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Rande’s Galleons entered the Ria de Vigo on October 15, 1702, the richest cargo ever brought from America since the discovery. Nineteen Spanish galleons, escorted by twenty-three French warships, carried one hundred and eight million pieces of silver, gold and other precious merchandise destined to pay for the War of Succession in favour of Felipe V. Bureaucratic delays allowed the arrival of a fleet of Anglo pirates. – Dutchmen who, after a fierce battle, took some forty million pieces. The rest remains today, at the bottom of the Vigo estuary.
A series of misfortunes led to the so-called Golden Fleet to find their splintered bones at the bottom of the Vigo estuary. The rigid bureaucracy, the war, the pirates and a profound indecision caused that the many treasures accumulated during centuries by the Aztecs and Incas never reached their destination and were divided between English and Dutch corsairs, French mercenaries and, above all, the marine mud of the Vigo estuary. The one that can be considered as the greatest treasure of the history is only property of the fish and cloudy horizon of the many adventurers who have looked for gold in these waters.
Similar search to which, two centuries before, the Spaniards in the West Indies undertook to satisfy their cravings for wealth. “In Peru, there were the golden roofs described by the legends that people shared, without daring to believe in them; the walls of the temples were covered by gold leaves and they were reached by paved avenues in solid silver; the Hill of the Dog was nothing more than a gigantic block of silver. The Andes teemed with emeralds, sapphires and diamonds; On the beaches, pearls of unsuspected beauty and thickness were collected … “.
The treasures and works of art of millenarian civilizations and the silver of the mines of Pachuca, Tlalpujalma, San Luis, Sultepec, Tasco, Guanajato, Oajaca, Tetela, Zacateas, Fresnillo or Sombrerete filled, for centuries, the cellars of the galleons with a destination in Cádiz, Sevilla or Palos de la Frontera. An abundant and lucrative trade that led to installing in Seville, in January 1503, the House of Contracting, administrative, financial, commercial, geographic and legal research agency, emigration office, commercial deposit, commercial court and nautical school. There, he kept track of what went to America and what was coming, imposing taxes and duties that corresponded to the Crown.
There, each ship was checked thoroughly to verify that the trip did not endanger the crew and occupants, the armament, the sails, the cargo, the provisions, the strict isolation of the women and the authorization of the men, signed and legalized by the wife, to be able to leave the conjugal home. And, on their return, the officials inspected, on the high seas, the discharge and transfers and collected the taxes. They only left the ships when the warehouses were empty.
Also there, the two fleets went to sea each year after death is controlled by Carlos V. One, that of New Spain, went to the northern parts of the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico. Another, that of Tierra Firme, visited the ports of South America and the Antilles of the southeast. Of this last, the one that left in 1699, to the control of Manuel de Velasco and Tejada, became, almost by chance, in the Gold Fleet and, as such, it entered the bay of Vigo on September 22, 1702, to avoid leave never. It consisted of forty ships: three war galleons (the nao captain and two Navy admirals), fourteen merchant galleons, two pataches, an auxiliary ship, fifteen ships, three frigates, a fireman and a warning.
Fill the cellars
The galleons were “heavy ships and relatively very capable (they displaced a thousand tons), endowed, even those of commerce, of great castles to prow and stern. These huge masses that weighed on their two extremes subtracted a good part of their marine faculties because the rocking of the castles and the resistance they offered to the wind were other obstacles to challenge time. But the excellence of the galleons was not measured by their speed, but by the security, they provide to the navigators. The enormous castles that oppressed those ships obeyed simply to a military necessity that was the most urgent and worthy. As the galleons used the tactics of boarding to fight each other, the most important thing was that the enemy, wanting to approach, had to assault a real floating castle.
The Tierra Firme fleet of 1699 left Cádiz and reached Trinidad and Cartagena de Indias two years later. In this one, it obtained more than four million shields of gold and, in a fair of fifty days in Portobello, sold European merchandises by a value of twenty million shields and collected twenty-five million shields in gold and silver. So much so that, according to one chronicler of the time, “they return with two or three million shields of gold, twenty million shields of silver, two hundred thousand shields in pearls, three hundred thousand in emeralds, thirty thousand in amethysts, wool of vicuna by value of fifty thousand escudos, the same amount in wood of Campeche and two hundred and sixty thousand escudos in leathers “.
In addition, it must be said that “the box of the galleons was always ten times greater than the one mentioned in the registers”, because, not in vain, admirals, generals, officers and administrators acquired their position by paying high figures to the Crown, in exchange of what they would earn. In fact, one admiral paid up to one hundred thousand escudos and the others in successive proportion.
But Manuel de Velasco decided to postpone the return of the fleet because, in September 1700, the currents were contrary, in Bermuda unforeseen hurricanes and haunted pirates, whose millenary activity intensified between the fifteenth and seventeenth centuries, in the Pacific and the Atlantic, after the appearance of the precious cargoes of the Indies. Together, they encouraged the addition of the second annual fleet to the one in Tierra Firme, the one in New Spain, arriving in Veracruz and, together, they waited two years for the Corsairs to disperse. Meanwhile, the cellars were filled with gold, silver, pearls, emeralds, amethysts, diamonds, cochineal, indigo, wood for dyeing and joinery, sugar, ginger, cocoa, cotton, colored wool, tobacco, leather, leather, ambergris, bezoar, balsams of copahu, of Peru, of Tolú, quinquina, jalapeno, mechucán, sarsaparilla, tamarind, cassia, vanilla …
In 1701, the commander sent a ship to Cádiz explaining to the king the reasons for the delay and asking for an escort squad. The Spanish monarch requested help from the French ally, and Louis XIV entrusted the mission to Count Chateau-Renault, vice-admiral of his army, who left Brest with a powerful fleet and raised his flag at Le Fort. Finally, on June 11, 1702, the galleons left Havana, with the forty-four guns of Captain Jesus, Mary and Joseph opening a march that closed the two admiral ships, La Bufona and Azogue, with fifty-four guns each. one, and the twenty-four French ships.
However, while the two Indian fleets awaited favourable times to return, the War of Succession had broken out in Spain , when the Duke Felipe de Anjou, proclaimed Felipe V, after the death without succession, entered the Spanish crown on November 1. of 1700, of Charles II the Bewitched, the last Austria. With this, the delicate balance of power existing in Europe was broken and, united France and Spain by the Anjou, allied England, Holland and Germany.
The war forced the Golden Fleet to deviate from Cádiz, besieged by Rooke, Vigo , even knowing that the bay, under the prince of Barbanzón, captain general of the Kingdom of Galicia, was poorly defended by ruined forts, poorly equipped militias and Rande’s dismantled batteries and that the Casa de Contratación prohibited “disembarking anything from a galleon except in Cádiz and under the supervision of an official official.” In fact, it warned that “loaded galleons are safe until they can continue their navigation normally,” then, “in Vigo there is no one trained to collect the Crown tax on goods.”
Barbanzón advised Chateau-Renault to reach El Ferrol , but the fatigue of the sailors and the presence of the Anglo-Dutch squadron of Admiral Sir Cloudesley Shovel between Ortegal and Finisterre , threatening to cut them off, decided the Frenchman to reach the bottom of the river, towards Redondela, anchoring the Spaniards near the island of San Simón and the French, in a semicircle, in the mouth and the Strait of Rande. Anticipating the fight, the captain-general of Galicia gathered militias with people from La Coruña and Tuy , armed the neighbors and reinforced the forts of Corbeiro , to the north, and Rande, to the south, with eight iron cannons with a platform and twelve bronze cannons, each one, contributed by the French Vice Admiral. Finally, Velasco ordered to close the mouth of the estuary with a floating stockade made with boats, rafts and barrels tied to each other and to the banks and protected by Le Bourbon and L’Esperance.
While proceeding to the defence of the estuary and despite the refusal of Cádiz to unload the ships, the queen pressed the Council of the Indies so that the real gold was landed. For this, the Prince of Barbanzón gathered more than 1,200 carts from the country pulled by oxen that, with four chests each and a good guard, reached Pontevedra, Padrón and Lugo on mountain roads. However, the precious metals made ballast in the galleons, that is, they went to the bottom of the warehouse, so, before, the rest of the goods had to be unloaded. To account for them, the Council of the Indies gave special powers to Juan de Larrea, who arrived in Vigo, in a post-office chair, in mid-October, that is when most of the king’s belongings had been taken inside.
The activity-filled the estuary when a Cádiz patache arrived announcing that “after great losses, the Anglo-Dutch, demoralized, have raised the siege of Cádiz”. The news, along with the progressive consolidation of Felipe de Anjou as Spanish king, invited to load, again, the wineries and to undo the stockade. Even five French ships returned to Brest and militiamen and countrymen left the muskets to return home. The joy was short-lived because soon, bad news arrived. After the failure of Cádiz, one hundred and fifty English and Dutch ships, to make up, went to Vigo, following the scent of gold.
In Vigo, already ravaged by Drake, the rich fled and the churches lit up with candles imploring protection. The militia went to their posts, erected barricades, stored food … The stockade was rebuilt. Admiral José Chacón, with two hundred French sailors and one hundred and fifty Spanish muskets, fortified Rande’s batteries. Two companies of Velasco and two hundred militiamen occupied Corbeiro, a thousand protected the perimeter of the city and a few hundred were distributed by the castle of San Sebastián and the Castro, Laje and the bay of Teis. In reserve trenches, BarbanzónHe arranged three thousand poorly armed men and thirty horsemen on horseback. And, after the stockade, blocking the entrance, Chateau-Reanult placed Le Fort in the center of five French warships and the two Admiral galleons.
On October 21st, the enemy squadron appeared to the south of the Cíes and on the 22nd, in a slight mist, occupied combat positions: in front, ten Dutch ships, fifteen Englishmen and all the ships, commanded by Admiral Sir George Hopson, whose banner flew in the Torbay. He entered the estuary by the north shore, far from the reach of the earth guns and folded the guide without responding to the firing. It arrived at the stockade and it took seventeen boats with marine infantry to break it, but the batteries of Corbeiro and Rande sank two and made them flee. In the afternoon, Hopson, in the council of war with his officers, ordered the Duke of Ormond and his marine-soldiers to destroy the two forts.
At dawn on the 23rd, the Zeven Provinces, on the north, and the Association, on the south, both with ninety guns, opened fire on the forts and the ships L’Esperance and Le Bourbon. At that time, the Spaniards heard mass and received the blessing of the beggar on board. Between eleven and twelve o’clock in the morning, Ormond, with four thousand men, landed at Teis, where the peasant militias, commanded by Alonso Correa de Mendoza and Sotomayor, Count of San Bernardo and Viscount Pegullal, fled at the first shot of arquebus.
Without opposition, the English covered, swiftly, the half league that separated them from Rande, where the trenches were not finished and the bullets of the Association They had knocked down some walls. The Spaniards defended themselves for a long time, but, in the last assault, Captain Sorel fell by rejecting a group of grenadiers. Outnumbered, Admiral Chacon had to surrender. On the other bank, the Churchill regiment advanced without problems to the fort of Corbeiro, in whose tower, a hundred Spaniards endured more than an hour until it was taken.
With the English flags hoisted in the forts, the Torbay, with all the sails taking advantage of the stern wind, launched himself against the stockade, dragging barrels, boards, chains and ropes. Behind, the Grafton and the Mary, whose crew jumped and broke the barrier, despite the fire of the French ships. Then, the entire squad passed through the hole firing and ending with Le Bourbon and L’Esperance (this ran aground at the foot of Rande’s fort ).
Chateau-Renault counterattacked with Le Fort. The limited space to maneuver provoked a cruel and savage hand-to-hand combat, as the cannonade caused great damage to the ships and the mutual boarding began soon. Le Solide, dismasted, burned and exploded when the firepit reached the fire. In other ships, such as the Triton, the combat continued at nightfall and even the barber participated. The Bufona sank, dragging a large part of the crew. Lieutenant De L’Escalette he directed a fire truck loaded with Havana tobacco to the side of the Torbay to spray it with fish and set it on fire. The French lieutenant died, his second continued the mission, taking advantage of the fact that the enemy, focused on the battle, ignored him. But the fireman could not escape, he also caught fire and exploded, sending a cloud of tobacco dust over his enemy. Although the English put out the fire, one hundred and fifteen men died asphyxiated.
The French lines broke two hours later and Chateau-Renault ordered the ships to sink to prevent them from falling into enemy hands. The French Vice-Admiral himself sank his ship, fleeing in a boat with his crew, although all could not fulfill the order and some ran aground. The English Montmouth, Mary, Kent and Dordretch were the first to reach the rich galleons of the Golden Fleet. Then, Manuel de Velasco, desperate, decided to burn the ships. With the galleons sinking, many soldiers on both sides died to save some loot.
In addition to gold and silver, Rande claimed two thousand dead and as many wounded Spaniards and eight hundred dead and more than five hundred wounded English. The next day, it dawned over a bay covered by the silent undertow of combat, although, very early, the Dutch Baron Sparr attacked the empty Redondela, seizing silver worth fifty thousand pounds sterling.
While caulkers, carpenters, sailboats and sailors repaired the Torbay, badly damaged by the fire, and several Spanish and French ships ran aground, brigades were organized with more than four hundred prisoners (among them, Admiral Fernando Chacón, with forty-one officers, the lord of Aligre and the Marquis de Gallisonnière), who were forced to collect the silver and the chests and to place in rows the dead of both sides that the waves took to the beach. The divers, usual in the crew of any ship, who were well paid and worked free to repair the hull and the rudder and check funds, searched for several days near the shipwrecked galleons, as Velasco had sent many objects to the sea. beautiful. They saved some merchandise, such as precious woods and bronze cannons.
Four days later, Cloudesley Shovel arrived with twenty ships. Searching for provisions, the English attacked orchards and stables of the rounded region, but they met with the guerrillas of the peasant militias. Among them was the Count of Ribadavia, who, with vassals and friends, forced many groups to re-embark. After burning several churches and the convent of friars of the island of San Simón, the English departed on October 30, taking advantage of low tide and wind.
The Dutch, before leaving, set fire to Le Bourbon and the galleons that could not sail. Shovel stayed another ten days with twenty-seven ships, four hospital ships and the ships, Spanish and French, that had been fixed. He dismantled Rande’s fort, requisitioning cannons from ships and land batteries, and redeemed prisoners in Bayonne. He left on November 5, but, as he passed south of the Cíes, the Santo Cristo de Maracaibo, one of the richest galleons taken prisoner, touched a rock and sank.
And after the English left, the farmers arrived at Redondela to take what little was left on land, because, in the sea, Barbanzón prevented it and used divers to recover “a not inconsiderable amount of silver and merchandise that the sea water It had not rotted. ”
Source: Revista Iberica