Queen Anne - from A.D. 1702 to A.D. 1714.
Anne, daughter of James the Second, married the Prince George of Denmark, and ascended the throne March the 8th, 1702. Although the army was held in more consideration during her reign than the navy, the British seamen managed by their gallant deeds to make the service respected at home and abroad. It was not much to his advantage that the queen appointed her consort, Prince George, to be Lord High Admiral. The acts done in his name were not so narrowly scrutinised as they would otherwise have been, and the commissioners of the Admiralty took good care to shelter themselves under his wing.
Three of the most celebrated admirals in this reign were Sir George Rooke, Sir Cloudesly Shovel, and Admiral Benbow. Sir George, upon the breaking out of war with France, was appointed to the chief command of the fleet. An expedition, which he at once sent against Cadiz, was unsuccessful. Not long afterwards, intelligence was carried to Sir George that a French squadron and a fleet of Spanish galleons was at Vigo. Sir George immediately sailed with the English and Dutch fleets, and appeared before that port. The weather being hazy, the people in the town did not discover them. The passage into the harbour is not more than three-quarters of a mile across. Batteries had been thrown up on either side, and garrisoned with a large body of troops, while a strong boom, composed of ships-yards and topmasts fastened together with three-inch rope, had been carried across it. The top chain at each end was moored to a 70-gun ship, while within the boom were moored five ships, of between 60 and 70 guns each, with their broadsides fronting the entrance to the passage, so that they could fire at any ship which came near the boom, forts, or platform. As it was impossible for the whole fleet to enter, a detachment of fifteen English and ten Dutch men-of-war, with all the fire-ships, followed by the frigates and bomb-vessels, were ordered to enter and attempt the destruction of the enemy’s fleet, while the troops were to land and attack the forts in the rear. Vice-Admiral Hopson in the Torbay led the van; but when he got within shot of the batteries it fell calm, so that the ships were compelled to come to an anchor. A strong wind, however, soon afterwards springing up, Admiral Hopson cutting his cables clapped on all sail, and, amidst a hot fire from the enemy, bore up directly for the boom, which he at once broke through, receiving broadsides from the two ships at either end. The rest of the squadron and the Dutch following, sailed abreast towards the boom, but being becalmed they all stuck, and were compelled to hack and cut their way through. Again a breeze sprang up, of which the Dutchman made such good use that, having hit the passage, he went in and captured the Bourbon. Meantime Admiral Hopson was in extreme danger, for the French fire-ship having fallen on board him, whereby his rigging was set on fire, he expected every moment to be burnt; but it happened that the fire-ship was a merchantman, and laden with snuff, and being fitted up in haste, the snuff in some measure extinguished the fire. The gallant Hopson, however, received considerable damage, for, besides having his fore-topmast shot away, he had 115 men killed and drowned, and 9 wounded, while his sails and his rigging were burnt and scorched. He was, therefore, compelled to leave his ship, and hoist his flag on board the Monmouth.
At the same time, Captain Bokenham, in the Association, laid his broadside against the town, while Captain Wyvill, in the Barfleur, a ship of the like force, was sent to batter the fort on the other side. The firing of the great and small shot of both sides was continued for some time, till the French admiral, seeing the platform and fort in the hands of the English and his fire-ship useless, while the confederate fleet were entering, set fire to his own ship, ordering the rest of the captains under his command to follow his example, which was done in so much confusion, that several men-of-war and galleons were taken by the English and Dutch. The allies and French lost about an equal number of men, but by this victory a vast amount of booty, both of plate and other things, was captured. The Spanish fleet was the richest that ever came from the West Indies to Europe. The silver and gold was computed at 20,000,000 of pieces of eight, of which 14,000,000 only had been taken out of the galleons and secured by the enemy at Lagos, about twenty-five leagues from Vigo, and the rest was either taken or sunk in the galleons. Besides this, there were goods to the value of 20,000 pieces of eight, and a large quantity of plate and goods belonging to private persons. A few years ago only, a company was formed in England for the purpose of dredging for the treasure sunk in the galleons, but the scheme was abandoned on the discovery that much less amount of treasure than here described was really lost, the confederates having captured nearly all of that which had not been landed at Lagos.
By this blow the naval power of France was so deeply wounded, that she never recovered it during the war.