The French enthroned in Spain meant that French ambitions seriously threatened British trade with the Levant. Accordingly, a powerful fleet was assembled which under command of the Duke of Ormonde and Admiral Sir George Rooke set sail to attack the Spanish port of Cadiz.
Lacking the nerve to attack the harbor directly, troops were landed to capture the forts on the shore. Operations proceeded poorly and with Spanish opposition gradually stiffening, a Spanish boom was set across the harbor mouth which blocked ships. With the Duke and the Admiral barely on speaking terms, it was finally decided that the fleet should withdraw.
It was at this point that news arrived that a Spanish fleet laden with millions of treasure from the Indies lay at harbor in nearby Vigo Bay. An excited council of war followed in which the lure of gold proved too much of a temptation to resist, and so it was decided to launch an attack on the treasure fleet.
Arriving at Vigo Bay, the treasure fleet was taken completely by surprise. The British troops and sailors fought with indomitable fury (obviously inspired by the thought of the wealth that they would soon be taking home), and by sunset the entire Spanish fleet had been sunk, burnt, or captured. Not one ship escaped.
Though much of the fleet’s treasure had already been unloaded and taken inland by mule train, treasure worth a million sterling was captured and taken home to appease the Treasury for the aborted assault on Cadiz.