1703 – Operations in the Mediterranean

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Hierarchical Path: War of the Spanish Succession (Main Page) >> Campaigns >> 1703 – Operations in the Mediterranean

The campaign lasted from July to December 1703

Description of Events

During the winter of 1702-1703, Great Britain increased its total number of sailors and gunners to 40,000 men.

In March 1703, the Austrian envoy at The Hague tried to convince the Dutch to send a squadron in the Mediterranean and Adriatic Sea. Heinsius agreed to send a reconnoitring party under Captain Haly in the Mediterranean to determine if operations on the coast of Italy could be considered.

On 20 March, Haly very warmly recommanded operation in the Adriatic Sea and possibly also against some Italian ports. Thus this plan was accepted and preparations were undertaken.

By the beginning of May, the Dutch had completed the armament of their ships. Overall they put only 40 ships at sea: 18 ships under the command of Admiral Allemonde and Vice-Admiral van der Boll were sent to join the British fleet assembling at Spithead; 10 ships sailed for the Mediterranean and the Adriatic under the command of Admiral Kallembourg; and 12 ships were ordered to cruise along the coasts of Holland. The rest of the Dutch fleet remained unarmed in harbours.

On 16 May, a squadron of 16 ships under the command of Admiral Cook set off from England and sailed along the French coasts up to the Bay of Biscay.

In May, Portugal signed the Treaty of Methuen, by which it joined the alliance of the British and Dutch, with the Holy Roman Empire.

When he heard of this alliance, Philip V immediately asked Louis XIV for assistance. The latter sent him a French corps of 12,000 men. In Spain, Philip V began to raise new infantry regiments, 9 new cavalry units (Giroella, Rosellon Nuevo, Montenegro, Moscoso, Granada, Reina, Real Asturias, Villavicencio and Santiago Viejo) and 3 dragoon units (Mendoza, Camprodon and Mahony). Furthermore, provincial militia recruited to serve as reserve.

The great Anglo-Dutch fleet assembled at Spithead counted 44 British men-of-war and was placed under the command of Sir Clowdisley Shovell. A third squadron of 16 ships under the command of Admiral Hobson was despatched towards Portugal.

On 14 July, a great fleet, composed both of Dutch and of British men-of-war, sailed for the Mediterranean under Shovell, with orders to assist the Camisard Uprising in the Cévennes; to do what might be possible towards restoring Sicily and Naples to the House of Habsburg; to endeavour to enlist the Algerines, Tunisians, and Tripolitans against France; to settle certain difficulties which had arisen at Livorno; to convoy the trade; and, generally, to injure the cause of the House of Bourbon to the utmost.

This fleet consisted of:

  • 27 British ships-of-the-line under Admiral Sir Clowdisley Shovell
    • Essex (70), Captain Hubbart
    • Monmouth (64), Captain Baker
    • Ranelagh (80), Captain Scaley (Counter-Admiral Byng’s flagship)
    • Hampton Court (70), Captain Wager
    • Hampshire (54), Captain Stepney
    • Suffolk (70), Captain Kerktorne
    • Orford (70), Captain Norris
    • Triumph (90), Captain Stuart (Admiral Shovell's flagship)
    • Royal Oak (70), Captain Elves
    • Lichfield (54), Captain Lord Bursley
    • Eagle (70), Captain Lord Hamilton
    • Montagu (60), Captain Cleveland
    • Warspite (64), Captain Londs
    • St George (96) Captain Jepnings
    • Lenox (70), Captain William Jumper
    • Stirling Castle, Captain Johnson
    • Winchester (54), Captain Wagat
    • Cambridge (80), Captain Lestock
    • Dover (50), Captain Traveman
    • Grafton (70), Captain Lacke
    • Somerset (80), Captain Martin (Vice-Admiral Fairborne’s flagship)
    • Torbay (80), Captain Coldwall
    • Pembroke (60), Captain Clivis
    • Nassau (70), Captain Jove
    • Exeter (60), Captain Swaton
    • Swiftsure (64), Captain Wyne
    • Revenge (70), Captain Kerr
  • 12 Dutch ships-of the line under Admiral van Almonde
    • Holland (72), Captain Brakel
    • Beschermer (90), Vice-Admiral von der Poll’s flagship
    • Gelderland (74), Captain Wasenaer
    • Schieland (54), Captain van Koopen
    • Katwijk (72), Captain Schriver
    • Vrijheid (96), Admiral van Almonde’s flagship
    • Gouda (64), Captain Somelsdijk
    • Raadhuis van Edam (64), Captain Teynys
    • Wapen van Friesland (58), Captain Middagt
    • Utrecht (64), Captain Bolek
    • Unie (94) (Counter-Admiral van Wassenaer's flagship)
    • Nijmegen (72), Captain Lynslager
  • 5 British frigates, including:
    • Lizard (24)
    • Poole (32)
    • Flamborough (24)
    • Tartar (32)
    • Spey unidentified brigantine
  • 2 Dutch frigates
    • Mars (34)
    • Schoonoord (34)
  • 4 British fireships, including:
    • Vulture (28)
    • Terrible (26)
    • Phoenix (28)
    • Lightning (28)
  • 3 Dutch fireships
    • Rotterdam
    • Endragt
    • Salamander
  • 4 British bombs
    • Basilisk (4)
    • Firedrake (12)
    • Mortar (12)
    • Portsmouth (10)
  • 3 Dutch bombs
    • Salamander
    • Gevalt
    • Schirk
  • 3 British hospital ships
    • Swan
    • Princess Anne
    • Antelope

Sir Clowdisley, whose presence in the Mediterranean had the effect of inducing the French fleet to lie quietly in Toulon harbour, carried out his instructions to the best of his ability; but, having been directed to return to England before the beginning of the winter, he could not remain long enough to confer any permanent benefit upon the cause of the Allies.

The expedition was an ill-designed one, and that it accomplished so little was due entirely to the home government, and not at all to Shovell. His cruisers made several prizes. On the other hand, owing to the careless manner in which the ships had been victualled, there was a lamentable loss of life on board the fleet during its absence from England. For example, the Prince George (96) lost 60 men in four months from a complement of 700 men.

On 28 November, the fleet arrived in the Downs.

On 7 December, while most of the fleet still lay in the Downs, there occurred one of the most violent and fatal storms of which we have record. Between 11:00 p.m. and midnight, the gale, which blew from W.S.W. and which was accompanied by thunder and lightning, reached its height.

Until 8 December at 7:00 a.m., the storm did not appreciably moderate. The whole of the south of England suffered; and the damage done in London alone was valued at a million sterling; but the catastrophe is chiefly memorable on account of the terrible losses which it occasioned to the British Navy.

The following table presents the ships which perished and the number of lives sacrificed in each of them.

Ships Losses vs Complement Fate
Vanguard (90) not in commission sunk in the Medway
Restoration (70) 391 on 391 lost on the Goodwin Sands
Stirling Castle (70) 206 on 276 lost on the Goodwin Sands
Resolution (70) 0 on 221 lost off Sussex
Northumberland (70) 220 on 220 lost on the Goodwin Sands
Mary (60) 269 on 272 lost on the Goodwin Sands
Newcastle (50) 193 on 233 lost at Spithead
Reserve (48) 175 on 222 lost near Yarmouth
Vigo Prize (50) n/a lost at Hellevoetsluis
Mortar, bomb 0 on 65 wrecked on the Goodwin Sands, lost on 13 December
Eagle, advice boat 0 on 45 lost off Sussex
Canterbury, storeship n/a lost at Bristol

Twelve vessels were thus, at one time, totally lost to the British Navy. In addition, the Arundel (40) under Captain Unton Dering, and the Lichfield Prize (40) under Captain Peter Chamberlain, went ashore, but were got off again; and numerous other ships were dismasted or otherwise seriously damaged.

On 30 December, the Vesuvius fireship under Captain George Paddon, which was stranded, and for the safety of which most determined efforts were made, had to be abandoned.


This article incorporates texts from the following book which is 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. 387-389
  • Abtheilung für Kriegsgeschichte des k. k. Kriegs-Archives: Feldzüge des Prinzen Eugen von Savoyen, Series 1, Vol. 5, Vienna 1878, pp. 127-128, Anhang 19

Other sources

Arre Caballo – Guerra de Sucesión Española. Campañas en 1.703