Why is Gibraltar British?

Fig.1.Treaty of Utrecht frontispieces, English edition (L) and Spanish edition (R). Courtesy Gibraltar Garrison Library.

Gibraltar was captured by an Anglo-Dutch Fleet in 1704 during the War of the Spanish Succession. England, Holland and Austria had declared war on France and Spain after Louis XIV of France decided to recognise his grandson Philip of Anjou as heir to the Spanish and French thrones. England and Holland, temporarily united by the marriage of William of Orange (Holland) and Queen Mary II (England), and fearful of such a powerful alliance, chose to support the Hapsburg Archduke Charles of Austria instead. Thus the scene was set and, in May 1702, war was declared.
Admiral Sir George Rooke was the English commander of a combined Anglo-Dutch fleet operating in the Mediterranean. He had already tried, and failed, to capture Barcelona and Toulon and realised that Cadiz was also too well defended. An alternative was Gibraltar. Three reasons were given for selecting Gibraltar:

1. Gibraltar was not strongly defended.
2. It was considered to be of important strategic value as a base of operations during the war.
3. It would encourage Spaniards from southern Spain to declare themselves in favour of the Hapsburg Archduke Charles.

Fig.3. Satirical cartoon of the exodus of the inhabitants of Gibraltar, 1704. Artist unknown. Courtesy 2King’s Own Royal Regiment Museum, Lancaster.

On the 31st July (see Discussion point ), the combined Anglo- Dutch fleet, under Admiral Sir George Rooke, entered Gibraltar Bay. At 3pm, 1,800 English and Dutch marines were landed on the isthmus with the Dutch Prince Hesse at the head. Gibraltar was cut off but the Spanish Governor of Gibraltar refused to surrender. The days that followed saw a massive bombardment of the town by the English fleet and on the morning of the 3rd August, 1,500 cannon shot were fired in 5-6 hours against the town. Landings took place in the south and in the morning of the 4th, the Spanish Governor finally capitulated. Hesse took possession of Gibraltar in the name of Charles III of Spain after four days of fighting. Almost the entire population of Gibraltar, except around fifty families, left the town and settled in the nearby areas such as Algeciras, Los Barrios and around the small church of San Roque.

Fig.4. Capture of Gibraltar by Anglo Dutch Forces in 1704. Artist unknown.

In 1707 the Act of Union was passed uniting England and Scotland and the country became known as Britain. The war dragged on until in 1713, peace was restored by the Treaty of Utrecht. Britain accepted Philip V as king of Spain and under Article X of the treaty Gibraltar was ceded to Britain forever. This did not prevent Spain from trying to re-conquer the Rock soon after and in 1727 Gibraltar found itself under siege once again.

UTRECHT – Changing borders, balancing power in Europe, 1713
The Treaty of Utrecht is a series of documents signed over a period between January and July 1713 that marked a critical moment in the history of Europe. It brought an end to a series of devastating wars that had claimed tens of thousands of lives over a period of two centuries.
The Treaty is seen as an important event that paved the way for European cooperation and conflict management – a forerunner to today’s European Union and United Nations.
Crucially, it brought an end to the War of the Spanish Succession which had split the countries of Europe between supporters of the Austrian Hapsburg Archduke Charles, known as Charles III of Spain to his supporters, and Philip
V, grandson of Louis XIV of France.
Gibraltar was ceded to Great Britain ‘in perpetuity’
under Article X of the Treaty, but this was only one of a series of changes to the geography of Europe as can be seen in this illustration.

Western Europe showing the principal changes affected by the Treaty of Utrecht
and Rastadt 1713

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Depiction of Diego de Salinas leaving Gibraltar in 1704. Artist unknown.