Action of Faial

Last updated

Action of Faial
Part of the Anglo–Spanish War
Ilha do Faial vista da Madalena do Pico, ilha do Pico, Acores, Portugal.JPG
Faial Island, off which the action was fought
Date22–23 June 1594
Off Faial Island, Azores, Atlantic Ocean
Result English victory [1] [2]

Flag of Cross of Burgundy.svg Iberian Union

Flag of England.svg England
Commanders and leaders
Francisco de Melo Canaveado Earl of Cumberland
1 carrack of 2,000 tons,
700 men
3 galleons of 250–300 tons
420 sailors
Casualties and losses
1 carrack destroyed
600 killed or wounded [3]
13 survived/captured
60 killed or wounded (35 killed in explosion) [4]

The action of Faial or the Battle of Faial Island was a naval engagement that took place on 22–23 June 1594 during the Anglo-Spanish War in which the large and rich 2,000 ton Portuguese carrack Cinco Chagas was destroyed by an English fleet after a long and bitter battle off Faial Island in the Azores. The carrack, which was reputedly one of the richest ever to set sail from the Indies, was lost in an explosion which denied the English, as well as the Portuguese and Spanish, the riches. [1] [5]



By virtue of the Iberian Union, the Anglo-Portuguese Treaty of 1373 was in abeyance, and as the Anglo–Spanish War was still ongoing, Portuguese shipping was a fair target for the English navy and privateers. [1] At the latter end of 1593 the Earl of Cumberland, hoping to capitalize on the success of the capture of the Madre de Deus ; prepared at his own expense three ships of 250 to 300 tons, with two artillery decks each and a total of 420 sailors and soldiers. [2] [6] These were the Royal Exchange, owned by London Merchants, William Holliday, Thomas Cordell and William Garraway and of which George Cave was captain, [6] the Mayflower - Vice Admiral under the command of William Anthony, and the Sampson, under Nicholas Downton. There was also a support pinnace, the Violet. [7] :128 [8]

George Clifford, 3rd Earl of Cumberland Cliffordhilliard.jpg
George Clifford, 3rd Earl of Cumberland

On 6 April 1594 they set sail from Plymouth, heading for the Azores. En route they roamed the coast of Portugal and Spain, capturing a number of ships. Off Viana do Castelo, Portugal, a 28 ton barque was captured as it headed towards Portuguese Angola. Near the islands of Berlengas another three Portuguese and Spanish caravels were taken, one of which had twelve butts of Spanish wine and another a small chest of silver. [8] These were sent back to England under prize crews aboard the Violet while the rest of the fleet continued towards the Azores. They were hoping to avoid Alonso de Bazán's Spanish fleet which was on the lookout for Cumberland, after his failure to intercept him two years earlier. [7] :130

On 22 June 1594, as they approached Faial island, the Mayflower soon saw a great sail approach them and realized this was a huge Portuguese carrack. [4]

The carrack was the Cinco Chagas ("Five Wounds") and was a thirty two gun, 2000 ton, carrack which had departed from Goa heading for Portugal in 1593, under the command of Francisco de Mello, one of the "greatest naus that ever were in the Carreira, loaded with great wealthness and precious stones and all the best of India". [3]

The fleet leaving Goa had included Santo Alberto and Nossa Senhora da Nazareth; both sprang fatal leaks and were beached on Mozambique's coast. Cinco Chagas took aboard such cargo in diamonds and other precious gems as had been salvaged from the two lost ships, as well their 400 passengers and crew members, of which 230 were slaves. [9] :45 Among them were also two VIPs: Nuno Velho Pereira, the former colonial governor of Mozambique, and Dom Braz Correia, the captain of the fleet that had been returning from the Indies. [2] The Chagas called in at Luanda, in Portuguese Angola, for supplies, where they took aboard more slaves which constituted more mouths to feed. By the time the Chagas reached the Azores, disease had claimed almost half the complement, many of whom were women and children, and much of the food had been thrown overboard in order to lighten the ship during gales off South Africa. [9] :47 The carrack attempted to reach the island of Corvo in order to replenish these lost provisions, but contrary winds prevented this, and so she tacked towards Faial. Soon afterwards, however, the lookouts on Chagas spotted the English ships, and prepared for battle. [8]


At noon all four ships exchanged broadsides and musket volleys in a battle that lasted for nearly a whole day. The English ships tried to board the Cinco Chagas but were repelled by the larger Portuguese numbers. As casualties mounted on both sides the decks of the carrack were cluttered with dead and wounded. [3]

The battle went on with the English trying to board the ship three times. All three attempts however were repelled by the Portuguese - putting up a brave fight knowing the riches were too great to lose. The captain of the Mayflower George Cave was killed which discouraged his men from attacking. [2] The crew of Sampson was repulsed with losses and fighting continued for several hours with the four ships moored to each other. [4] Shortly after, the other two ships, having lost hope of mastering Chagas drifted off and Nicholas Downton was severely wounded and William Antony later was mortally wounded. [8]

Typical Portuguese carrack during most of the 16th century. By the end of 16th century, the Cinco Chagas had already differed from this design. Carrack 1565.jpg
Typical Portuguese carrack during most of the 16th century. By the end of 16th century, the Cinco Chagas had already differed from this design.

However, on having noticed that Cinco Chagas had no guns aft, in a deft maneuver the English returned to the attack concentrating their fire on the stern panel of Portuguese ship. [4] The Royal Exchange made another boarding attack this time succeeding in carrying the ship after bitter fighting. Whilst heavy hand-to-hand fighting was ongoing a fire had started on a tarpaulin during the exchange of fire and then spread further to the rigging and the masts. [7] :132 The fire could not be put out because sharpshooters on board the English ships were taking the Portuguese one by one as they tried to man the pumps. [3]

According to the only eyewitness account available, written by Melchior Estácio do Amaral in 1604:

the sea was purple with blood dripping from the scuppers, the decks cluttered with the dead and the fire raging in some parts of the ships, and the air so filled with smoke that, not only we could sometimes not see each other but we could not recognize each other. [9] :52

Seeing the fire spreading out of control and with the English gaining the upper hand, the Portuguese decided to abandon ship, grabbing anything that could float. [9] :53 At the same time the English came among them in some armed boats, and began shooting or lancing the helpless Portuguese in the water. [10] It became apparent that the only people being spared this butchery were women who were stripping off their outer clothing, "in the hope of piety from the English". [11] However one lady, Dona Isabel Pereira, whose late husband Diogo de Melo Coutinho had been Captain-major and Tanadar-mor of Ceylon, and her 16-year-old daughter Dona Luisa de Melo Coutinho, steadfastly refused to undress for the privateers and, tying themselves together with a sash of St. Francis (i.e., the cord which a Franciscan friar would tie around his waist), they went to the opposite side of the ship from the English, and they leapt into the sea. They were buried on Faial where their dead bodies washed ashore, still bound together, the next day. [12]

When the fire became completely out of control the English decided to lay off from the Chagas, and "worked furiously to disengage their ships" [11] The carrack burned all through the night until just after dawn, when the flames reached the powder magazine in her lower hold, which contained "her poulder which was lowest being 60 barrels" which igniting, "blew her abroad, so that most of the ship did swim in parts above the water" [13]

The explosion was enormous, killing hundreds of Portuguese which included men, women and children; nearly 35 English were still aboard when the ship exploded. Most were killed outright and the battle ended with the total loss of the Chagas and its cargo. [8]


The crew grabbed any floating remains that were of any use, which proved to be little, and the English began picking up any survivors, of which there were only thirteen out of 600 Portuguese. [7] :134 The English sailed further West in the hope of rich pickings, and encountered another carrack, the San Fellipe, two weeks later. [6] With heavy losses already due to disease, and with officers wounded or killed, supplies running low, and a gale forcing them apart, Cumberland decided against engaging the carrack and sailed home. [8]

The cargo of Cinco Chagas (along with the salvaged cargo from the two other ships) was worth well in excess of 2,000,000 ducats, and in addition there were twenty-two treasure chests of diamonds, rubies, and pearls estimated to be worth US$15–20 billion by 2017 values. [14] The prisoners that were saved told their captors that yielding had been impossible as the riches were for the king of Spain and Portugal and that the captain, being highly in the king's favor, would upon his return have been made viceroy in the Indies. [3] [9] :56

With the destruction of the Chagas, Cumberland had to satisfy himself that the Portuguese and Spanish were denied any of the riches on board. [3] He successfully evaded attempts by the Spanish navy to find him. [4] Alonso de Bazán failed to intercept Cumberland partly because he was hoping to protect the West Indian treasure fleet which was still in the Caribbean. [9] :57 Another fleet under Don Antonio De Urquiola also failed to find the English, despite his having been in the same area when they headed home past Cape St. Vincent in September. [8]

The fleet arrived in Portsmouth on 28 August, and the ships were thoroughly searched when they arrived by the Queen's troops, a consequence of the mass theft from the Madre de Deus two years earlier. Dom Nuno Velho Pereira and Dom Braz Correia had survived the explosion of the Chagas and were brought ashore as prisoners, where the Earl treated them well and entertained them for a whole year as his guests. They were then ransomed for 2500 ducats each; Pereira paid for both making Cumberland's 1594 expedition gain at least some reward. [2] [7] :132 With this money the Earl then decided to finance and build a new, larger ship, rather than borrowing from the Queen; the new ship was launched in 1595 and was named by the Queen the Scourge of Malice. [15]


According to the Venetian ambassador to Spain, it was the richest ship ever to sail from the East Indies. [7] :136

Estimates of the Cinco Chagas's location suggest that it lies in seas over one mile deep in the Atlantic Ocean eighteen miles south of the channel between Pico Island and Faial along with its precious cargo of diamonds and gems. [5] The wreck has been searched for by treasure hunters but no signs have been found partly due to the depth. [16]

Related Research Articles

1594 Calendar year

1594 (MDXCIV) was a common year starting on Saturday of the Gregorian calendar and a common year starting on Tuesday of the Julian calendar, the 1594th year of the Common Era (CE) and Anno Domini (AD) designations, the 594th year of the 2nd millennium, the 94th year of the 16th century, and the 5th year of the 1590s decade. As of the start of 1594, the Gregorian calendar was 10 days ahead of the Julian calendar, which remained in localized use until 1923.

Galleon Large and multi-decked sailing ships

Galleons were large, multi-decked sailing ships first used as armed cargo carriers by European states from the 16th to 18th centuries during the age of sail and were the principal vessels drafted for use as warships until the Anglo-Dutch Wars of the mid-1600s. Galleons generally carried three or more masts with a lateen fore-and-aft rig on the rear masts, were carvel built with a prominent squared off raised stern, and used square-rigged sail plans on their fore-mast and main-masts.

Flores Island (Azores) Island of the Azores, Portugal

Flores Island is an island of the Western Group of the Azores. It has an area of 143 km2, a population of 3428 inhabitants, and, together with Corvo Island of the western archipelago, lies within the North American Plate. The nearby Monchique Islet is the westernmost point of Portugal. It has been referred to as the Ilha Amarelo Torrado by marketing and due to the association with poet Raul Brandão, but it is well known for its abundance of flowers, hence its Portuguese name of Flores.

Carrack Type of sailing ship in the 15th century

A carrack is a three- or four-masted ocean-going sailing ship that was developed in the 14th to 15th centuries in Europe, most notably in Portugal. Evolved from the single-masted cog, the carrack was first used for European trade from the Mediterranean to the Baltic and quickly found use with the newly found wealth of the trade between Europe and Africa and then the trans-Atlantic trade with the Americas. In their most advanced forms, they were used by the Portuguese for trade between Europe and Asia starting in the late 15th century, before eventually being superseded in the 17th century by the galleon, introduced in the 16th century.

Faial Island Portuguese island of the Central Group of the Azores

Faial Island, also known in English as Fayal, is a Portuguese island of the Central Group of the Azores. The Capelinhos Volcano, the westernmost point of the island, may be considered the westernmost point of Europe, if the Monchique Islet, near Flores Island, is considered part of North America, for it sits on the North American Plate. Its largest town is Horta.

Cedros (Horta) Civil parish in Azores, Portugal

Cedros is a freguesia in the northern part of the municipality of Horta on the island of Faial in the Portuguese archipelago of the Azores. The population in 2011 was 907, in an area of 24.5 square kilometres (264,000,000 sq ft). The northernmost parish on the island, it is located 19 kilometres (12 mi) northwest of Horta and is linked via the Estrada Regional E.R. 1-1ª roadway to the rest of the island. The tree-covered hills and pasture-lands cover the interior, and hedged farmlands extend to the Atlantic coastline cliffs, a natural plateau above the sea, that was settled by early Flemish and Spanish colonists in the late part of the 15th century. Primarily an agricultural community, the population is comparable in size to other parishes on the island, though this has decreased by half since the 1950s. Today, it remains an agricultural centre of the island of Faial, anchored by the Cooperativa Agrícola dos Lactícinios do Faial, one of the primary rural industries on the island, responsible for sales of milk, cheese and butter.

Battle of Vila Franca do Campo 16th-century naval battle between Spain and France

The naval Battle of Vila Franca do Campo, also known as Battle of Ponta Delgada and Naval Battle of Isla Terceira, took place on 26 July 1582, off the coast of the island of São Miguel in the Portuguese archipelago of the Azores, during the War of the Portuguese Succession. A combined corsair expedition, mainly French, sailed against a Spanish naval force made up of Portuguese and Castilian ships, to preserve control of the Azores under pretender António, Prior of Crato and to defend the islands from incorporation into the Iberian Union—the largest French force sent overseas before the age of Louis XIV.

<i>Madre de Deus</i> Portuguese ship

Madre de Deus was a Portuguese ship, renowned for her fabulous cargo, which stoked the English appetite for trade with the Far East, then a Portuguese monopoly. She was returning from her second voyage East under Captain Fernão de Mendonça Furtado when she was captured.

Singeing the King of Spains Beard

Singeing the King of Spain's Beard is the derisive name given to a series of attacks by the English privateer Francis Drake against the Spanish in the summer of 1587, beginning in April with a raid on Cádiz. This was an attack on the Spanish naval forces assembling in the Bay of Cádiz in preparation for the planned expedition against England. Much of the Spanish fleet was destroyed, and substantial supplies were destroyed or captured. There followed a series of raiding parties against several forts along the Portuguese coast. A Spanish treasure ship, returning from the Indies, was also captured. The damage caused by the English delayed Spanish preparations for the Armada by more than a year.

Portuguese India Armadas Fleets used to trade with India

The Portuguese Indian Armadas were the fleets of ships funded by the Crown of Portugal, and dispatched on an annual basis from Portugal to India, principally Goa, and previously to Cochin. These armadas undertook the Carreira da Índia from Iberia, following the maritime discovery of the Cape route, to the Indian Subcontinent by Vasco da Gama in 1497–1499.

História trágico-marítima

The História trágico-marítima is a famous 18th-century collection of narrative accounts of the travails and wrecks of several Portuguese ships, principally carracks (naus) on the India run between 1552 to 1602, and the oft-harrowing stories of their survivors.

Fort of Santa Cruz (Horta)

Fort of Santa Cruz, is a 16th-century fortification located in the civil parish of Angústias, municipality of Horta, on the island of Faial in the Portuguese Azores. Occasionally referred to as the Castelo de Santa Cruz by locals, it is situated in the historic centre of the city, on the edge of Horta Bay. It was constructed to work in conjunction with the Fort of Bom Jesus at the mouth of the Ribeira da Conceição and Fort of Greta along the coast of the extinct spatter cone Monte da Guia, to defend the entrance to the harbour and southern access to the Bay.

Battle of Sesimbra Bay A 16th century naval battle between Spain (Portugal) and England

The Battle of Sesimbra Bay was a naval engagement that took place on 3 June 1602, during the Anglo-Spanish War. It was fought off the coast of Portugal between an English naval expeditionary force sent out with orders by Queen Elizabeth I to prevent any further Spanish incursions against Ireland or England itself. The English force under Richard Leveson and William Monson met a fleet of Spanish galleys and a large carrack at Sesimbra Bay commanded by Álvaro de Bazán and Federico Spinola. The English were victorious in battle, sinking two galleys, forced the rest to retreat, neutralized the fort, and captured the carrack in what was the last expedition to be sent to Spain by orders of the Queen before her death the following year.

Battle of Flores (1592) Battle of 1592 during the Anglo-Spanish War

The Battle of Flores (1592), also known as Cruising Voyage to the Azores of 1592, or the Capture of the Madre de Deus describes a series of naval engagements that took place from 20 May to 19 August 1592, during the Anglo-Spanish War. The battle was part of an expedition by an English fleet initially led by Sir Walter Raleigh, and then by Martin Frobisher and John Burrough. The expedition involved the capture of a number of Portuguese and Spanish ships including the large Portuguese carrack Madre de Deus, after a long naval battle off the island of Flores in the Azores. The expedition, particularly the capture of the great carrack, was a financial and military success. The rich cargo aboard the carrack, which at the time equaled nearly half the size of the Kingdom of England's royal annual revenue, was subject to mass theft when it arrived in Dartmouth, England, followed by quarrels over the shares of the prize. The expedition had formative consequences for the English both financially and on the future of English exploration.

Capture of Recife (1595)

The Capture of Recife also known as James Lancaster's 1595 Expedition or Lancaster's Pernambucan expedition was an English military expedition during the Anglo–Spanish War in which the primary objective was the capture of the town and port of Recife in the Captaincy of Pernambuco in the Portuguese colony of Brazil in April 1595. An English expedition of ships led by James Lancaster sailed via the Atlantic capturing numerous prizes before he captured Recife. He held the place for nearly a month and then proceeded to defeat a number of Portuguese counterattacks before leaving. The booty captured was substantial, Lancaster chartered Dutch and French ships that were also present there thus making the expedition a military and financial success.

Azores Voyage of 1589

The Azores Voyage of 1589, also known as Cumberland's Third Voyage, was a series of conflicts in the Azores islands between August and September 1589 by an English military joint stock expedition led by George Clifford, 3rd Earl of Cumberland, during the Anglo–Spanish War. All the islands were attacked either for provisions or the attainment of Spanish and Portuguese prizes. A number of Portuguese and Spanish ships were captured and also included a battle at Faial which resulted in the capture of the fort and the main town, which was subsequently sacked and burned. The English were able to return home unmolested with a total of thirteen prizes – the expedition was a success and with a good profit for the investors although many lives were lost to disease and storms.

Nicholas Downton, was a commander in the service of the English East India Company (EIC).

Cinco Chagas was a Portuguese nau (carrack) that was sunk during the action of Faial on 22–23 June 1594 during the Anglo-Spanish War. When it was sunk, the carrack was reportedly holding 2,000 tons of treasure.

Cinco Chagas was a Portuguese carrack She was constructed from 1559 to 1560 in Goa. The Portuguese viceroy Dom Constantino de Braganza supervised the process. C. R. Boxer considers her to have been "probably the most famous of the India-built carracks." Cinco Chagas, nicknamed Constantina, was in service for around twenty six years, making nine or ten trips between Portugal and the East Indies. She was also a flagship for five Portuguese viceroys. The historian Dave Horner suggests that this was probably a record, because ships were "lucky if they survived two or three roundtrips".


  1. 1 2 3 Andrews pg. 219
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 Lediard & de Puisieux pg. 644–47
  3. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Hakluyt, Richard (2002) [1598]. The Principal Navigations, Voyages, Traffiques and Discoveries of the English Nation. p. 571. Archived from the original on 22 June 2018. Retrieved 1 December 2013.
  4. 1 2 3 4 5 Southey 28–33
  5. 1 2 Horner pg. 229
  6. 1 2 3 Andrews pg. 76
  7. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Williamson 126–37
  8. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Oppenheim 310–11
  9. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Amaral pp. 45–57
  10. Bernardo Gomes de Brito: Historia Tragico Maritima p520
  11. 1 2 Horner, 1973 p109
  12. Bernardo Gomes de Brito, Historia Tragico Maritima, p521.
  13. Downton,The Principal Navigations, Voyages, Traffiques, and Discoveries of the English Nation, edited by Richard Hakluyt.
  14. Horner on pg 229 quotes $1 billion, but he wrote in 1971 when monetary values were approximately one twentieth of 2017 values.
  15. Nichols (1823), pp 496–497.
  16. "Still Sunk: The Last Great Mystery Wrecks of the Ocean Floor". Gizmodo. 14 April 2012. Retrieved 7 November 2013.