Blas de Lezo Statue in front of Fuerte de San Felipe, in Cartagena de Indias

It is time to pay tribute to this hero in our blog. In our recent visit to Cartagena de Indias, we were able to recall the history of Blas de Lezo, a Spanish military born in Guipuzcoa in 1689.

There were many achievements during his career as a soldier of the Spanish Armada, in which he lost an eye, a leg and an arm. For this reason, it is known as the ”half man”.

But the adventure we want to talk about took place in Cartagena de Indias, on the Caribbean coast of modern Colombia. Blas de Lezo defended this city belonging to the Spanish Crown in 1741, when it was attacked by the English army under the command of Admiral Vernon. The English fleet at the time was composed by 180 ships and 25,000 men, compared with 6 ships and 2,800 men commanded by Blas de Lezo.

So convinced were the English in the defeat of Cartagena, that ordered to mint in advance memorial coins that said: “The British heroes took Cartagena April 1, 1741″ and “Spanish pride pulled down by Vernon”. In the picture you can see the coin, exhibited in several museums and historical sites of Cartagena de Indias, showing this unfortunate phrase.

But against expected, Blas de Lezo defeated Vernon in a display of strategy and imagination. While pulling out of the bay with his army destroyed, Vernon shouted to the wind: “God damn you, Lezo!” 

The coin minted by the British "in advance"

Humiliated by the defeat, the British hid the coins minted to celebrate a victory that never came. Such was the defeat that King of England, George II, forbade talk about it in chronicles or allude to the fact in the History books, as if it never happened.

As for Blas de Lezo, subsequently wrote to Vernon: ”To come to Cartagena is necessary that the King of England bring other greater fleet, as the current one is only useful to carry the Irish coal to London. This would have been better to undertake a conquest impossible to achieve“.

Arturo Perez-Reverte wrote a year ago about this in his post “The Basque who humbled the English” with his usual sense of humor.

Vernon was expelled from the British navy because of this humiliating defeat, but was finally buried togheter with many other national heroes in the very Westminster Abbey.

Blas de Lezo, meanwhile, was named Marquis by the Spanish Crown. His memory is honored by the Spanish Armada: there is always a ship named Blas de Lezo, there is a memorial plaque in the Illustrious Sailors Pantheon in San Fernando (Cádiz), and a model of the Battle of Cartagena de Indias is located in the Engineering Academy of Hoyo de Manzanares (Madrid ). There are streets with his name in Valencia, Malaga, Fuengirola, Alicante, Las Palmas deGran Canaria, Huelva, San Sebastian, Pasajes -his hometown-, and finally an avenue Madrid (not yet exist, but we asked about their future location, you can see it here).
In Cartagena de Indias, Colombia, Blas de Lezo is recognized as a great hero. His statue in front of the Fort of San Felipe is a sign of respect and admiration to this great character.