Their Heart and Minds Would be Open to Us

The War of Jenkin’s Ear between Britain and Spain has a bizarre origin. Robert Jenkin’s ship was boarded by the Spanish to determine if he was complying with the Treaty of Seville. Jenkin’s claimed the Spanish cut his ear off – he pickled it, and took it to Parliament. War was declared.

That is the glib history to the start of the war, but by 1739 Spain was a waning, if still rich, power. The two rising powers were Britain and France, who would be locked in a militaristic competition over the next century and a half to determine which nation would be the sole power in Europe. The war against Spain was probably opportunistic.

It appears to have backfired, as Spanish naval power was not broken. Then again, European history is pretty miserable, in that the states were constantly warring with one another. Extended peace was rare. Fortunately for Britain most of the fighting occurred in continental Europe, the colonies or the Atlantic Ocean.

These paragraphs caught my eye from Arthur Hermann’s To Rule The Waves:

The British public had expected an easy victory over the Spanish 1, “mere poltroons” who “durst not look our squadrons in the face at sea.”

The 2 colonies in 3 America would rise up to meet their British liberators. “Millions of miserable People wou’d bless their Deliverers: their Heart and Minds wou’d be open to us.”

But instead of giving up at first sight of British warships, the Spanish reverted to a French-style guerre de course while concentrating all their resources to defend their most important bases, Cartegena 4 and Havana 5.

Privateers from Spanish ports scored success after success against British shipping, which the navy seemed unable to prevent, even as the Spanish flota evaded their attempts to stop it.

I am surprised how the language from 1739 mimicks some of the language of the last few years.


  1. in the War of Jenkin’s Ear[]
  2. Spanish[]
  3. Central and Southern[]
  4. Columbia[]
  5. Cuba[]
This entry was posted in History, Politics - international. Bookmark the permalink.
Notify of

1 Comment
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
16 years ago

It seems to me that a pickled ear is a better reason for starting a war than we get these days!