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Formosa Expedition
An anachronous map of the Dutch colonial Empire. Light green: territories administered by or originating from territories administered by the Dutch East India Company; dark green the Dutch West India Company.
LocationKeelung, Taiwan
Result Spanish establishment in Formosa
Kingdom of Middag Spain Spanish East Indies
200 Spanish and 400 Filipinos

The Spanish expedition to Formosa was a campaign mounted by the Spanish based in Manila, Philippines in 1626. It was the Spanish response to Dutch settlements being built in Formosa, now known as Taiwan. In cooperation with the Portuguese, this venture was made to attract Chinese traders and curtail the expansion of Dutch power in Asia.[1]


The Dutch Republic was not proclaimed with great fanfare. In fact, after the departure of Leicester the States of the several provinces and the States-General conducted business as usual. To understand why, one has to look at the polemic that took place during 1587 about the question who held sovereignty. The polemic was started by the English member of the Council of State, Sir Thomas Wilkes, who published a learned Remonstrance in March 1587, in which he attacked the States of Holland because they undermined the authority of Leicester to whom, in Wilkes view, the People of the Netherlands had transferred sovereignty in the absence of the "legitimate prince" (presumably Philip). The States of Holland reacted with an equally learned treatise, drawn up by the pensionary of the city of Gouda, François Vranck[2] on their behalf, in which it was explained that popular sovereignty in Holland (and by extension in other provinces) in the view of the States resided in the vroedschappen and nobility, and that it was administered by (not transferred to) the States, and that this had been the case from time immemorial. In other words, in this view the republic already existed so it did not need to be brought into being.[3] Vranck's conclusions reflected the view of the States at that time and would form the basis of the ideology of the States-Party faction in Dutch politics, in their defense against the "monarchical" views of their hard-line Calvinist and Orangist enemies in future decades.[4]

The coastal provinces of Holland and Zeeland had for a long time prior to Spanish rule been important hubs of the European maritime trade network. Their geographical location provided convenient access to the markets of France, Germany, England and the Baltic.[5] The war with Spain led many financiers and traders to emigrate from Antwerp a major city in Flanders and then one of Europe's most important commercial centres, to Dutch cities, particularly Amsterdam,[6] which became Europe's foremost centre for shipping, banking, and insurance.[7] Efficient access to capital enabled the Dutch in the 1580s to extend their trade networks beyond northern Europe to new markets in the Mediterranean and the Levant. In the 1590s, Dutch ships began to trade with Brazil and the Dutch Gold Coast of Africa, and towards the Indian Ocean and the source of the lucrative spice trade.[8] This brought the Dutch into direct competition with Portugal, which had dominated these trade networks for several decades, and had established colonial outposts on the coasts of Brazil, Africa and the Indian Ocean to facilitate them. The rivalry with Portugal, however, was not entirely economic: from 1580, after the battle of Ksar El Kebir, the Portuguese crown had been joined to that of Spain in an "Iberian Union" under Philip II of Spain. By attacking Portuguese overseas possessions, the Dutch forced Spain to divert financial and military resources away from its attempt to quell Dutch independence.[9] Thus began the several decade-long Dutch-Portuguese War.

The latter (and many contemporary foreign observers and later historians) often argued that the confederal government machinery of the Netherlands, in which the delegates to the States and States-General constantly had to refer back to their principals in the cities, "could not work" without the unifying influence of an "eminent head" (like a Regent or Governor-General, or later a stadtholder). However, the first years of the Dutch Republic proved different (as in hindsight the experience with the States-General since 1576, ably managed by Orange, had proved). Oldenbarnevelt proved to be Orange's equal in virtuosity of parliamentary management. The government he informally led proved to be quite effective, at least as long as the war lasted.[10] In the three years after 1588 the position of the Republic improved appreciably, despite setbacks like the betrayal of Geertruidenberg to Parma by its English garrison in 1588.[11] The change was due to both external and internal factors, that were interrelated.

In 1594, the "Compagnie van Verre" (Company of Far Lands) was founded in Amsterdam, with the aim of sending two fleets to the Spice Islands or Maluku.[12] The first fleet sailed in 1596 and returned in 1597 with a cargo of pepper, which more than covered the costs of the voyage. The second voyage (1598–1599), returned its investors a 400% profit.[13] The success of these voyages led to the founding of a number of companies competing for the trade. The competition was counterproductive to the companies' interests as it threatened to drive up the price of spices at their source in Indonesia whilst driving them down in Europe.[13]

As a result of the problems caused by intercompany rivalry, the Dutch East India Company (Dutch language: Verenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie , VOC) was founded in 1602. The charter awarded to the Company by the States-General granted it sole rights, for an initial period of 21 years, to Dutch trade and navigation east of the Cape of Good Hope and west of the Straits of Magellan. The directors of the company, the "Heeren XVII" were given the legal authority to establish "fortresses and strongholds", to sign treaties, to enlist its own army and navy, and to wage defensive war.[14] The company itself was founded as a joint stock company, similarly to its English rival that had been founded two years earlier, the English East India Company. In 1621, the Dutch West India Company was set up and given a 25-year monopoly to those parts of the world not controlled by its East India counterpart: the Atlantic, the Americas and the west coast of Africa.[15]

As part of its campaign in Asia, the Dutch East India Company attempted to establish a trading outpost on the Penghu Islands (Pescadores) in 1622, but were driven off by the Ming authorities.[16] In 1624, the Company established a stronghold called Fort Zeelandia on an coastal islet of Tayouan, which is now part of the main island at Anping, Tainan.[17] David Wright, a Scottish agent of the Company who lived on the island in the 1650s, described the lowland areas of the island as being divided among 11 chiefdoms ranging in size from two settlements to 72. Some of these fell under Dutch control while others remained independent.[18] The Company began to import laborers from Fujian and Penghu (Pescadores), many of whom settled.[16]


Location of Keelung, Taiwan

On 5 May 1626, the first Spanish landing on Formosa, as ordered by Governor-General of the Philippines Fernándo de Silva, was at Cape San Diego, but they decided that the area was not suitable for defense.[19] So, the Spanish continued westwards along the coast until they arrived at Keelung. A deep and well-protected harbor, including a small island in the mouth of the harbor, made it the ideal spot to build the first settlement, which they named Santisima Trinidad. Forts were built, both on the island and on the harbor itself.[1] It was garrisoned by hundreds of Spanish and Filipino soldiers from the Philippines. The colony was designed to protect Spanish and Portuguese trade from interference by the Dutch base in the south of Taiwan.


Fort San Domingo was built by the Spanish in 1628 at Tamsui after which the present site of the Fort was named in order to bolster the success of establishing Spanish power in Formosa.[20] On a night in 1636, a group of local people, angered by the taxes that the Spanish governor had imposed, successfully attacked the fort and demolished it. In 1637, the Spanish rebuilt the fort using stone and raised the height of the walls to twenty feet or more. However, in August 1642, the Dutch returned to Jilong with four large ships, several smaller ships, and with approximately 369 Dutch soldiers.[21] A combination of Spaniards, aboriginals, and Pampangos from the Philippines held off troops for six days, they eventually returned to Manila defeated, and gave up their flags and what little artillery remained with them.[21] Sebastián Hurtado de Corcuera, governor of the Philippines, was originally to blame for the loss of the Formosa and was eventually tried in court for his actions,[22] and was imprisoned for five years in the Philippines. Historians since Corcuera's time have chastised him for the loss of the Formosa,[21] but other factors, such as the continuing rise of the Dutch Empire in Southeast Asia, and financial troubles within the Spanish Empire, were also contributing factors.


  1. 1.0 1.1 Davidson, James M. (2005) [1903]. The Island of Formosa Past and Present. Taipei, Taiwan: Southern Materials Center. ISBN 957-638-124-X. 
  2. Entitled in translation:Short exposition of the right exercised from old times by the knighthood, nobles and towns of Holland and Westfriesland for the maintenance of the liberties, rights, privileges and laudable customs of the country; Van Gelderen, p. 204
  3. Van Gelderen, pg. 209; Koenigsberger, pp. 308–10
  4. Van Gelderen, pp. 206–7
  5. Boxer (1965), p.6.
  6. Boxer (1965), p.19.
  7. Taylor (2001), p. 248.
  8. Boxer (1965), p.20.
  9. Scammel (1989), p.20.
  10. Koenigsberger, pg. 313
  11. Israel (1995), pg. 234
  12. Boxer (1965), p.22.
  13. 13.0 13.1 Boxer (1965), p.23.
  14. Boxer (1965), p.24.
  15. Rogozinski (2000), p.62.
  16. 16.0 16.1 Wills, John E., Jr. (2006). "The Seventeenth-century Transformation: Taiwan under the Dutch and the Cheng Regime". In Rubinstein, Murray A.. Taiwan: A New History. M.E. Sharpe. pp. 84–106. ISBN 978-0-7656-1495-7. 
  17. Oosterhoff, J.L. (1985). "Zeelandia, a Dutch colonial city on Formosa (1624–1662)". In Ross, Robert; Telkamp, Gerard J.. Colonial Cities: Essays on Urbanism in a Colonial Context. Springer. pp. 51–62. ISBN 978-90-247-2635-6. 
  18. Campbell, William (1903). Formosa Under the Dutch: Described from Contemporary Records, with Explanatory Notes and a Bibliography of the Island. Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner. pp. 6–7. 
  19. Northeast and Yilan Coast National Scenic Area-Taiwan
  20. Tamsui Map+Guide 2011. Tamsui Historical Museum. 
  21. 21.0 21.1 21.2 Andrade, Tonio (2005). How Taiwan Became Chinese: Dutch, Spanish and Han Colonization in the Seventeenth Century. Columbia University Press. 
  22. Jose Eugenio Barrio (2007). "An Overview of the Spaniards in Taiwan" (pdf). University of Taiwan Foreign Languages in Literature. University of Taiwan. Retrieved 2012-05-16. 

See also

  • Spanish Formosa

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Creating Category:Spanish colonial period in the Philippines