New historical revelations from Spanish ships captured by Britain in the 1700s offers insight the lives of noblemen, royalty, sailors – and their wives 

A TREASURE trove of Spanish documents captured by Britain during historical conflicts between the two countries have been made open to the public.

A significant portion of the collection, part of the Prize Papers project, comes from 130 Spanish ships seized during the War of Jenkins’ Ear and the War of Austrian Succession in 1739-1748.

These wars, which saw the Bourbon powers and Great Britain on opposing sides, included significant naval battles like Cartagena de Indias in 1741 and the Battle of Toulon in 1744.

The entire collection spans conflicts spanning 1652 to 1815 – an entire epoch of European history stretching from the Peace of Westphalia ending with Napoleon’s defeat and the start of the ‘Century of Peace’ that followed.

This display includes letters, drawings, recipes, official records, and more, offering a tantalising glimpse into historical maritime activities and the lives of those on board.

The project is a collaborative effort between the UK’s National Archives and the University of Oldenburg, aiming to digitise and make publicly accessible this historical legacy.

Among other notable discoveries are illustrated volumes from the treasure galleon ‘Nuestra Señora de Covadonga’ and a dispatch to the governor of the Philippines from King Philip V. 

Another gripping account is from 16-year-old Joaquín Ruiz de España, who recounts a near-fatal accident while boarding a ship in Havana.

One 300-year-old unopened letter was from a wife in Sevilla to her husband in Mexico, scolds him for his lack of replies to her letters.

“I would like to know the reason why I did not receive any response to the 13 letters I sent to you; I would like to know if perhaps over there [there] is no paper or pen or ink not to have written even a letter,” she nags.

The letter goes on to vividly recount the hardships she and her children faced in her husband’s absence. 

“I am miserable, surrounded by more miseries than anybody else in the world, with so many pains, and moreover surrounded by these two children of yours for whom your love has extinguished”.

She describes how their daughter has been forced to work as a servant and herself suffering from an ‘abscess in her throat’ and too sick to even beg for money.

She signs it: “Your wife that wants to see you, Francisca Muñoz.”

The project, launched in 2018 and set to continue until 2037, promises ongoing glimpses into the past for those interested in Spanish history, its former colonies, and global maritime heritage.


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