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Date Posted: 21:46:54 04/29/16 Fri
Author: Albert Parker
Subject: Re: Spanish Ships of the Line 1700-1860
In reply to: John Tredrea 's message, "Re: Spanish Ships of the Line 1700-1860" on 16:48:27 04/29/16 Fri

>Even after the Bourbon accession began to see the
>establishment of a centralized naval bureaucracy, what
>records exist are the results of whatever protocols
>were maintained by the local shipyards. During this
>period, political organization in Spain remained
>feudalized to a degree unimaginable for the north
>European states and this is reflected throughout the
>entire period up to the Napoleonic Wars.

My impression for the 18th century is that the Spanish had good records but that they were not centrally archived and well organized. A lot has been published in recent years on 18th century Spanish naval history. The Spanish navy might not have required its captains to maintain daily journals of their proceedings like the British, and, I believe, the Swedish navies did, but recent histories have made use of reports from Spanish admirals. My impression—and perhaps someone from Spain can confirm or dispute this—is that either (1) the naval records in the Archivo General de Indias and the Archivo General de Simancas (that neither of these is in Madrid is telling in itself) have only recently been indexed in a usable manner or (2) only recently have historians had the interest and energy to search through them to find the relevant material. From an operational standpoint, I think the situation is exacerbated by the fact that at least some records of overseas operations were sent to the Indies archive in Seville while those in European waters were sent to the metropolitan archive in Simancas. It would be as though the records of Admiral Rodney's operations in the West Indies in 1782 were in a different location in England from the reports by Admiral Howe of his simultaneous operations in the English Channel. There might not be monthly returns of the location of every warship in commission, with station totals for ships, guns, and establishment crew, like the monthly British "List of H.M. Ships in Sea Pay," but there was a lot more than Spanish naval historians seem to have used in the 19th and 20th centuries. For the period in which I have long been specializing, I have found published lists of the location of every Spanish warship with its gun rating in 1737 and one for early in the War of Jenkins's Ear (mid-1740) that was used by the Spain's equivalent of a "war cabinet" or "national security council." The latter was included in a doctoral dissertation in 2009 but omitted from the book version published in 2010.

Spanish naval shipbuilding, like that for the British and French navies, remained decentralized in locations remote from the capital, and even on the other side of the Atlantic, but designs were drawn up centrally and it's hard to believe that there was no reporting on progress to Madrid. The equivalents of British progress books might have remained in the individual shipyards, but there are detailed histories now of most of them. I think navy ministers in Madrid knew what ships they had, what condition each was in, etc. Certainly they did in the Nine Years' War (1739–48) and they were able to send large fleets to sea in the wars of 1779–83 and 1793–1800, and 1803–1805. To do that, they had to have accurate information, so it does not seem that corrupt local administrators were lying about the state of the ships under their care, reporting nonexistent ships, etc.

Spain was a poorer country than Britain or France in the 19th and early 20th centuries, and still is statistically, although the gap narrowed in the second half of the 20th century. Spain might have had fewer resources for examining its naval history in detail, including fewer archivists to organize its records. I think it's fair to say that there has been an enormous expansion of literature on Spanish naval history of the 18th century in recent years—I don't know about the period before that, or after 1805—and perhaps Spain is catching up to its adversary Britain and ally France.

The situation before 1700 is, as far as I know, as John described. Spain had several "navies," including a "navy of Flanders" based in the Spanish Netherlands or modern Belgium as well as the Armada del mar del sur or Pacific fleet, with a shipyard at Guayaquil that was even more remote from Madrid. Ruyter's difficulties and frustrations are not at all surprising.

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