1704 – Campaign on the Southern Coast of Spain

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Hierarchical Path: War of the Spanish Succession (Main Page) >> Campaigns >> 1704 – Campaign on the Southern Coast of Spain

The campaign lasted from August to December 1704


Portugal having now joined the Grand Alliance, it was decided to make a serious effort in Spain.

In January 1704, the Habsburg claimant to the throne of Spain, the Archduke Charles of Austria, otherwise King Charles III of Spain, arrived in Great Britain.

Archduke Charles was sent away with a British fleet and a British army to possess himself of the Kingdom of Spain. Portugal had offered to help him with 28,000 men, to which the Dutch had added 2,000 men under General Fagel, and the British 6,500 men, under Mainhard, Duke of Schomberg, a son of the old marshal.

On 8 March, the British and Dutch troops were landed at Lisbon. This force commanded by the Duke of Schomberg consisted of

Portugal undertook to provide 28,000 troops to co-operate with this force.

It was speedily found that the Portuguese army was ill-equipped and inefficient, the magazines empty, the fortresses in ruins, the transport not in existence. To add to these shortcomings, Schomberg and Fagel quarrelled so bitterly that they went off, each with his own troops, in two different directions.

On 20 March, Sir George Rooke, leaving Leake in the river Tagus, departed on a cruise to annoy the enemy, and to satisfy himself of the safety of the homeward-bound merchant fleet from the Levant.

On April 20, Rooke returned to Lisbon, and found awaiting him orders to proceed up the Straits and to render assistance to the cause of the Allies in Catalonia.

Map of Spain and Portugal circa 1700 published in Wikimedia Commons by user Rebel Redcoat and released in the public domain


On 1 May, while a Franco-Spanish army under the Duc de Berwick attempted an invasion of Portugal, Sir George Rooke sailed from Lisbon for Barcelona with 17 ships of the line, 4 fourth-rates, 1 fifth-rate, 1 sixth-rate and 4 fireships; besides 14 Dutch sail of the line. Rooke was accompanied by Prince George of Hessen-Darmstadt with a handful of marines. The prince who had been governor of Catalonia, believed that he could bring about a rising in the province in favour of the Habsburg cause.

On 6 May, the Comte de Toulouse, a natural son of Louis XIV, the Admiral of France, sailed from Brest with 23 sail-of-the-line for the Mediterranean.

Rooke had not long sailed when the fleet of the Comte de Toulouse was seen off the mouth of the Tagus, sailing southwards. The British minister to Portugal persuaded one of the frigate captains who had been left in the Tagus to follow Sir George Rooke with the news. However, Rooke, who had already detached a squadron in chase of other French vessels which had been seen off Cape Palos, was far on his way to Barcelona.

On 30 May, Rooke’s fleet arrived at Barcelona. The Prince of Hessen-Darmstadt summoned Don Velasco, the pro-Bourbon governor of Barcelona, to surrender to the representatives of King Charles. Information being received that the city would declare for Archduke Charles if a show of attack were made. Major-General the Prince of Hessen-Darmstadt at the head of 1,600 Marines (1,200 British, 400 Dutch) landed at the mouth of the Besòs River. His force was soon joined by 1,000 armed Catalan partisans.

On 31 May, Barcelona was bombarded in a desultory way; but, it being then thought that a continuation of the operations might alienate King Charles's adherents in the city, the bombardment was stopped, the troops and Marines were re-embarked.

On 1 June, the fleet weighed and set sail for Nice, which was understood to be in great danger from the French army.

On 4 June, the frigate sent from Lisbon to warn Rooke of the arrival of an additional French fleet, which had sailed from Brest, in the Mediterranean caught up with his fleet. All intelligence received by Rooke indicated that this fleet was not superior to his own.

On 7 June, Rooke's look-out ships reported a fleet, believed to be French, making for Toulon. Rooke tacked and stood after it during the night.

On the morning of 8 June, Rooke saw about 40 sail ahead of him. Thereupon, he called a council of war, which decided that the chase should be continued; but the delay allowed the enemy to increase his distance.

On 9 June at sundown, the French were within 150 km of Toulon and almost out of sight. Thinking that they would probably be reinforced, Rooke relinquished the pursuit and, deterred from proceeding to Nice and expecting an attack by the united fleets of Brest and Toulon, he steered back towards the Strait of Gibraltar.

Thus the French fleets from Brest and Toulon were allowed to effect a junction.

Rooke watered his fleet at Altéa Bay, seizing and destroyed a fort there.

On 25 June, Rooke passed the Strait.

On 27 June, Admiral Sir Clowdisley Shovell's squadron joined Rooke's fleet off Lagos. The admirals at once held a council of war and decided to look for the French in the Mediterranean.

However, Rear-Admiral Byng was first detached to Cádiz to effect an exchange of prisoners.

On 10 July, Byng rejoined Rooke's fleet off Cape Trafalgar but adverse winds, and then false reports of the presence of a large French squadron near the Strait, delayed the fleet.

By 28 July, Rooke's fleet had not advanced eastward of Tétouan. In consequence of suggestions which had been sent to him through the British minister at Lisbon from Archduke Charles of Austria and the King of Portugal, Rooke held another council of war, which, after discussing various projects, determined to make a sudden attempt on Gibraltar, which at the time was held by the forces of Philip V.

The operations leading to the Capture of Gibraltar started on the night of 31 July to 1 August. The small garrison of the place capitulated on 4 August.

Leaving the place in charge of the Prince of Hessen-Darmstadt and of approx. 2,000 Marines (Henry Holt's Marines, Alexander Luttrell's Marines and Edward Fox's Marines), the Allied fleets stood over to the coast of Barbary, Rooke having first detached Rear-Admiral van der Dussen, with 5 sail of the line to Lisbon, and thence to Plymouth, to bring back forces destined for service in Portugal. The Prince of Hessen-Darmstadt lost no time in repairing the fortifications.

On August 7, a part of the Allied fleets appeared in front of the Spanish place of Ceuta on the coast of North Africa, near Gibraltar. It was under the command of Juan Basset (a Spanish military commander supporting the Habsburg candidate Archduke Charles of Austria as successor to the Spanish throne). He summoned the place to surrender in the name of the Archduke with the promise that the siege would then be over. The Marquis of Gironella, governor of the city, and the population refused to surrender to the Allies and reinforced the Almina peninsula to prevent any bombardment by the fleet. The fleet did not attack, being recalled to face a Franco-Spanish fleet which wanted to recapture Gibraltar. Rooke's ships, after watering at Ceuta, proceeded to Tétouan.

On 20 August, all of Rooke's ships, but 12 ships left watering, steered from Tétouan for Gibraltar. That morning the Centurion (54), which was scouting to the eastward, reported that she could see the enemy in force to windward. After the fleet had been ranged in order of battle, a council of war was held, and it was determined to lie to the eastward of Gibraltar, and if possible, to re-embark half the Marines who were ashore. The French showed no immediate anxiety to engage, their galleys being at the time at Málaga, whither they went to fetch them; and, in the meantime, 1,000 Marines were brought off from the Rock of Gibraltar, and the 12 ships which had been left behind, rejoined without interruption.

On 21 August, the Allies plied to windward, seeing nothing of the enemy's fleet, yet occasionally hearing his signal guns.

On 22 August, a small French tender was driven ashore a few km eastward of Málaga, and burnt by her crew. In the afternoon Sir George Rooke stood to the north, and at night to the south-east. Still failing to sight the French, and fearing lest they might slip past him to the westward, Rooke again stood to the north.

Early in the morning of August 23, Rooke called another council of war, which decided that, since Gibraltar had but a weak garrison and had not been rendered properly defensible, and since victuallers and other craft had been left ill-protected in the bay there, the fleet should continue the search for the French only until nightfall, and, failing to find them, should then return to the Rock. The French, however, had by that time picked up their galleys at Málaga, and, never having intended to permanently avoid an action, were already looking for the Allies. They missed and passed by them, owing to Rooke having stood to the south-east; and they were thus to leeward, when at about 11:00 a.m., they were discovered in the north-west near Cape Málaga, going large, with a small but intermittent gale from the eastward. Rooke called in his scouts, formed the line of battle, and bore down, the French simultaneously forming their line, with its head to the southward. Cape Málaga then bore N.N.W. by N., distant about 40 km. In the afternoon the wind dropped, and little progress could be made. Towards night there were small gales from the East.

On the morning of August 24, the Allies saw the French in line heading as before, about 15 km ahead of them, and lying to to await the attack. The Battle of Málaga was a cannonade accompanied with great loss of life, but without manoeuvring on either side.

On 25 August, the Franco-Spanish fleet filed and plied away to the westward. In the evening, Rooke called a council of flag-officers and ordered to distribute shot evenly to each ship. For his part, the Comte de Toulouse disembarked the wounded at Málaga and sailed for Alicante.

On August 26, Rooke's fleet bore up on the Franco-Spanish fleet till 4:00 p.m. The two fleets were within 15 km when Rooke, considering that it was too late to engage before night, brought to with the head of his fleet to the northward, and lay by all night.

On 27 August, the Dutch ship of the line Graaf van Albemarle (64) blew up and lost all her men (including Captain Visscher) except nine or ten. Seeing nothing more of the Franco-Spanish fleet, the Allies went to Gibraltar, and lay there for eight days to refit and to throw supplies into the place.

The French then retired to Toulon.

At the end of August, a Spanish force of 8,000 men under the Marquis de Villadarias marched down to the isthmus giving access to Gibraltar.

On 4 September, Rooke's fleet sailed again, and a few days later it divided:

  • a part (5 second-rates, 25 third-rates and 4 fourth-rates, with several small craft) under Sir George Rooke going home;
  • a part (2 third-rates, 9 fourth-rates, 4 fifth-rates, 1 sixth-rate, and 1 fireship, along with a Dutch contingent under Rear-Admiral van der Dussen) under Sir John Leake, with his flag in the Nottingham (60), remaining in the Mediterranean for the winter.

On 25 September, Rooke’s squadron arrived at Spithead.

At the end of September, 4,000 Frenchmen were disembarked at the head of the bay of Gibraltar. These joint forces then began the Siege of Gibraltar. The operations were pushed forward with great vigour, and the besieged were soon hard beset.

Early in October, Sir John Leake was informed by the Prince of Hessen-Darmstadt that the Spaniards, who were to attack Gibraltar on the land side, had secured a promise of the cooperation of a French squadron under De Pointis. Sir John sailed from Lisbon.

At the end of October, Admiral Sir John Leake landed 400 Marines, and some gunners, carpenters and mechanics at Gibraltar, together with an officer of engineers, one Captain Joseph Bennett, whose energy and ability were of priceless value.

Learning that the French were approaching in superior force, Leake returned to Lisbon to perfect his preparations.

On 28 October, de Pointis reached Gibraltar Bay where he found and destroyed the Terror bomb under Commander Isaac Cook.

The siege dragged on for several weeks, the British repulsing an attack from the eastern side with heavy loss.

On 5 November, Leake sailed again from Lisbon.

On 9 November, Leake entered Gibraltar Bay and had the good fortune to surprise there a 42-guns frigate, a 24-guns frigate, a 14-guns brigantine, a 16-guns fireship, 1 storeship laden with bombs, 1 tartan, and 2 vessels which had been taken from the British. All these were run ashore and destroyed by their crews. Another 30-guns frigate and a tartan which got out of the Bay, were chased and taken. The heavier ships of de Pointis had sailed some days earlier to Cádiz, and were at the time refitting there.

Leake was kept well informed of the movements of de Pointis' squadron, and knowing that, although he had been slightly reinforced since Rooke's departure, he was still of inferior strength, he was careful to make such dispositions as would prevent him from being in turn surprised. Instead of remaining in the Bay, he stood off and on to the eastward of it, keeping the Rock always in sight.

By the end of November, the garrison of Gibraltar had dwindled to 1,000 men, exhausted by the fatigue of incessant duty.

On 10 December, two convoys of transports, one in charge of the Antelope (54), and the other in charge of the Newcastle (50), came in safely at Gibraltar and disembarked a reinforcement of 2,000 men (detachments of the 1st Regiment of Foot Guards, 2nd Coldstream Regiment of Foot Guards, Earl of Barrymore's Foot and Earl of Donegall's Foot), 1,000 Portuguese and Dutch (an unidentified Portuguese unit and the Ditch Waas Infantry) and a quantity of stores. These convoys had first narrowly escaped capture by a French fleet.

Prince George of Hessen-Darmstadt then turned upon the besiegers, and by a succession of brilliant sorties almost paralysed further progress on their side.

On 1 January 1705, seeing that the Fortress of Gibraltar was in a position to take care of itself for some little time to come, and that his ships needed refitting and cleaning, Leake sailed for Lisbon. On his passage thither, he saw nothing of the enemy.


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

  • Cannon, Richard: Historical Record of the Marine Corps, pp. 5-8
  • Cannon, Richard: Historical Record of the Second, or Queen’s Regiment of Dragoon Guards, London: William Clowes and Sons, 1837, p. 23
  • 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. 389-406
  • Fortescue, J. W.: A History of the British Army, Vol. I, MacMillan, London, 1899, pp. 447-449
  • Spanish Succession, War of the, in Encyclopaedia Britannica (c1910-1922), Vol. 25, p. 607

Other sources

Arre Caballo – Guerra de Sucesión Española. Campañas en 1.704