Spanish Naval Medical Services
Origin and History
In Spanish, the naval medical services were designated as La Sanidad de la Armada.
When House of Austria ruled Spain, the scarce personnel deputed to serve in the medical services of the navy was an integrated part of so-called Gente de mar (sea-people).
Surgeons, medical doctors and barbers operated along the lines requested by the first known regulation of the age, the Ordonnance about the “good practice of the Ocean’ Navy”1of January 24 1633. They operated to the best of their knowledge to preserve the good health of the navy’s personnel.
Among medical personnel, the afore mentioned Ordonnance already made a clear distinction between the roles and fields of action of Protomedicos (senior doctors), Cirujanos (surgeons), Medicos (doctors), Enfermeros (medics), Capellanes (chaplains) and Maestres Barberos (master barbers). Moreover, some notes about the standard of treatment that disabled persons should receive, were specified.
The whole system, considering the limits of the medical knowledge of the age, was a nightmare. Any sort of civil, sufficiently experienced, personnel was practically non existant. The sole logical solution was to rely on the assistance of the religious Orden de los Hermanos Hospitalarios of St. John2. The “Orden”was then very close to the armed forces of Spain, in attending wounded men and assiting the diseased. So, it can be said that the origin of the Spanish naval medical services was in this group of religious.3
From the beginning, names of religious administrators and surgeons of the Order can be found in the ranks of the Navy. The history of the naval medical service is tightly bonded with the Orden’s hospital in Cádiz.
The hospital treated patients coming from the navy since the beginning of the XVIII century. Thanks to Don Juan de Lacomba, the first Spanish school of anatomy was created in Cádiz on May 26 1728. Also in Cádiz, was the highest authority of the navy’s medical service and head of the Medical-Surgeons Professors Corps, the Proto-Medic.
After some time, a reorganisation of the Naval Medical Services became necessary. The roles of the surgeon and of the medical doctor were separated. For the education of the personnel a Real Colegio de Cirugia (Royal College of Surgery) was created on November 11, 1748 by Ferdinand VI. It was the first faculty of medicine of Spain. The college had 60 places for applicants. After four years of education and a final public examination, the cadet was allowed to practice medical service as a Praticante for a period of two years. Then, only after a new examination, he received the rank of Cirujano de la Armada (navy surgeon).
On March 24, 1764, a second College of Surgery was created, this time in Barcelona, in order to form army surgeons.
Service during the War
No information available yet
Surgeons, doctors or any other medical personnel had no uniforms at all, during the period of the Seven Years' War. On August 2 1771, a royal order, granted them a military set of uniform.
- See: Ordenancas del Buen Gobierno de la Armada del Mar Oceano de 24 de Henero de 1633, Instituto Historico de Marina. Edicion facsimil, Madrid,1974.
- John Ciudad Duarte, was born in Portugal in 1495. He fought as soldier in Navarra and at the Siege of Vienna. With five Marian comrades he decided to raise the Order in 1539. He died in Granada on March 6, 1550. In 1630, he was beatified by Pope Urban VIII and canonized by Pope Innocent XII in 1691. He was declared by Pope Leon XIII the “celestial patron de los agonizantes” or saint patron of the dying persons.
- Plana; Historia de los uniformes de la Armada Espanola. Ministerio de Defensa. Madrid 1996.
Historia de los uniformes de la Armada Espanola. Ministerio de Defensa. Madrid 1996
Dr. Marco Pagan for the initial version of this article.