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Why is Gibraltar British?

The answer may be quite simple: because it is under United Kingdom’s jurisdiction. So it is English by law and military law, and not colonized by Spain as the case of Ceuta and Melilla, many Spanish have the feeling that Gibraltar is something that belongs to them, something that another country has unfairly obtained. But what few know is the reason why the Rock of Gibraltar switched from Spanish to British hands.

Gibraltar (Jabal Tarik)

In November 1st of 1700, Charles II of Austria, called the Bewitched, died without a successor. With it, the Spanish branch of Austria lost the crown of Spain and began one of the greatest conflicts in Europe’s inheritance history.

Just a year before the death of Charles II died Joseph Ferdinand of Bavaria, the successor agreed by him and his wife, Mariana of Neuburg, which, days before his death, forced Charles II to rewrite his will, appointing at Louis XIV of France grandson as his successor, Philip of Anjou, in total opposition to his wife and regent who supported the Archduke Charles of Austria.

Louis XIV accepted the will of Charles II in favour of his grandson as news of death of the Spanish monarch in Versailles came. A few weeks later, Louis IV undertakes with Philip V of Spain a trip to Madrid where he’ll submit, in January 22nd of 1701, the new monarch to the Spanish.

This new alliance between the French and Spanish was not well seen in the rest of Europe, forming a few months after the Hague Grand Alliance, uniting the interests of Great Britain, United Provinces of the Netherlands and Roman Empire. The growing tension in May 1702 made this alliance declare war to Spain and France, supported by the Spanish loyal to Archduke Charles and other related realms, thus beginning the War of Spanish Succession.

Philip V of Spain

The war spread over the next 12 years, and the many agreements and battles prevents me from excessive descriptions here, so I will focus on the only fact that matters today, which took place in August 1704: The siege and the taking of Gibraltar.

On August 1st 1704, Anglo-Dutch fleet with Admiral George Rooke in command reached the coast of Gibraltar. The target of the attack was to impose fidelity to Archduke Charles in the Plaza of Gibraltar. This placed a total of 61 fully equipped ships with over 30,000 sailors in the Bay of Algeciras, in front of the Gibraltar port.

Gibraltar at that time had only a medieval fortification reconstructed over 100 years ago by the Berber Tariq ibn Ziyad, the founder of Gibraltar (Jebl Tariq), and a population of only 5,000, of which only 100 were military. While regions such as Catalonia and Balearic defended the sovereignty of Archduke Charles of Austria, Gibraltar and most of southern Andalusia had already begun to show their loyalty to Philip V.

Sergeant Diego de Salinas, as soon as he spotted the great army the coast of Gibraltar, gathered the few military commanders to devise the most effective way to defend the place. He managed to gather a total of 470 men who were divided into different defensive positions in early hours of that day.

The Taking of Gibraltar

That day artillery loads began by the British ships, followed by a descent of more than 3,000 infantry in Punta Mala (the current Puente Mayorga), where they established the camp. That same day the campers sent two letters, one signed by the Prince of Hesse-Darmstadt, who accompanied the attackers and one letter signed by the Archduke Charles, asking in both the immediate surrender and recognition as the legitimate king of Spain.

The surrender did not take place, which is why the next day 1,800 soldiers stood at the isthmus, outside the walls of Gibraltar, while the fleet was doing the same against the coastal wall. A day later, the battle began. In just a day of fierce battle, Gibraltar ended up falling into British hands, but its population did not yield to the hands of the Archduke, so in August 6th, just two days after the fall of the city, virtually all the inhabitants fled to nearby villages, only 70 people staying in Gibraltar, mostly the religious and the wounded.

But once occupation has been settled, Admiral Rooke decided to name the rock under the sovereignty of Queen Anne of England, instead of Archduke Charles which he come to defend. This entailed that during the following nine years, Spanish and French troops tried to unsuccessfully recover Berber territory.

The hostilities ended in 1713, with the signing of the Treaty of Utrecht and so legally Spain ceded the Berber Rock to the British flag.

The Gibraltar flag

During the nearly 300 years that have passed since the capture of Gibraltar, Spain has tried to retake it by diplomatic means, always with unsuccessful results. With the advent of decolonization, many countries strongly criticized the colonial character of the enclave, something to which the British responded by the issue of Ceuta and Melilla, the latest land colonized by Spain until today.

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