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Six Galleons for the King of Spain: Imperial Defense in the Early Seventeenth Century.

Steeped as we are in the legendary exploits of British mariners, from Drake and Hawkins, to Cook and Nelson, Hornblower and Aubrey, it is easy to forget that the first great naval empires of modern times were Iberian. Nor do we always recognize the persistence of Spanish naval power long after the supposed turning-point of 1588. Recently, however, historians have begun to explore the ramifications of Garrett Mattingly's pronouncement - in The Armada (1959) - that "the defeat of the Armada was not so much the end as the beginning of the Spanish navy." In their different ways, the two books under review here demonstrate the substantial truth of Mattingly's suggestion.

Teachers of Spanish history and of imperial and naval history will welcome the belated paperback appearance of Carla Phillips' Six Galleons for the King of Spain, a deserving prizewinner in its hardcover incarnation. The book is organized around the service history of the six galleons of the title, beginning with the contract for their construction struck between the Crown and the ambitious Vizcayan entrepreneur Martin de Arana in 1625, and ending with one of their number, the San Felipe, limping home from 1639's disastrous battle of the Downs. Adroitly, Phillips uses the tale of Arana's ships as a unifying focus for a wide-ranging exploration of naval administration and strategy under Philip IV, of the mechanics of seventeenth-century shipbuilding and provisioning, and of the realities of shipboard life in the period. Six Galleons is the product of extensive archival research in the principal Spanish repositories, and showcases its author's profound knowledge of early modern maritime practice. All naval history of this period must stand in the literary shadow of Mattingly's masterpiece, but Phillips is a fine writer with a particular knack for rendering technical discussions lucid and accessible, and her book deserves to stand on the same shelf with The Armada. Her conclusions range from a surprising but persuasive demonstration of the relative healthfulness of shipboard diet in the Spanish service, to a just appreciation of the skill and tenacity of Habsburg naval administrators, contractors and officers, whose struggles against an adverse conjuncture preserved Spain's Atlantic empire largely intact. "By exhausting every available material and human resource, " she argues, "the empire at least survived. Spain had hoped for more from such sacrifices, but perhaps survival was enough" (222).

R. A. Stradling has been identified with a similar thesis about the seventeenth-century persistence of the continental power of the Spanish Monarchy (see in particular his "Seventeenth-Century Spain: Decline or Survival?", European Studies Review [1979]). Thus it is fitting that he has now turned his attention to Spanish naval strength in northwestern European waters, in order, as he says, to illustrate the point "that Spain remained a major naval power for nearly a century after the defeat of the Invincible Armada" (ix). Unfortunately, his work on The Armada of Flanders, while valuable as an exploration of unfamiliar material, fails to transcend its monographic bounds to provide more general illumination about Spanish power in the age of accelerating decline.

Stradling's title, with its promise of a century of coverage, is misleading, since the narrative of the Dunkirk fleet that fills three of the book's four sections focuses almost entirely on the four decades after 1618. The background, from the outbreak of the Dutch Revolt until the onset of the Twelve Years' Truce, is dismissed in a brief chapter drawn largely from secondary sources. Thereafter, however, there is no reason to complain of sketchy treatment, since Stradling launches an exhaustive, archivally-based account of the fleet's seventeenth-century activities and vicissitudes. In this narrative, detail sometimes obscures analysis and non-specialist readers may find their attention wandering, particularly since Stradling occasionally deviates from chronology without apparent reason. The final section of The Armada of Flanders, topically-arranged, holds more interest. His accounts of "Men and Ships" and of "Administration - structures, personnel and finance, " add corroboration and some nuances to Phillips' treatment of similar topics; Stradling is particularly adept in explaining the complexities of joint - and sometimes competitive - Hispano-Flemish administration of the northern fleet. The discussion of Dunkirk privateering in chapter 10, although brief, sheds considerable light on this aspect of naval warfare, which seems to have far outstripped the crown's fleets as a scourge of Madrid's maritime enemies. This chapter concludes with an arresting phrase: "as a symbol of the bellum omnium contra omnes, [privateering provides] perhaps the most fitting image conceivable of the prolonged internecine European war of which it formed part" (228).

Taken together, these books provide a sound anatomy of the naval sinews of Spanish imperial power in the era of the Thirty Years' War. Both are the products of careful research by mature and distinguished scholars, and both belong on the private shelves of historians of imperial Spain. Only Phillips's Six Galleons, however, will please the general reader or find its way onto the reading lists of university courses, and the press deserves credit for making it available in a handsome paperback for a wider audience.
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Author:Boyden, James M.
Publication:Renaissance Quarterly
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Sep 22, 1994
Words:830
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