Blas de Lezo

By Naval Museum

Fundación Museo Naval

Never before had the seas known such an intrepid sailor. Discover the genius of the 18th-century man who defeated England and resisted an attack by the second-largest fleet in history with just 6 ships.

Blas de Lezo y Olavarrieta (18 Century) by UnknownOriginal Source: Colección Condesa de Revilla-Gigedo

Blas de Lezo was one of the most important naval officers in Spanish naval history. He had an outstanding military career, from the time he joined the Franco-Spanish Navy as a midshipman in 1702 until his death in 1741.

He overcame the injuries he sustained in battle, which left him with the use of just one eye, one leg, and one arm at the age of 25. His disabilities did not keep him from active duty and earned him the nickname "Mediohombre," or "Half-Man."

View of Lima from Near the Bullring (1789 - 1794) by Fernando BrambilaOriginal Source: Archivo del Museo Naval. Madrid

Blas de Lezo spent over 10 years living in Lima, capital of the Viceroyalty of Peru, having arrived there in 1720 as part of an expedition set up by Philip V to curb smuggling. While there, he married a Creole woman called Josefa, with whom he had 7 children.

This drawing is kept in the Naval Museum's archive and is part of the collection of items brought back by Alejandro Malaspina and José Bustamante y Guerra after their scientific expedition.

Drawing of the Flag of the Mediterranean Fleet (1731) by UnknownOriginal Source: Archivo del Museo Naval. Madrid

Following his posting to the Americas, Blas de Lezo returned to Spain in 1730 and was promoted to Chief of the Mediterranean Fleet. These fleets had jurisdiction and command over the coasts of the maritime districts. There were 3 of these in Spain: North (Ferrol), East (Cartagena), and South (Cadiz).

This flag shows the Mediterranean Fleet's emblem with the orders of the Holy Spirit and the Golden Fleece.

Anglo-Dutch Attack on Gibraltar and the Battle of Vélez-Málaga (1704 - 1730) by UnknownOriginal Source: Museo Naval. Madrid

Lezo's Spain: The War of Succession

Blas de Lezo was born during the reign of the last Hapsburg monarch in Spain, Charles II. Leaving no descendants, the death of Charles II unleashed the War of the Spanish Succession, which saw England and France fight over the Spanish throne. The French supported Philip of Anjou, who had been named heir by the deceased Spanish king. The English, fearful of the power that the Bourbons could achieve if they ruled Spain, supported Archduke Charles of Austria.

This painting depicts 2 historical events that took place during the War of the Spanish Succession: the capture of Gibraltar by the English and the naval battle of Velez-Malaga, both in 1704.

The clash of these 2 powers off the coast of Velez-Malaga was one of the most significant battles in the War of the Spanish Succession, resulting in no clear winner despite heavy casualties on both sides.

Medal Commemorating the Battle of Vélez-Málaga. Louis Alexandre de Bourbon, Count of Toulouse. (1818) by UnknownOriginal Source: Museo Naval. Madrid

This medal commemorates the naval battle of Velez-Malaga. Blas de Lezo fought in the conflict at just 12 years old, alongside the French admiral Louis Alexandre de Bourbon, Count of Toulouse, who is depicted on the medal.

Circular surgical saw (XVIII century) by AnonymousOriginal Source: Museo Naval Madrid.

During the battle of Velez-Malaga, Blas de Lezo was hit by shrapnel, which resulted in his leg being amputated. Surgical instruments such as an amputating saw were required for this type of injury.

Battle between a Spanish Frigate and the English Ship "Stanhope" (1900 - 1912) by Ángel Cortellini SánchezOriginal Source: Museo Naval. Madrid

Heading for the French port of Rochefort between 1710 and 1711, Blas de Lezo participated in the capture of various enemy ships and was promoted to Frigate Captain.

Among the defeated ships was the great English vessel called the Stanhope, commanded by John Combs and defeated by the frigate on which Blas de Lezo was serving.

Medal Commemorating the Relief of the Siege of Barcelona. Charles III, Pretender to the Spanish Crown. (1706) by UnknownOriginal Source: Museo Naval. Madrid

This medal commemorates the siege of Barcelona by the Anglo-Dutch fleet. Blas de Lezo managed to supply provisions to the besieged defenders of the cause of Philip V in the Catalan city, despite close surveillance by the enemy.

Anglo-Dutch Attack on Gibraltar (1715) by Johan August CorvinusOriginal Source: Museo Naval. Madrid

Entre las victorias de los partidarios del archiduque Carlos destaca la que tuvo lugar en 1704, cuando la flota anglo-holandesa, al mando del príncipe Hesse-Darmstadt y George Rooke, desembarcó en la bahía de Algeciras tomando la ciudad y con ello el Peñón de Gibraltar.

View of Menorca and St Philip's Castle (1750) by Balthazar Frederic LeizeltOriginal Source: Museo Naval. Madrid

The island of Menorca, and the city of Mahon in particular, was a key location for trade around the Mediterranean.It was conquered by the Anglo-Dutch fleet in 1708 and was not returned to Spain until the 1802 Treaty of Amiens.

Reconquest of Oran. Disembarkation of the Troops in a Place Called Las Aguadas. (1994) by Manuel CalderónOriginal Source: Museo Naval. Madrid

Blas de Lezo was part of the Spanish Expedition to Oran in 1732, which aimed to recover the cities of Oran and Mers el-Kebir in North Africa. They had been captured by the Ottoman Dey (or leader) of Algiers, who took advantage of the opportunity presented by the Spanish War of Succession.

Lezo was second-in-command in the fleet of Francisco Javier Cornejo, who led the reconquest alongside José Carrillo de Albornoz.

Plan of the Island and Fortifications of La Tortuga (1654) by UnknownOriginal Source: Archivo del Museo Naval. Madrid

End to the War... End to the Conflict?

The War of the Spanish Succession came to an end with the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713. The peace treaties recognized Philip V as the Spanish monarch. Spain lost all of its European possessions, while Gibraltar and Menorca remained under English command. Nevertheless, there were continued conflicts between Spain and England, resulting in the War of Jenkins' Ear between 1739 and 1748 over possessions in the Caribbean, and other clashes.

The Caribbean Sea was full of small islands that were impossible for the Spanish to defend, falling prey to pirates, smugglers, and conflicts between powers over trading routes.

Ships set sail from cities such as Cartagena de Indias carrying treasure and a variety of products to Spain.

Medal Alluding to the Treaty of El Pardo (1739) by Pinchbeck family (attributed)Original Source: Museo Naval. Madrid

In 1739 Spain and England signed the Convention of Pardo, which established the rules governing English trade in Spanish America.

Both failed to comply with the convention, leading to the War of Jenkins' Ear, known in Spanish as the "Guerra del Asiento" (meaning "War of the Contract").

British Attack on Bocachica—The Defense of Cartagena de Indias by Blas de Lezo (1994) by Luis Fernández GordilloOriginal Source: Museo Naval. Madrid

Blas de Lezo had a key role in one of the most remarkable events of this conflict. Alongside Sebastián de Eslava, Viceroy of New Granada, he led the defense of the city of Cartagena de Indias against as many as 3 attacks by the English between 1740 and 1741.

His astuteness and ingenuity led to one of the British Royal Navy's greatest defeats, despite the fact that they had more men and ships than the Spanish.

Cannon (1701 - 1750) by UnknownOriginal Source: Museo Naval. Madrid

It was using cannons like this one that Lezo defended the city of Cartagena de Indias from attacks by the English, first from the fortress of San Luis de Bocachica and later from the castle of San Felipe de Barajas.

Medal Commemorating the Attempted Capture of Cartagena de Indias (1741) by Pinchbeck family (attributed)Original Source: Museo Naval. Madrid

Admiral Vernon led the siege from the English side. During the third attempt, when the Spanish withdrew into the city, Vernon made the mistake of assuming that the battle was already won.

He sent news to Jamaica and from there to England, where the false victory was celebrated with the coining of medals such as this one showing Blas de Lezo kneeling before Vernon.

Medal Commemorating the Attempted Capture of Cartagena de Indias (1741) by Pinchbeck family (attributed)Original Source: Museo Naval. Madrid

The medals did not show Blas de Lezo's missing leg, to avoid any suggestion that it had been a victory over a weak enemy.

Ex-Voto Dedicated to the Virgin Mary for the Victory at Cartagena de Indias (1749) by UnknownOriginal Source: Museo Naval. Madrid

This ex-voto was commissioned by the Frigate Captain Carlos Zumarra in gratitude to the Virgin Mary for intervening in the victory over the English at Cartagena de Indias.

José Patiño y Rosales (1828) by Rafael TejeoOriginal Source: Museo Naval. Madrid

Resurgence of the Navy in the 18th Century

The various conflicts that took place in the late 17th and 18th centuries revealed the inadequacy of the Spanish navy. As a result, an in-depth process of reforms began in order to deal with the problem. Some of these reforms were entrusted to José Patiño Rosales, Intendant General of the Spanish Navy, who founded the Royal Company of Midshipmen, the Naval Officer Corps, and the Marine Battalions, among other institutions.

Plan and Design for the Dockyard at Cartagena (1749) by Juan José Navarro de Viana y Búfalo, Marqués de la VictoriaOriginal Source: Archivo del Museo Naval. Madrid

After the Treaty of Utrecht was signed in 1713, one of the main provisions that Philip V introduced to make improvements to the Navy was to build naval bases in Ferrol, Cadiz, Cartagena, and later in Havana.

The construction of the Cartagena naval base began in 1732. This plan showing its specifications is attributed to the Marquis of Victory and the engineer Sebastián Feringán.

Proportions of the Most Essential Measurements [...] for the Building of Ships and Warships (1720) by Antonio de GaztañetaOriginal Source: Museo Naval. Madrid. Biblioteca

One of the most important figures in the construction of the new Spanish fleet was the naval officer and shipbuilder, Antonio de Gaztañeta. His work "Proportions of the Most Essential Measurements in Shipbuilding (...)" was a key reference for ensuring consistency in ships built for the Spanish Royal Navy.

The Gaztañeta system set out the requirements that ships had to meet, such as responding rapidly to the rudder and remaining stable in windy conditions and storms.

Side View of the Ship the "Real Felipe" underneath the Measurements Used to Build its Yard, Hull, and Rigging in Line with the Inventory (1732) by Ciprián AutránOriginal Source: Archivo del Museo Naval. Madrid

On Gaztañeta's death in 1728, Ciprián Autrán and Juan Pedro Boyer assumed responsibility for the building of the Spanish fleet.

The 2 men improved on their predecessor's systems and one of the many ships, bombers, and frigates that they launched was the Real Felipe, the first Spanish 3-decker ship.

This drawing of the profile of the Real Felipe ship is kept in the Royal Naval Museum's archives.

Half Model of an 80-Gun Ship Built to the Specifications of the Gaztañeta System (2003) by Jesús María Perona LertxundiOriginal Source: Museo Naval. Madrid

The 3 engineers developed a system of shipbuilding known as the Spanish system, which was used in the dockyards of the new Bourbon fleet throughout the first half of the 18th century.

Manuscript on Shipbuilding, Unknown, 1733 - 1738, Original Source: Museo Naval. Madrid
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In 1733 the "Manuscrito Ignoto" (Unknown Manuscript), as it is known by some historians, was written. This document is essential for understanding Spanish naval shipbuilding in the 18th century. It includes plans and drawings in which shipbuilding and artillery are described in minute detail.

Lead (1750 - 1800) by UnknownOriginal Source: Museo Naval. Madrid

Lead used by technicians and carpenters in shipbuilding.

Blas de Lezo y Olavarrieta (18 Century) by UnknownOriginal Source: Colección Condesa de Revilla-Gigedo

Commemorating Blas de Lezo

Blas de Lezo died in 1741 in Cartagena de Indias, shortly after the attacks by the English. He received no official honors and his burial place is unknown to this day. It was not until some 20 years later that he was recognized and honored in the town where he was born, and his son given the title Marquis of Ovieco.

Light Cruiser "Blas de Lezo" (1922 - 1932) by AnónimoOriginal Source: Museo Naval. Madrid

The Spanish Navy later reclaimed and honored the name of this naval officer in a number of ways, including the construction of the Blas de Lezo cruise ship.

This model was the third ship to bear the name of this renowned naval officer. It was built in Ferrol and launched in 1922. It escorted the airplane Plus Ultra on its transatlantic flight and was sent to the Far East to join the 1927 international demonstration in Shanghai. It sank in 1932 as the result of an accident.

Frigate F-103 "Blas de Lezo" (2003) by Rafael Berenguer ElíoOriginal Source: Museo Naval. Madrid

This model shows the frigate F-103 Blas de Lezo, which is the naval ship that currently bears his name. It was built by the company Navantia in Ferrol and came into service in 2004.

As well as its own missions, it has taken part in other exercises such as missile launch tests on the West Coast of the United States, and Operation Allied Protector: an anti-piracy operation in Somali waters.

Blas de Lezo y Olavarrieta (18 Century) by UnknownOriginal Source: Colección Condesa de Revilla-Gigedo

Today, Blas de Lezo is considered one of the best strategists in the history of the Spanish Navy, and the author of one of the greatest Spanish victories over the English at Cartagena de Indias, where he is recognized as a hero for defending the city.

Credits: Story

Organized By
Ministry of Defense and the Naval Museum of Madrid

BME (Bolsas y Mercados Españoles)
Iguazuri S.L.

Curated By
Mariela Beltrán Garcia-Echaniz
Carolina Aguado Serrano

Online Adaptation
Naval Museum Communications Department
Xián Rodríguez, Alicia Suárez

Adaptation based on the exhibition "Blas de Lezo: Courage of the Half-Man" at the Naval Museum of Madrid.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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