1702-10-23 – Battle of Vigo Bay

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Hierarchical Path: War of the Spanish Succession (Main Page) >> Battles and Encounters >> 1702-10-23 – Battle of Vigo Bay

Anglo-Dutch victory

Prelude to the Battle

In September 1702, a Franco-Spanish fleet of 21 ships-of-the-line, 3 frigates, 1 schooner and 1 fireship under the command of M. de Château-Renault was escorting a large fleet of commercial ship, under Admiral Manuel de Velasco y Tejada, arriving from the West Indies towards Cádiz when Château-Renault was informed of the presence of an Anglo-Dutch amphibious force at Cádiz. Considering the impossibility to reach Cádiz in face of such a superior force, he tried to convince the Spanish captains to head for a French port rather than to sail towards the Spanish coasts. Nevertheless, the Spanish captains insisted to sail towards Vigo Bay even if the Prince de Barbanzón and the Comte de Château-Renault mentioned that the harbour did not offer any real protection.

On 22 September, the Franco-Spanish fleet anchored in front of Vigo. Château-Renault detached 5 ships-of-the-line to Santander and one to San Lucar. The frigate “La Jolie” could not reach Vigo. Therefore, Château-Renault had 15 French ships-of-the-line, 2 frigates, 1 schooner and 1 fireship with him at Vigo. For his part, the Spanish Admiral Don Manuel de Velasco had 3 warships, 3 large transports and 17 galleons.

The governor of Galicia, the Prince of Barbanzón, in collaboration with the naval commanders, immediately took dispositions to protect the fleet. He assembled militia and repaired the defensive works (Fort Rande on the south shore, Fort of Corbeiro on the north shore) guarding the strait. He reinforced these forts with 20 French heavy guns (8 iron and 12 brass). Finally a boom was drawn across the strait.

There was still ample time to unload the gold and silver ingots and the merchandise and to move them inland. Alternatively, the Franco-Spanish fleet could still search for a better refuge. However, the Chamber of Commerce of Cádiz objected to the unloading of the galleons in Vigo Bay, arguing that Cádiz was the only harbour allowed to receive shipments from the West Indies which had to pay custom rights upon arrival.

The situation was debated in Madrid but it would take a full month to finally authorise the unloading of the cargo in Vigo Bay.

On 30 September, the Anglo-Dutch fleet raised the Siege of Cádiz which it had vainly tried to capture.

On 2 October 1702, several British vessels belonging to the fleet who had taken part in the failed attempt against Cádiz were sent into Lagos Bay to water. One of these was the Pembroke (60). Her chaplain, a Mr. Beauvoir, was among the officers who went on shore. By accident he encountered, and struck up an acquaintance with the French Consul, a boastful person, who, in his anxiety to magnify the power of France, injudiciously hinted that, not far off, King Louis XIV, unknown to the Allies, had a considerable force of ships, and that with them, in perfect safety, were certain Spanish galleons which had lately arrived from the Indies. Mr. Beauvoir, a gentleman of much tact, seized an opportunity of obtaining corroborative evidence that M. de Château-Renault, from Brest, with ships and galleons, was in Vigo Bay. Having secured as much intelligence as possible, he hurried on board, roused Captain Hardy, who was in bed, and told him the news, which was then, by direction of the senior officer, sent off to Sir George Rooke.

It should be noted here that the movements of M. de Château-Renault had already been reported in Great Britain, and that the government had, in consequence, taken measures to advise Sir George Rooke and had also ordered Sir Clowdisley Shovell, from the Channel, to reinforce him. However, the news did not arrive from home until after the information obtained by Mr. Beauvoir had been acted upon.

When M. de Château-Renault heard that the Anglo-Dutch fleet had abandoned his enterprise against Cádiz, he sent back five of his ships of the line to Brest in France.

The viceroy of Galicia received intelligence that the Anglo-Dutch fleet intended to attack the fleet who had taken refuge in Vigo Bay.

On 17 October, the Pembroke (60) of Captain Hardy finally discovered the Franco-Spanish fleet.

On 18 October, the Allied admirals, after having held the inevitable council of war, decided that it was their duty to attack this fleet.

Rooke steered for Vigo, dispatching ahead a couple of light ships.

On 19 October, the unloading of the gold and silver ingots finally began with all zeal at Vigo Bay to transfer them to Lugo, by way of mountain roads. The Prince of Barbanzón had assembled more than 1,400 ox-drawn carts and 2,000 mules for this purpose. Since the precious metal had been used as ballast in the galleons, all other merchandise had first to be unloaded to get access to the ingots. However, nothing was decided about these other goods, in spite of the urgent request of the Chamber of Commerce of Sevilla.

The same day (19 October), British frigates entered into the Pontevedra estuary and Vigo Bay, where they learned from captured fishermen that a large fleet was anchored. This caused panic in Vigo and merchants accelerated the unloading of their ships. Three additional merchantmen were sunk in the strait of Rande to block the entry.

On the night of 20 October, the Allied light ships returned with confirmation of the news brought by Captain Hardy and with further intelligence to the effect that the enemy lay in Redondela Harbour.

Early on the morning of 21 October, a vessel from Sir Clowdisley Shovell's squadron also came into the fleet, reporting that Sir Clowdisley was off Cape Finisterre and had orders to join the Commander-in-Chief.

On the afternoon of 22 October, in hazy weather, Rooke entered the Bay and anchored off Vigo.

M. de Château-Renault was not unprepared. Across the narrow mouth of Redondela Harbour, between Fort Rande and Fort Corbeiro, he had drawn a boom of masts, yards, chains, cables and casks, of great strength. He had strongly anchored it and, near each end of it, he had moored one of his largest men-of-war (the Bourbon (68) at the north end and the Espérance (70) at the south end). Within the boom he had moored 5 other large men-of-war, with their broadsides bearing upon the entrance. Covering the southern shore end of the boom, the stone Fort Rande received 13 guns and a heavy improvised battery or platform mounted with eight 24-pdrs. Covering the northern shore end was a battery of 13 36-pdr guns at the North Fort. Fort Rande was manned by 200 French marines and 150 Spaniards under Admiral José Chacón. Meanwhile, Velasco sent 2 coys and 200 militiamen to defend Fort Corbeiro on the other side of the strait. The Prince de Barbanzón had called the militia of Galicia to defend Vigo and to support the fleet: 1,000 men were posted in Vigo and a few hundred in the Castle of San Sebastián and the Castro, Laje and the bay of Teis. Barbanzón kept 3,000 poorly armed militiamen and 30 mounted nobles in reserve. A few light ships were left in the Isles of Bayona to observe the Anglo-Dutch fleet. The remaining French ships and the Spanish galleons, lay much farther up and, so long as the boom remained intact, they were well out of gunshot of the Allies. Indeed, the whole position was very strong.

Upon anchoring, Rooke again called a council of war, at which it was decided that, seeing that the whole fleet could not be advantageously employed in such narrow waters, a detachment only should be sent in, unless necessity should arise for the services of the whole force and that in the meantime the troops should be landed to co-operate on the south side.

It was also determined at the council that, to encourage the men, all flag-officers should accompany the attack, shifting, if requisite, their flags for the purpose. However, Lieutenant-Admiral van Almonde remained off Vigo.

In the night of 22 to 23 October, Rooke passed from ship to ship giving orders and inspiriting his officers and men. He did all that lay in his power to ensure the success of the operations on the following day.


Map of the battle of Vigo Bay in 1702 published in Wikimedia Commons by user Rebel Redcoat and released in the public domain

Vigo Bay is a roomy opening and excellent anchorage on the south-western coast of Galicia. Its entrance is sheltered from the force of the Atlantic rollers by a group of three islands: the Isles of Bayona. At the head of Vigo Bay, or eastern extremity, the bay broadens somewhat, and forms the harbour of Redondela.

Heights surrounded the bay intersected by short, steep valleys. The long and wider valley of the Rio Berdugo was located at the northern end of the inner harbour.

Near the entrance to the middle bay, west of Vigo, were two old towers: one on the southern coast, on the way to Vigo near Alcabré; the opposite at Darvo, on the Punta Cangrosa (Cangas). These towers were almost worthless for defence of the broad entrance. The first serious defences were those of the fortified town of Vigo (approx. 3,000 inhabitants). Furthermore a castle stood on a height between Vigo and the sea.

To the east of Vigo stood a small group of buildings known as the Hermitage (present-day Castelleto de la Farola Olivebo).

The entrance of the inner harbour was defended by two forts: Fort Rande on the south shore and the small Fort of Corbeiro on the north shore located on a height and barely able to fire effectively on ships trying to force the entrance.

Description of Events

Early in the morning of 23 October, Rooke’s ships entered the estuary along the north bank, out of range of the shore batteries. They put 17 boats to sea Corbeiro's and Rande's batteries sank two and the rest to retire.

In the afternoon, the Duke of Ormonde with some 2,500 men was landed on the south side of the bay near the Hermitage (aka Teis). This force was headed by 500 British and Dutch grenadiers under Lord Shannon, Colonel Pierce of the Coldstream Guards and a Dutch major. The first brigade consisted of 1 bn of Guards, the Prince George of Denmark's Foot, Ventris Columbine's Foot and Edward Fox's Marines under the direct command of the Duke of Ormonde and Brigadier Hamilton while the second brigade consisted of the Queen Dowager's Foot, William Seymour's Foot, Royal Fusiliers (3 coys), George Villier's Marines (5 coys) and Lord Shannon's Marines under Lord Portmore and Brigadier Lloyd. The Dutch were commanded by Baron Sparre and Brigadier Pallandt.

Ormonde advanced eastwards. His grenadiers gallantly carried the fort and platform of Fort Rande at the south end of the boom while other troops drove back the defenders of the castle near Vigo. In the meantime, Sir George Rooke ordered the vessels which had been selected to make the attack to weigh. They did so, forming line but when the van had approached within gunshot of the batteries, it fell calm, and they were obliged to re-anchor.

Around 2:00 p.m., a brisk breeze then suddenly sprang up, whereupon the Torbay (80), which lay nearest to the enemy, immediately cut her cable, and, making all sail, bore up for the boom, under a heavy fire from the foe. The boom gave way at the first shock, and, passing within it, Vice-Admiral Hopsonn anchored between the Bourbon and the Espérance and resolutely engaged both of them. The other ships of his division, and the ships of the division of Vice-Admiral van der Goes, had weighed when Hopsonn cut. They came in line abreast upon the remnants of the boom, which, because it was less rigid than at first, and because the briskness of the breeze had temporarily died away, brought them up, and obliged them to laboriously hack their passage through it. But, when the breeze freshened once more, the Zeven Provincien found her way to the opening which the Torbay had made, and laid herself on board the Bourbon, which she soon forced to strike.

Vice-Admiral Hopsonn, who for some time had had a formidable opponent on each side of him, and had been practically alone, was somewhat relieved by the capture of the Bourbon but he was still in a perilous situation.

Château-Renault counterattacked with the Fort but he could not easily manoeuvre in such a cramped space.

Hopsonn was then attacked by a vessel which the French had improvised as a fireship and he soon found his rigging in flames. It chanced that this vessel was laden with snuff and when at length she blew up, although she did a great amount of damage, her cargo was thrown in such dense masses over the Torbay that it had the effect of partially extinguishing the fire. Hopsonn was further relieved by the covering fire of the Association (96), which had by that time brought her broadside to bear upon the land works on the north side. Yet the Torbay (80), which had lost 115 men, killed or drowned, was so battered and burnt as to be almost helpless. The Vice-Admiral had subsequently to transfer his flag to the Monmouth (64), which entered the harbour when the fight was nearly over.

After the action which had lasted for little more than half an hour, M. de Château-Renault found his landworks on the south side carried, his boom cut to pieces, his fireship expended in vain, the Bourbon taken, and the Anglo-Dutch fleet pouring in upon him. Despairing of being able to make any further resistance, Château-Renault ordered his captains to burn their ships, and himself set them the example. Owing, however, to the confusion and haste, the directions were not in every case carried out, and many ships fell into the hands of the British and Dutch. Most of the officers and men got ashore and escaped but about 400 fell into the hands of the victors, including the Marquis de la Galissonnière, the captains of the Assuré and of the Volontaire, and the Spanish Admiral Don Jose Chacón.


The entire Franco-Spanish squadron was taken or destroyed:

  • burnt:
    • Fort (70)
    • Solide (50)
    • Prudent (60)
    • Oriflamme (64)
    • Dauphin (40)
    • Entreprenant (22)
    • Choquante (8)
    • Favori fireship
    • 3 gunboats
  • taken and destroyed
    • Espérance (70)
    • Sirène (60)
    • Superbe (70)
    • Volontaire (46)
    • Jesus Maria José (70)
    • Bufona (54)
    • Capitana de Assoges (54)
  • taken
    • Prompt (76) commissioned in the Royal Navy on 27 October as the Prompt Prize, Captain Edward Rumsey
    • Assuré (66) commissioned in the Royal Navy on 27 October as the Assurance, Captain John Mitchell
    • Bourbon (68)
    • Ferme (72) commissioned in the Royal Navy on 25 October as the Ferme, Captain Salmon Morris
    • Modéré (56) commissioned in the Royal Navy on 28 October as the Moderate, Captain John Balchen
    • Triton (42) commissioned in the Royal Navy on 25 October as the Triton Prize, Captain William Scaley
  • taken or burnt
    • all 17 galleons (see order of battle for details)

The British land forces lost 2 lieutenants and 30 men killed; 4 superior officers and about 40 men wounded. The British fleet for its part lost 300 men killed and 500 wounded. The Franco-Spanish lost 2,000 killed or wounded and 500 taken prisoners.

The victory was most crushing, every vessel in Redondela Harbour being either taken or destroyed. Nor was it a very bloody triumph. The Torbay (80) was the only ship of the Allies that suffered heavy loss. The other ships together seem to have lost not more than a dozen killed or wounded and the French were little worse off. The glory of the day undoubtedly lay largely with Vice-Admiral Hopsonn, who, for his gallantry and great services, was knighted by the Queen on 10 December following, and afterwards granted a pension of £500 a year, with a reversion of £300 a year to his wife, in case she should survive him. His officers and men were also specially rewarded.

The treasure and booty taken were of enormous value, the flotilla of galleons having been the richest which had ever reached Europe from the West Indies. Some of the lading had been removed before the action but it was estimated that gold, silver and cargo, to the value of 13 million pieces of eight, fell into the hands of the victors or were destroyed.

The town of Redondela fell to the Duke of Ormonde, but Vigo was not systematically attacked. It was at one time proposed to reduce it, and to leave part of the fleet to winter in the bay but Sir George Rooke opposed the project.

On 27 October, Sir Clowdisley Shovell, with a squadron of 20 ships of the line from England, joined the fleet. The same day, the troops marched from Redondela to embark.

On 28 and 29 October, the troops were re-embarked.

On 30 October, Sir George Rooke, with part of his force, sailed for England, leaving Sir Clowdisley Shovell to refit the prizes, save as much treasure and as many guns as possible and complete the destruction of such vessels as could not be moved. Shovell quickly carried out his instructions, and effected an exchange of prisoners.

On 6 November, Shovell began his homeward voyage. While still off Vigo, Captain Francis Wyvell of the Barfleur (90), made prize of the Dartmouth (50), a British man-of-war which had been taken by the French in February 1695. She was restored to the service and commissioned by Captain Thomas Long, but, as there was already another Dartmouth, she was, in memory of the scene of her recapture, named the Vigo Prize. The passage home was a stormy one and the fleet was dispersed.

On 18 November the whole fleet, except a prize galleon, and a French vessel which had been taken at sea by the Nassau, ultimately reached port in safety.

Order of Battle

Anglo-Dutch Order of Battle

Commander-in-chief: Admiral Sir George Rooke seconded by Lieutenant-Admiral van Almonde

N.B.: only part of the Anglo-Dutch feel was involved in this battle, the harbour not allowing to use the entire fleet. The present order of battle lists only ships who took part in the action.

  • First line
    • British division of Vice-Admiral Thomas Hopsonn, forming the right wing
      • Mary (62), Captain Edward Hopsonn
      • Grafton (70), Captain Thomas Harlow
      • Torbay (80), Captain Andrew Leake (Vice-Admiral Thomas Hopsonn's flagship)
      • Kent (70), Captain John Jennings
      • Monmouth (64), Captain John Baker
      • Phoenix fireship
      • Vulture fireship, Commander Thomas Long
    • Dutch division of Vice-Admiral P. van der Goes, forming the left wing
      • Dordrecht (72), Captain Barend van der Pott
      • Zeven Provincien (92), Captain Starrenburgh (Vice-Admiral P. van der Goes' flagship)
      • Veluwe (64), Captain Baron van Wassenaer
      • Olyfbom fireship
  • Second line
    • British division of Rear-Admiral Sir Stafford Fairborne
      • Berwick (70), Captain Richard Edwards
      • Essex (70), Captain John Hubbard (Rear-Admiral Sir Stafford Fairborne's flagship)
      • Swiftsure (70), Captain Robert Wynn
      • Terrible fireship, Commander Edward Rumsey
      • Griffin fireship, Commander William Scaley
    • British division of Admiral Sir George Rooke
      • Ranelagh (80), Captain Richard Fitzpatrick
      • Somerset (80), Captain Thomas Dilkes (Admiral Sir George Rooke's flagship)
      • Bedford (70), Captain Henry Haughton
      • Hawk fireship, Commander Bennet Allen
      • Hunter fireship, Commander Sir Charles Rich
    • Dutch division of Lieutenant-Admiral Callenburgh
      • Slot Muiden (72), Captain Schrijver
      • Holland (72)
      • Unie (94) (Lieutenant-Admiral Callenburgh and Vice-Admiral Baron J. G. van Wasseuaer's flagship)
      • Reygerburgh (74), Captain Lijnslager
      • Salamander fireship
  • Rearguard
    • British division of Rear-Admiral John Graydon
    • Dutch division of Vice-Admiral Anthonij Pieterson
      • Gouda (64), Captain Somelsdijk
      • Wapen van Alkmaar (72) (Vice-Admiral Anthonij Pietersen's flagship)
      • Katwijk (72), Captain Beeckman
      • Eendragt fireship

The following ships were not in the line, they were rather assigned to the attack of the forts at the mouth of the harbour:

These three lines were followed by

  • 5 unidentified British frigates
  • 3 Dutch frigates
    • Gorkum (??)
    • Beschuiter (??)
    • Wolf (??)
  • 5 unidentified British bombs
  • 3 unidentified Dutch bombs

On board the Anglo-Dutch fleet were embarked some 9,000 British and 4,000 Dutch troops under General Duke of Ormonde and Major-General Baron de Sparre.

Franco-Spanish Order of Battle

Commander-in-chief: Château-Renault

  • First line behind the boom (ship listed from north to south):
    • Bourbon (68), Captain Montbault
    • Ferme (72), Captain Beaussier
    • Modéré (56), Captain L'Autier
    • Solide (50), Captain Champmeslin
    • Prudent (60), Captain Grandpré
    • Assuré (66), Captain d'Aligre
    • Fort (70), Admiral Château-Renault
    • Prompt (76), Vice-Admiral Beaujeu
    • Sirène (60), Captain Mongon
    • Superbe (70), Captain Botteville
    • Dauphin (40), Captain Duplessis
    • Triton (42), Captain de Court
    • Volontaire (46), Captain Sorel
    • Espérance (70), Captain Gallissonnière
  • Second line (ship listed from north to south):
    • Oriflamme (64), Captain Tricambault
    • Entreprenant (22)
    • Émeraude (22)
    • unidentified French schooner
    • Choquante (8)
    • Favori fireship
  • Third line covering the galleons and transport ships (unknown deployment)
    • Spanish Jesus Maria José (70)
    • Spanish Bufona (54)
    • Spanish Capitana de Assoges (54)

Other vessels under the command of Manuel de Velasco.

  • Nuestra Señora de la Merced (36)
  • Trinidad (34)
  • 1 unidentified Spanish transport
  • 17 Spanish galleons
    • Santísima Trinidad (44)
    • San Juan Bautista (50) former HMS Dartmouth captured by the French and later sold to Spain
    • Nuestra Señora del Rosario y las Animas (44) armed merchantman
    • Santo Cristo de Maracaibo (40) armed merchantman
    • Santo Cristo del Buen Viaje (36) armed merchantman
    • Santa Cruz (36) armed merchantman
    • Santo Domingo (30) armed merchantman
    • Adjuan Bexta (30) armed merchantman
    • Nuestra Señora de los Dolores (30) armed merchantman
    • Nuestra Señora de la Merced (30) armed merchantman
    • Toro (26) armed merchantman
    • Nuestra Señora de las Angustias (24) armed merchantman
    • San Diego de San Francisco Javier (12) armed merchantman
    • 4 unidentified armed merchantmen
  • 3 gunboats


This article incorporates texts from the following books which are now in the public domain:

  • Clowes, Wm. Laird: The Royal Navy – A History from the Earliest Time to the Present, Vol. II, Sampson Low, Marston and Company, London: 1898, pp. 380-386
  • Abtheilung für Kriegsgeschichte des k. k. Kriegs-Archives: Feldzüge des Prinzen Eugen von Savoyen, Series 1, Vol. 4, Vienna 1877, pp. 590-600
  • MacKinson, Daniel: Origin and services of the Coldstream Guards, vol. 1, London: Richard Bentley, 1833, pp. 284-286
  • Spanish Succession, War of the, in Encyclopaedia Britannica (c1910-1922), Vol. 25, p. 607

Other sources

Arre Caballo - Guerra de Sucesión Española. Campañas en 1.702