The Struggle for the South Atlantic: The Armada of the Strait, 1581-84: 1st Edition (Hardback) book cover

The Struggle for the South Atlantic: The Armada of the Strait, 1581-84

1st Edition

By Carla Rahn Phillips


204 pages

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Hardback: 9781908145154
pub: 2016-12-03
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The Armada of the Strait under Don Diego Flores de Valdés in 1581–84 came at a crucial juncture in global politics. Philip II of Spain had assumed the crown of Portugal and its overseas empire, and Francis Drake’s daring peacetime raids had challenged the dominance of Spain and Portugal in the Americas. The armada was intended to ensure the loyalty of Portuguese Brazil; bolster its defences against hostile native peoples, and English and French pirates and interlopers; and fortify and settle the Strait of Magellan to prevent further incursions into the Pacific.

Pedro de Rada, the official scribe of the armada, kept a detailed, neutral chronicle of the venture which remained in private hands until 1999 but is now held in the Henry E. Huntington Library in San Marino, California. It is published here for the first time. Previous historical assessments of the expedition have largely reflected the writings of Pedro Sarmiento de Gamboa, governor-designate for the planned colony at the Strait, who blamed all the misfortunes of the enterprise on Diego Flores de Valdés. Rada’s Relación is presented here in conjunction with other documentation and compared with Sarmiento de Gamboa’s accusations. The results will force scholars to revise long-standing conclusions regarding the place of Sarmiento and Flores in Spanish history and the accomplishments of a long-forgotten armada sent into the terrifying waters of the South Atlantic.

Table of Contents

List of Maps

Preface, Acknowledgements and Dedication


Weights, Measures and Currency


1. Overview

2. Documentation of the voyage and Pedro de Rada's Relación

3. Rada’s manuscript

4. Brazil as a venue for European rivalries

5. The Spanish response to Drake's passage through the Strait of Magellan

6. Personal conflict in the Armada of the Strait: Sarmiento versus Flores

7. Planning and early preparations for the armada

8. Recruiting sailors and soldiers

9. Final preparations

10. The disastrous first departure from Spain

11. Definitive departure of the Armada of the Strait

12. From Cádiz to the Cape Verde Islands

13. Arrival and layover in Brazil, 25 March–26 October 1582

14. The best laid plans go awry: The first attempt to enter the Strait

15. Encounters with the expedition of Edward Fenton

16. The second attempt to reach the Strait, January–February, 1583

17. The relief mission joins the armada

18. The third attempt to reach the Strait, and Sarmiento’s complaints

19. Flores focuses on the armada’s military mission

20. The Battle of Paraíba and the return to Iberia

21. Aftermath

22. Notes to the translation


Table of Contents

Why and how His Majesty gathered the armada

From 25 September 1581, when it sailed from San Lúcar de Barrameda, until 7 October 1581

From 9 December 1581, when it left the Bahía de Cádiz, until 11 January 1582, when it arrived at the island of Santiago de Cabo Verde, and what occurred there

From 2 February 1582, when it left Santiago de Cabo Verde, until 25 March, when it arrived at the Rio de Janeiro, and what occurred there

From 2 November 1582, when it sailed from the Rio de Janeiro toward the Strait of Magellan, until 17 December, when it turned back toward Santa Catarina

From 7 January 1583, when it left Santa Catarina, until 19 January, when it arrived near the Río de la Plata and Don Alonso de Sotomayor was sent to Buenos Aires

From 19 January 1583, when it left the Río de la Plata, until 17 February, when it arrived at the Strait of Magellan and was forced to turn back, until 31 March, when it arrived at São Vicente

From 28 April 1583, when it departed from Santos y São Vicente, until 9 May, when it arrived at the Rio de Janeiro

From 2 June 1583, when it sailed from the Rio de Janeiro, until 13 July, when it arrived at Bahia

From 1 March 1584, when it left Bahia, until 19 March, when it arrived at Pernambuco

From 16 April 1584, when it departed from Pernambuco, until it arrived at the port of la Paraíba, which was taken from the French and a fort was built there

From 1 May 1584, when it departed from the port of la Paraíba, until 26 June, when it arrived at the island of Terceira

From 3 July 1584, when it departed from Terceira, until 17 July, when it arrived at the Bahia de Cádiz


Instrucción given to the captains, pilots and mastersof the armada in San Lúcar on 25 September 1581

Instrucción given to the captains, pilots and mastersin Santiago de Cabo Verde on 28 January 1582

Instrucción given to the captains in the Rio de Janeiro on 4 October 1582 regarding the first attempt to reach the Strait

Instrucción given to the accountant Andrés de Eguino on 5 January 1583 in the port of Santa Catarina

Acuerdo made on 19 January 1583 at the mouth of the Río de la Plata about the departure of Don Alonso de Sotomayor

Instrucción given on 26 April 1583 to Tomás Garri, alcaide of the fort built in the port of Santos

Acuerdo made on 5 December 1582, the armada being at a latitude of 35 degrees

What General Diego Flores proposed in the Rio de Janeiro on 13 May 1583 about leaving five navios of the armada to return to the Strait

Instrucción given to Diego de la Rivera in the Rio de Janeiro on 31 May 1583 regarding his return to the Strait

Requerimiento that the general issued to Manuel Tellez Bareto, governor of Bahia, 28 November 1583

Instrucción given in Salvador, on 27 February 1584 regarding sailing to Pernambuco and la Paraíba

Instrucción given to Diogo Báez da Veiga and Captain Pedro Corea de la Cerda, in Bahia on 29 February 1584

Vow and pledge of homage made by Captain Francisco de Castrejón, alcaide of the fort in la Paraíba, with the instrucción, etc. given to him.

Report of the money that was carried from Spain, and what was spent and loaned on the coast of Brazil until the armada returned to Spain

Report of the powder, lead and match-cord that was given to Juan de Urbina on 29 June 1584 on the island of Terceira

Report that Don Francisco de Vera gave on 15 December 1582 about the two English galleons that captured him

Copies of the letters that the English general wrote in Santos on 20 January 1583

The rutter taken in São Vicente from an Englishman who accompanied Francis Drake


1. Ships and Persons in the Armada of the Strait on 7 December 1581

2: Fate of Ships in the Armada of the Strait from 25 September 1581 to 21 September 1584.



About the Author

Carla Rahn Phillips earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in history at Pomona College in Claremont, California, and her Master of Arts and Doctor of Philosophy degrees at New York University in New York City. Throughout her career, her research has focused on the economic, social and maritime history of Spain in the early modern centuries. In addition to numerous articles and chapters in collected works, she is the author of Ciudad Real, 1500-1750: Growth, Crisis and Readjustment in the Spanish Economy (Cambridge, Mass., 1979); Six Galleons for the King of Spain: Imperial Defense in the Early Seventeenth Century (Baltimore, 1986); and The Treasure of the San José: Death at Sea in the War of the Spanish Succession (Baltimore, 2007). She is also co-author, with William D. Phillips Jr., of The Worlds of Christopher Columbus (Cambridge, 1992); Spain's Golden Fleece: Wool Production and the Wool Trade from the Middle Ages to the Nineteenth Century (Baltimore, 1997); and A Concise History of Spain (Cambridge, 2010; 2016). She retired in 2013 as the Union Pacific Professor in Comparative Early Modern History at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities. In retirement she is associated with the University of Texas, Austin; the University of California, San Diego; and the San Diego Maritime Museum.

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HISTORY / General