Spanish Ladies is a traditional British naval song, describing a voyage from Spain to the Downs from the viewpoint of ratings of the Royal Navy.
A ballad by the name "Spanish Ladies" was registered in the English Stationer's Company on December 14, 1624. The oldest mention of the present song does not, however, appear until the 1769 logbook of HMS Nellie, making it more likely an invention of the Napoleonic era. The timing of the mention in the Nellie's logbook suggests that the song was created during the War of the First Coalition (1793–96), when the Royal Navy carried supplies to Spain to aid its resistance to revolutionary France. It probably gained in popularity during the later Peninsular War when British soldiers were transported throughout the Iberian peninsula to assist rebels fighting against the French occupation. After their victory over the Grande Armée, these soldiers were returned to Britain but forbidden to bring their Spanish wives, lovers, and children with them.
The song predates the proper emergence of the sea shanty. Shanties were the work songs of merchant sailors, rather than naval ones. However, in his 1840 novel Poor Jack, Captain Frederick Marryat reports that the song "Spanish Ladies"—though once very popular—was "now almost forgotten" and he included it in whole in order to "rescue it from oblivion". The emergence of shanties in the mid-19th century then revived its fortunes, to the point where it is now sometimes included as a "borrowed song" within the genre.