The Spanish Armada and its destruction, viewed from differing perspectives, form part of the popular culture of various countries. For Spain, this was one of the greatest disasters in its history, considered so by those living at the time and shrouded in myth by romantic versions of history. For the United Kingdom, it is regarded as one its major victories, leading the way to the country’s sway over the seas. For Ireland, along whose coast most of the shipwrecks occurred, it is a never ending source of stories, tales and anecdotes and has entered the island’s folklore.
What is incontrovertible is that the disaster of the Spanish Armada is an event of epic proportions for the whole of Europe. The fate of the forces of the Monarchy of Spain, at that time rulers in Europe and controllers of what was effectively a global empire with a presence throughout the known world, would define Europe’s political and economic future and determine its balance of power, in both economic and political terms. From this moment onwards, the countries of northern Europe undertook an expansion that would result in new empires and a new division of global influence while anticipating the future political map of Europe and the rise of nation states in the 19th century.
The events surrounding this historic event have been amply researched and commented on and are exceedingly well known. All the same, fresh finds and new information are still coming to light. These reveal stories within stories –of the ships and of those who manned them. The remains of La Juliana were recently found off the coast of the county of Sligo in Ireland. This merchant vessel, converted into a warship for the anticipated sea battle, met its end during the Armada. La Juliana (whose original name was Santa Maria, Saint James and Saint Clara) was constructed in the shipyards of Mataró at the instigation of one of the town’s most influential business families, the Palaus. Her captain, from the moment when she was launched until she was sunk off the coast of Ireland on 28 September 1588, was Joan Arnau Palau.
Local historian Antoni Martí i Coll has discovered the story of both family and ship after ferreting through various archives and libraries before putting together the jigsaw of the Palau family, who feature in a variety of books and publications.
The records of Joan Cortés, notary of Mataró, are kept in the Notarial Protocols section of the Archives of the Crown of Aragon. In them we find the original contract between the Palau family and the ship’s carpenters (“mestres d’axa”) who were charged with the construction of La Juliana. This document, published here, leads us into the story of a ship, originally designed for commerce within the Mediterranean yet which on several occasions, because she weighed heavy and could be armed, brought into the service of the Spanish crown, where she played her part in important events that helped to determine the history of the Mediterranean and Europe in general. Though not actively participating in the battle of Lepanto, she served as a troop carrier there, took part, by royal command, in campaigns off both Portugal and the Azores and met her end as a member of the fleet sent by Philip II to invade Great Britain. The wreck itself lies off the coast of the County of Sligo in the north of Ireland yet its tale and that of its builders and crew is to be found in our archives among documents such as those that we make public here.
ACA, NOTARIALES, Mataró, Serie general, 123 fol. 29r-32r