galleon, oceangoing warship used by the European naval powers in the 15th and 16th cent. A large, cumbersome vessel, the galleon was three-masted and square-rigged, usually with two decks, and with its main batteries in broadsides. Galleons were much used to transport treasure and other cargo from the Americas, particularly by Spanish and Portuguese traders. The military disadvantage of the typical galleon was shown clearly in the defeat of the Spanish Armada (1588), when unwieldy Spanish galleons were outmaneuvered by the lighter, swifter English vessels constructed by John Hawkins.

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