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Gibraltar, Episode 27 - 01/11/05


Death mask of Oliver Cromwell (1599-1658) (Getty Images/Hulton|Archive)

Death mask of Oliver Cromwell (1599-1658)
(Getty Images)
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The Dutch had an interest in Gibraltar before the British. The Spanish attempted to make it hard for the Dutch, who traded in the eastern Mediterranean, to travel through the Strait of Gibraltar. Cromwell, in his war against the Spaniards, thought taking Gibraltar would at least annoy them. That was in 1656.

The real attack on Gibraltar came almost half a century later during the war of Spanish Succession (1701-1714). This war influenced many British actions in defending its fledgling empire and began after the death of Charles II of Spain in 1700 without issue. The grandson of Louis XIV of France, Philip, claimed right to the throne. To enforce this claim, the French invaded the Spanish Netherlands and were opposed by, initially, the British and Dutch with the Holy Roman Empire. Some German states and the Portuguese later joined the Grand Alliance against France. This is the war in which Marlborough (with Prince Eugene of Savoy) won the famous battles, Blenheim, Ramillies, Oudenarde and Malplaquet.

In July 1704, the British admiral Sir George Rooke anchored his fleet of more than 50 ships in Gibraltar Bay and unsuccessfully demanded the surrender of the 200 Spanish garrison. The British attacked using a brigade of Dutch and British Marines commanded by Prince George of Hesse-Darmstadt, but it was not until August that a surrender was achieved. Rooke's men quickly raised the British flag (not yet the Union Flag) and Rooke claimed the Rock in the name of Queen Anne.

At the end of the war, the treaties of Utrecht and the Congress of Rastatt gave Gibraltar to the British. However for many years, the Spanish kept the colony under siege. The Great Siege between 1779 and 1783 claimed hundreds of lives, but was inconclusive. The last one started in 1969, when the Spanish padlocked the border gate from Gibraltar to La Linea.

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Historical Figure

Sir George Rooke (Getty Images/Hulton|Archive)

Sir George Rooke 1650-1709
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George Rooke 1650-1709

Rooke was born in Kent near Canterbury. By the age of 30 he was a post captain, which was relatively young to achieve such an established rank. Already a rear admiral in 1692, Rooke distinguished himself at the battle of Cape La Hogue as a subordinate commander when the French were defeated, thus also defeating the chance of James II invading England to reclaim his throne. Rooke was knighted. After his success at Gibraltar there was later talk of him getting a dukedom. It came to nothing because, it was said, Sarah Churchill wanted all the glory for her husband (Marlborough) because of his victory at Blenheim shortly after Gibraltar. In the end, because of politics, not of inability, Rooke was vilified. He retired to his Canterbury home. The naval base in Gibraltar is called HMS Rooke in his honour.

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Did You Know...

Gibraltar was captured by the Moorish leader Tarik, crossing from Africa into Spain in 711, and its name is derived from the Arabic, Jabal-al-Tarik menaing 'Mount of Tarik'. In the 15th century, it passed to the Moorish ruler of Granada and later became Spanish.

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Contemporary Sources

Letter by Cromwell to Councillor General Montgue, who was positioned off the coast of Cadiz

Cromwell's policy towards Spain and Gibralter is illustrated by this letter.

"Twenty eighth of April sixteen hundred and fifty six, Whitehall. It hath ever been accounted that the Spaniards' great want is men as well as money at this time. What numbers are in and about Cadiz you best know. Might it not be worthy to be weighed by you and your council of war whether this Fleet of theirs now in Cadiz might not be burnt or otherwise destroyed? Or whether any other place be attemptable, especially that of the town and Castle of Gibraltar, which, if possessed and made tenable by us, would be an advantage to our trade and an annoyance to the Spaniard, and enable us, without keeping so great a fleet on that coast, with six nimble frigates lodged there, to do the Spaniard more harm than by than a fleet and ease our own charge. I remain, your very loving friend, Oliver P".

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