The People of Gibraltar
1607 - The Battle of Gibraltar - His Buttocks Showing

1607 - The Battle of Gibraltar   ( Early 17th century - recently attributed to Cornelis Claeszoon van Wieringen )

The above painting is - among other things - a study in religious triumphalism - the Protestant Dutch against Catholic Spain.  The picture depicts the moment when the Spanish flagship blows up - the Virgin Mary is about to sink into the sea, the Spanish admiral Juan Álvarez Davila is dead, the sea is red with Catholic blood and a monk flies through the air, his buttocks showing. Meanwhile the Dutch look on impassively as thousands die. The overall impression one gets is that the artist felt a perverse delight in depicting the rather one sided nature of the battle.

The actual event took place during the 80 Years War which began in 1568 as a revolt of the Seventeen Provinces against the sovereign power of the Habsburg Netherlands  and therefore against  Philip II of Spain. The battle is considered the first and perhaps the greatest of Dutch naval victories against Spain in their fight for independence. The Dutch Admiral Jacob van Heemskerck died during the battle and gained instant immortality in his homeland.

The death of Admiral Jacob van Heemskerck   ( 1850s - Antonie F. Zürcher )

As was the custom at the time, his suit of armour was carried in the funeral procession and hung above his tomb. The left thigh piece is missing. It was shattered by a Spanish cannonball that killed him during the battle. The suit is now in the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. 

Van Heemskerck's funeral procession - "e" might represent his suit of armour   ( Early 17th century - Cornelis Claeszoon van Wieringen - detail )

Admiral Jacob van Heemskerck's coat of armour   ( Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam ) 

There were several post mortem excuses for this defeat - the enemy armada had been much bigger than that of the Spaniards and that their ships had been far more powerful.  Which was true - the Dutch fleet consisted of 26 - some say 30 - warships, the Spanish had 10 - although the Dutch understandably begged to differ and give a bigger figure. 

Nevertheless there may have been a good reason for these discrepancies. Many of the Spanish ships were galleys which were still favoured at the time by the Spaniards for coastal naval warfare. They were no match for the powerful Dutch galleons who were in any case sufficient in number to be able to double up on the Spanish ships.  However, not one of the many pictures depicting the event shows a single Spanish galley - but then all the extant pictures of the event were painted by Dutchmen. But it was not just a matter of exonerating their seamen.  The Spaniards were well aware that there were other matters well worthy of criticism. 

For example in the picture above - a detail of the one at the start of this article - Gibraltar appears to have two major defensive towers both of which seem to be taking an active part in the proceedings. The one at bottom left represents la Torre del Tuerto. (See LINK)  In 1620 a local contemporary historian (see LINK) described it as a storehouse for sails, ropes and other such nautical material and perfectly useless as a defensive tower. Worse still the mole that it was supposed to defend was so small as to be practically non-existent.

The one on the top right of the picture represents another tower above the Old Mole (See LINK) - but there was no such defensive tower and the entire mole was unfortified at the time. In fact three years prior to the battle, the Old Mole itself was a filthy mess. It had completely silted up and had been badly damaged by a winter storm. By 1607 it was probably in an even worse state than before as all attempts to improve matters had failed because of insufficient funds. The lack of a properly defended mole in the south and a damaged and unfortified one in the north had certainly not made matters any easier for the defending Spanish fleet. 

Looked at from a Gibraltarian point of view it could be argued that had the Dutch not won this battle as comprehensively as they did, the Netherlands might not have become the Netherlands we know, the Anglo-Dutch assault on the Rock in 1704 might never have happened and Gibraltar might never have become British.

Whatever the case, the 1607 Battle of Gibraltar generated a huge number of paintings and engravings  - many more than one would have expected from what the rest of the world would no doubt have described as a relatively minor skirmish.

This magnificent picture shows the people of Gibraltar leaving the town - which they did not do - and soldiers that might be either Dutch or Spanish marching towards it - which is also incorrect as the battle was purely naval  ( Early 17th century - Adam Willaerts )

A rather fanciful depiction of the battle with the town's fortifications putting up a stout defence - which they didn't because they were unable to   ( Unknown date - Franz Hogenberg  - detail )

An engraving that follows Adam Willaerts theme and shows unidentifiable people on the shores of the Bay of Gibraltar   ( Unknown date - Isaac Commelin - detail )

La Torre del Tuerto fully engaged    ( Early 17th century - Adam Willaerts - detail )

Engravings of van Wieringen's and Willaert's paintings   ( 1880 - Pieter van Looy )

La Torre del Tuerto and the town of Gibraltar   ( Unknown -  Claes Jansz Vissher - detail )

Another perspective by Adam Willaerts  ( Early 17th century )

The Torre takes on massive proportions   ( 1850s - Unknown )

The Rock of Gibraltar in the distance and a rather detached or misplaced Torre del Tuerto in the foreground    ( 1628 - Simon Jacobsz Vlieger )

Engraving   ( 1632 - Willem Basse )

Helping the fallen . . . or finishing them off   ( 17th century - Villem van Senus  )

The Battle of Gibraltar - yet another view   ( Unknown )

Commemorative coin   ( Unknown )

Allegory of the Battle of Gibraltar   ( Early 17th century - Adam Willaerts )

A modern print of the event with two glaring anachronisms - the Spanish towns of La Línea and San Roque did not exist in 1607  ( Unknown )

In 1627, however, it was payback time and the revenge - as they say - was sweet. 

An interesting coda to all this is that in 1905 two pierriers or pattereras were discovered in the remains of an old ship found under the temporary cofferdam built when the dry docks were being constructed. They were identified as being part of the armament of one of the Spanish ships involved in the battle. The guns were presented to the Garrison Library. In 1939 one of these was on loan at Gibraltar Museum.

Land based pierriers or pattereras  (Unknown )