The San Felipe, launched in 1690, was one of the most beautiful Spanish ships of the XVII century. She displaced more than 1000 tons and was armed with 108 cannons, enabling her to take on the most capable ships in the French and British navies. At the same time, she possessed a slim profile and a wide spread of sail which bestowed great maneuverability and agility. Her beauty was enhanced by a variety of sculptures adorning her stern transom.
She joined the great Spanish fleet while Spain was still engaged in her perennial wars against the British and French, mostly over dominance of territories in the Caribbean and South America. By the last half of the XVII century, Spain was extracting enormous wealth from its conquests, but galleons carrying plunder back to Spain were routinely intercepted both by buccaneers and by French and British warships. Much treasure was lost and a number of island possessions were captured and changed hands.
San Felipe's role in this fighting was to help protect Spanish settlements and harbors, to transport treasure, and to safeguard the long and hazardous passages back to Cadiz and other Spanish ports. In 1705, she participated in a furious and heroic battle between 12 Spanish ships and 35 English ships. After 24 hours of battle, she was captured by an English ship, but was so badly damaged that she could not be salvaged as a prize. She went to the bottom with several tons of gold and treasure.