The People of Gibraltar
1730 - Robert Walpole - Let Sleeping Dogs Lie

From my schooldays, the only thing I remember about Robert Walpole - Prime Minister of Great Britain in the late 17th and early 18th century - was that he believed in laissez-faire as a political philosophy and that he was the originator of the well-known phrase "let sleeping dogs lie".

Robert Walpole 1st Ear of Orford   ( 1742 - Arthur Pond )

It seems to have escaped my rather blunt intellect that both phases mean roughly the same thing and that although he was wont to repeat the "dogs" phrase with monotonous regularity he was not the originator of the phrase.

Of interest to me now - if certainly not then - is the fact that he and William Stanhope participated in the negotiations that lead to the signing of the Treaty of Seville (see LINK) which it would seem will forevermore be associated - together with the Treaty of Utrecht (see LINK) - with Britain's right to Gibraltar in general and large chunks of its isthmus in particular - despite the fact that the Treaty fails to mention Gibraltar in any of its many articles.

Luckily, Walpole left us his thoughts on the Treaty, in his pamphlet Observations on the Treaty of Seville Examined which was published in 1730; just three years after the 13th Siege of Gibraltar had ended. It is a curious document in which Walpole outlines his justifiable misgivings as regards the future of Gibraltar as a British possession. The following quotes include the entire section dealing with Gibraltar - more or less four out of a total of thirty four pages.
We are told, that as the first Article renews and confirms all former Treaties and Conventions, in the same manner as if they were actually referred to Word for Word in this; It is evident that we have here a very full Acknowledgment on the Part of Spain of our Right to Gibraltar . . . . But it seems that this is not all.  
The Care of our Ministers about this important Point hath been still more extensive and exact. The second Article goes still farther, and by it the King of Spain himself, gives hisMajesty his Guaranty for all his Kingdoms, States and Dominions and consequently for the Possession of these very Places. 
There is in this whole Paragraph, such a Mixture of Assurance, Ignorance, and Levity, as cannot, I think, be match'd in any of the Writers, even of that Side. Has it not been shewn, that the Court of Spain acquir'd, in 1721 what they call a Right, and what we must allow to be a Pretence (though we shall insist that it is not a valid one) to demand the Restitution of Gibraltar ? 

Mapa de los Contornos de Gibraltar   ( 1726 - Diego Bordick - Detail )
Has it not been demonstrated that this Pretension is supported by one of the Private treaties made at Madrid, in the same Year that it is revived even by the Preliminaries, and manifestly included in the Act of the Pardo, explanatory of these Preliminaries? All this has been urged over and over. It has not been answer'd, and this Author is defied to answer it.  
With what Face then (except his own) can it be declared evident that we have, by the first Article of the 'Treaty of Seville, a full Acknowledgment on the Part of Spain, of our Right to Gibraltar . . . . 
In other words, if the Treaty of Utrecht can be described as the most poorly drafted ever, then the Treaty of Seville - in so far as Gibraltar is concerned - has often been proposed as a close second.  My own opinion is that there were in both cases mitigating circumstances. In the case of the Treaty of Utrecht, the focus lay elsewhere and the question of where Gibraltar began and where it ended was not really considered by either party. 

In the 17th century the word "Gibraltar" did not refer only to the Rock and its town - where most of the population lived - but to a far larger area surrounding it which was used by its inhabitants for agricultural and other purposes - hence the name Campo de Gibraltar which has persisted to this day. When the Spaniards ceded "Gibraltar" they understandably meant the town and nothing else.

The British on the other hand were as yet probably not paying too much attention to the problem of owning a garrison town with a hostile with a hostile neighbour staring down its throat. They probably didn't even think they would hold on to the place for as long as they eventually did. Minorca, often mentioned in the same breath as Gibraltar in diplomatic circles of the day changed hands no less than six time from 1708 to 1802 - the treaty of Seville notwithstanding. 

1756 - The loss of  Minorca

The Convention of El Pardo mentioned above took place in 1739 during Walpole's premiership. It had nothing to do with Gibraltar and everything to do with Britain's rights to sell slaves to the Spanish colonies in America. But to continue:
Let him learn that we have not this full Acknowledgement of our Right, for the very Reason he gives to prove that we have it because all former Treaties and Conventions are renewed and confirmed.  
When subsequent Treaties and Conventions derogate, in any Respect, from Those, which preceded them, and they are all renew'd and confirm'd alike. He might, one would imagine perceive that they must explain one another; and that the former Treaties and Conventions are renew'd and confirm'd, subject to the Alterations made in them, or to the Derogations made from them by the latter and not otherwise. 
It is evident therefore that Room is still left to the Spaniards, at a proper Time and Plaa~ to chicane with us again upon our Right to these foreign Acquisitions.  
Nor will the Article of Guaranty be sufficient to redress this Matter; because it is given in Pursuance of the Treaties, and the whole Obligation is limited according to the Treaties; from whence it follows that the Spaniards may hereafter (and I doubt much they will) contend that though we have the Possession still, we have not still the Right to these Places, which we acquired by the Treaty of Utrecht; that therefore the Guaranty, given by the Treaty of Seville, cannot be construed to extend to the Right, and that it does not so much as mention the Possession. 
The Observator supposes our Possession guaranty'd and affirms it secured beyond all Possibility of Doubt or Cavil. How reasonably or ingenuously let any indifferent Person judge. 
Had the fame Terms been made Use of in the second Article of the Treaty of Seville, the King of Spain had certainly guarantyd to us both Gibraltar and the Island of Minorca, even without naming them ; but these Terms are not used in that Article. If they were not insisted upon, how will our Ministers justify their Neglect?  If they were insisted upon, how will our Ministers justify the Cordiality and Sincerity of the Spanish Court; or cure the Apprehensions entertained in Britain?

Dutch map showing the taking of Gibraltar by Anglo-Dutch forces in 1704 ( see LINK) - windmills on the isthmus and a hinterland covered with vineyards and orchards   ( 1712 - G Van Keulen )
There is one Argument more, which I think unanswerable to this Writer, and must put the Affair of Gibraltar beyond all Possibility of Doubt or Cavil, with Him at least. He will be ready enough, I dare say, to acknowledge the Treaty of Utrecht to be deficient in any Particular; and I must agree with him that it is really so, in not stipulating for a proper District of Ground round about Gibraltar, beyond the Reach of Cannon Shot, as is usually granted to Garrison Towns.  
By this Defect, the Spaniards claim all the Land, without the Town, up to the very Walls of it, as appeared by the Answer of the Conde de las Torres to our Governor, when he made the first Approaches to it; and perhaps the Words "Terres de leur Obeisance, in the Article of Guaranty (as extensive as He boasts them to be) may be construed by theSpaniards so as not to include or comprehend the Town and Fortress of Gibraltar.  
It is therefore somewhat surprising that so wise a Minister should found the Security of that Place on a Treaty, to which he hath made so many Objections, and to which all the World must allow this Objection to be just. One would think, that when he was apprised of this Omission, by the Siege of that Place, he would have supplied it in the late Treaty and insisted to have as much Ground granted, as is usual to other Garrison Towns

The bone of contention - the isthmus north of the Rock of Gibraltar ( 1721 - William Van der Hagen )
Since he could not plead Inadvertency in his Excuse, as the Negotiators ofthe Utrecht Treaty perhaps might; and yet This, we see, he has not done, however reasonable and necessary ; nay, I have been told it was own'd publickly, by this Writer himself, that if we had presumed so much as to mention anything, relating to Gibraltar, it would have been sufficient to have induced the Spaniards to break off all farther Negotiations from whence we may certainly conclude that the Spaniards, according to their Judgment and Construction of the Treaty, have effectually preserved their Pretensions to that Fortress.
And therein lay the main problem. To simply agree that all previous treaties between the participants would remain valid and in force as had originally been intended allowed everybody to continue to interpret these treaties just as ambiguously as they had in the past - and Utrecht, of course, was worded in just such a way that both the Britain and Spain could usefully interpret it in whichever way they wanted.

That the "possession" should have included an area "beyond the Reach of Cannon Shot, as is usually granted to Garrison Towns" is true. If it had been it would have saved us all a lot of trouble. But unfortunately it wasn't - neither in the Treaty of Utrecht nor that of Seville.

That the Spaniards threatened to walk out if Gibraltar was so much as mentioned during the negotiations is understandable - that the British didn't call their bluff is not. The reason for this of course was that from a British point of view both Gibraltar - and Minorca which as mentioned previously they actually did manage to lose more than once at a later date - were relatively unimportant in contrast to possible future arrangements concerning the Asiento - the selling slaves was big, big business in the 18th century - especially the selling of slaves to the Spanish colonies in America.