The Battle of San Juan de Ulúa
was a battle between English privateers and Spanish forces at San Juan de Ulúa
San Juan de Ulúa, also known as Castle of San Juan de Ulúa is a large complex of fortresses, prisons and one former palace on an island overlooking the seaport of Veracruz, Mexico.-History:...
(in modern Veracruz
Veracruz, formally Veracruz de Ignacio de la Llave officially Estado Libre y Soberano de Veracruz de Ignacio de la Llave , is one of the 31 states that, along with the Federal District, comprise the 32 federative entities of Mexico. It is divided in 212 municipalities and its capital city is...
). It marked the end of the campaign carried out by an English flotilla of 6 ships that had systematically conducted illegal trade in the Caribbean Sea
In the days of the Spanish New World Empire, the mainland of the American continent enclosing the Caribbean Sea and the Gulf of Mexico was referred to as the Spanish Main. It included present-day Florida, the east shore of the Gulf of Mexico in Texas, Mexico, Central America and the north coast of...
, including the slave trade, imposing it even by force.
The English fleet consisted of 5 ships: the Royal carrack
A carrack or nau was a three- or four-masted sailing ship developed in 15th century Western Europe for use in the Atlantic Ocean. It had a high rounded stern with large aftcastle, forecastle and bowsprit at the stem. It was first used by the Portuguese , and later by the Spanish, to explore and...
s Jesus of Lübeck
(leased from Queen Elizabeth) under John Hawkins
Admiral Sir John Hawkins was an English shipbuilder, naval administrator and commander, merchant, navigator, and slave trader. As treasurer and controller of the Royal Navy, he rebuilt older ships and helped design the faster ships that withstood the Spanish Armada in 1588...
, the Minion
under John Hampton, and the barque
A barque, barc, or bark is a type of sailing vessel with three or more masts.- History of the term :The word barque appears to have come from the Greek word baris, a term for an Egyptian boat. This entered Latin as barca, which gave rise to the Italian barca, Spanish barco, and the French barge and...
under Francis Drake
Sir Francis Drake, Vice Admiral was an English sea captain, privateer, navigator, slaver, and politician of the Elizabethan era. Elizabeth I of England awarded Drake a knighthood in 1581. He was second-in-command of the English fleet against the Spanish Armada in 1588. He also carried out the...
. A captured Portuguese
Portugal , officially the Portuguese Republic is a country situated in southwestern Europe on the Iberian Peninsula. Portugal is the westernmost country of Europe, and is bordered by the Atlantic Ocean to the West and South and by Spain to the North and East. The Atlantic archipelagos of the...
A caravel is a small, highly maneuverable sailing ship developed in the 15th century by the Portuguese to explore along the West African coast and into the Atlantic Ocean. The lateen sails gave her speed and the capacity for sailing to windward...
joined the privateers near the coast of Ghana
Ghana , officially the Republic of Ghana, is a country located in West Africa. It is bordered by Côte d'Ivoire to the west, Burkina Faso to the north, Togo to the east, and the Gulf of Guinea to the south...
, where the English compete with Portuguese slave traders. The ship was renamed Grace of God
. A seventh ship, the barque William and John
, sailed back home before the battle, but after reaching Ireland
Ireland is an island to the northwest of continental Europe. It is the third-largest island in Europe and the twentieth-largest island on Earth...
on February 1569, she was lost with all hands on her way back to England. Following a full year of plundering and illegal trading, Hawkins decided to anchor his ships in the port of San Juan de Ulúa on 15 September for repairs and resupply before the return voyage to England. But while they were carrying out this reprovisioning a Spanish escort fleet also arrived in the port.
Initially the English did not fear for their safety, since they had on board several hostages who had confused the English fleet for a Spanish one, and so at first arrived at an accord with viceroy Martín Enríquez de Almanza
Don Martín Enríquez de Almanza was the fourth viceroy of New Spain, who ruled from November 5, 1568 until October 3, 1580. He was subsequently viceroy of Peru, from September 23, 1581 until his death in 1583. His birthplace and origins are uncertain...
. The English had repeatedly broken the peace by attacking unarmed merchant shipping but at this point they believed the Spanish would respect a truce on this occasion. However, Lujan had been informed of the English fleets activities and, after many attempts at an accord, he launched a lightning attack on them in which the English lost 4 ships and 500 men as well as almost all of their year's loot, which was re-captured by the Spanish. Lujan's fleet lost the vice-admiral ship, the galleon
A galleon was a large, multi-decked sailing ship used primarily by European states from the 16th to 18th centuries. Whether used for war or commerce, they were generally armed with the demi-culverin type of cannon.-Etymology:...
, which burnt and sunk inside the port. The flagship San Pedro
, the only full-armed Spanish ship at San Juan, was also badly hit during an exchange of fire with Minion
, which also suffered damage. The early assault and capture of the island's batteries -hold until then by the English- by a Spanish pinnace
As a ship's boat the pinnace is a light boat, propelled by sails or oars, formerly used as a "tender" for guiding merchant and war vessels. In modern parlance, pinnace has come to mean a boat associated with some kind of larger vessel, that doesn't fit under the launch or lifeboat definitions...
, commanded by a captain Delgadillo, became decisive to the fate of the English fleet. Angel
sank after a few salvoes, and Swalow
was seized by the Spaniards soldiers manning the batteries. The French
The French Republic , The French Republic , The French Republic , (commonly known as France , is a unitary semi-presidential republic in Western Europe with several overseas territories and islands located on other continents and in the Indian, Pacific, and Atlantic oceans. Metropolitan France...
commander of the Grace of God
, Robert Blondel, set her on fire before joining Hawkins on board the Jesus
. Both of them, along with some members of the crew of the Jesus
were later rescued by a pinnace after Hawkins gave the order to abandon the ship. Hawkins took command then of the Minion
Only the Judith
, commanded by Drake and Minion
escaped, whilst battle was still raging on, leaving behind them the Jesus of Lübeck
and some members of her crew still on board. The surviving vessels sailed out when two ships on fire were driven on them by the Spanish. The Englishmen feared a fire ship
A fire ship, used in the days of wooden rowed or sailing ships, was a ship filled with combustibles, deliberately set on fire and steered into an enemy fleet, in order to destroy ships, or to create panic and make the enemy break formation. Ships used as fire ships were usually old and worn out or...
attack. The Jesus
was eventually boarded by a Spanish party who had been lurking inside a nearby hulk, the San Salvador
, under the command of captain Juan de Ubilla. A first Spanish attempt had been beaten off by Hawkins' crew, not before suffering some dead and injured. There are allegations that Ubilla allowed his men to loot the booty left on board the Jesus
During their withdrawal, the Minion
and the Judith
were hopelessly overcrowded, and some of their men had to be abandoned on what is now the southern coast of the United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...
to save on supplies for the Atlantic
The Atlantic Ocean is the second-largest of the world's oceanic divisions. With a total area of about , it covers approximately 20% of the Earth's surface and about 26% of its water surface area...
crossing. Hawkins left behind 110 men to surrender to the Spanish. He eventually arrived back to England with a crew of only 15. Drake had reached Plymouth
Plymouth is a city and unitary authority area on the coast of Devon, England, about south-west of London. It is built between the mouths of the rivers Plym to the east and Tamar to the west, where they join Plymouth Sound...
just days before, on 20 January 1569. Only 70 or 80 sailors from the original expedition returned to England at all.
While Hawkins accused the Spaniards of treason for not honouring the truce, Almanza's only intention was to hold his authority and the Spanish monopoly
A monopoly exists when a specific person or enterprise is the only supplier of a particular commodity...
in West Indies.
The battle was a clear precursor of the war that broke out between Philip II of Spain
Philip II was King of Spain, Portugal, Naples, Sicily, and, while married to Mary I, King of England and Ireland. He was lord of the Seventeen Provinces from 1556 until 1581, holding various titles for the individual territories such as duke or count....
and Elizabeth I of England
Elizabeth I was queen regnant of England and Ireland from 17 November 1558 until her death. Sometimes called The Virgin Queen, Gloriana, or Good Queen Bess, Elizabeth was the fifth and last monarch of the Tudor dynasty...