“... finding nothing of importance to be done...“ How the Rock Became British

4 August 1704, 210 years ago during the War of the Spanish Succession, Gibraltar finally surrendered to an allied force under Prince George of Hesse-Darmstadt and Admiral Sir George Rooke.

“... finding nothing of importance to be done...“ (Admiral Sir George Rooke)

Early 20th century cigarette card commemorating the Capture of Gibraltar

Actually, Rooke and his Mediterranean fleet were supposed to capture the port of Cadiz. But since he got his nose bloodied there two years before already and the days, when British admirals were put before a firing squad for not bringing their ships into action had not yet come, Rooke was at a leisure to come up with another bright idea and while he cruised through the western Med, he seemed to have remembered an old strategic fancy, Cromwell, of all the people, had come up with: capturing Gibraltar and upgrade it to a stronghold, controlling the Barbary corsairs as well as the Spanish. Since the defences of the place had last been modified during Spain’s wars with the Moors in the late Middle Ages, the idea was actually not as fanciful as it seemed at first glance.

Admiral Rooke and Prince George entering Gibraltar (illustration probably from the 1950s*)


The sentry posted on Baluarte del Canuto was pretty astonished when the Bay of Gibraltar slowly filled up with 60 Dutch and English men-of-war, most of them ships-of-the-line, tacking against a levante calma, a light easterly wind and taking up their battle positions , broadsides turned against the town and the old fortifications of the Rock. Nominally, 100 Spanish cannon would have given an appropriate response, but few of the pieces were ready for action and even less men in Gibraltar were skilled to service them. Nevertheless, Don Diego de Salinas, the Spanish governor, gallantly refused to surrender on August 2nd. He had pestered his Bourbon master Philip V for years to reinforce his garrison – to no avail and a day later, Rooke’s squadron began the bombardment that lasted for hours, a naval landing of English and Dutch marines followed, backed up by Austrian infantry under the command of Prince George of Hesse-Darmstadt, nominal commander of all the allied forces present in the Med, the place was taken in a coup the main and then the plundering began.

Don Diego de Salinas with the Rock in the background
as imagined by the Spanish hyper realist painter Augusto Ferrer-Dalmau Nieto (1964 -)

Don Diego de Salinas and his poor excuse for a garrison had barricaded themselves in Gibraltar’s old Moorish citadel, but with the threat of execution of his men after a further assault and the ongoing abuses against the civilians, he finally decided to surrender to the allies, negotiating a free retreat for everyone who would follow him to the mainland. Gibraltar was governed by Prince George for a short time afterwards and then fell under British rule, confirmed in the Treaty of Utrecht after the war in 1713. The Rock remained British ever since. Prince George fell a year later in an attempt to take Barcelona by storm, he is buried in Spain, his heart was brought to his native city of Darmstadt in Hesse though, where it is still hanging from the ceiling of the Fürstengruft (prince's crypt) of the Stadtkirche in a brass casket. Don Diego de Salinas finally became another man from La Mancha as governor of Villaescusa de Haro, in Cuenca until his death in 1720.

* The image was found on http://gibraltar-intro.blogspot.de/2010/10/chapter-2.html

And more about the capture of Gibraltar on: