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Spanish Navy (Armada)

The Spaniards have a country for whose honor no sacrifice is too great; and the sailors have glorious traditions to uphold. The Spanish flag is the scepter of the seas, the symbol of the most navigating nation of the world ; it is the banner that waved as sovereign in two hemispheres. Columbus sailed under it, Churruca died for it, Nelson perished in front of it. The Spanish navy boasts twenty-three centuries of glory, the Roman navy lives again in that of Spain. They share the glory of the destruction of Punic power in the Mediterranean and the other victories of the Latin navy. The men who man the ships of Spain inherit the genius that came into existence under the powerful wings of the Roman eagles.

Few chapters in naval history are more interesting or more fraught with serious practical applications than the story of the decline and fall of the Spanish power at sea. The causes of that decadence may be sought for as much in nepotism and corruption as in unfavourable political and social conditions ; but whatever its origin, it conveys a striking warning of the ease with which maritime supremacy may be lost. The Spanish navy never recovered from the defeat of the Armada; it finally collapsed after Trafalgar, and has only during the last years of the nineteenth century began to emerge from the state of torpor in which it has existed for most of the century.

The administrative history of the Spanish navy is singularly confused and broken. It might almost be said that the country had no navy in the full sense of the word - that is to say, no organized maritime force provided and governed by the slate for warlike purposes only - until one was created on the French model by the sovereigns of Ihc Bourbon dynasly i.e. after 1700. Yet the kings of the Spanish peninsula, whether they wore the crown of Castile and Leon or of Aragon, had fleets, formed, like all the others of the middle ages, partly of ships supplied by the coast towns and populations, partly of the royal vessels. Aragon was a purely Mediterranean power. Its fleets, which were chiefly supported by Barcelona, a flourishing commercial city, were composed of galleys.

With the union of the crown in 1479 Aragon fell into Ihe background, and its navy continued to be represented only by a few galleys, for service in the Mediterranean against the pirates. The dominions of Castile stretched from the Bay of Biscay to the Mediterranean. Its kings, therefore, had need both of ships and galleys. The first beginnings of the Castilian navy were not due to the king, bul to the foresight and enterprise of Diego Gelmirez, bishop and afterwards first archbishop of Santiago in Galicia. In or about 1120 he employed the Genoese Ogcrio to form a dockyard at Iria, and to build vessels. The naval activity of the coast of the Bay of Biscay developed so rapidly that in 1147 a squadron from the northern ports took part in the conquest by Alfonso VII (1120-1157) in alliance with the Pisans.

A century later (1248) another squadron constructed at the expense of the king Fernando III El Santo (1217-1252), and commanded by Count Ramon Bonifaz of Burgos, the first admiral of Castile, took a decisive part in the conquest of Seville. The annexation of Andalucia and the nccessily for guarding against invasions from Africa called for a great extension of the navy of Castile. Alfonso X Sabio (1252-1284) founded the great galley dockyards of Seville - the arsenal. It was also the work of Genoese builders and administrators. The towns of the northern coast formed one of the associations so common in Spanish history, and known as hermandades (brotherhoods). The first meeting of its delegates took place at Castrourdiales near Bilhao, when the towns of Santander, Laredo, Bcrmco, Guetaria, San Sebastian and Vitoria were represented. The hermandad de la marisma (the seafarers) of Castile supplied the squadrons which took an active part in the wars of the 14th and 15th centuries between France and England as allies of the French. Its history is obscure, and it came to an end with the establishment of the full authority of the crown by the Catholic sovereigns Ferdinand and Isabel.

In the thirteenth century Castile, which had traditionally turned away from intervention in European affairs, developed a merchant marine in the Atlantic that successfully challenged the Hanseatic League (a peaceful league of merchants of various free German cities) for dominance in the coastal trade with France, England, and the Netherlands. The economic climate necessary for sustained economic development was notably lacking, however, in Castile. The reasons for this situation appear to have been rooted both in the structure of the economy and in the attitude of the Castilians. Restrictive corporations closely regulated all aspects of the economy -- production, trade, and even transport. The most powerful of these corporations, the mesta, controlled the production of wool, Castile's chief export. Perhaps a greater obstacle for economic development was that commercial activity enjoyed little social esteem. Noblemen saw business as beneath their station and derived their incomes and prestige from landownership. Successful bourgeois entrepreneurs, who aspired to the petty nobility, invested in land rather than in other sectors of the economy because of the social status attached to owning land. This attitude deprived the economy of needed investments and engendered stagnation rather than growth.





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