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4 d’ag. 2019

Forests in Catalonia and the king. 1600-1640

References to Catalonia in David Goodman (2003), Spanish Naval Power, 1589-1665: Reconstruction and Defeat.
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Spanish Naval Power, 1589-1665: Reconstruction and Defeat

Per David Goodman

   Olivares' dismay intensified in 1640 with the outbreak of rebellions in Catalonia and Portugal. He could not survive this succession of disasters. In January 1643 he was removed and Philip IV proclaimed his intention to govern by himself. However, by degrees, Olivares' nephew, Luis Mendez de Haro, rose to the position of principal minister. There was no weakening in the importance attached to naval forces. Twenty years after Olivares' dismissal, the Council of War continued to advise Philip that 'dominion over the sea is what is most respected and feared'.72 

   In the 1640s, after the French invaded Catalonia in support of the rebels, the Mediterranean again became an important theatre for Spanish naval forces. Minorca became a base for the defence of Catalonia as well as for patrolling the approaches to Italy. Much of the naval action in the Mediterranean was indecisive.73 The French proved unable to overcome the Monarchy's still formidable naval forces. The civil war of the Fronde sapped French naval effort and contributed to the recapture of Barcelona in 1652, in which the assistance of Spanish vessels had been decisive.74 Political change elsewhere also explains the ineffectiveness of the French fleet. Peace had at last come with the Dutch, depriving the French of an ally in the struggle with Spain. ...

p. 26

   Cromwell and the Rump had introduced a massive shipbuilding programme to defend the regime against the Stuarts. By 1653 the English had 180 ships in service. To promote the Protestant cause, Cromwell turned against the old enemy, Spain, champion of the papal Antichrist.78 He devised an ambitious plan to destroy Spanish power in America and secure the silver for England. This was Cromwell's 'Western Design'. Like Hawkins and Drake in the previous century, Cromwell decided to attack Hispaniola, Spain's administrative centre of the Caribbean. In December 1654 a fleet of thirty-eight ships sailed from England with 3,000 soldiers and picked up thousands more in Barbados. The army, made up of inexperienced troops, landed on the island in April. Within a few weeks, disease and lack of food and water took their toll; morale was destroyed. No match for the Spanish defenders, the ragged army re-embarked and the undefended Jamaica was captured instead. The commander, William Penn, made no attempt to capture the silver fleet whose position he knew. In disgrace, he was sent to the Tower on his return. Like other English commanders before him, Cromwell had underestimated the difficulties of a campaign in the Caribbean.

   Cromwell turned instead to the peninsula, aiming to seize incoming Indies silver fleets. In September 1656 the English achieved what had been done only once in a hundred years of the Spanish convoy system: Blake captured a silver fleet off Cadiz. The following April he tried again in Tenerife. This time the treasure was saved. The Spanish unloaded it just in time and deposited it in the island's fortress. But their ships were destroyed in Blake's attack. Cromwell maintained a blockade of peninsular coasts and joined forces with Mazarin for operations against Spain. It was largely the intention of demolishing this Anglo- French alliance that drove Spain to a peace treaty with France in 1659, recovering Catalonia but conceding Rossello and Cerdanya. Cromwell's death in 1658 brought some respite from the onslaught, but there was no peace with England until after the Restoration.

   At peace with both France and England, and no longer preoccupied with Catalonia, Spain in the 1660s could concentrate on Portugal, which now became the focus of naval operations. Ever since the outbreak of the Portuguese rebellion, plans were devised to crush it by sending a strong armada. In 1641 the duke of Najera, captain-general of the Atlantic fleet, urged Philip IV that deployment of the fleet was indispensable 'to prevent enemies sending assistance to Portugal', and because the Portuguese rebels, seeing that Your Majesty is lord of the sea, will recognize that their betrayal is an evil act against God and Your Majesty, and they will seek to return to his favour or expect to receive the punishment they so richly deserve'.79 Others advised a blockade of the Tagus to starve Lisbon, combined operations in the Algarve, and sailings to Ceuta and Tangier to stifle rebellion in the African fortresses.80 These plans of the 1640s may have been modelled on Philip II's highly successful use of sea and land forces in his conquest of Portugal in 1580. The difference now was the powerful support of the revolt by the intervention at various times of the French, and especially the English and Dutch. Huge supplies of munitions shipped from Holland sustained the rebellion.81 Another difference from the conquest of difference of 1580 was that Madrid in 1640 was simultaneously facing a full-scale uprising on the other side of the peninsula in Catalonia. And from 1640 up to the Peace of the Pyrenees in 1659, Catalonia was given a far higher priority than Portugal. The 40s and 50s therefore saw little naval action in Portuguese waters. That changed after the recovery of Catalonia. Again the strategy was combined. Pascual de Bohorques, artillery commander of the army of Estremadura, presented an amphibious strategy: ships to land infantry at Setubal and Cascais, a blockade of the Tagus, and then an invasion of an army from Estremadura. The plan was meticulously worked out in minute detail, down to the quantities of needles and thread required for repairs to sail-cloth.82 The prime minister, Luis de Haro, said the army's campaign 'would fail if unsupported' by naval forces.83 And that was also Philip's view.84 The armada was seen as essential for diverting the Portuguese troops on the frontier of Estremadura, but the proposed blockade of the Tagus was inhibited by the treaty with the Dutch, which permitted them to supply Portugal with food and merchandise other than munitions.85 All planning assumed that 'without strong naval forces the total conquest of the kingdom of Portugal cannot be achieved'.86

   Dreams of total conquest soon turned into total defeat for Spain's armies and the humiliating recognition in 1668 of Portugal's independence. Unexpected political developments contributed to this result. England chose to ally with Portugal instead of Spain. Charles II's marriage in May 1662 to Catherine of Bragança, the daughter of John IV of Portugal, brought him the dowry of Tangier which fanned Spanish fears for the safety of the African fortresses and Andalusia. Charles also received special trading rights in Portugal and its empire. In return he assisted the Portuguese rebels with troop reinforcements and the might of his navy, the most powerful in existence. That aid proved decisive in the Portuguese victories over the Spanish in 1663 and 1665. Spain's naval forces had decayed and were no match for the English. Luis de Oyanguren, Philip IV's secretary of the navy, might in the spirit of the 1620s continue to urge his king to become lord of the sea and so protect all his possessions.87 But this advice was wholly unrealistic in the 1660s. Spain's hegemony in Europe had been shattered, and England was now lord of the sea.

 pp. 27-29


   The king's authority in the peninsula was nowhere more contested than in the principality of Catalonia. From Madrid's point of view the timber problem there was how to secure locally all that the Monarchy needed to guarantee a long-term future for galley building at Barcelona's arsenal, the only peninsular site for such construction, without infringing the region's political liberties. Those liberties were enshrined in the principality's Constitucions, a jealously guarded set of statutes that every acceding Spanish monarch swore to observe. The Constitucions were much more developed than the Basque fueros and specified the mode of government for a region of far greater area than the Basque provinces, with double the population, and bordering a hostile France. It was the failure of some ministers in Madrid and viceroys in Barcelona to maintain due sensitivity to the Constitutions that caused the full-blown rebellion of 1640-52.

   Some sensitivity is apparent in the correspondence between monarchs and viceroys relating to the exploitation or conservation of Catalonia's forests. The accent was emphatically on local consent and voluntary execution of the king's policy. The aim of the Council of War and the royal officials of the galley works was to procure abundant timber supplies from as close as possible to Barcelona, thereby avoiding heavy expenditure on transport and swelling the costs of production. That was exactly how Antonio de Alzatte, Philip Il's superintendent of the atarazanas, saw the problem. He regretted that the timber now came from places far from Barcelona: from Arbucies and Santa Coloma de Farnes; in the past it had been supplied from the much closer forests around Granollers, Sabadell and Terrassa. The change was not due to deforestation but to the concession of privileges to monasteries and nobles, granting them full use of those forests. Alzatte accepted that 'the Constitutions have to be observed' but added that in theory the king should be able to cut timber wherever he wanted, though it was not done in practice.123

   The simplest solution was for the king to buy forests in Catalonia. There would then be no risk of infringing political liberties and the king would get his timber. This was one of the means adopted. When in 1592 monks from the Carthusian monastery of Montalegre offered to sell the king their pine forest adjoining the town of Santa Perpetua, just three leagues from Barcelona, Alzatte responded with eagerness. He at once sought the king's permission to send experts to inspect the forest; if the timber was as abundant and good as alleged, it should be bought to cut costs and avoid harassment of other vassals.124 Soon after this there was considerable excitement over the discovery of a forest in Rossello, hardly close to Barcelona, but reported to have an extraordinary abundance of pine and oak, both of which were needed to build galleys, and also beech for oars. Experts were sent to inspect and samples brought to Barcelona. The timber was tasted; its bitterness was supposed to signify perfection. Experienced captains of the squadrons of Spain and Naples agreed that the timber samples were of the highest quality.125 Philip II was delighted and in 1594 he purchased the forest for 400 ducats. But it proved disappointing. After exploiting its beeches for oars for a decade, the stock - an exaggerated estimate - ran out. The site was leased and then given to a royal inspector of the soldiery of Catalonia as part compensation for unpaid salary, on condition that he conserved the forest and that the king could take timber in the future at a just price. The subsequent failure of the owner to observe these conditions - he permitted depletion of the forest for charcoal-making - resulted in its confiscation by the crown and a repeated sale with the same conditions.126

   Later, in the 1620s, the then superintendent of the atarazanas, Bernardino de Marimon, could see no future for galley building in Catalonia unless the king took immediate action to negotiate the purchase of private pine forests. The viceroy had sent him to survey forests to the north of Barcelona. Reporting on existing mature stocks and what would be ready in up to forty years' time, he expressed shock at how little was available in the few forests belonging to the king: only enough to build fourteen galleys. He warned that unless there were immediate purchases of forests and conservation enforced, galley building at Barcelona would cease within twenty years. If the owners would not sell their land they might at least agree to sell their trees. But that had difficulties. As Marimon said, for a tree the king's galley establishment 'pays only two and a half reales, whereas private persons pay thirty to forty reales'. He thought the only way was to give owners of trees advance payment to conserve them until they were needed for galleys. More forceful measures to secure timber were ruled out because 'the Constitucions of this principality prevent them'.127

pp. 97-98

   The superintendent of the atarazanas later tried unsuccessfully to secure the withdrawal of privileges from the familiars of the Inquisition in Catalonia. These were lay servants of the Inquisition whose privileges included exemption from the felling of trees on their estates and from the imposed lodging of woodcutters employed by Barcelona's arsenal. Marimón said these men were amongst 'the richest and most powerful' and it was not right that they should be excused from contributing to the production of galley squadrons dedicated to the defence of the faith. The petition went to the Junta de Galeras, then presided over by the Inquisitor-General who duly rejected it. And Philip IV agreed that 'custom is to be maintained , not permitting their trees to be cut down by others'.135

   With the failure of purchases of private land and trees to supply adequate timber for building galleys, the creation of plantations had to be reconsidered. Plantations had been formed in Catalonia in the 1570s and a superintendent appointed, but the effort had not been sustained.136 When in 1621 the Council of War asked for a report on plantations in the principality it was learned that over the previous thirteen years nothing nothing more than 1,500 poplars had been planted on the banks of a river a league from Barcelona. Poplars were a subsidiary material for galley building, used for the rails and some of the planking. The reason for this trifling result was said to be that 'the landowners could not be compelled to plant'.137 Pedro de Montagut, appointed superintendent of forests and plantations in 1606, had been instructed 'to persuade the landowners to plant, without harassing them because this is voluntary'. As in Castile he was required to inspect forestsand plantations every year.

   In the 1620s and 30s the pressure on Catalans to plant trees was increased as the king's officials at the atarazanas reported increasing difficulties in securing timber. The pine forest in the sierra of Montseny, for years the source of supply of masts for galleys, was declared exhausted.139 And soon after the outbreak of war with France, large quantities of timber began to be taken by the army, from the very forests used by the galley establishment, to build bridges and make gun carriages. Marimon called for prior consultation to allow him to reserve the trees that were most useful for building galleys.140 But it was the unauthorized felling of trees in the few forests belonging to the king that led to the introduction of tougher regulations for conservation in Catalonia. An inspection of the king's forests around the port of Tortosa brought the shocking discovery that timber resources, essential for supplying scarce curved pieces for the hulls of galleys and large beams for their launching, had been severely depleted.141 Some of the timber was being exported to Seville, Valencia and even, it was discovered, to the enemy pirate base of Algiers. Much of the timber taken was destroyed to extract and export pitch and tar, essential naval stores for preserving rigging and for caulking the seams of wooden ships. Pines contained the resin from which the tar was was produced as a residue of a process of destructive distillation of the timber. The report criticized the superintendent of forests for not reporting the damage. Much of the blame was attributed to the Batlle General, the official responsible for judicial and economic affairs relating to the king's patrimony in Catalonia. He had issued numerous licences to cut timber, collecting duty for the crown but oblivious to the consequences for conservation. The bishop-viceroy called for a series of stringent measures to prevent a recurrence of this 'devastation'. He recommended, and the Junta de Galeras supported,142 several measures: prohibition of the unauthorized manufacture and export of pitch and tar in Catalonia; prohibition of the export of curvas; prosecution of those who had depleted Tortosa's forests; and the introduction of restrictions on the Batlle General's freedom to issue licences for timber extraction. The viceroy's communication presented these proposals as 'preventative remedies for the conservation of the timber remains... And it could well be that, perceiving this diligence, the provincials will be encouraged to plant trees... since without any other effort they could profit from what would otherwise remain useless and barren regions.'

  There is no record of the immediate implementation of these proposals. But ten years later they were proclaimed by another viceroy throughout Catalonia and the counties of Rossello and Cerdanya. Severe penalties were prescribed for contravention: five years' exile for unauthorized cutting of timber in Tortosa and other named forests; three years on the galleys for sawing timber there; thirty days' imprisonment and fines for removing signs put on trees by the officials of the king's galley-works, or for cutting those trees alleging that they were growing on their own estates; five years' exile for operating a furnace to make pitch or tar in the region of Tortosa. All licences for exporting timber, pitch and tar were annulled and future permits made subject to the viceroy's authorization. Veguers, the royal officials in Catalonia's seventeen administrative districts, were now ordered to send annual reports of plantings to the superintendent of the seventeen administrative districts, were now ordered to send annual reports of plantings to the superintendent of the galley-works at Barcelona.143

   How could such a forceful display of royal power be risked in Catalonia? In part because the viceroy, the count of Santa Coloma, had a history of currying favour with Madrid to win favour and prestige for his family. But some of these stringent conservation measures were compatible with the principality's Constitucions. It would have been more prudent for the count to have made that explicit. Although, since the thirteenth century, the Constitucions guaranteed freedom of trade, this was qualified by a statute prohibiting the export of timber, pitch and tar. And a subsequent statute, enacted by Catalonia's Corts in 1547, expressed this prohibition in terms of conserving timber for galley building in Barcelona. The importance of executing Santa Coloma's proclamations, and all other concern over Catalonia's forests, soon evaporated with the events of 1640: his assassination and the outbreak of rebellion.

(Map 6. The timber crisis in Catalonia.  p. 103)
pp. 101-104


p. 132
   How different things might have been with sufficient craftsmen and funds is apparent from the size of some of the Monarchy's shipyards. Zorroza in the 1590s had a workforce of 400. A visitor in the 1620s observed that it had the capacity to build twenty ships simultaneously.111 Lezo had by the 1630s grown into a permanent walled installation with capacious warehouses and 'many facilities for construction', but it was destroyed in the French invasion of 1638,112 and never re-established. Of the royal galley arsenals - there were three: Barcelona, Naples and Messina - the greatest capacity was at Naples. In 1609 it was said to permit simultaneous construction of six galleys and four larger oared vessels, galleasses. Its teeming labour force once consisted of 300 caulkers and carpenters, and 300 boy apprentices. But for two years that arsenal had been closed because the king had failed to pay wages; the men had left to become fishermen, 'the boys have become rogues'.113 Barcelona's late-medieval atarazanas was a walled enclosure with arcades and bays. In 1609 the Viceroy of Catalonia reported that there were eight capacious bays, in each of which one galley could be built every year, but that actual annual production could never exceed six galleys because of the shortage of craftsmen.114

   The record of output at Barcelona is one of sharp decline. In the period April 1587 - December 1588 fourteen galleys were built and launched.115 The same number were built in October 1607 - September 1617, an enormous drop in annual production, attributed by the superintendent to starvation of funds.116

   By the early 1620s ministers in Madrid accepted that the norm could not exceed two galleys a year; soon Marimon was telling them that only one was possible.117 Just how poor this output really was can be judged by comparisons with arsenals...

 .. So it was decided in Madrid not only to do this at the king's expense but to place the arms of Castile over the entrance, an act that fired the Diputats, deputies entrusted with the defence of Catalan liberties, to stir up 'great disputes'.119

   Four years later they were threatening to disrupt production at the arsenal, because Philip IV had still not attended the Corts...

p. 133


   Recruiting in Spain was distinguished by the constraints of varying political conditions within the peninsula, conditions far more diverse than what existed in England, France or the United Provinces. Catalonia's Constitucions prohibited compulsory naval or military service beyond its borders. The king of Spain could only have volunteers. Philip II's last viceroy was optimistic that many Catalans would come forward: 'They are naturally inclined to the sea, and histories tell how great armadas sailed from Catalonia to achieve great victories for the kings of Aragon.'77 But this forecast proved inaccurate over the next two reigns. In the 1620s the contract with the Judices to form a squadron of the fleet on the coast of Catalonia was specifically intended to relieve the heavy burden of levies on the north coast. But it soon became clear there would be no rush of Catalans to man the squadron.78

p. 194


...  Catalonia's Constitucions prohibited..
See also:

Dietaris de la Generalitat de Catalunya: Anys 1674 a 1689

Dietaris de la Generalitat de Catalunya: Anys 1644 a 1656


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