La Girona VIII

Whistle, Astrolab and more

Let’s finish our exploration of the “Treasures from the Girona” permanent exhibit, Ulster Museum, Belfast, Northern Ireland.

One hundred and eighty five (185) years after La Girona ran aground and broke up on the, later named, Spanish Rocks, the first reliable navigational chronometer was tested (1773). The navigators of the Spanish Armada remnants were sore pressed to follow the orders of their commander (see below) because (1) Spanish charts were incomplete and inaccurate (2) without accurate time keeping they were only able to reliably measure the location north/south (latitude), not east/west (longitude). Without this, navigators used Dead Reckoning, they measured current position from the last position, heading (direction of motion), and speed.

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The astrolab (below), used to measure the angle between a heavenly body (sun/moon/star) and the horizon at a given time of day, obtained the latitude. The dividers used on the (unreliable) charts. A weight on a measured cord determined the depth of the bottom. Not recovered was the instrument for estimating speed. It is a length of rope knotted at set intervals and attached to a “chip log” resistant to passage through water. Thrown into the water a sailor counted how many knots passed by in a given time, thus the designation, still used today, of speed in “knots”.

Sound (a whistle) was the method used for command and control by both Spanish and British.

Interesting odds and ends.

Evidence of trade between England and Spain.

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La Girona VII

Guns, Guns, Guns

A Spanish warship was less maneuverable than the English. Equipped with more canons, heavily ballasted to overcome the tendency to capsize because higher in the water, the Spanish crews were not able to bring their guns to best use against the English.

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Stone cannon balls from the stone age, the “Flintstones”? Modern guns rely on the same technology from China, 1250 A.D.

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La Girona VI

Red Insects

Precious metals were not the only loot shipped to Spain from the American colonies. Among the finds from La Girona, scarlet and yellow silk ribbons decorated the officers’ clothing. The red dye was obtained from the cochineal insect which lived on the nopal cactus in Mexico. Cochineal was imported in very large quantities by the Spanish and was in demand all over the world for its rich, carmine color.

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This silk, still darkly colored today, is testament to the stability of cochineal dye, the reason it is still coveted today yielding four times the price of synthetic dye. Today, you are most likely to encounter cochineal on your lips: lipstick and (natural) food colorant.

The bright scarlet wool cloth of the English Redcoat officers, famous in the USA from the Revolutionary War, was from cochineal. The uniforms were more suited for formal battlefield than Minuteman attacks. The more expensive cochineal scarlet made targets of the officers.

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La Girona V

Gold and Silver

Today’s focus from Belfast’s Ulster Museum permanent exhibit “Treasures from the Girona” is the lengths the Spanish went to acquire costly metals. Gold was the lure Columbus held out to Spanish royalty. The Spanish found their El Dorado in the accumulated wealth of the Incas, acquired through force and murder.

Inca temples were covered in gold. The Spanish needed only to peel it off and carry it away. They found some gold to mine, minimal compared to the silver. Armada ships did not haul gold and silver from the American and the modern treasure hunter’s yield was not expected to be huge, nor was it. As silver and, to a lesser extent, gold filled Spanish coffers the ambitions of the Spanish monarchs were unleashed. It financed the building and launching of the Armada.

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Among the hundreds of silver coins were many eight-real pieces, often called “pieces of eight”. The “silver hill” of Potosi, discovered in 1544 in Bolivia, provided most of the silver bullion for the Spanish Empire. Ten percent of mine workers were Inca slaves. After these were worked to death, the Spanish acquired African slaves.

I wonder if the ship Captains discarded their kilogram of gold chain to the enveloping waves, in exchange for survival. My guess is, “no”. It was an emblem of rank, losing it was a personal disgrace.

(from the Museum Placard) The jewel in the following photograph epitomizes the wealth and outreach of the Spanish Empire in the late sixteenth century and has become an icon for the Armada. Just three of the original nine rubies survive. The jewel takes the form of an exotic animal, either a real Mexican salamander or a mythical creature, and reflects the great importance of the gold and silver brought from the colonies. The gold came from South America, with the rubies probably came from Burma. In legend, the salamander had the twin magical properties of being able to both extinguish and survive fire. This made it a powerful good luck charm on a wooden fighting ship, where fire was one of the greatest dangers.

Odds and ends….

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La Girona IV

The fate of La Girona

Today’s exploration of the Ulster Museum permanent exhibit “Treasures from the Girona” begins with the account of a survivor.

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He was extremely fortunate to escape with his life. After Calais, the attack of the English fireships, the Spanish ships suffered repeated North Atlantic storms, driven onto the irregular coast of which they had no knowledge or charts. It was with the assistance of Irish natives the survivors were able to regroup and embark on an ill-fated escape.

The reason for the heavy losses from the Girona wreck was the crew from several other ruined ships were on board.

The individuality of the lost comes across through their gold trimmings. It is said that wealthy Spaniards owned up to four sets of gold buttons, each with a different design.

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La Girona III

A Disaster Examined

In this post we explore further, using my photographs of the Ulster Museum exhibit “Treasures from the Girona”, how the Spanish galleass La Girona came to be wrecked on the north coast of Ireland. It was not the only ship lost. Of the 130 armada ships, a third (43) did not return.

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Religion was the crux, Catholic Spain wanted to forestall Queen Elizabeth I’s establishment of Protestantism initiated by her father King Henry VII.

This placard displays treasure. The text implies it was not recovered from La Girona. The bronze medallion was struck by the Dutch in commemoration of the victory.

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La Girona II

Historical Background to the wreck of La Girona

Pam and I woke early on June 8 for that 138 mile drive to my cousin’s farm on the Cooley peninsula, County Louth, Republic of Ireland. Learning the day before, from the Giants Causeway visitor center, of treasure recovered from a shipwreck off that coast, we planned to visit Belfast, where the Ulster Museum has a permanent exhibit, “Treasures from the Girona”. This is just a taste of the historical provided by this excellent exhibit….if you visit Northern Ireland make time to visit the Ulster Museum.

In this post we explore, using my photographs of the museum exhibits, how the Spanish galleass La Girona came to be in the North Atlantic off the Irish coast. The ship was part of a fleet supporting an invasion of England from Flanders.

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Religion was the crux, Catholic Spain wanted to forestall Queen Elizabeth I’s establishment of Protestantism initiated by her father King Henry VII and support of Dutch protestants against Spain. State sponsored piracy of Spanish ships was a secondary justification.

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