Military Wiki
Battle of San Juan de Ulúa
Part of Anglo–Spanish War (1585)
AnthonyRoll-6 Jesus of Lübeck.jpg
The English carrack Jesus of Lübeck as depicted in the Anthony Roll
Date23 September 1568
LocationSan Juan de Ulúa, New Spain
(present-day Veracruz, Mexico)
Result Spanish victory
Spain Spain England Kingdom of England
Commanders and leaders
Francisco Luján
Juan de Ubilla
John Hawkins
Francis Drake
2 galleons
1 hulk ship
1 pinnace
11 coastal batteries
2 carracks
3 barques
1 caravel
1 pinnace
Casualties and losses
1 galleon sunk
1 galleon damaged
20 dead
1 carrack captured
1 caravel captured
1 barque captured
1 barque sunk
1 barque damaged
500 dead

The Battle of San Juan de Ulúa was a battle between English privateers and Spanish forces at San Juan de Ulúa (in modern Veracruz). It marked the end of the campaign carried out by an English flotilla of six ships that had systematically conducted illegal trade in the Caribbean Sea, including the slave trade, imposing it even by force.[1][2]


The English fleet consisted of 5 ships: the Royal carracks Jesus of Lübeck (leased from Queen Elizabeth I) under John Hawkins, the Minion under John Hampton, and the barques Judith under Hawkins' cousin Francis Drake, Angel and Swallow.[3] A captured Portuguese caravel joined the privateers near the coast of Ghana, where the English competed with Portuguese slave traders. The ship was renamed Grace of God.[4] A seventh ship, the barque William and John, sailed back home before the battle,[5] but after reaching Ireland on February 1569, she was lost with all hands on her way back to England.[6] Following a full year of plundering and illegal trading, Hawkins decided to anchor his ships in the port of San Juan de Ulúa on 15 September for repairs and resupply before the return voyage to England. But while they were carrying out this reprovisioning, a Spanish escort fleet under command of Don Francisco Luján also arrived in the port.[7]


Initially the English did not fear for their safety, since they had on board several hostages who had confused the English fleet for a Spanish one, and so at first arrived at an accord with viceroy Martín Enríquez de Almanza. The English had repeatedly broken the peace by attacking unarmed merchant shipping but at this point they believed the Spanish would respect a truce on this occasion. However, Luján had been informed of the English fleet's activities and, after many attempts at an accord, he launched a lightning attack on them in which the English lost 4 ships and 500 men as well as almost all of their year's loot, which was re-captured by the Spanish.[8] Luján's fleet lost the vice-admiral ship, the galleon Santa Clara, which burnt and sunk inside the port.[9] The flagship San Pedro, the only full-armed Spanish ship at San Juan, was also badly hit during an exchange of fire with Minion, which also suffered damage.[10][11] The early assault and capture of the island's batteries—held until then by the English—by a Spanish pinnace, commanded by a captain Delgadillo,[12] became decisive to the fate of the English fleet.[13] Angel sank after a few salvoes, and Swallow was seized by the Spaniards soldiers manning the batteries.[14] The French commander of the Grace of God, Robert Blondel, set her on fire before joining Hawkins on board the Jesus.[15] Both of them, along with some members of the crew of the Jesus were later rescued by a pinnace after Hawkins gave the order to abandon the ship. Hawkins took command then of the Minion.[3]

Fortress of San Juan de Ulúa.

Only the Judith, commanded by Drake and Minion escaped, whilst battle was still raging on, leaving behind them the Jesus of Lübeck and some members of her crew still on board. The surviving vessels sailed out when two ships on fire were driven on them by the Spanish. The Englishmen feared a fire ship attack.[3] The Jesus was eventually boarded by a Spanish party who had been lurking inside a nearby hulk, the San Salvador, under the command of captain Juan de Ubilla.[16] A first Spanish attempt had been beaten off by Hawkins' crew, not before suffering some dead and injured.[3][17] There are allegations that Ubilla allowed his men to loot the booty left on board the Jesus by Hawkins.[16]


During their withdrawal, the Minion and the Judith were hopelessly overcrowded, and some of their men had to be abandoned on what is now the southern coast of the United States to save on supplies for the Atlantic crossing. Hawkins left behind 110 men to surrender to the Spanish. He eventually arrived back to England with a crew of only 15.[9] Drake had reached Plymouth just days before, on 20 January 1569.[18] Only 70 or 80 sailors from the original expedition returned to England at all.[6]

While Hawkins accused the Spaniards of treason for not honouring the truce,[19] Almanza's only intention was to hold his authority and the Spanish monopoly in West Indies.[2]

The battle was a clear precursor of the war that broke out between Philip II of Spain and Elizabeth I of England in 1585.[2][20]


  1. Saiz Cidoncha, page 55
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 Walton, Timothy R.: The Spanish Treasure Fleets. Pineapple Press Inc, 2002, page 74. ISBN 1561642614
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 John Barrow: The life, voyages, and exploits of Admiral Sir Francis Drake.
  4. Lewis, Charles Lee: Famous old-world sea fighters. Ayer Publishing, 1969, page 93. ISBN 0-8369-1419-8
  5. Kelsey, Harry: Sir John Hawkins: Queen Elizabeth's slave trader.Yale University Press, 2003, page 104.ISBN 0300096631
  6. 6.0 6.1 Hampdem, John: Francis Drake, privateer: contemporary narratives and documents. Taylor & Francis, 1972, page 40. ISBN 0-8173-5703-3
  7. Marley, page 64
  8. The Unfortunate Voyage San Juan de Ulúa, 1567-1569
  9. 9.0 9.1 Marley, page 65
  10. Saiz Cidoncha, page 60
  11. Unwin, page 201
  12. Saiz Cidoncha, page 61
  13. Unwin, page 197
  14. Unwin, page 215
  15. Hannay, David: The sea trader: his friends and enemies. Harper & brothers, 1912, page 197
  16. 16.0 16.1 Wright, Irene Aloha: Spanish documents concerning English voyages to the Caribbean, 1527-1568. Hakluyt Society, 1929, page 25
  17. Unwin, page 193
  18. The Encyclopaedia of Plymouth History
  19. Hayklut, Richard: The Principal Navigations. London, 1589, page 555
  20. Dawson, Ian: The Tudor century. Nelson Thornes, 1993, page 303. ISBN 0-17-435063-5


  • Marley, David: Wars of the Americas: a chronology of armed conflict in the New World, 1492 to the present. ABC-CLIO, 1998. ISBN 0-87436-837-5
  • Unwin, Rayner: The Defeat of John Hawkins: A Biography of His Third Slaving Voyage. Allen & Unwin, 1960.
  • Saiz Cidoncha, Carlos: Historia de la piratería en América española. Editorial San Martín, 1985. ISBN 84-7140-230-0 (Spanish)

Coordinates: 19°12′27″N 96°7′57.36″W / 19.2075°N 96.1326°W / 19.2075; -96.1326

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