Don Martín de Bertendona (Bilbao, 1530–1604) was an important officer of the Spanish Navy under Philip II and Philip III. He participated in the Spanish Armada, and is perhaps most famous for his role in the capture of the iconic English galleon Revenge in 1591.
Don Martín de Bertendona came from a prominent seafaring family in Bilbao. They had a shipyard and a merchant fleet, but they also played a prestigious role in the Spanish navy. One of their ships served as the royal flagship in 1522 and 1554. The young Martín de Bertendona was bred to naval warfare from boyhood, seeing his first campaign in 1546.
By 1583, Don Martín had risen to command the fleet that guarded the Atlantic coast while the commander-in-chief was securing the Azores. In 1587, he played a senior role in planning, organizing and leading the Spanish Armada. In the campaign itself, he commanded the Levant Squadron, a force of huge Mediterranean cargo ships carrying troops and equipment for the projected campaign in England; his flagship was the largest vessel in the campaign, but she was lightly armed, best suited for a close-range boarding action.
Although Don Martín had correctly predicted the key challenges that the campaign would face – the lack of a secure deep-water anchorage, and the ability of the English galleons to refuse close-quarters battle – he believed that the Spanish would still had won if they had pressed the attack at Gravelines.
English sources present the last fight of the Revenge as a heroic rearguard action by a single English ship against fifty Spanish galleons, but Spanish reports tell a different story, portraying the battle almost as a single-ship action between Don Martín and Sir Richard Grenville.
They show that fleeing English fleet was overhauled by the two ships of Don Martín’s Bilbao squadron; the larger San Felipe reached the Revenge first, but failed to grapple close, and was driven off by English gunfire; then Don Martín’s flagship, the smaller San Bernabé, caught up – slowing the English ship by slicing his bowsprit through her foresail, then grappling close alongside.
Don Martín then settled into a long, grim duel, using artillery and musket fire, and keeping his men under cover; he did not attempt to storm the English ship’s decks, a tactic that proved disastrous for three other Spaniards that attempted it as dusk fell.
By the next morning, the San Bernabé had pounded the pride of the English navy into surrender.