Historic authenticity of the Spanish SAN
FELIPE of 1690
The SAN FELIPE is one of the most favoured ships among the ship model
builders. The model is elegant, very beautifully designed, and makes a
decorative piece of art to be displayed at home or in the office.
Doubts on San Felipe's historic authenticity I have heard voiced or seen
many times, mainly in forums on ship history and ship modelling. There
was the contribution of Toni Alvarez Silva of April 1999 in some forum,
who went three times to the Museo Naval in Madrid. He could not get any
information there whether the San Felipe existed or not. He also
contacted Mantua and Artesania Latina and asked them about their model
kits of the San Felipe, without getting convincing responses.
The three San Felipe ship models (1,
3) in this webpage were probably made from these kits. The
plans of the kits are based on drawings of the “San Felipe” that were
published in the 1950s by the Departamento de Falanges del Mar“ (see
Most probably a Spanish three-decker with the name “San Felipe” did not
exist in 1690. As outlined by Mr. Leber the plans and model ship kits
show construction elements of hull and rigging of Spanish ships of the
line around 1700. But the question remains: Why don’t the kit makers
refer to a ship like the Nuestra Señora de la Concepción y de las Ánimas
Nuestra of 1688? That ship did exist and has been described in detail
I would like to quote a work of Dr. Markus Leber who in recent years has
studied the historical background of the first two three-deckers that
were launched in Spain.
Dr. Markus Leber, Heisterbacherstr. 20, 53332 Bornheim, Germany
Tel: +49 2222 923627, firstname.lastname@example.org
Spanish three-deckers around 1700
Many ship modellers are fascinated by three-deckers. Heavily armed and
with compelling decorations they were symbols of power, representing
their nation and royal dynasty. Unfortunately on Spanish three-deckers
around 1700 there is only sparse literature in English or German, and
part of that is not always correct. Spanish literature sources and talks
with Spanish historians give new interesting insights on that topic.
1. The „Nuestra Señora de la Concepción y de las Ánimas” (1688)
The first proven three-decker of the Spanish navy was the „Nuestra
Señora de la Concepción y de las Ánimas“. Construction of that ship
began in 1682 by the shipbuilder D. Antonio De Amas at the Colindres
(Cantabria) shipyard. The displacement of the ship might have been about
In 1687 José Antonio de Gaztañeta (1656 – 1728) visited the shipyard to
catch up on the work at the new flagship. As admiral of the Spanish
Armada Gaztañeta did influence the Spanish ship building markedly, till
the 18th century. His book „Arte de Fabrica Reales” of 1691  contains
detailed drawings of the „Nuestra Señora de la Concepción y de las
Ánimas“. There is a view of the stern, a side view and a detail drawing
of the stern gallery (see Fig. 1 and 2). The ship is shown as small
three-decker without elevated forecastle, carrying 90 to 94 guns.
After launching in 1688 the ship was transferred to Santoña and
completed. In May 1690 the masts were set in place. The ship’s painting
by Martin Amigo is from that year (see Fig. 3). It is an oil painting on
canvas 210 * 135 cm. Today that painting is in the parish church
„Iglesia de la Asunción“ in Arcenillas, Zamora.
Figure 1: Side view of the „Nuestra Señora de la Concepción y de las
Ánimas“ by José Antonio de Gaztañeta
Figure 2: Stern views of the „Nuestra Señora de la Concepción y de
las Ánimas“ by José Antonio de Gaztañeta
Figure 3: Oil painting of the „Nuestra Señora de la Concepción y de
las Ánimas“ by Martín Amigo in the year 1690
The painting is consistent with the drawings by Gaztañeta. Both
contemporary sources show that the „Nuestra Señora de la Concepción y de
las Ánimas“ was designed and built as a three-decker. In the
Museo Naval in Madrid there is a
model of the Nuestra Senora that has been built to these sources. It
is interesting to compare the
stern section of the painting of Martin Amigo with the high
resolution photos of the
corresponding page of Gaztañeta's manuscriptum and
the stern of the model.
The contemporary sources contradict statements that the “Real Felipe” of
1732 was the first Spanish three-decker [2, 3].
Little is known about the subsequent use of the „Nuestra Señora de la
Concepción y de las Ánimas“. On 15 October 1690 the ship left Santoña
for Cadiz, escorted by the ships of the line „San Carlos“ and „San
Juan“, and some merchant ships. In the years thereafter she was mainly
used in Cadiz. The ship took part in an expedition, in 1700, to expel
the Scots from the Gulf of Darien in the Caribbean. In 1702 she was in
Cadiz when the city was besieged by an Anglo-Dutch squadron .
During the War of the Spanish Succession the ship was in a bad shape.
Because of that her guns were taken from her and used by other ships of
the line. In 1705 the ship was finally broken up in Cadiz.
2. The „Real Felipe“ (1732)
The ship was named after Philipp V of Spain, the first Bourbon ruler of
Spain, who in the War of the Spanish Succession managed to defend his
throne against the claims of the Austrian Habsburgs.
The ship was built by Ciprián Autrán and Pedro Boyer using the system
and the new design specifications of Antonio de Gaztañeta. The work on
the shipyard of Guarnizo in Santander was finished in 1732. This
three-decker was a giant of 1965 tons that could take up to 114 cannon.
At that time only the French Foudroyant was larger.
In a register of 1740 the crew was stated to be 1152 men. The “Real
Felipe” proved to be a firm vessel of great firepower. In the battle of
Toulon on 22 February 1744 she was repeatedly attacked by British ships
. She could repulse all attacks and fought “like hell”, according to
English sources. However, the ship was damaged so badly that she was
never completely repaired, due to high cost. In 1750 she was finally
The „Real Felipe“ is supposed to be the largest and most beautiful ship
of the Spanish fleet at that time. Strangely, despite of that there is
no proven contemporary illustration of her. In books, articles or
Internet one can find many depictions, but they are all different and
none of them is contemporary. Jose Ignacio Gonzales-Aller Hierro, the
former curator of the Museo Naval in Madrid, provided some information.
He has published several books about the Spanish fleet, and about the
inventory of the Museo Naval. In his publications „Navío Real Felipe“
 and „El navíos de tres puentes en la Armada española“  he in
detail outlined the history of the ship. So he should know about
contemporary sources. He told me that there are indeed no proven
contemporary drawings or paintings of the ship. Even with the most
prominent drawing of the ship (see Fig. 4) one does not know when the
drawing was made and by whom.
The first illustration of the „Real Felipe“ was made in the second half
of the 18th century by José Manuel de Moraleda y Montero. The artist was
born only in 1750, the year when the ship was broken up.
In 1796 a series of engravings about the battle of Toulon 1744 was made
by some artists. The “Real Felipe” is depicted differently each time,
depending on the artist. Jose Ignacio Gonzales-Aller Hierro stated to me
that the ships depicted do not correspond to Spanish ships of the line
during the first half of the 18th century.
In the 20th century some drawings of the ship were made by Rafael
Berenguer Moreno de Guerra. However, his drawings differ from the one
shown in Fig. 4. In the book „El Buque en la Armada Espanola“  of
1981 one can find a somewhat sketchy reconstruction of the “Real
Felipe”. This depiction, too, differs from those of the 18th century and
looks like being based mostly on imagination.
Figure 4: Side view drawing of the „Real Felipe“, author and time of
origin unknown, Museo Naval Madrid
3. The origin of the three-decker „San Felipe“
In the English- and German-speaking countries there have only few models
been built of the Spanish three-deckers that really existed around 1700.
Instead, the „San Felipe” became the most prominent one and a well-known
ship. The ship is often connected to the Italian historian Vincenzo
Lusci as originator. Despite of that the draft is older and not of
Italian, but Spanish origin. Only the dubious dating to 1690 is
mentioned by Vincenzo Lusci for the first time.
The first drawing of the “San Felipe” was published in the 1950s by the
Departamento de Falanges del Mar“. The Spanish historian Juan Carlos
Mejias Tavero presented this drawing in his 2006 article „San Felipe,
Real o Ficción“ .
Figure 5: Part of the first drawing of the „San Felipe“, published by
the „Departamento de Falanges del Mar“.
Fig. 5 shows part of this drawing. There are marked discrepancies to the
drawing by Vincenzo Lusci and the Mantua model kit drawings. The
taff-rails at the stern are more elaborately decorated and the
ornamentation of the stern is different. Instead of the round ornaments
below the galleries there is a deck with round windows. It is not known
who exactly made this drawing.
In the book „El Buque en la Armada Espanola“  there is a illustration
of the “San Felipe” (page 177) which was drawn by Rafael Berenguer
Moreno de Guerra. Above that illustration is a commentary
„Interpretation de Berenguer de un navio espaniol de tres puentes de
finales del siglo XVII, o principios del XVIII“. Hoping to get some more
information about the origin of the “San Felipe”, a Spanish speaking
member of the “Arbeitskreis historischer Schiffbau”, Mr. Peter Böhmer,
phoned the Spanish historian Berenguer. Mr. Berenguer is famous for his
many drawings of Spanish ships of war that are cited in many books and
articles. The meanwhile 88-year-old explained to Mr. Böhmer that the
drawing was made by a Spanish ship modeller in the 1950s. According to
Berenguer the draft should originally represent the “Real Felipe” of
1732. But because of the poor historical sources a draft was generated
that combined some properties of Spanish ships of the line in early
A connection of „Real Felipe“ and „San Felipe“ can be found elsewhere in
Spanish literature . Several times models of the “San Felipe” have
been named “Real Felipe of 1732”. Mejias Tavero , in his article
about the „San Felipe“, too, refers to the „Real Felipe“ and to drawings
of the “Arte de Fabricar Reales”. One can assume that the ”San Felipe”
might be just another interpretation of the poorly documented Spanish
flagship “Real Felipe” of 1732.
Irrespectively of this, for a ship modeller the question remains whether
the “San Felipe” has at all properties of Spanish ships of early 18th
century. To judge about this we can only refer to the few contemporary
drawings of Antonio de Gaztañeta. There is a lines drawing of 1712,
shown in Fig 6, that is compared to the lines of the “San Felipe”.
Figure 6: Comparison of the lines of the "San Felipe" with
lines in the original plan of the "San Felipe" of the Departamento de
Falanges del Mar,
lines of a Spanish ship of the line, 1712, by Antonio de Gaztañeta,
lines of a Spanish ship of the line, 1750, by Jorge Juan
The forms of the hulls look quite similar, indeed. At the top futtocks
the “San Felipe” hull is built much narrower than at the water line. The
lines of the underwater hull close to the stern are bent to midships. By
that the ship looks especially wide at the waterline. This form is shown
by a 1712 lines drawing of Gaztañeta, too. Even though Gaztañeta’s lines
represented larger two-deckers, the documents show that the „San Felipe“
has some similarity to Spanish ships of the line in early 18th century.
As the lines of 1750 show, the form of the hull did change. The ship’s
side was more vertical now and the underwater hull was bulkier towards
Some details of the „San Felipe“ can be found in other contemporary
drawings. Fig. 7 shows a drawing of a Spanish two-decker around 1700
(archive of Sevilla). This ship also has the round gunports on the
forecastle and the poop. The bowsprit enters the front bulkhead at some
elevation and not at deck level. Someone who knows the “San Felipe” can
recognize contours of the model. Mejias Tavero deduced some details of
the decoration from drawings of the „Arte de Fabrica Reales.
The “San Felipe” plans and the ship models show some properties of
Spanish ships of the line around 1700. However, one question remains:
Why don’t the kit makers refer to a ship that did exist at that time and
that has been described quite in detail?
Figure 7: Drawing of a Spanish two-decker around 1700. Archive of
 José Antonio de Gaztañeta (1687-1691), Arte de Fabrica Reales,
reprint in 1992 by Lunwerg Editores, Barcelona, ISBN: 84-7782-213-1
 Thomas Feige (2007), Der spanische Dreidecker San Felipe von 1690 -
Phantasie oder Wirklichkeit, Das Logbuch, Ausgabe 1, Seite 31 – 39
 Saint Hubert (1986), Ships of the line of the Spanish Navy, Warship,
Volume Num 37, page 65 - 69
 Carlos Martínez-Valverde (1983), La campaña de don Juan José Navarro
en el Mediterráneo y la batalla de cabo Sicie (1742-1744), Revista de
Historia Naval, nº 2, page 5 -29
 José Ignacio González-Aller Hierro (1986), Navío Real Felipe,
Revista de Historia Naval, nº 14, page 47 - 52
 José Ignacio González-Aller Hierro (1985), El navíos de tres puentes
en la Armada española, Revista de Historia Naval, nº 9, page 45 - 76
 Carlos Mejias Tavero, Antonio Alcaraz (2006), San Felipe, Real o
Ficción, Más Navíos, Nº13, page 36 – 41 and/or: Argonauta, Revista
euroamericana de modelismo, 2008,
 Enrique Manera Regueyra, Carlos Moya Blanco, Jose Maria
Martinez-Hidalgo, Pedro Castineiras Munoz et al. (1981), El Buque en la
Armada Espanola, printed by Silex, ISBN: 84-85041-50-X
 Josè Luis Alcofar Nassaes (1980), Los tres puentes españoles,
Revista General de Marina, Nº199, 79 – 101
 José Ignacio Gonzáles-Aller Hierro et al., Modelos de Arsenal del
Museo Naval, Evolutión de la constructión naval española, siglos XVII -
XVIII, Lunwerg Editores, Barcelona 2004, ISBN 84-7782-959-4, Spanish
with English translation