The Tudor Society

September 23 – English privateers fight in Mexico

"Hawkins at St Juan de Ulloa", Frederick Whymper, 1887.On this day in Tudor history, 23rd September 1568, in the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, the Battle of San Juan de Ulúa took place near present day Veracruz in Mexico.

The battle was fought between Spanish forces and English privateers led by John Hawkins. The Spanish forces were victorious.

English adventurer John Hawkins was on his third voyage to the Spanish colonies of the New World when the battle took place. Although Spanish law prohibited his trading, he'd been trading with there with the co-operation of local Spanish officials. However, his activity upset those higher up the chain who saw it as smuggling and a challenge to the Spanish monopoly in the area. They felt something had to be done about Hawkins.

The English fleet at this time consisted of five ships: the Jesus of Lübeck captained by Hawkins, the Minion captained by John Hampton, the Judith captained by Francis Drake, and the Angel and the Swallow. On 23rd September 1568, this fleet was ambushed by Spanish forces. Only the Judith and the Minion, which Hawkins had boarded, escaped the battle.

The English viewed the Spanish actions as treachery, while Spain defended its actions against the men it saw as pirates. The Encyclopaedia Britannica, notes that "Drake and Hawkins never forgot or forgave, and it was Hawkins who, as treasurer of the navy, began to build the revolutionary ships that would later destroy the old-fashioned galleons of the Spanish Armada."

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Image: "Hawkins at St Juan de Ulloa", Frederick Whymper, 1887.

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September 23 – English privateers fight in Mexico