The People of Gibraltar
1713 - The Dusty Archives of Utrecht

The birthday of British Gibraltar can be said to be the 11th of April, 1713, when the territory was formally ceded by Spain, by which time the earliest identifiable ancestors of present-day Gibraltarians had already taken roots on the Rock since its capture in 1704. However, the treaty (see LINK) that enabled the situation to occur would best be deposited in a museum, as the historical curiosity that it is, and consigned to oblivion.

1714 - Allegory Utrecht  ( After Paolo de Matteis )

The question today whether Gibraltarians have a right to the homeland they have occupied continuously for some 300 years, during which a unique multi-ethnic society has been welded into homogeneity without internal strife, can only be settled by 21st century values, and not by reference to a document drafted in an era separated from ours by a gulf.

A brief review of some historical facts of the Europe of the years between 1704 and 1713 should drive the point home. The 18th century is sometimes referred to as the Age of Reason or the Age of Enlightenment, which no doubt is true of the philosophy, science and the Arts that were emerging at the time, but precious little enlightenment filtered down to the world of politics. 

Democracy was known simply as a form of government the Ancient Greeks had tried once - after a fashion - and the concept "Human Rights" obviously had no meaning, considering the non-stop transportation of African slaves across the Atlantic. Most of Europe was ruled by absolute monarchs or despots of one kind or another, or mercantile oligarchies; and if England did have a parliament of sorts it had little to do with our modern idea of democracy.

At a technological level it is not a gulf that separates the early 18th century from the early 21st but an abyss. Although a steam engine had been invented in 1712 by Thomas Newcomen, its sole function was to pump water out of deep coalmines. The world would have to wait nearly a century before James Watt developed the steam engine that eventually revolutionised transport and industry.

Chemistry had only just begun to emerge from medieval alchemy, and the muskets that contributed to Marlborough's famous victories of the Spanish Succession War were at best distant relatives of the Kalashnikov.

A map of Europe at the time of Utrecht shows a bewildering patchwork of divisions in the areas where Germany and Italy would appear today. Germany was not a nation but a collection of small independent states, the debris of the original Holy Roman Empire of Charlemagne - which still existed in name as a somewhat nebulous entity which has been described as neither Holy, Roman nor an empire - and the disastrous religious conflict known as the Thirty Years War. 

Predominant among these states was Prussia, and on the very eve of Utrecht Frederick William I became King, a man who was described as having the mentality of a drill sergeant and who ran his country like a military unit, incidentally laying the foundations of the Prussian militarism that two centuries later would culminate in the First World War. 

Signing of the Treaty of Utrecht  ( 18th century - Unknown )

Another version of the signing with Queen Anne on the right ( 18th century - Unknown )

However, in another state, the Duchy of Weimar; 28-year-old Johann Sebastian Bach was laying the foundations of something more enlightened; modern classical music. But beyond his locality his compositions would remain largely unknown, to be rediscovered some fifty years after his death. Nor was his instrument the piano, but the organ and clavier, for the piano had only just been invented, and it would be some years before Johann Stein began to produce his unrivalled instruments. 

Another famous name in the music world, Prussian-born George Frederick Handel, was already active at the time, having produced his first work in 1704; and in 1712, on a visit to England made it his permanent home and later became a naturalised British citizen.

As for Italy, it was not a nation but a geographical region, comprising the independent states of Savoy, Milan, Genoa, Venice, Florence, and the Papacy. The southern half of the Italian boot, including the islands of Scilly and Sardinia, had been Spanish possessions for over a century, but were forfeited to Austria by the Treaty of Utrecht. 

The  emergence of  Italy  as a nation was still two centuries in the future. Meanwhile, Antonio Stradivari of Cremona was beginning to produce violins that were never to be improved upon. And, incidentally, neither  Greece nor the Balkans existed as nations; all that eastern region of Europe had been part of the Turkish Ottoman Empire since 1456, and would remain so till the dawn of the 19th century.

Comparative population figures, too, highlight another fundamental difference between the world of Utrecht and ours. The population of the UK in 1707 was more or less that of present-day London. France, the most densely populated country in Europe, had some 19 million inhabitants - and the Spain that had carved for itself a huge empire across the Atlantic, had some 9 million.

And while on the subject of empires, for England the War of the Spanish Succession was also a colonial war, and her main spoils were additional overseas possessions. In my schooldays, the political atlas of the world was daubed with large sections in red to denote the empire "on which the sun never set." The equivalent on an atlas drawn just before 1713 would have been a narrow strip on the Atlantic seaboard of North America, with a European population of under half-a-million, and a few dots in the West Indies, and on the coasts of Africa and India. After Utrecht, another strip of North America would have been added, and a couple more dots; Gibraltar and Minorca.

It is worth recalling that it was only about half-a-century ago that the people who had inhabited the Rock since 1704 were recognised as "Gibraltarians". Hitherto, on the several occasions when the return of Gibraltar to Spain in exchange for some political advantage was mooted by the British Government, had the idea been adopted the existence of a long-standing population on the Rock would have counted for nothing - they would simply have been transferred like so much cattle that happened to be grazing on the territory. 

Today, if all those lofty principles enshrined (lofty principles are always "enshrined", never simply "included") in the United Nations Charter are to mean anything, those methods are no longer acceptable, whether Britain "owns" the Rock or not.

Written by Eric Chipulina - 2002