Battle of Cape St Vincent (1797)

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French Revolutionary Wars

In the Battle of Cape St Vincent (14 February 1797) a British fleet under Admiral Sir John Jervis defeated a larger Spanish fleet under Admiral José de Córdoba near Cape St. Vincent, Portugal.



—Midshipman George Parsons, HMS Barfleur[1]

The Spanish declaration of war on Britain and Portugal in October 1796 made the British position in the Mediterranean untenable. The combined Franco-Spanish fleet of 38 ships of the line heavily outnumbered the British Mediterranean Fleet of 15 ships of the line, forcing the British to evacuate their positions in first Corsica and then Elba.

Early in 1797, the Spanish fleet of 27 ships of the line, which were supposed to join the French fleet at Brest lay at Cartagena, on the Mediterranean Sea, with the intention of sailing to Cádiz as an escort of a 57 merchant convoy, carrying mainly mercury — necessary for gold and silver production — which would eventually enter that Spanish harbour along with warships Neptuno, Terrible and Bahama, prior to running into the British force.

Don José de Cordóba and the Spanish fleet left Cartagena on 1 February and might have reached Cádiz safely but for a fierce Levanter, the easterly wind, blowing between Gibraltar and Cádiz, which pushed the Spanish fleet further out into the Atlantic than intended. As the winds died down, the fleet began working its way back to Cádiz.

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