Sunday, 12 January 2014

When Sherry Saved Cadiz

During the XVI and XVII centuries, when Spain had an empire in the Americas, there was huge traffic between the empire and the homeland. Many ships were bringing gold and silver, and naturally became a target for pirates. At the same time, there was an undeclared war between Catholic Spain and the growing number of Protestants, including Elizabeth I’s England, as Spain tried to retain its Catholic territories in the Low Countries. The war lasted from 1585 till 1604, and during that time there were various official - and unofficial - attacks on Spain.

English adventurers/pirates like Hawkins and Drake were a constant thorn in the Spanish side as they raided Spanish colonies and shipping, and Spain itself. Thus the English came upon the local wine and found it very much to their taste, leading in the longer term to its popularisation in England.

This story relates how an English and Dutch fleet consisting of some 90 ships, 10,000 soldiers, 100 horses and 5,500crew set sail on 15th October 1625 under the command of Edward Cecil, Viscount Wimbledon. The aim was to attack the Spanish Fleet of the Indies, which was lying at Cadiz Bay, and make off with its treasure. On the fleet’s arrival, local watchtowers and defence posts sent out the alarm to all areas of the locality to summon aid in defence of Cadiz.

(Imagen BBC)
The mayor of Jerez, Luis Portocarrero led 2,000 soldiers with seven cannons, leaving a rear-guard of 4,000 soldiers. He advanced to the Puente Zuazo, a bridge connecting San Fernando to Cadiz and waited. The English disembarked at nearby El Puntal, reaching San Fernando starving and in search of food and drink. There, about 8,000 English soldiers led by the Viscount Wimbledon prepared to halt the Spanish advance. At this point, however, they discovered a warehouse full of barrels of wine ready for embarkation for the Indies. One can only imagine their joy at discovering so much wine!

They proceeded to drink their fill. As the wine took hold, there were all sorts of drunken fracas and fights amongst themselves to get to the best wine, leading to insubordination and even mutiny among the paralytic soldiers. The Viscount was horrified and decided to retire back to their ships as fast as possible, much to the amusement and mockery of the Spanish troops chasing them. The Viscount got back to the ships, but thirty of them had by now been sunk by the Spanish, and 1,000 soldiers had gone astray. The Spanish Indies fleet, meanwhile, had sailed off unharmed to Sanlucar. Sherry had won the day, and has been doing so ever since.

From an article by Francisco Jose Becerra Marin in La Sacristia Caminante

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