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Blas de Lezo and The Defeat of Edward Vernon’s Invincible British Armada in Cartagena de Indias

Posted: July 6th, 2013 | Author: | Filed under: Book Summaries, History | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comentarios »

After having read the excellent book El día que España derrotó a Inglaterra by Pablo Victoria, a bittersweet feeling prevails: of joy taking into account what a bunch of brave Spaniards managed to achieve against an amanzingly powerful war machine; and of sadness by the miserable end of the likely most important naval officer Spain has had throughout its history: Blas de Lezo y Olavarrieta.

El día que España derrotó a Inglaterra

On January 20th 1533 Pedro de Heredia had founded, in the native settlement of Calamarí, Cartagena de Indias in the old Viceroyalty of Nueva Granada. Around 200 years later -March 13th 1741- and after having turned into a key harbor for receiving and sending the wealth from South America towards Spain, the biggest invading fleet Inglaterra had ever launched against Spain appeared in front of the city cost. The admiral Sir Edward Vernon was at the helm.

England had begun hostilities against Spain one year before: on March 13th and on May 3rd 1740 Vernon had carried out two raids which were just mere warnings. This time it was serious: Vernon’s Armada was composed of 180 vessels -it surpassed Felipe II’s Spanish Armada-, and perhaps the biggest fleet ever, after the one which attacked the Normandy coasts in the Second World War. The English invading army was made up of 23,600 soldiers –amongst them 2,700 men from the British North American colonies, headed by George Washington’s brother- and close to 3,000 artillery pieces. To face them 2,800 men and six vessels. England was so sure and confident of its victory that it even ordered to mint coins to commemorate the success. It was written on them: “The Spanish arrogance humilated by the the admiral Vernon” and “The English heroes took Cartagena, April 1st 1741”.

When sixty-seven days after the beginning of the siege the other invincible Armada -this time English- left the coasts of Cartagena de Indias, humiliated and destroyed, England hurried up to conceal the most important and severe defeat it has ever had: it hid the coins and the medals and forgot its dismantled fleet, although upon Vernon’s death he was buried in the mausoleum of the national army heroes with a deceitful epitaph stating he subjugated Chagras and in Cartagena he conquered up to where the naval force could take the victory.

What a difference regarding Blas de Lezo in this last vital moment! Ironically it seems this was the only chance Vernon had to defeat Blas de Lezo eventually. Owing to the animosity between the latter and the viceroy Sebastián de Eslava y Lazaga during the siege of Cartagena de Indias, some days after his death Blas de Lezo was dismissed from his position of admiral and was summoned to return to Spain to be judged by allegedly some offences upon defending the city of Cartagena. The viceroy, a court man and well connected, had moved skillfully and swiftly to hide his army incompetence and his dreadful management of the city defense. Sadly this is the usual way Spain rewards its most brilliant citizens.

As a conclusion Blas de Lezo’s memorable answer to Edward Vernon’s arrogant letter in which, after having been defeated, he threatened to go back to Cartagena de Indias to conquer the city:

To come to Cartagena the king of England should gather another bigger fleet, since this one has come to just bring coal from Ireland to London”.

2 Comments on “Blas de Lezo and The Defeat of Edward Vernon’s Invincible British Armada in Cartagena de Indias”

  1. 1 Miguel de Avendaño said at 1:34 pm on June 1st, 2015:

    Edward Vernon was not “Sir Edward Vernon”. He was never knighted. Vernon’s fleet was by no stretch of the imagination the biggest fleet ever after the Normandy invasion fleet (check Oran 1732, Algiers 1775 and Gallipoli 1915 just for starters).
    England did not mint coins: the souvenir industry (mainly buttonmakers) produced medals, as on many other occasions in the 18th century, with the object of cashing in on a popular event. England concealed nothing and withdrew nothing. Vernon’s fleet was not destroyed. It spent another year and a half in the Caribbean. In fact, Vernon was opposed to “combined operations” and conquests and was a champion of naval power alone. Just bother yourself to read the ample bibliography on the subject. It appears in all British naval histories. Blas de Lezo never wrote “to come Cartagena etc” to Vernon. And, of course, Vernon’s obituary must be understood in the context of English political life and the controversy between naval and land forces: it was not for Spanish consumption or aimed at deceiving anyone. History should be a serious business, not an outburst of nationalistic claptrap. Victoria’s book is trashh both as a novel and history.

  2. 2 Domingo said at 9:59 am on June 2nd, 2015:

    Thanks, Miguel, for your remark and sharing the British point of view of the episode. It’s always enriching to see how the other side experienced the fact.