Historic authenticity of the Spanish SAN FELIPE of 1690

Model of San Felipe

Reprinted from FineModelShips.com with the kind permission of Dr. Michael Czytko

The SAN FELIPE is one of the most favoured ships among the ship model builders. The model is elegant, very beautifully designed, and makes a decorative piece of art to be displayed at home or in the office.

Doubts on San Felipe’s historic authenticity I have heard voiced or seen many times, mainly in forums on ship history and ship modelling. There was the contribution of Toni Alvarez Silva of April 1999 in some forum, who went three times to the Museo Naval in Madrid. He could not get any information there whether the San Felipe existed or not. He also contacted Mantua and Artesania Latina and asked them about their model kits of the San Felipe, without getting convincing responses.

The three San Felipe ship models (123) in this webpage were probably made from these kits. The plans of the kits are based on drawings of the “San Felipe” that were published in the 1950s by the Departamento de Falanges del Mar“ (see below).

Most probably a Spanish three-decker with the name “San Felipe” did not exist in 1690. As outlined by Mr. Leber the plans and model ship kits show construction elements of hull and rigging of Spanish ships of the line around 1700. But the question remains: Why don’t the kit makers refer to a ship like the Nuestra Señora de la Concepción y de las Ánimas Nuestra of 1688? That ship did exist and has been described in detail (see below).

I would like to quote a work of Dr. Markus Leber of 20 Juli 2009 who in recent years has studied the historical background of the first two three-deckers that were launched in Spain.

Spanish three-deckers around 1700 (by Dr. Markus Leber, 20 July 2009)

Many ship modellers are fascinated by three-deckers. Heavily armed and with compelling decorations they were symbols of power, representing their nation and royal dynasty. Unfortunately on Spanish three-deckers around 1700 there is only sparse literature in English or German, and part of that is not always correct. Spanish literature sources and talks with Spanish historians give new interesting insights on that topic.

1. The „Nuestra Señora de la Concepción y de las Ánimas” (1688)

The first proven three-decker of the Spanish navy was the „Nuestra Señora de la Concepción y de las Ánimas“. Construction of that ship began in 1682 by the shipbuilder D. Antonio De Amas at the Colindres (Cantabria) shipyard. The displacement of the ship might have been about 1500 tons.

In 1687 José Antonio de Gaztañeta (1656 – 1728) visited the shipyard to catch up on the work at the new flagship. As admiral of the Spanish Armada Gaztañeta did influence the Spanish ship building markedly, till the 18th century. His book „Arte de Fabrica Reales” of 1691 [1] contains detailed drawings of the „Nuestra Señora de la Concepción y de las Ánimas“. There is a view of the stern, a side view and a detail drawing of the stern gallery (see Fig. 1 and 2). The ship is shown as small three-decker without elevated forecastle, carrying 90 to 94 guns.
After launching in 1688 the ship was transferred to Santoña and completed. In May 1690 the masts were set in place. The ship’s painting by Martin Amigo is from that year (see Fig. 3). It is an oil painting on canvas 210 * 135 cm. Today that painting is in the parish church „Iglesia de la Asunción“ in Arcenillas, Zamora.

Side view of the „Nuestra Señora de la Concepción y de las Ánimas“ by José Antonio de Gaztañeta

Figure 1: Side view of the „Nuestra Señora de la Concepción y de las Ánimas“ by José Antonio de Gaztañeta

Stern views of the „Nuestra Señora de la Concepción y de las Ánimas“ by José Antonio de Gaztañeta

Figure 2: Stern views of the „Nuestra Señora de la Concepción y de las Ánimas“ by José Antonio de Gaztañeta

Oil painting of the „Nuestra Señora de la Concepción y de las Ánimas“ by Martín Amigo in the year 1690

Figure 3: Oil painting of the „Nuestra Señora de la Concepción y de las Ánimas“ by Martín Amigo in the year 1690

The painting is consistent with the drawings by Gaztañeta. Both contemporary sources show that the „Nuestra Señora de la Concepción y de las Ánimas“ was designed and built as a three-decker. In the Museo Naval in Madrid there is a model of the Nuestra Senora that has been built to these sources. It is interesting to compare the stern section of the painting of Martin Amigo with the high resolution photos of the corresponding page of Gaztañeta’s manuscriptum and the stern of the model.

The contemporary sources contradict statements that the “Real Felipe” of 1732 was the first Spanish three-decker [2, 3].

Little is known about the subsequent use of the „Nuestra Señora de la Concepción y de las Ánimas“. On 15 October 1690 the ship left Santoña for Cadiz, escorted by the ships of the line „San Carlos“ and „San Juan“, and some merchant ships. In the years thereafter she was mainly used in Cadiz. The ship took part in an expedition, in 1700, to expel the Scots from the Gulf of Darien in the Caribbean. In 1702 she was in Cadiz when the city was besieged by an Anglo-Dutch squadron [10].
During the War of the Spanish Succession the ship was in a bad shape. Because of that her guns were taken from her and used by other ships of the line. In 1705 the ship was finally broken up in Cadiz.

2. The „Real Felipe“ (1732)

The ship was named after Philipp V of Spain, the first Bourbon ruler of Spain, who in the War of the Spanish Succession managed to defend his throne against the claims of the Austrian Habsburgs.
The ship was built by Ciprián Autrán and Pedro Boyer using the system and the new design specifications of Antonio de Gaztañeta. The work on the shipyard of Guarnizo in Santander was finished in 1732. This three-decker was a giant of 1965 tons that could take up to 114 cannon. At that time only the French Foudroyant was larger.

In a register of 1740 the crew was stated to be 1152 men. The “Real Felipe” proved to be a firm vessel of great firepower. In the battle of Toulon on 22 February 1744 she was repeatedly attacked by British ships [4]. She could repulse all attacks and fought “like hell”, according to English sources. However, the ship was damaged so badly that she was never completely repaired, due to high cost. In 1750 she was finally broken up.

The „Real Felipe“ is supposed to be the largest and most beautiful ship of the Spanish fleet at that time. Strangely, despite of that there is no proven contemporary illustration of her. In books, articles or Internet one can find many depictions, but they are all different and none of them is contemporary. Jose Ignacio Gonzales-Aller Hierro, the former curator of the Museo Naval in Madrid, provided some information. He has published several books about the Spanish fleet, and about the inventory of the Museo Naval. In his publications „Navío Real Felipe“ [5] and „El navíos de tres puentes en la Armada española“ [6] he in detail outlined the history of the ship. So he should know about contemporary sources. He told me that there are indeed no proven contemporary drawings or paintings of the ship. Even with the most prominent drawing of the ship (see Fig. 4) one does not know when the drawing was made and by whom.

The first illustration of the „Real Felipe“ was made in the second half of the 18th century by José Manuel de Moraleda y Montero. The artist was born only in 1750, the year when the ship was broken up.
In 1796 a series of engravings about the battle of Toulon 1744 was made by some artists. The “Real Felipe” is depicted differently each time, depending on the artist. Jose Ignacio Gonzales-Aller Hierro stated to me that the ships depicted do not correspond to Spanish ships of the line during the first half of the 18th century.
In the 20th century some drawings of the ship were made by Rafael Berenguer Moreno de Guerra. However, his drawings differ from the one shown in Fig. 4. In the book „El Buque en la Armada Espanola“ [8] of 1981 one can find a somewhat sketchy reconstruction of the “Real Felipe”. This depiction, too, differs from those of the 18th century and looks like being based mostly on imagination.

Side view drawing of the „Real Felipe“, author and time of origin unknown, Museo Naval Madrid

Figure 4: Side view drawing of the „Real Felipe“, author and time of origin unknown, Museo Naval Madrid

3. The origin of the three-decker „San Felipe“

In the English- and German-speaking countries there have only few models been built of the Spanish three-deckers that really existed around 1700. Instead, the „San Felipe” became the most prominent one and a well-known ship. The ship is often connected to the Italian historian Vincenzo Lusci as originator. Despite of that the draft is older and not of Italian, but Spanish origin. Only the dubious dating to 1690 is mentioned by Vincenzo Lusci for the first time.
The first drawing of the “San Felipe” was published in the 1950s by the Departamento de Falanges del Mar“. The Spanish historian Juan Carlos Mejias Tavero presented this drawing in his 2006 article „San Felipe, Real o Ficción“ [7].

Part of the first drawing of the „San Felipe“, published by the „Departamento de Falanges del Mar“.

Figure 5: Part of the first drawing of the „San Felipe“, published by the „Departamento de Falanges del Mar“.

Fig. 5 shows part of this drawing. There are marked discrepancies to the drawing by Vincenzo Lusci and the Mantua model kit drawings. The taff-rails at the stern are more elaborately decorated and the ornamentation of the stern is different. Instead of the round ornaments below the galleries there is a deck with round windows. It is not known who exactly made this drawing.

In the book „El Buque en la Armada Espanola“ [8] there is a illustration of the “San Felipe” (page 177) which was drawn by Rafael Berenguer Moreno de Guerra. Above that illustration is a commentary „Interpretation de Berenguer de un navio espaniol de tres puentes de finales del siglo XVII, o principios del XVIII“. Hoping to get some more information about the origin of the “San Felipe”, a Spanish speaking member of the “Arbeitskreis historischer Schiffbau”, Mr. Peter Böhmer, phoned the Spanish historian Berenguer. Mr. Berenguer is famous for his many drawings of Spanish ships of war that are cited in many books and articles. The meanwhile 88-year-old explained to Mr. Böhmer that the drawing was made by a Spanish ship modeller in the 1950s. According to Berenguer the draft should originally represent the “Real Felipe” of 1732. But because of the poor historical sources a draft was generated that combined some properties of Spanish ships of the line in early 1700s.

A connection of „Real Felipe“ and „San Felipe“ can be found elsewhere in Spanish literature [9]. Several times models of the “San Felipe” have been named “Real Felipe of 1732”. Mejias Tavero [7], in his article about the „San Felipe“, too, refers to the „Real Felipe“ and to drawings of the “Arte de Fabricar Reales”. One can assume that the ”San Felipe” might be just another interpretation of the poorly documented Spanish flagship “Real Felipe” of 1732.

Irrespectively of this, for a ship modeller the question remains whether the “San Felipe” has at all properties of Spanish ships of early 18th century. To judge about this we can only refer to the few contemporary drawings of Antonio de Gaztañeta. There is a lines drawing of 1712, shown in Fig 6, that is compared to the lines of the “San Felipe”.

Comparison of the lines of the "San Felipe" with contemporary sources,

Figure 6: Comparison of the lines of the “San Felipe” with contemporary sources,
left: lines in the original plan of the “San Felipe” of the Departamento de Falanges del Mar,
middle: lines of a Spanish ship of the line, 1712, by Antonio de Gaztañeta,
right: lines of a Spanish ship of the line, 1750, by Jorge Juan

The forms of the hulls look quite similar, indeed. At the top futtocks the “San Felipe” hull is built much narrower than at the water line. The lines of the underwater hull close to the stern are bent to midships. By that the ship looks especially wide at the waterline. This form is shown by a 1712 lines drawing of Gaztañeta, too. Even though Gaztañeta’s lines represented larger two-deckers, the documents show that the „San Felipe“ has some similarity to Spanish ships of the line in early 18th century.
As the lines of 1750 show, the form of the hull did change. The ship’s side was more vertical now and the underwater hull was bulkier towards the stern.

Some details of the „San Felipe“ can be found in other contemporary drawings. Fig. 7 shows a drawing of a Spanish two-decker around 1700 (archive of Sevilla). This ship also has the round gunports on the forecastle and the poop. The bowsprit enters the front bulkhead at some elevation and not at deck level. Someone who knows the “San Felipe” can recognize contours of the model. Mejias Tavero deduced some details of the decoration from drawings of the „Arte de Fabrica Reales.

The “San Felipe” plans and the ship models show some properties of Spanish ships of the line around 1700. However, one question remains: Why don’t the kit makers refer to a ship that did exist at that time and that has been described quite in detail?

Drawing of a Spanish two-decker around 1700. Archive of Sevilla.

Figure 7: Drawing of a Spanish two-decker around 1700. Archive of Sevilla.

4. Literature:

[1] José Antonio de Gaztañeta (1687-1691), Arte de Fabrica Reales, reprint in 1992 by Lunwerg Editores, Barcelona, ISBN: 84-7782-213-1

[2] Thomas Feige (2007), Der spanische Dreidecker San Felipe von 1690 – Phantasie oder Wirklichkeit, Das Logbuch, Ausgabe 1, Seite 31 – 39

[3] Saint Hubert (1986), Ships of the line of the Spanish Navy, Warship, Volume Num 37, page 65 – 69

[4] Carlos Martínez-Valverde (1983), La campaña de don Juan José Navarro en el Mediterráneo y la batalla de cabo Sicie (1742-1744), Revista de Historia Naval, nº 2, page 5 -29

[5] José Ignacio González-Aller Hierro (1986), Navío Real Felipe, Revista de Historia Naval, nº 14, page 47 – 52

[6] José Ignacio González-Aller Hierro (1985), El navíos de tres puentes en la Armada española, Revista de Historia Naval, nº 9, page 45 – 76

[7] Carlos Mejias Tavero, Antonio Alcaraz (2006), San Felipe, Real o Ficción, Más Navíos, Nº13, page 36 – 41 and/or: Argonauta, Revista euroamericana de modelismo, 2008,

[8] Enrique Manera Regueyra, Carlos Moya Blanco, Jose Maria Martinez-Hidalgo, Pedro Castineiras Munoz et al. (1981), El Buque en la Armada Espanola, printed by Silex, ISBN: 84-85041-50-X

[9] Josè Luis Alcofar Nassaes (1980), Los tres puentes españoles, Revista General de Marina, Nº199, 79 – 101
[10] José Ignacio Gonzáles-Aller Hierro et al., Modelos de Arsenal del Museo Naval, Evolutión de la constructión naval española, siglos XVII – XVIII, Lunwerg Editores, Barcelona 2004, ISBN 84-7782-959-4, Spanish with English translation

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