Anglo-Spanish War (1727–1729)

gigatos | February 15, 2022


The Anglo-Spanish War was a military conflict between the Kingdom of Great Britain and the Kingdom of Spain. Although the first hostilities began in the Caribbean as early as the summer of 1726, it is generally not until the outbreak of open confrontation in Europe on February 11, 1727 that war is spoken of. The formally undeclared state of war between the two states was the culmination of a pan-European crisis, with the Herrenhausen Alliance on one side and the partners of the Treaty of Vienna on the other. However, the outbreak of a general war was diplomatically prevented. Essentially, hostilities were limited to maritime operations in the Caribbean, without any major naval battles. In Europe, the unsuccessful siege of the British base at Gibraltar was the only significant conflict. The Anglo-Spanish conflict formally ended on November 9, 1729, with the conclusion of the Treaty of Seville and the restoration of the status quo ante. However, the fundamental differences between the two states were not resolved, leading to the outbreak of another war barely ten years later.

The Kingdom of Spain was one of the “relegated” countries in the European power system at the beginning of the 18th century (Duchhardt). The War of the Spanish Succession (1701-1714) installed a new Bourbon dynasty on the Spanish throne under Philip V (1683-1746), a grandson of Louis XIV. In the years and decades that followed, these rulers carried out some reforms in the country”s ailing state and military systems. Philip V, however, was not an energetic personality. In many respects, he left foreign policy to his ambitious wife, Elisabetta Farnese (1692-1766). Spain suffered significant territorial losses with the Peace of Utrecht in 1714. In addition to the Italian possessions, the Spanish Netherlands were lost to the Habsburgs, while the bases of Gibraltar and Menorca fell to Great Britain. In addition, the Spanish government had to sign over rights to the slave trade between Africa and the American colonies to British merchants (→ Asiento de Negros) and agree to allow one English merchant ship to trade annually with the Spanish colonies in South America. Attempts to revise these losses during the War of the Quadruple Alliance (1718-1720) failed and led to Spain”s almost complete isolation in foreign policy. Nevertheless, the Spanish queen continued to pursue the goal of providing her children with a secondary nuptials in Italy, which became a constant source of unrest in European politics.

On the other hand, Austria also isolated itself with the policy of Charles VI, who was ultimately just as unwilling to accept the terms of the Treaty of Utrecht, which required his renunciation of most of the Spanish inheritance, and refused to compromise with Spain. On the other hand, he competed with the maritime powers when he entered the overseas trade with the Ostender Company beginning in 1722. In addition, the emperor demanded recognition of female succession in his lands (→ Pragmatic Sanction). The intermingling of these two concerns characterized imperial policy as unsteady and fickle.

In the summer of 1724, a congress was to be held to discuss ways of overcoming these tensions among all the parties involved.

Spain had high expectations of the Congress of Cambrai. Already during the War of the Quadruple Alliance, the British First Minister James Stanhope had offered the Spanish government the return of Gibraltar in the course of negotiations. In 1721, King George I had once again held out the prospect of the return of the base in a personal letter – admittedly without this being enforceable in Parliament – and in the same year a Spanish-French-British defensive alliance had even come into being. However, these attempts at rapprochement had raised Spanish expectations in the long term. However, since the dissolution of the Ostend Company, the secondary possessions in Italy, and the restitution of Gibraltar were discussed inconclusively at Cambrai, the Spanish government came to believe that its ambitious goals could only be achieved through a settlement with Vienna. In secret negotiations mediated by the Dutchman Juan Guillermo Riperdá (1684-1737), the two sides agreed on far-reaching cooperation, the key points of which were laid down in the Treaty of Vienna on May 1, 1725: Both rulers mutually recognized their sovereignty and territorial integrity, Spain guaranteed the Pragmatic Sanction, Charles VI agreed to the establishment of the Secondary Titles, and assured his support in Spain”s recovery of Gibraltar. Ultimately, the Spanish government granted the Ostend Company extensive trade concessions. News of the treaty”s conclusion “hit like a bomb” and quickly led to the dissolution of the Congress at Cambrai.

In London, the Vienna alliance was perceived as a threat to its own world trade and to Gibraltar, which is why the influential first minister Robert Walpole (1676-1745) initiated a diplomatic reaction. In doing so, he could rely on French support, because the court of the young Louis XV feared Philip V”s competing claims to the French crown on the one hand and was marked by hereditary enmity with Austria on the other. The Kingdom of Prussia, which had already been allied with Great Britain since 1723 (→ Treaty of Charlottenburg), had also broken off diplomatic contacts with Vienna in the dispute over the county of Jülich-Berg. King Frederick William I had lost an important ally with the death of the Russian Emperor Peter I and now sought backing from the Western powers. On September 3, 1725, these three states concluded the Herrenhausen Alliance, which was to guarantee the security of all parties and at the same time prevent Spain and Austria from gaining strength. The Ostend Company was to be dissolved, the German Protestants protected and the Prussian claims to Jülich-Berg asserted.

The formation of two power groupings further aggravated the situation in Europe. On November 5, 1725, the Austrian and Spanish governments agreed on military arrangements in case of war. Both powers promised to support each other with troops and already agreed on the division of some French provinces. In addition, the amendment to the treaty provided for the marriage of two of Charles VI”s younger daughters to the sons of Elisabetta Farnese. The partners of the Herrenhausen alliance were also arming militarily. Prussian troops were to enter Silesia together with a Hanoverian brigade, while France was to attack either in Italy or on the Rhine. Great Britain was to be left in charge of naval warfare.

Both alliances also sought new partners, with Russia, an established European power since the Great Northern War, playing a central role. However, this combined the European crisis with an unresolved conflict situation in the Baltic region. The House of Holstein-Gottorf had had family ties with the Romanov dynasty since 1724 and was now trying, with Russian support, to assert claims to Schleswig, which had been annexed by Denmark after the Nordic War. France and Great Britain, however, did not want to allow Russia to become entrenched in the western Baltic Sea and, for their part, supported Denmark. It was therefore only a matter of time before Empress Catherine I (1683-1727) sought to join the Habsburg Empire on August 6, 1726, especially since both states had a common enemy in the form of the Ottoman Empire anyway.

In the Holy Roman Empire, on the other hand, the Electorate of Saxony (and thus also Poland-Lithuania in personal union) and Bavaria were still partners in the Treaty of Vienna. Augustus the Strong (1670-1733), with his support for the emperor, achieved his later guarantee of a succession for his son in Poland. On the other hand, the United Netherlands joined the Herrenhausen Alliance in the same year because they too wanted to eliminate the competition of the Ostend Company. On the other hand, British-French attempts to win the Ottoman Empire for an alliance failed. The contemporary witness Franz Dominc Häberlin expressed the general mood of that time: “Towards the end of the year, everything is leading up to the outbreak of a bloody war.”

In Great Britain, too, it was believed that the outbreak of war was imminent; therefore, preparations for an armed conflict were hastily made. Since August 1725, the fortifications in Gibraltar had been repaired under the direction of British Governor Richard Kane. During 1726, Secretary Walpole used the Royal Navy as a foreign policy lever. Thus, the British Mediterranean squadron was reinforced and a squadron under Admiral Charles Wager was sent to the Baltic Sea, blockading the port of Reval from May to September 1726 to intimidate the Russian government and prevent its fleet from sailing. A third squadron under Rear-Admiral Francis Hosier was to simultaneously disrupt Spanish trade in the Caribbean and blockade the port of Portobelo. From this Walpole hoped for a double success. On the one hand, it was to prevent the Spanish silver fleet from reaching Europe and thus the Viennese allies from coming into possession of additional financial resources. Second, it was intended to demonstrate to Philip V how dependent he and his colonial empire were on British goodwill.

But the government in Spain was not inferior to that in London in its choice of aggressive means. So far, the Madrid and Viennese governments had not been in agreement about war. They had been preparing for it, but while this was seen in Vienna as a purely defensive precaution, a pan-European arms race seemed to suit the interests of the Spanish government. Believing themselves to be secured by the Vienna alliance, Philip V and Elisabetta Farnese, against the advice of their new senior minister José de Patiño y Morales, decided to take an openly confrontational course toward Britain when the first news of British action arrived from the Caribbean. In December 1726, all British trade privileges were unilaterally revoked.

On January 1, 1727, Philip V sent a letter to the British government annulling paragraph 10 of the Treaty of Utrecht, which guaranteed Britain possession of Gibraltar. The reason he gave was that the British garrison had acted in violation of the treaty when it extended the fortifications and aided smuggling. In addition, the Catholic Church in the city would have been hindered. In fact, these points were not entirely out of the air and now served as a suitable pretext for war. The note was therefore tantamount to a declaration of war. On February 11, 1727, the military assault on Gibraltar was launched. Although no official declaration of war was made, both states were in a state of war by this time at the latest.

Operations in the Caribbean

With the arrival of the British squadron under Rear-Admiral Hosier in the Caribbean, de facto British-Spanish hostilities already began. On June 16, 1726, the 15 ships and 4750 men arrived off Bastimentos. In accordance with Walpole”s orders, Hosier began the blockade of Portobelo in order to block the way to Europe for the silver fleet and thus for the important financial forces. However, the orders excluded a direct attack on the city.

In fact, the silver fleet was being equipped at Portobelo. The local governor was concerned about the arrival of the English squadron and had Hosier inquire about the reason for its presence. Hosier stated that he wanted to escort the English annual merchant ship Royal George. However, after the Royal George left Portobelo and the English warships were still off the port, the Spanish decided to detain the silver fleet and take the cargo overland to Vera Cruz. Hosier now moved to an open blockade. Before the end of the summer, the British managed to bring up some Spanish ships. Operations off Portobelo lasted about six months, during which time yellow fever broke out among the crew. As crew strength continued to drop, Hosier finally sailed for the British base at Jamaica, which he reached on December 24, 1726. There he replenished supplies, hired new crews, and had the crew members cured. After two months, he sailed again. However, the Spanish had taken advantage of this break in the British blockade. From Vera Cruz, a small Spanish fleet set sail and reached Havana. There, a Spanish fleet from Europe with 2000 soldiers had already arrived on August 13, commanded by Don José Antonio Castañeta. Castañeta united the ships from Vera Cruz with his own and left Havana unnoticed by the British on January 24, 1727, reaching the Spanish mainland safely on March 8, 1727 with 31 million pesos.

Admiral Hosier set sail again in late February 1727 and reached Havana on April 2. However, since the Spanish silver fleet had eluded him, he cruised unsuccessfully off Cartagena. Yellow fever continued to claim many victims. Hosier himself succumbed to the disease on August 23, 1727, and was replaced by Captain Edward St. Loe, commander of HMS Superb, who also returned to Jamaica after a few weeks for a refresher course. There, Vice-Admiral Edward Hopson took command on 29 January 1728 and sailed again for the coast of Central America in February. However, this commander also died as a result of yellow fever, so that on May 8, 1728, Edward St. Loe once again assumed command. After the Preliminary Peace had been signed in March of that year, the fleet returned to England. By this time, the English expedition had cost the lives of about 4000 sailors and soldiers. Almost all of them had died as a result of yellow fever.

Siege of Gibraltar

Philip V gathered his leading military officers in early 1727 for a consultation concerning Gibraltar. The Marquis de Villadarias, who had already attempted to conquer the fortress in 1705, advised against an attack unless naval supremacy was first conquered. But it was precisely a powerful fleet that had been lacking since the defeat in the naval battle off Cape Passero (August 11, 1718). While most of the generalship agreed, the Marquis de las Torres thought he was up to the task. He therefore took command of 18,500 infantry, 700 cavalry, and about 100 guns around San Roque. The Spanish army was largely composed of Dutch, Italians, Corsicans and Sicilians, but also Irish, French and Swiss in Spanish service (19 battalions), joined by many militiamen from the province of Malaga. Only ten battalions of the siege army were actually regular Spanish soldiers. The artillery was brought in from the Cadiz fortress with great logistical difficulties. De las Torres had the Spanish trenches and ramparts built by about 3000 civilians. The winter weather and inadequate supplies for the army soon made themselves felt. On the British side, preparations for a siege had begun several months earlier. Now a fleet under Admiral Sir Charles Wager was sent from Britain to support the fortress. On board the ships, in addition to the new commander of the fortress General Jasper Clayton, there were also parts of three regiments to reinforce the four occupying regiments on the ground. Thus, the crew reached a strength of 3206 soldiers.

The siege began on February 11, 1727, and it soon became apparent that the Spanish were at a disadvantage. The British fleet limited the attack possibilities to the narrow headland, which, however, was under the fire of the British fortress artillery. De las Torres therefore planned to first destroy the fortifications with artillery fire and then storm them with his infantry. The besiegers therefore first dug approches to approach the fortress. The battle was limited to the action of the respective cannons and occasional skirmishes of the outposts. By March 24, the Spanish guns were in position enough for De las Torres to begin the bombardment. This lasted for ten days and caused much damage to the British positions, which could be repaired only insufficiently even with the aid of all the civilians in the fortress. From April 2, however, a period of bad weather set in which hampered both sides equally. During this period further reinforcements (2½ regiments) brought the British garrison to 5481 men. From 7 to 20 May De las Torres ordered another bombardment, which put many British guns out of action. But then the supply of powder and cannonballs failed again. After diplomacy had in the meantime abandoned the direct confrontation course, an armistice was also reached off Gibraltar on June 23, 1727.

The siege had lasted 17½ weeks. The protection of the fleet ensured that the British garrison was better supplied than the Spanish, whose supplies remained inadequate. This was reflected in the numbers of deserters. For example, when the first exchange of prisoners took place on April 16, 1727, 24 British were exchanged for 400 Spaniards. On the British side, alcoholism was a more serious problem. British troops suffered 107 killed, 208 wounded, and 17 deserters (a total of 332 men), while the Spanish suffered 700 killed, 825 wounded, and 875 deserters (a total of 2400 men).

The expansion of the war to all of Europe that Spain had hoped for failed to materialize. Emperor Charles VI did not want to be plunged into a European war only because of the Ostend Company, especially since the promised Spanish subsidies fell short. In France, too, where Cardinal Fleury (1653-1743) had determined policy since July 1726, there was little inclination toward war. Fleury sought rapprochement with Spain and also saw an Anglo-Spanish war as an impediment to French commercial interests. He therefore mediated between Great Britain and Austria shortly before these two states also became embroiled in war. Britain had already attacked ships of the Ostend Company and prepared to send troops to the Holy Roman Empire, while Austria had unilaterally broken off diplomatic contacts with London. Fleury nevertheless succeeded in mediating, which led to the conclusion of a preliminary peace in Paris on May 31, 1727. In it, the emperor undertook to suspend the Ostend Company for seven years and withdrew from his commercial ties with Spain as agreed in the Treaty of Vienna. The differences were to be settled at a new congress. The Spanish government acceded to the Preliminary Peace of Paris so as not to isolate itself completely after the defection of its only ally. However, when King George I died only days later, this raised hopes in Spain of gaining advantages from supporting the Stuart pretender. For the time being, the siege of Gibraltar was continued and an understanding was avoided. Only after George II had ascended the throne without difficulty, the capture of Gibraltar had not succeeded, and Spanish finances made a continuation of the conflict seem hopeless, did the Madrid government relent. It ended the siege and reaffirmed British trading privileges. On March 6, 1728, it signed the Convention of Pardo, which ended the naval war.

On June 14, 1728, the Congress of Soissons convened, initially without progress. However, the alliances slowly disintegrated. Prussia, for example, had joined the Herrenhausen Alliance to gain support for its claims to the county of Jülich-Berg. However, when the States General joined the alliance and rejected Prussian rule in the neighboring territory, support from Great Britain and France also ceased. Prussia therefore concluded a secret treaty with Austria as early as 1726 and now officially joined the Vienna alliance during the Congress of Soissons on December 23, 1728 (→ Treaty of Berlin (1728)). Elisabetta Farnese simultaneously urged Charles VI to marry her son Don Carlos to the emperor”s eldest daughter, Maria Theresa. From Vienna, however, a refusal arrived in a cloistered form. With the support of Great Britain and France, the Spanish queen now wanted to secure at least the secondary sovereignty of her son in Italy. The Anglo-Spanish conflict was therefore settled in the Treaty of Seville on November 9, 1729. Spain officially dissolved its alliance with the emperor, dropped its claims to Gibraltar and formally confirmed British trading rights in Spanish territories. In return, France and Britain guaranteed the establishment of Spanish secondary sovereignty in the Duchies of Parma and Piacenza and in the Grand Duchy of Tuscany, as well as the transfer of 6,000 Spanish soldiers there to secure these territories militarily.

The imperial government in Vienna opposed the establishment of Spanish rule in Italy as much as possible. It moved an army of 30,000 men to its Italian possessions, occupying the Duchy of Parma in January 1731 after the last reigning duke died. Once again, it briefly looked like a war between the remaining partners of the Treaty of Vienna (Austria, Russia, Prussia) and the partners of the Treaty of Seville (Spain, France, Great Britain, States General). However, agreement was reached in another Treaty of Vienna on March 16, 1731. Against the guarantee of the Pragmatic Sanction, Charles VI recognized the Spanish secondary sovereignty in the Italian duchies. He withdrew his troops, whose garrisons were taken over by Spanish soldiers who had arrived in Italy on British ships. In March 1732, Don Carlos assumed the rule of Parma-Piacenza. This resolved a major point of conflict from European diplomacy.

The Treaty of Seville had restored the status quo without either side gaining any advantage. Especially in Great Britain, this result was received with restraint. Parliament had appropriated three million pounds for the war, almost all of which had been spent on the fighting for Gibraltar. Added to this were the costs of sending Admiral Hosier”s fleet to the Caribbean, the only result of which had been the deaths of thousands of sailors and three admirals. It was this disaster that caused massive criticism of Walpole”s government. But Walpole saw the future of Great Britain in a strict policy of neutrality, so that for him the prevented escalation of the conflict already represented a success. Even in the War of the Polish Succession that broke out a few years later (1733-1735

Among the greatest critics of the government”s policy and conduct of the war advanced Vice Admiral Edward Vernon. He had himself served in the fleets sent to the Baltic and to support Gibraltar. Now he used his mandate in the English Parliament to publicly denounce the miserable organization of the Caribbean expedition and the deaths of Admiral Hosier and his sailors. He was elected in 1738

Individual references


  1. Englisch-Spanischer Krieg (1727–1729)
  2. Anglo-Spanish War (1727–1729)
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