The People of Gibraltar
1563 - Don Álvaro de Bazán - Diez Naos Ynglesas 


On a winter's day in 1563 ten English sailing ships arrived in the Bay of Gibraltar intent on capturing a French merchantman anchored in the Bay. It would be, they thought, a risk-free incursion as they were under the illusion that Spain was still at war with France. It was an unfortunate mistake as the fortress responded briskly in defence of the Frenchman forcing the English to leave the Bay.


Ten English ships attack a French merchantman at Gibraltar in 1563

Overwintering in some comfort in the Puerto de Santa María, Don Álvaro de Bazán, the first Marquis of Santa Cruz and Captain General of Phillip II of Spain's Navy received news of what had happened from the Alcalde of the City of Gibraltar. Well known as a brilliant naval commander he immediately planned his response. 

Don Álvaro's connections with Gibraltar and its Campo were extensive. His father - confusingly also called Don Álvaro de Bazán - had been commander-in-chief of Charles V's naval forces in the Mediterranean for many years and in 1535 the Emperor had rather eccentrically named his young son Alcalde and Military Governor of Gibraltar in recognition of his father's loyalty and service. At the time Don Álvaro junior was only eight years old. 


Don Álvaro de Bazán junior ( Unknown )

Although he was born in Granada, Young Álvaro spent much of his youth in Gibraltar. His two younger brothers were born there and his father managed to find time to accumulate various properties in the Campo area and indeed further afar in Lagos near Marbella. The fact is that from 16th century onwards, the Bazán family continued to exert considerable influence on the affairs of the Rock. Even after the take-over of Gibraltar by Anglo-Dutch forces in 1704, members of the family still retained the title of Mayor of Gibraltar.

It was a connection that ensured that the atarazana of Gibraltar was kept busy for more than a century producing galleys for the Spanish Navy. In 1579, when preparations were being made for the Duke of Alba's conquest of Portugal, almost the entire fleet gathered in the Bay of Gibraltar. It would be reasonable to guess that quite a few of those ships were built there. 


The Atarazana  - the long building in the centre of the Barcina area - behind the Puerta de Mar and to the left of the old Mole ( 1627 - Luis Bravo de Acuña ) ( see LINK

On the very night Don Álvaro heard the news about the English ships and their contretemps in Gibraltar he set out with five galleys to search for them. He caught up with the ships just off Marbella and ordered them to surrender. When they refused he overpowered them and took the entire fleet back to Gibraltar as prizes. A quick search through the cargo carried by the captured ships revealed that they had been involved in activities which the Spaniards understandably identified as piracy. 

One was the presence of cassava bread, which the English argued they had been presented with by a ship that had just returned from the Canary Islands. Another was a collection of exotic masks that they said they had purchased to take back home. Expensive dresses they had taken from a French ship and the sugar had nothing to do with them -it had been ordered by a merchant for delivery elsewhere. As regards the cochineal . . . they denied ever having had any on board - despite the testimony of many who had seen them throw the stuff overboard before being captured. 


The Battle of Marbella in 1563 - five Spanish galleys against ten English galleons

The end result was that most of the crew were imprisoned and their ships impounded. It seemed like an unmitigated disaster for the British and a triumph for Don Álvaro's Spanish galleys. It was indeed but there was a small sting in the tail.  

Shortly after the capture of the ships the Spanish King ordered Bazán to make use of his prisoners as 'forzados' or rowers in his ships. Unfortunately there seem to have been altogether too many prisoners which in turn caused him endless logistical problems one of the most urgent being where to obtain the cash he needed in order to feed them.
. . .V.M. mande lo que es servido se haga dellos porque es mucha gente y sino van en galeras no se como pueden quedar a recaudo  . . .conviene que V.M. mande de adonde se les ha de proveer su comida y lo que an gastado hasta agora porque lo uno y lo otro como es mucha gente y si es servido que se vendan los naos para ello . . . . . . Ya  he proveido que se vendan pero no se han hallado hasta ahora compradores.
Back in England, Queen Elizabeth's councillors were beginning to take note of what had happened.  In a letter of introduction to Sir Thomas Chaloner, ambassador to Phillip II in Spain at the time and dated December 1563, a certain Robert Hanley had this to say;
The bearer hereof is Thomas Butler, despatched by "the nation" to him touching the ships that Don Alvaro De Bazan took at Gibraltar. The poor masters and men are very cruelly used in his galleys, for the writer speaks as one taken in them, but by the good help of his cousin, Laurence Turner, he is at liberty.

Sir Thomas Chaloner, English ambassador to the Court of Phillip II  ( Unknown )

Chaloner - his name apparently spelt at the time with two 'lls' - seems to have taken the problem seriously:
He shall receive herewith a copy of a letter received this morning from Hugh Tipton, touching eight English ships arrested at Gibraltar, which he is to cause to be translated into Spanish, and fair written forth, for Challoner intends to speak with the King in it . . 
The number of English ships is given as eight instead of ten but it is difficult to know which one is the correct figure. Chaloner then decided to inform Queen Elizabeth about what was happening:
Encloses a copy of the letters and testimonial touching the arrest of the eight ships at Gibraltar, whereby she may perceive the rigorous behaviour of Don Álvaro Bazán, who afore time gave the cruel strapado to other English, guiltless, and which he intends to aggravate to the King.

Phillip II of Spain

On Christmas Eve, Chaloner managed to see the King and complained bitterly about by Don Álvaro's treatment of the prisoners and:
. . . besought speedy remedy; alleging how the like cases had many times been seen, of the Emperor his father's vessels persecuting the French within the English ports without their punishing them, save only to restrain the stronger till the weaker could shift for themselves.
Meanwhile Alonso Trujillo, Spanish ambassador was having none of that - these ships had been owned by corsairs and had impertinently robbed Spanish ships carrying goods from the Indies. The English counter-argued that:
All the offence which they have done is that they fought with their enemies. In the meantime Don Alvaro keeps 240 Englishmen, masters and mariners, in chains, and feeds them with bread and water, with which ill entertainment certain of them are dead; and he spoils and destroys all in the ships.
Matters came to a head in August the following year when Chaloner received the following news:
The deputies of the owners of the eight ships arrested by Don Alvaro De Bazan  . . . have certified that they will follow the suit no further . . . Thirty mariners are still in captivity, most of whom cannot get bread, and if one is shipped another comes in his place. They are more burdened with burying them than with maintaining them.
It must have been music to Chaloner's ears as it would seem that this was more or less the end of the affair - except of course for the thirty unfortunate mariners and the fact that a further nine English ships were arrested by the Governor of Gibraltar - but that is perhaps another story. 

What is very much part of this one is the map and accompanying text which appears as a fresco in the Palacio del Marqués de Santa Cruz in Viso del Marqués, Ciudad Real and of which certain sections have already appeared above.


Fresco of the Battle of Gibraltar ( 16th century -Giovanni Battista Castello known as Il Bergamasco   )




Explanatory note that appears below the fresco and a transcript of it

Most historical sources have touted Anton Van Wyngaerde's 1567 picture-map as the oldest available of the Rock. ( see LINK ) It is not known when the fresco picture was painted but it probably gives Wyngaerde's a good run for his money. The reason why it is the less well documented of the two is because this encounter came to be known as the Battle of Marbella and the coastline on the fresco identified as that along the town of the same name. The title of the painting - Toma de Diez Naos Yngleses sobre Marbella - didn't help much either.


Gibraltar  ( 1567 - Anton Van Den Wyngaerde )

It was a bad mistake as the picture is clearly that of the Bay of Gibraltar looking at it slightly from above and roughly towards the north. Ten English ships are shown surrounding the French vessel well inside the northern area of what was at the time Gibraltar's one and only mole. The lower section glorifies Don Álvaro Bazán's triumph - five galleys against ten sailing ships. Overall it is in fact a composite picture showing both events as one, hence the mistaken belief that the bay represented Marbella.

On the left is the defensive tower of Punta Carnero followed by the Villa Nueva and Villa Vieja of the two Algeciras divided by the Rio de la Miel, much of it in ruins. A very green and uninhabited Isla Verde lies in front. Following the Bay to the right one can identify the Palmones and Guadarranque rivers and the isthmus joining the rest of the Campo with the unmistakeable shape of the Rock of Gibraltar. The solitary tower is impossible to identify but might just be the ruins of a windmill. 

There is considerable artistic licence as regards the town itself, the shape of the Moorish Castle and the positioning of the mole and churches. A single gate north of the mole possibly represents the old Puerta de Mar. ( see LINK

The line wall is well described as is the Torre del Tuerto which occupies its correct position at the southern end. Not long after the picture was painted it would form part of the defences of a New Mole ( see LINK ) which would be built close to it. The church on the southern end almost certainly represents that of Nuestra Señora de Europa and the tower further to the east might be the enigmatic Torre de los Genoveses. Continuing along the Spanish coast line to the east are the towns of Estepona and Marbella.


Map showing the relative positions of the Torre del Tuerto, the now completed New Mole, the chapel of Nuestra Señora de Europa and the Torre de los Genovese    (1608 - Cristobal Rojas )  ( see LINK

It is quite possible that the fresco may have been commissioned by Don Álvaro himself - but is it an older representation than that of Wyngaerde? It seems unlikely. The Dutchman drew his pictures of the Rock in 1567 whereas the Battle of Marbella took place only three years earlier making it somewhat difficult for the frescoes to have been finished within this framework.

The whole affair could easily be dismissed as a curious confrontation of relatively little importance within the narrative of Gibraltar's overwhelming naval history. In fact I have never come across it in any of the many histories of the Rock that I have read. Nevertheless, sixteenth century maps and plans of the Rock and Bay of Gibraltar are not exactly two a penny. This one is certainly worth much more than that.

With thanks to Jose Luis Caballero who brought this relatively unknown event to my attention.