A Historical Look at Corunna

It was once said that if you have ever visited Galicia to go to Santiago de Compostela and thought of leaving without seeing Corunna you were making a massive mistake.

Because of the fine natural harbour, Corunna has always been a fairly major regional “place of importance” and this has continued down through the ages.

In ancient times it was used by the Celts and Phoenicians before becoming an important Roman port, Ardobicum Coronium. It’s trading relations on a see spread far and wide and Corunna remains a major port. It is the westernmost member of the Hermandad de las Marismas, a trading league formed in 1926 along hanseatic lines.

Corunna was always the port in north western Spain that had the leading contact with British sailors who referred to it often as “the Groyne”. It was the obvious choice for disembarkation for British pilgrims wishing to visit Santiago de Compostela and the tomb of St James, This route fast became known as the Camino Ingles and was actually the easiest of all of the routes to Santiago (especially when the weather was benign in the Bay of Biscay).

As a point of entry to Northern Spain, Corunna as has been said has always been of significance. In 1386 the English prince John of Gaunt, son of Edward III decided to invade and avenge the murder of his brother in law Pedro I. He landed in Corunna and after what eventually turned out to be a farcical march through Galicia, thankfully for all parties concerned common sense prevailed and peace deal was brokered whereby Gaunt’s daughter would marry the heir to the throne of Castile. The Castilian king came up with enough compensation for Gaunt (obviously the hand of his daughter in marriage to his son was an uneven deal) and thankfully Gaunt returned to England (via Corunna) with honour satisfied.

Again in later years, Corunna was witness again to another arrival of interfering European royalty when after Gaunt’s great-granddaughter, the Catholic monarch Isobel died, Phillip the Fair from Flanders decided to try his luck in 1506 and claim the Castilian throne from Fernando.

Again in later generations the transport of royalty came to the fore with this time, Philip II deciding to use Corunna as embarkation point before travelling to England to marry Mary at Winchester. As history has shown this was obviously a major success in terms of International Relations because 34 years later he tried to repeat the same exercise this time with 130 ships and 30,000 men. The Spanish Armada thus sailed from Corunna but sadly as again history will tell with not much in the way of success.

Of all of the tales of Corunna and the sea perhaps the most appealing is that of Maria Pita. In 1507 a force of English ships led by the then Frances Drake (in his former and perhaps true guise of Buccaneer) landed at Corunna and attempted to raise the town to the ground by way of fire. A girl from the town, Maria Pita, seized an English flag and rallied the townsfolk to not only repel the buccaneering English invaders but also managed to save the town as well.