleets would first need to seize a port in the Iberian Peninsula from which their ships could operate. The Allies, therefore, resolved upon an expedition, led by Admiral George Rooke, to capture the southern Spanish port of Cádiz, and at a stroke cut off Spain's transatlantic trade.[6]


Silver fleet from AmericaEdit

The Spanish Main.

On 11 June 1702, the Spanish silver fleet from New Spain left Veracruz under escort of a French squadron commanded by Admiral Château-Renault. The Spanish vessels were commanded by Manuel de Velasco in his armed galleon, the Jesús María y José, one of three ships forming the Armada de Barlovento whose task it was to protect the fleet.[9] The whole convoy arrived at Havana on 7 July, before striking out across the Atlantic on the 24th.[10] The fleet comprised 56 vessels: 22 were Spanish, the rest French, including a large number of merchantmen which, by the end of the voyage, had sailed for France as soon as their safety across the Atlantic had been assured.[10]

When Château-Renault had set out for the Caribbean in 1701, war between France and the Maritime Powers had not yet been declared; but the convoy had since received news of the outbreak of hostilities and of Rooke's blockade of Cádiz, the usual destination of the silver fleet from America.[10] It was clear, therefore, a new harbour would be needed. Valesco considered the small port of Los Pasajes, but Château-Renault favoured Brest or La Rochelle, or even Lisbon.[10] A compromise was put forward, and on 23 September the Franco-Spanish fleet entered Vigo Bay in Galicia. There was, however, considerable delay in unloading the cargo. The whole administrative apparatus normally present at unloading (inspectors, valuers, royal officials, etc.), was in Seville and Cádiz, and had to be awaited before anything could be put ashore. When the unloading eventually began, it was found that means of transporting the goods were lacking. As a result, priority was given to the silver, which was unloaded first and despatched inland to Lugo.[11]

Admiral George Rooke (1650–1709) by Michael Dahl.

Allied pursuitEdit

By mid-October the English government had learnt of the Spanish presence in Vigo Bay, and immediately sent off messengers to scour the seas for Rooke and Admiral Cloudesley Shovell, the latter of whom had been cruising with his squadron off Ushant.[12] By now Rooke was returning home from the disastrous campaign against Cádiz, which, due to ill-discipline and poor co-operation, had forced the admiral to abandon the enterprise at the end of September. Fortuitously, however, Rooke had already learnt the news of the Spanish convoy from one of his own ships – Captain Thomas Hardy in the Pembroke who had stayed behind to water in the Portuguese port of Lagos. Pembroke's chaplain, a Jersey man named Beauvoir, had learned from the boastful French consul of the treasure ships in the harbour, news of which had been confirmed to Beauvoir by a messenger from the Imperial Embassy in Lisbon. At once, Hardy gave chase, and caught Rooke on 17 October in time to prevent him crossing the Bay of Biscay.[13] Admiral Rooke recorded in his journal:

Under consideration of the intelligence brought to Captain Hardy of the Pembroke … It is resolved that we make best our way to the port of Vigo, and insult them immediately with our whole line, if not by such detachments as shall render the attempt most effectual.[14]

Rooke sent ships to explore the mouth of Vigo Bay. A landing party had gleaned information from a captured friar that King Philip's part of the treasure had already been landed, but that much wealth was still left on board the Spanish vessels.[13]


Battle of Vigo Bay 1702. The walled town of Vigo sits about halfway down the bay.

On the evening of 22 October the Anglo-Dutch fleet entered the Ria de Vigo, and sailed past the two forts of the city of Vigo that fired at them as they passed by. At the end of the bay the French fleet and Spanish treasure ships lay in the harbour of Redondela, surrounded by the Galician mountains. Château-Renault had taken charge of the defensive measures, and had blocked the narrow entrance, across the Rande Strait, with a boom made largely of timber and chain tightly bound together.[13] At the north end of the boom was positioned a gun battery which, according to Rooke's journal, comprised "fifteen or sixteen" guns; at the south end sat Fort Rande sitting a little way up from the sea, consisting of a strong stone tower with platforms constructed for cannon. The space between the tower and the water's edge consisted of a fortified enclosure, at the bottom of which stood a battery commanding the straits. In total, the Rande fortifications had been armed with more than 30 guns. To supplement the French troops from the fleet, a number of levies were raised by the Prince of Barbançon, governor and captain-general of Galicia.[10]

Aboard the Royal Sovereign an Allied council of war discussed the options for the attack. The plan was to destroy the boom with English and Dutch ships, whilst the troops from the fleet would silence the shore defences. But the naval encounter would not be a conventional line-of-battle engagement: Vigo Bay allowed no room for the deployment of a battle line, so Rooke had to adapt his tactics to the exigencies of the situation.[14] Rooke recorded in his journal:

Upon consideration of the present position of Monsieur Château-Renault's squadron … and in regard the whole fleet cannot, without great hazard of being in a huddle, attempt them where they are: it is resolved to send in a detachment of fifteen English and ten Dutch ships of the line of battle with all the fireships, to use their best endeavours to take or destroy the aforesaid ships of the enemy …[15]

Breaking the boomEdit

The Battle of Vigo Bay. Anonymous

Early in the morning on 23 October, Vice Admiral Thomas Hopsonn in the Torbay led the attack on the boom, closely followed by a strong squadron of his English ships, and of Dutch vessels under Vice Admiral Philips van der Goes.[16] Near each end of the boom Château-Renault had moored two of his largest men-of-war: the Bourbon, and the Esperance. Within the boom he had moored five other large men-of-war with their broadsides bearing upon the entrance.

Meanwhile, Ormonde with some 2,000 men, had landed on the shore near Teis and marched on Fort Rande. Ormonde sent Lord Shannon with the vanguard of grenadiers to assault the position, defended by several hundred troops. The wall enclosing the outer ward was stormed, and the seaward battery silenced in time to assist the breaking of the boom by the ships. The tower, defended by approximately 300 Franco-Spanish troops, held out a little longer, but this also fell to the Allied grenadiers. As the southern shore guns were being assailed by Ormonde's men, the 90 gun Association attacked and silenced the smaller northern battery on the other side of the bay.[16]

The Torbay, favoured by a breath of wind, crashed at the boom; it cracked, and the ship floated through in amongst the French squadron beyond. However, a sudden drop in the breeze prevented any other Allied vessel following, and Hopsonn found himself temporarily outnumbered. A fireship was laid alongside the Torbay, setting it alight. Fortunately for Hopsonn the fireship, laden with snuff from the Spanish Indies, suddenly blew up, and a great cloud enveloped the English vessel, partly extinguishing the flames thus enabling the crew to control the blaze.[17] According to Rooke's journal 53 men were drowned in the incident, but as the breeze picked up the other Allied ships managed to traverse the boom and engage with the enemy.

With the boom broken, and the forts silenced, the Franco-Spanish fleet was lost. Offering little resistance, Château-Renault's men set fire to their own ships in the harbour, and sought safety on shore. The Allied seamen worked throughout the night to save their prizes, and by morning there was not a single French or Spanish vessel that had not been either captured or destroyed.[17]


Losses and GainsEdit

Vigo Bay was a major naval disaster for the French:[18] of the 15 ships of the line, 2 frigates and one fireship, not a single vessel escaped.[19] Five ships were captured by the English, and one by the Dutch; the rest were burnt, either by the Allies or the French themselves. (See table below). The Spanish suffered as badly: of the three galleons and 13 trading vessels in their fleet, all were destroyed, save five which were taken by the Allies (at least three of these were captured by the English). By 24 October most of the damage was complete; what remained of the ships and the fortifications were destroyed by Admiral Shovell's squadron on 27 October.[19]

Spanish naval losses meant a total dependence on the French navy to keep up communications with the Americas.[20] However, the Spanish government felt no financial blow: it owned only two of the three large galleons, and none of the trading vessels. Those who suffered most, not just from the losses of the ships but also from the immense merchandise on board (pepper, cochineal, cocoa, snuff, indigo, hides, etc.) were the private traders. The news that the treasure fleet had got safely to Vigo was initially the cause of celebration for the merchants of Holland but the subsequent reports of the battle were received with mixed feelings in Amsterdam as the wealth captured or destroyed belonged as much to the English and Dutch traders as it did to the Spanish.[21] What the Spanish government did own was the silver, most of which had already been unloaded from the ships before the Allied attack, and was ultimately deposited in the castle of Segovia.[22]

English Sixpence dated 1703 with bust of Queen Anne and inscription VIGO

The Allies, therefore, did not capture as much silver for themselves as was often supposed. The Master of the Mint, Isaac Newton, stated in June 1703 that the total metal handed in to him by that date was 4504 lb 2 oz of silver (~2,043 kg), and 7 lb 8 oz and 13 dwt of gold (~3.4 kg), estimated at a value of just £14,000.[23] Coins subsequently struck from these metals bore the word VIGO below Anne's bust, and are rare and valuable.

In February 1703, Philip V issued a decree, by way of reprisal, to confiscate all the silver that had come with the treasure fleet belonging to the English and Dutch, totalling four million pesos. In addition, the King decided to borrow two million pesos from what had come for the Spanish traders and the Consulate of Seville. In total, Philip managed to keep nearly seven million pesos, representing over half the silver from the fleet, amounting to the biggest sum in history obtained from the American trade by any Spanish king.[24] The result was an immense financial windfall for Philip V.[24]

Methuen TreatiesEdit

The naval success at Vigo had considerable implications for the Grand Alliance. On the accession of the Bourbon Philip V to the Spanish throne, King Peter II of Portugal, anxious to remain friends with his more powerful neighbour, had signed an alliance with France in June 1701. But it was the security of Portugal's overseas empire that was more important than its inland frontier.[25] To protect Portugal's trade routes from South America, the ministers in Lisbon knew the importance of aligning themselves with the dominant naval power in the Atlantic. After Rooke's success at Vigo, it was clear that that naval strength reposed in the Maritime Powers.[25]

In May 1703, the Portuguese signed the Methuen Treaties with England. "The preservation of our overseas colonies makes it indispensable for us to have a good intelligence with the powers which now possess the command of the sea," commented José da Cunha Brochado, the Portuguese minister in London, "the cost is heavy, but for us such an understanding is essential."[25] It was an Allied triumph to detach Portugal from her French alliance: with Lisbon as a base the Allied fleet could dominate the Strait of Gibraltar and cripple French action in the Mediterranean.[26] But the alliance with Portugal forced a major change in Allied strategy: the Maritime Powers now found themselves committed to extensive campaigning in Spain, with one army based in Lisbon, another based to the east in Catalonia. The policy was ultimately to prove a heavy burden and the cause of a disastrous campaign in the peninsula, but in the long term, the commercial provisions of the treaties were to prove an essential component of Britain's wealth. The naval victory at Vigo, therefore, made an indirect but powerful contribution to Britain's 18th century prosperity.[25]

Sunken treasureEdit

Efforts to recover the sunken treasure began almost immediately and continued for centuries. After their initial attempts failed, the Spanish government hired private contractors to recover the treasure, but these also proved unsuccessful.[27] In 1728, a Frenchman named Alexandre Goubert managaed to bring a ship almost completely to shore, but abandoned his efforts when it became apparent that it was a French battleship without treasure. An English expedition in 1825 led by William Evans utilized a diving bell, and over the course of a year managed to recover small amounts of silver, cannonballs, and other items. Around the same period, a group calling itself The American Vigo Bay Treasure Company made an ill-fated attempt to raise a ship, tearing it apart. Decades later, Cavalier Pino, using his invention the hydroscope, scanned the location and mapped out several ships, and with a series of careful experiments managed to recover several cannons and preserved wood.[27]

On 10 August 1990 after being surveyed by sonar side scan on behalf of '5º Centenario' (Spanish Government 500th anniversary of America's discovery) remains of the wreckage 'Santo Cristo de Maracaibo' were found off the Cíes Islands by R.O.V submarine at 79 metres depth, Contractor: Hidrografic S.A., Tarragona, Surveyor and R.O.V. Pilot: Olaf Hingst, Vessel: 'Potela Seis', Vigo.


Anglo-Dutch – Rooke
Ship Guns Commander Notes
Mary 62 Captain Edward Hopson Accompanied by Phoenix (fireship)
Grafton 70 Captain Thomas Harlowe Accompanied by Vulture (fireship), Captain Thomas Long
Torbay 80 Vice-Admiral Thomas Hopsonn
Captain Andrew Leake
Kent 70 Captain John Jennings
Monmouth 70 Captain John Baker
Dordrecht 72 Captain Barend van der Pott
Seven Provinces 92 Vice-Admiral Philips van der Goes
Captain Starrenburgh
Accompanied by one fireship
Veluwe 64 Captain Baron van Wassenaer
Berwick 70 Captain Richard Edwards Accompanied by Terrible (fireship), Captain Edward Rumsey
Essex 70 Rear-Admiral Sir Stafford Fairborne
Captain John Hubbard
Accompanied by Griffin (fireship), Captain William Scaley
Swiftsure 70 Captain Robert Wynn
Ranelagh 80 Captain Richard Fitzpatrick
Somerset 80 Admiral Sir George Rooke
Captain Thomas Dilkes
Accompanied by Hawk (fireship), Captain Bennett Allen
Bedford 70 Captain Henry Haughton Accompanied by Hunter (fireship), Commander Sir Charles Rich
Slot van Muiden 72 Captain Schrijver
Holland 72 Lieutenant-Admiral Gerard Callenburgh Accompanied by one fireship
Unie 94 Vice-Admiral Baron J. G. van Wassenaer
Reigersbergen 74 Captain Lijnslager
Cambridge 70 Captain Richard Lestock
Northumberland 70 Rear-Admiral John Graydon
Captain James Greenaway
Accompanied by Lightning (fireship), Captain Thomas Mitchell
Orford 70 Captain John Norris
Pembroke 60 Captain Thomas Hardy
Gouda 64 Captain Somelsdijk
Wappen van Alkmaar 72 Vice-Admiral Anthonij Pieterson Accompanied by one fireship
Catwijk 72 Captain Beeckman
Association 90 Captain William Bokenham Attacked forts at mouth of harbour
Barfleur 90 Captain Francis Wyvill Attacked forts at mouth of harbour
French – Château-Renault
Ship Guns Commander Notes
Fort 70 Admiral Château-Renault Burnt
Prompt 76 Admiral Beaujeu Captured by the English
Assuré 66 d'Aligre Captured by the English
Espérance d'Angleterre 70 Gallissonnière Taken, but run ashore and bilged
Bourbon 68 Montbault Captured by the Dutch
Sirène 60 Mongon Taken, but run ashore and bilged
Solide 50 Champmeslin Burnt
Ferme 72 Beaussier Captured by the English
Prudent 60 Grandpré Burnt
Oriflamme 64 Tricambault Burnt
Modéré 56 L'Autier Captured by the English
Superbe 70 Botteville Taken, but run ashore and bilged
Dauphine 40 Duplessis Burnt
Volontaire 46 Sorel Taken, but run ashore
Triton 42 de Court Captured by the English
Entreprenant 22 Burnt
Choquante 8 Burnt
Favori 14 Fireship, burnt
Jesus Maria José 70 Taken and destroyed
Bufona 54 Taken and destroyed
Capitana de Assogos 54 Taken and destroyed

In popular cultureEdit

The Battle of Vigo Bay as depicted by Alphonse de Neuville in Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea.

The battle is referred to in Jules Verne's novel Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea. The book's protagonist, Captain Nemo, draws his wealth and the funding for his submarine Nautilus from the cargoes of the ships sunk by the Grand Alliance fleet during the battle, which are depicted as never having offloaded their treasure and as being easily accessible to divers.[28]


  1. ^ All dates in the article are in the Gregorian calendar (unless otherwise stated). The Julian calendar as used in England in 1704 differed by eleven days. Thus, the battle of Vigo Bay is dated on 23 October (Gregorian calendar) or 12 October (Julian calendar). In this article (O.S) is used to annotate Julian dates with the year adjusted to 1 January. See the article Old Style and New Style dates for a more detailed explanation of the dating issues and conventions.
  2. ^ Francis: The First Peninsular War: 1702–1713, p. 53. Ships of the line that took part in the actual battle: 15 English, 10 Dutch
  3. ^ Francis: The First Peninsular War: 1702–1713, p. 53. French: 15 ships of the line plus two frigates and a fireship. Spanish: 3 galleons, plus 17 galleys.
  4. ^ Grant: 1001 Battles That Changed the Course of History, p. 393
  5. ^ Stanhope: History of the War of the Succession in Spain, p. 63
  6. ^ a b c d Roger: The Command of the Ocean: A Naval History of Britain 1649–1815, p. 165
  7. ^ Trevelyan: England Under Queen Anne: Blenheim, p. 249
  8. ^ a b Trevelyan: England Under Queen Anne: Blenheim, p. 259
  9. ^ The Armada de Barlovento was originally a defence squadron based in the Caribbean.
  10. ^ a b c d e Kamen: Bulletin of the Institute of Historical Research: The Destruction of the Spanish Silver Fleet at Vigo in 1702, p. 166
  11. ^ Kamen: Bulletin of the Institute of Historical Research: The Destruction of the Spanish Silver Fleet at Vigo in 1702, p. 167
  12. ^ Le Fevre & Harding: Precursors of Nelson: British Admirals of the Eighteenth Century, p. 87
  13. ^ a b c Trevelyan: England Under Queen Anne: Blenheim, p. 268
  14. ^ a b Symcox: War, Diplomacy, and Imperialism: 1618–1763, p. 226
  15. ^ Symcox: War, Diplomacy, and Imperialism: 1618–1763, p. 229
  16. ^ a b Trevelyan: England Under Queen Anne: Blenheim, p. 270
  17. ^ a b Trevelyan: England Under Queen Anne: Blenheim, p. 271
  18. ^ Lynn: The Wars of Louis XIV: 1667–1714, p. 277
  19. ^ a b Kamen: Bulletin of the Institute of Historical Research: The Destruction of the Spanish Silver Fleet at Vigo in 1702, p. 168
  20. ^ Roger: The Command of the Ocean: A Naval History of Britain 1649–1815, p.166
  21. ^ Trevelyan: England Under Queen Anne: Blenheim, p. 272
  22. ^ Kamen: Philip V of Spain: The King who Reigned Twice, p. 32. The silver was placed in charge of Juan de Larrea, a leading member of the Council of the Indies.
  23. ^ Kamen: Bulletin of the Institute of Historical Research: The Destruction of the Spanish Silver Fleet at Vigo in 1702, p. 171.
  24. ^ a b Kamen: Philip V of Spain: The King who Reigned Twice, p. 32
  25. ^ a b c d Roger: The Command of the Ocean: A Naval History of Britain 1649–1815, p. 167
  26. ^ Wolf: The Emergence of the Great Powers: 1685–1715, p. 69
  27. ^ a b Humanities, National Endowment for the (6 June 1909). "New-York tribune. [volume] (New York [N.Y.]) 1866-1924, June 06, 1909, Image 73". p. 2. ISSN 1941-0646. Retrieved 12 November 2022.
  28. ^ Verne, Jules (1871). "Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Seas". J. Hetzel et Cie. Archived from the original on 4 March 2016. Retrieved 22 February 2014.