Battle of Ponta Delgada

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Battle of Ponta Delgada
Part of the War of the Portuguese Succession
Isla Terceira.jpg
Fresco by Niccolò Granello showing the Battle of Ponta Delgada in the Hall of Battles at El Escorial.
Date26 July 1582
Result Decisive Spanish victory [1] [2] [3]
Pavillon royal de la France.svg  France
Flag of England.svg  England [4]
Flag Portugal (1578).svg Portuguese loyal to Prior of Crato
Statenvlag.svg  United Provinces
Flag of Cross of Burgundy.svg Spain
Flag Portugal (1578).svg Portuguese loyal to Philip of Spain
Commanders and leaders
Pavillon royal de la France.svg Piero Strozzi   Flag of Cross of Burgundy.svg Álvaro de Bazán
60 warships [5] 28 warships [5]
Casualties and losses
1,500 dead,
1,500 wounded, missing or captured,
7 ships missing,
4 ships sunk,
2 ships burned,
4 ships captured [5]
224 dead,
550 wounded

The naval Battle of Ponta Delgada, Battle of São Miguel or specifically the Battle of Vila Franca do Campo 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 (an Anglo-French fleet with Portuguese forces included), 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. [5]

São Miguel Island Island in Azores, Portugal

São Miguel Island, nicknamed "The Green Island", is the largest and most populous island in the Portuguese archipelago of the Azores. The island covers 760 km2 (290 sq mi) and has around 140,000 inhabitants, with 45,000 people residing in Ponta Delgada, the archipelago's largest city.

Portugal Republic in Southwestern Europe

Portugal, officially the Portuguese Republic, is a country located mostly on the Iberian Peninsula in southwestern Europe. It is the westernmost sovereign state of mainland Europe, being bordered to the west and south by the Atlantic Ocean and to the north and east by Spain. Its territory also includes the Atlantic archipelagos of the Azores and Madeira, both autonomous regions with their own regional governments.

Azores Portuguese archipelago in the North Atlantic Ocean

The Azores, officially the Autonomous Region of the Azores, is one of the two autonomous regions of Portugal. It is an archipelago composed of nine volcanic islands in the North Atlantic Ocean about 1,360 km (850 mi) west of continental Portugal, about 1,500 km (930 mi) west of Lisbon, in continental Portugal, about 1,500 km (930 mi) northwest of Morocco, and about 2,500 km (1,600 mi) southeast of Newfoundland, Canada.


In the first engagement between large fleets of carracks and galleons operating at great distances from the mainland, [6] the mercenary fleet under Filippo di Piero Strozzi was severely defeated by a squadron under Álvaro de Bazán. [7] The Spanish victory resulted in the rapid Spanish conquest of the Azores, completing the incorporation of Portugal into the Spanish Empire. [8]

Galleon Ship type

Galleons were large, multi-decked sailing ships first used by the Spanish as armed cargo carriers and later adopted by other European states from the 16th to 18th centuries during the age of sail and were the principal fleet units 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.

Filippo di Piero Strozzi French general

Filippo di Piero Strozzi was an Italian condottiero, a member of the Florentine family of the Strozzi. He fought mainly for France.

Spanish Navy Naval warfare branch of Spains military

The Spanish Navy is the maritime branch of the Spanish Armed Forces and one of the oldest active naval forces in the world. The Spanish navy was responsible for a number of major historic achievements in navigation, the most famous being the discovery of America by Spain and the first global circumnavigation by Magellan and Elcano. For several centuries, it played a crucial logistical role in the Spanish Empire and defended a vast trade network across the Atlantic Ocean between the Americas and Europe and across the Pacific Ocean between Asia and the Americas.


The only portion of the Portuguese overseas empire to resist the Habsburg King Philip II of Spain (Philip I of Portugal) were the Azores Islands. [9] The French crown sent a fleet under the command of the mercenary admiral Filipo Strozzi in order to help defend the islands.

Philip II of Spain King of Spain and King of England by marriage to Mary I

Philip II of Spain was King of Spain (1556–98), King of Portugal, King of Naples and Sicily, and jure uxoris King of England and Ireland. He was also Duke of Milan. From 1555 he was lord of the Seventeen Provinces of the Netherlands.

King Philip had offered an amnesty to the seven islands if they would surrender, [10] but his messenger met with a very hostile reception at Angra, and retired to the island of São Miguel, which had presented its allegiance to the King of Spain and Portugal. [10]

Angra do Heroísmo Municipality in Azores, Portugal

Angra do Heroísmo, or simply Angra, is a city and municipality on Terceira Island, Portugal, and one of the three capital cities of the Azores. Founded in 1478, Angra was historically the most important city in the Azores, as seat of the Bishop of the Azores, government entities, and having previously served as the capital city of Portugal, during the Liberal Wars. The population in 2011 was 35,402, in an area of 239.00 km². It was classified as a World Heritage site by UNESCO in 1983.

While a fleet was prepared at Lisbon to subdue the seven islands, a Spanish commander sent out to escort the incoming treasure fleet, Pedro Valdés, was ordered to deliver a new offer of pardon, but on no account to begin hostilities until the necessary force was assembled. However, receiving the same replies the former envoy, Valdés was persuaded to attempt an assault on Terceira. [10] At what became known as the Battle of Salga, his landing-force of 600 men met with a savage welcome; the half-wild bulls of the island were driven into them and they were cut to pieces as they fled to the ships.

Lisbon Capital city in Lisbon metropolitan area, Portugal

Lisbon is the capital and the largest city of Portugal, with an estimated population of 505,526 within its administrative limits in an area of 100.05 km2. Lisbon's urban area extends beyond the city's administrative limits with a population of around 2.8 million people, being the 11th-most populous urban area in the European Union. About 3 million people live in the Lisbon metropolitan area, including the Portuguese Riviera. It is mainland Europe's westernmost capital city and the only one along the Atlantic coast. Lisbon lies in the western Iberian Peninsula on the Atlantic Ocean and the River Tagus. The westernmost portions of its metro area form the westernmost point of Continental Europe, which is known as Cabo da Roca, located in the Sintra Mountains.

Spanish treasure fleet Convoy system used by the Spanish Empire from 1566 to 1790

The Spanish treasure fleet, or West Indies Fleet from Spanish Flota de Indias, also called silver fleet or plate fleet, was a convoy system of sea routes organized by the Spanish Empire from 1566 to 1790, which linked Spain with its territories in America across the Atlantic. The convoys were general purpose cargo fleets used for transporting a wide variety of items, including agricultural goods, lumber, various metal resources such as silver and gold, gems, pearls, spices, sugar, tobacco, silk, and other exotic goods from the overseas territories of the Spanish Empire to the Spanish mainland. Spanish goods such as oil, wine, textiles, books and tools were transported in the opposite direction. The West Indies fleet was the first permanent transatlantic trade route in history. Similarly, the Manila galleons were the first permanent trade route across the Pacific.

Battle of Salga

The Battle of Salga occurred on 25 July 1581, along the Bay of Salga and around the coastal part of the parish of Vila de São Sebastião, island of Terceira in the Portuguese Azores, between Spanish and Portuguese forces. The latter, in the name of António, Prior of Crato, successfully defended the island against personal union with the Spanish crown, during the War of the Portuguese Succession.

Meanwhile, António reached Calais and proceeded to England. Walsingham and Burghley favoured the sending of an expedition to the Azores: the Count of Vimioso even made an agreement with Drake and Hawkins, but Elizabeth was unwilling to make war on Philip, and António returned to France.

António, Prior of Crato Portuguese royal

António, Prior of Crato, was a grandson of King Manuel I of Portugal and claimant of the Portuguese throne during the 1580 dynastic crisis. According to some historians, he was King of Portugal as António I of Portugal for 33 days in 1580. After the crowning of Philip II of Spain as King of Portugal, António claimed the throne until 1583. He was a disciple of Bartholomew of Braga.

Calais Subprefecture and commune in Hauts-de-France, France

Calais is a city and major ferry port in northern France in the department of Pas-de-Calais, of which it is a sub-prefecture. Although Calais is by far the largest city in Pas-de-Calais, the department's prefecture is its third-largest city of Arras. The population of the metropolitan area at the 2010 census was 126,395. Calais overlooks the Strait of Dover, the narrowest point in the English Channel, which is only 34 km (21 mi) wide here, and is the closest French town to England. The White Cliffs of Dover can easily be seen on a clear day from Calais. Calais is a major port for ferries between France and England, and since 1994, the Channel Tunnel has linked nearby Coquelles to Folkestone by rail.

England Country in north-west Europe, part of the United Kingdom

England is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. It shares land borders with Wales to the west and Scotland to the north. The Irish Sea lies west of England and the Celtic Sea to the southwest. England is separated from continental Europe by the North Sea to the east and the English Channel to the south. The country covers five-eighths of the island of Great Britain, which lies in the North Atlantic, and includes over 100 smaller islands, such as the Isles of Scilly and the Isle of Wight.


Map of Terceira. By Jan Huygen van Linschoten. Terceira Azores seen by Linschoten.jpg
Map of Terceira. By Jan Huygen van Linschoten.

In June 1582 António's French fleet left Belle-Isle, intending to subdue the two islands of São Miguel and Santa Maria and to capture the treasure fleet which would probably put in at the Azores. [11] However, on learning that Strozzi had sailed, Santa Cruz also made for the Azores with fewer ships but larger in size and arms than Strozzi and about an equal number of men. He arrived too late to prevent the French from landing on São Miguel, but in time to save the capital, Ponta Delgada.

After an indecisive gunfight on 24 July 1582 the fleets met two days later in a fierce close battle south of the island of São Miguel. [12] The French initially had the advantage of the wind and attacked the Spanish rear with superior forces but that gave the Spanish commander the opportunity to gain the wind for the Spanish vanguard which in its turn attacked the French. The Spanish were outnumbered two to one, [13] the brunt of the French attack was borne by the Portuguese-built Spanish galleon San Mateo (São Mateus), a vessel of 750 tonnes armed with 30 guns. Although surrounded, battered by artillery and boarded by several French ships, her sailors held their ground and repulsed all attacks. [9] They then took the fight to the enemy, boarding and capturing two French vessels before the battle ended. Several French ships took flight. Santa Cruz began the action by arranging themselves in a line abreast. [9] This was the traditional tactic employed by the Spanish galleys, which carried their few cannon in the bow.

Santa Cruz in his Portuguese-built flagship São Martinho sought out Strozzi's ship amid the smoke and chaos and, having found her, pounded her with gunfire until she was close to sinking. At the battle's close, the Pretender's fleet had lost 10 ships sunk or captured, and well over 1,000 men, including Strozzi, [14] wounded to death by order of Santa Cruz, and then, still breathing, thrown into the sea. Santa Cruz defeated the French through a combination of gunfire and boarding. [15]

Some thought that Strozzi had been unlucky to lose. His ships had proved nimbler than those of Santa Cruz, and, like Hawkins at San Juan de Ulúa, they had used their artillery well, operating in mutually supporting groups of four to charge, and assail each of them one of the great vessels of the enemy. The Spanish fleet suffered severe damage, Philip II's commemorative mural in the Escorial's Hall of Battles correctly depicts extensive shot damage on the Spanish side. The galleon San Martín (São Martinho) barely managed to tow the captured enemy flagship back to port. [16] On July 26, after a five-hour naval engagement, the French and English fleets, weaker in battle-power, were routed; seventeen of their ships deserted. Men over seventeen who were captured were put to death as pirates. This sentence seemed very cruel to all, so some of the Spanish soldiers and captains came forward to plead to Alvaro de Bazan for mercy, and suggested that he make an exemption for the French prisoners by sparing their lives as prisoners of war. Alvaro de Bazan responded by saying that he was only executing the "mandates" of the King of France, that being at peace with Castile would not allow his subjects to act as armed pirates attacking the Spaniards.


The Spanish Tercios landing on Terceira. El Escorial Hall of Battles. Desembarcoislasterceiras.jpg
The Spanish Tercios landing on Terceira. El Escorial Hall of Battles.

Though larger, the improvised French fleet had not been sufficient to challenge the Spanish in the Atlantic triangle. [12] The magnitude of French losses is uncertain but they were heavy and decisive.

In spite of the effective use of artillery, the battle was largely decided in the traditional style of boarding the enemy, although the Portuguese were the first to understand the importance of naval artillery. Apparently, Strozzi ignored the Portuguese who were in his fleet and recommended the use of artillery in their line of battle tactic, as they were doing in the Indian Ocean (resolving many battles by gunnery alone), and who would be adopted by the other Europeans in the 17th century. [17] However, the battle shows that Strozzi tried, partly, an approximation to this tactic, by an attack by a group of naus engaged in formation. [18]

The other problem for the French-allied fleet to win more easily with such tactical or approximate strategy, despite its numbers and the fact that several carracks in its fleet have more guns aboard than the galleon São Mateus, [19] although the latter being robust and designed for greater maneuverability, was that of the Atlantic armed carracks, but especially, the Portuguese oceanic fighting galleons, were precisely incorporated into the Spanish fleet, and leading the fight (despite being only two, they would be decisive, being the other ships Portuguese and Castilian carracks, urcas, and pataches). These galleons were also strongly armed—with its personnel and specialized bombardeiros or artilheiros—more suitable for such a strategy in the Atlantic high seas than other naus and galleons of more mixed-use, or the galleys (the widest Spanish resource for naval engagements until then). However, in the end, the battle was eventually largely resolved in the old way of naval warfare. [20]

Santa Cruz had won a great victory and jubilation at his triumphant return seems to have gripped the whole of Spain.[ citation needed ] The French ambassador at Philip II's court sourly reported that some Spaniards went so far as to claim that "even Christ was no longer safe in Paradise, for the marquis might go there to bring him back and crucify him all over again". Later some of this pride and passion turned against the vanquished: according to the same ambassador by October 1582 the Spaniards had taken to "spitting in the faces of any Frenchmen they happened to meet in the street." [16]

Terceira remained in the Pretender's hands, and in the spring of 1583 he managed to reinforce his garrisons there with 800 fresh French troops. Santa Cruz, who now enjoyed command of the sea, reacted swiftly. Secure within his Lisbon base he prepared an amphibious invasion of overwhelming force: 15,372 men and 98 ships, including 31 big merchantmen converted as troop transports, small vessels and landing craft, fighting galleons, 12 galleys and 2 galleasses. [16] This time his aim was not to fight a fleet but to land an army—the task force could certainly defend itself if necessary, but its primary role was to put troops, together with their supporting equipment and supplies, on a selected beach-head and then to back them up until the military objectives had been gained. [21]

The Terceirans expected the Spaniards to land at the harbours of Angra and Peggia, and had disposed their forces accordingly. However, Santa Cruz decided to deliver his main thrust at Mole, a beach 10 miles from Angra defended only by light earthworks occupied by infantry with some artillery support. [16] Bazan's own report of the landings describes the assault on the beaches:

António himself was on Terceira, where he supervised the raising of levies for defense, but left in November to persuade the French to furnish another 1,500 men, who arrived in June 1583. [9] Santa Cruz had increased his fleet to ninety-six ships and 9,500 men with a garrison of 2,000 on São Miguel. His lavish offers of mercy, marriage and money for António's capitulation were refused, but after one day's fighting Terceira fell. French and English soldiers on the island were allowed to retire unharmed, but sixteen supporters of António, including Silva, who had tried to flee on the night of the attack, were executed. Dom António and a handful of his supporters were lucky to escape with their lives. [23]

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  1. Colin Martin/Geoffrey Parker p. XVIII
  2. Konstam/Bryan p.44
  3. Nascimento p.122
  4. An English flotilla of seven privateer ships and two more vessels commanded by a Captain Henry Richards assisted the Portuguese Loyalists in the Azores. Richards' vessels took part in the first battle of São Miguel. Quinn, David (1979). England and the Azores, 1581-1582: three letters. UC Biblioteca Geral 1, pp. 212–213
  5. 1 2 3 4 Glete p. 156
  6. Walton p. 80
  7. Hakluyt p. 418
  8. Nascimento Rodrigues/Tessaleno Devezas p. 122
  9. 1 2 3 4 Konstam p.44
  10. 1 2 3 History of Portugal p.269
  11. History of Portugal p.270
  12. 1 2 Glete p.157
  13. Angus Konstam p.45
  14. Parker p.72
  15. Walton p.80
  16. 1 2 3 4 Parker p.73
  17. Batalla de la Isla Tercera "El mundo no es suficiente para la España de Felipe II" ABC - Historia militar de España, Cesar Cervera (in Spanish) - 2014.
  18. Os navios de Portugal na Grande Armada. O poder naval português. 1574-1592, Author: Augusto Salgado, Lisbon, Prefácio, 2004, pages 18-29
  19. Os navios de Portugal na Grande Armada. O poder naval português. 1574-1592, Augusto Salgado, pages 18-29
  20. Batalla de Isla Terceira (26 de julio de 1582): Felipe II consolida el trono de Portugal Revista Militar, José Ramón Cumplido Muñoz
  21. Parker p.74
  22. The Spanish Armada by Colin Martin/Geoffrey Parker p.73
  23. Geoffrey Parker p.73


Coordinates: 38°38′38″N27°39′11″W / 38.644°N 27.653°W / 38.644; -27.653