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|'Vigo' Issues of 1703|
In 1702, Britain and Holland were involved in the War of the Spanish Succession, a war fought to prevent the possibility of the Bourbon family becoming too powerful by gaining the thrones of both Spain and France. Following an abortive attempt to capture Cadiz, the Anglo-Dutch fleet, commanded by Admiral George Rooke was sailing for home. As it did so, Rooke received word that the Spanish Treasure Fleet had sailed into Vigo Bay and was awaiting permission to unload its cargo. George Rooke ordered the Fleet to make haste to the Bay and attack as soon as possible, before the Treasure Fleet had chance to finish unloading its cargo.
When the Anglo-Dutch Fleet arrived at the entrance to the bay, they found their way blocked by a boom (a barrier consisting of chains and wood) and defended by several forts. Land troops commanded by the Duke of Ormonde attacked and silenced the land forts, whilst HMS Torbay attacked the boom and broke through it. Once the boom was broken and the forts were neutralised, the Franco-Spanish fleet was doomed, and their crews attempted to destroy the ships before abandoning them.
Unfortunately for the Anglo-Dutch, most of the silver had already been unloaded, although the amount captured was still considerable, at just over 4,500 lbs, with an additional 7lb 8oz of gold also captured**. The entire enemy fleet was destroyed, and the King of Portugal was persuaded to ally with England and Holland, allowing them to base their ships in Lisbon and harass any ships trying to pass through the Straits of Gibraltar. This was in addition to the money gained by the British and Dutch Governments from the loot recovered from the defeated Treasure Fleet.
Ironically however, King Phillip of Spain also benefitted financially from his defeat at Vigo Bay. As previously mentioned, most of the silver had already been unloaded, and most of the cargo which was lost were goods such as indigo, spices and manufactured goods. Phillip used the defeat as an excuse to confiscate the wealth of many of the English and Dutch Merchants based in Spain, and the silver which was to be used to pay the merchants for the goods which had been lost was loaned instead to Phillip at a relatively cheap rate. Although Phillip had lost many ships in the process, he gained a financial windfall as a result of the Battle.
In spite of this however, the overall consequences for Spain were negative. Spanish Naval power had been weakened, and her strategic situation had been worsened by the defection of Portugal to the Allies. Britain was later able to capture Gibraltar and control the entrance to the Mediterranean, partly as a result of the victory at Vigo Bay. Britain's eventual victory in the war would allow her Empire to expand more easily as a result of the naval dominance which Vigo Bay helped to achieve, and was an important factor in propelling Britain to become the predominant naval and maritime power of the next 240 years.
'VIGO' coins carry the word 'VIGO' underneath Queen Anne's bust. All are dated 1703, struck the year after the bullion used was captured. They are considerably rarer than the related 'LIMA' issues of George II issued over 40 years later, especially the gold issues. However, despite their comparative scarcity, the silver issues are still quite affordable for most collectors who want to own a piece of Britain's naval and maritime, as well as numismatic heritage.
*We would be very interested in acquiring a genuine 'Vigo' issue if you have one to sell so that we can replace this image.
** According to Sir Isaac Newton, who in addition to being a great scientist and mathematician, was also the Master of the Royal Mint between 1699 and his death in 1727 (he had begun his employment at the Royal Mint as the Warden in 1696).
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