Spanish Formosa

Spanish Formosa
Spanish colony
Flag Coat of arms
Spanish possessions in green, Dutch possessions in magenta and Kingdom of Middag in orange
Capital San Salvador (Keelung)
Languages Spanish, Formosan languages
Religion Roman Catholicism
Government Colony
Historical era Age of Discovery
   Established 1626
   Surrender of San Salvador 1642
Currency Spanish real
Preceded by
Succeeded by
Prehistory of Taiwan
Dutch Formosa
Part of a series on the
History of Taiwan
Prehistory to 1624
Dutch Formosa 1624–1662
Spanish Formosa 1626–1642
Kingdom of Tungning 1662–1683
Qing rule 1683–1895
Republic of Formosa 1895
Japanese rule 1895–1945
Republic of China rule since 1945
Taiwan portal

Spanish Formosa was a Spanish colony established in the north of Taiwan from 1626 to 1642.

The Portuguese were the first Europeans to reach the island of Taiwan, and named it Formosa due to the beautiful landscape as seen from the sea.[1] The colony was meant to protect Spanish in the region from interference by the Dutch base in the south of Taiwan. The Spanish colony was short-lived due to the unwillingness of Spanish colonial authorities in Manila to commit men and materiel for its defense.

After seventeen years, the last fortress of the Spanish was besieged by Dutch forces and eventually fell, giving the Dutch control over most of the island.


In 1566, the Dutch Revolt against King Philip II erupted. The Dutch Republic and its allies, England and France invaded and looted many of Phillip II's overseas territories as part of the Eighty Years' War.

As a result of the personal union of the Portuguese and Spanish crowns in 1580, Spanish Habsburg Philip II of Spain ruled Portugal and its Empire as Philip I of Portugal, and the Spain's enemies became Portugal's as well, the Dutch of the Seventeen Provinces in Dutch–Portuguese War, as well as their allies England and France.

Philip cut the Dutch off from the spices and the markets in Lisbon, making it necessary for the Dutch to send their own expeditions to the sources of these commodities to take control of the spice trade in the Indies.

The Dutch colonization of Formosa was part of a campaign designed to seize all the possessions of Philip II in Asia, including the Philippines. The Dutch began to take the string of coastal fortresses that comprised Phillip's Portuguese Asian possessions. The settlements were isolated, difficult to reinforce if attacked, and prone to being picked off one by one, but nevertheless the Dutch only enjoyed mixed success in its attempts to take them.[2]

Pursuing their quest for alternative routes to Asia for trade, the first Dutch squadron to reach the Philippines on December 14, 1600 was led by Olivier van Noort. The Dutch sought to dominate the commercial sea trade in Southeast Asia, even engaging in privateering. They disrupted trade by harassing the coasts of Manila bay and its environs, and preyed on sampans and junks from China and Japan trading at Manila. The Battles of La Naval de Manila were five naval battles fought in the waters off the Philippines in 1646, between the forces of Spain and the Dutch Republic, during the Eighty Years' War.

War with the Dutch led to invasions of many of Phillip's Portuguese and Spanish possessions in Asia, including Ceylon, the Philippines, and commercial interests in Japan, Africa (Mina), and South America. Even though the Portuguese were unable to capture the entire island of Ceylon, they were able to keep the coastal regions of Ceylon under their control for a considerable time.

Catholic Phillip II was in competition with Protestant Holland for trade and influence in East Asia. With the establishment of a Dutch colony at Tayouan, present-day Anping, in the south of Taiwan, the Dutch were able to threaten Spain's trade in the region. As a counter to this threat, the Spanish decided to establish their own colony in the north of the island.

The early years (1626–1629)

Spanish Map of Keelung and Tamsui Harbor, 1626

Landing at Cape Santiago in the north-east of Taiwan but finding it unsuitable for defensive purposes, the Spanish continued westwards along the coast until they arrived at Keelung.[3] A deep and well-protected harbour plus a small island in the mouth of the harbour made it the ideal spot to build the first settlement, which they named Santissima Trinidad. Forts were built, both on the island and in the harbour itself.

In 1629 the Spanish erected a second base, centered on Fort San Domingo, in Tamsui.[4]

First battle with the Dutch

In 1641, the Spanish had become such an irritant to the Dutch in the south that it was decided to take northern Taiwan from the Spanish by force. In courteous terms, the Dutch Governor Paulus Traudenius informed the Spanish governor of their intentions.

I have the honor to communicate to you that I have received the command of a considerable naval and military force with the view of making me master by civil means or otherwise of the fortress Santissima Trinidad in the isle of Ke-lung of which your Excellency is the Governor.
In accordance with the usages of Christian nations to make known their intentions before commencing hostilities, I now summon your Excellency to surrender. If your Excellency is disposed to lend an ear to the terms of capitulation which we offer and make delivery to me of the fortress of Santissima Trinidad and other citadels, your Excellency and your troops will be treated in good faith according to the usages and customs of war, but if your Excellency feigns to be deaf to this command there will be no other remedy than recourse to arms. I hope that your Excellency will give careful consideration to the contents of this letter and avoid the useless effusion of blood, and I trust that without delay and in a few words you will make known to me your intentions.
May God protect your Excellency many years,
The Friend of your Excellency,

The Spanish governor was not inclined to give in so easily, and replied in kind.

Sir; I have duly received your communication of August 26th, and in response I have the honor to point out to you that as becomes a good Christian who recalls the oath he has made before his king, I cannot and will not surrender the forts demanded by your Excellency, as I and my garrison have determined to defend them. I am accustomed to find myself before great armies, and I have engaged in numerous battles in Flanders as well as other countries, and so I beg of you not to take the trouble of writing me further letters of like tenor. May each one defend himself as best he can. We are Spanish Christians and God in whom we trust is our protector.
May the Lord have mercy on you.
Written in our principal fortress San Salvador the 6th of September 1641.

Subsequently the Dutch launched an assault on the northern regions held by the Spanish, but the positions were well-defended and the attacking troops were not able to breach the walls of the fortresses. They returned, thwarted and humiliated, to the Dutch base at Fort Zeelandia.

Final Battle with the Dutch

In August 1642, The Dutch returned to Keelung with four large ships, several smaller ships, and approximately 369 Dutch soldiers.[6] A combination of Spaniards, aboriginals, and Pampangos from the Philippines held off the Dutch for six days. They eventually surrendered and were returned to Manila defeated, and giving up their flags and what little artillery remained with them.[6] Sebastián Hurtado de Corcuera, governor of the Philippines, was blamed for the loss of Formosa and was eventually tried in court for his actions.[7] Upon conviction, he was imprisoned for five years in the Philippines. Historians since Corcuera's time have chastised him for the loss of the Formosa[6] but other factors, such as the continuing rise of the Dutch Empire in Southeast Asia, and financial troubles within the Spanish Empire, were also contributing factors.

See also


  1. Sujuan, Zhan (2012-05-22). "The Taiwan Encyclopedia". Council for Cultural Affairs. Retrieved 2012-05-22.
  2. Boxer, C. R. (1969). The Portuguese seaborne empire 1415-1825. London: Hutchinson. p. 23. ISBN 0090979400.
  3. Davidson (1903), p. 19.
  4. Davidson (1903), p. 20.
  5. 1 2 Davidson (1903), p. 21.
  6. 1 2 3 Andrade, Tonio (2005). How Taiwan Became Chinese: Dutch, Spanish and Han Colonization in the Seventeenth Century. Columbia University Press.
  7. Jose Eugenio Barrio (2007). "An Overview of the Spaniards in Taiwan" (pdf). University of Taiwan Foreign Languages in Literature. University of Taiwan. Retrieved 2012-05-16.


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