The Galleon is one of the most famous sailing ships in naval history, firmly associated with the early age of sail, the establishment of the European empires in the New World, and the early rise of English naval power under captains such as Drake and Hawkins.
Most of this book focuses on the ships themselves rather than on the relatively small number of direct clashes between Galleons. We thus get a good description of their layout, how they were sailed and crewed, how they were used in combat etc, and how each of these elements differed between the English and Spanish. This is an interesting aspect of this book – both sides produced galleons that suited their methods of warfare – gunnery for the British and boarding actions for the Spanish, and this favoured the British during the key battles of the Spanish Armada. However the Spanish learnt from that defeat, and one of the reasons for the defeat of the Revenge was that later Spanish ships were faster and better sailors than their Armada predecessors.
There is a slight tendency in the sections on how the Galleon operated to define it by what it didn’t have rather than by what it actually did have. This section on the sails thus tells us they didn’t have footropes or reef points before saying what was done instead, rather than by telling us what was done, and then that this was later replaced by the use of footropes and reef points. However the actual explanation of how they worked is good.
The last third of the book looks at three of the most famous battles between Galleons – one of Sir Francis Drake’s successes in the Pacific, one of the fights during the Armada and the last fight of the Revenge. The author makes it clear early in the book that galleons rarely fought each other in the sort of single ship action often seen in later periods (especially the Napoleonic Wars and War of 1812), and the three battles here rather support that. Each of them is a famous clash, and none of them are a proper duel. The first, Drake’s capture of the Nuestra Senora de la Concepcion was an ambush in which the Spanish surrendered almost as soon as they were attacked. The second was part of the wider Armada battle, and looks at the fate of one of the relatively few Spanish ships lost as a result of battle damage. The third is the famous last fight of Richard Grenville and the Revenge, in which one English ship was eventually surrounded and rather battered into surrender.
Design and Development
The Strategic Situation
Author: Mark Lardas