This tesis de licenciatura, written at the University of Seville, is a study of the galleons built to be the escorts of the flotas during the last half of the seventeenth century. After a brief review of the type and its evolution, especially in the carrera de Indias, the author presents the heart of his study: the methods by which builders defrauded the crown during construction. This summary, contained in chapter 2, is then expanded on in detailed examinations of the contracts let in the last years of Philip IV’s reign and during Charles II’s reign. A final pair of chapters describes difficulties in obtaining ship fittings, masts, timbers, and artillery. The author finds that Charles II’s ministers had some successes in reducing frauds and in creating a system for supplying timber and masts.
Aside from the use of green wood in lightly framed and fastened hulls, the chief fraud discovered in this study was the alteration of the measurements of the hold of the galleons so that they carried far more tonnage than had been decreed in the contracts or than was declared when they were measured. Generally, this was done by raising the first deck (while holding other dimensions constant), thereby increasing the volume of the hold and also the draft. Such huge ships could not cross the bar at San Lúcar without being lightened, and sometimes not even then. The intended results were frauds against the treasury at the time of lightening or when the galleons were forced to use Cádiz as a port. The Council of Indies and the maestros mayores sent from Seville to the building yards in Vizcaya tried to remedy this situation, but with little success.
This volume has many useful illustrations, tables, and graphs summarizing a large volume of information mostly drawn from a limited number of legajos in Indiferente General at the Archive of the Indies. It makes available details of practices previously known only in general terms, mostly from Veitia Linage’s Norte de la contratación. More might have been said about the links between foreign merchants interested in the use of Cádiz as the terminus of the carrera and the ship builders. The chief defect of this book is the lack of a final chapter to sum up or to state conclusions about how this struggle over building better galleons illuminates what is already known about the administration of the Spanish empire in the late seventeenth century. One wonders too whether a book was the proper form of publication; a carefully constructed article could have adequately stated the chief findings.
In sum, there is a promising beginning on the author’s scholarly career and a useful, if limited, addition to the literature on ship building and imperial administration during the late seventeenth century.