The People of Gibraltar
1587 - Monasterio de Santa Clara - Gibraltar

Bentura de Espinosa and Isable Lozano - María and Isabel Espinosa
Leonora Gentil - Juana Gasco, Francisca de Areste and Teresa Narvaez
Giovanni Maria Boschetti and General George Don

El Monasterio de Santa Clara   ( 1627 - Louis Bravo de Acuña -detail)  (See LINK

In the late 16th century in what was at the time a very male dominated society, Mses María and Isabel de Espinosa were two very well known young residents of Gibraltar. They were not just pretty - but pretty rich as well. Perhaps it was these two attributes that encouraged Alonso Hernández del Portillo to go out of his way to mention his own family’s tenuous connections with theirs in his Historia de Gibraltar - he was married to the daughter of the brother of the fellow who had married the sister of the mother of the two young “doncellas”!

But perhaps making fun of Portillo is to do him an injustice as the two young ladies claim to fame lies elsewhere. First of all let me start by describing another of Gibraltar’s monasteries.

In 1583 Phillip II of Spain issued a convoluted decree in which he gave his apparently belated approval to the founding of the Monasterio de Nuestra Señora de la Merced using the Ermita de Santa Ana as their base - “apparently belated” in the sense that the monks in question were already in Gibraltar occupying the Ermita.

Philip II - el Prudente   (16th Century - Sofonisba Anguissola)
I find it hard to pinpoint exactly where one would have been able to find the Ermita at that time but my guess is that the location of the hermitage and its church were found within two blocks of houses on either side of Calle Mercado (Market Street) with its main entrance and facade in Calle Santa Ana (Irish Town) a street which almost certainly took its name from the Hermitage.

The main properties of the Espinosa family were close by. They extended from Calle Real (Main Street) to Calle Santa Ana. The northern and western boundaries were Calle Nueba (Tuckey’s Lane) and an unnamed street today known as Parliament Lane. According to local historian Bill Cummings it was so called because in pre 1704 days one of its main buildings was the Spanish town hall.

(1627 - Luis Bravo de Acuña - detail - adapted)  (See LINK)

All of which more than suggests that by the time their parents had passed away Maria and Isabel Espinosas were a couple of pretty well-off women. The fact that the family also owned and rented out other properties both on the Rock and elsewhere in the Campo de Gibraltar - in particular desirable vineyards in the south - was probably more than enough to allow them to do what they did next which is neatly described by Ignacio Lopez de Ayala in his Historia de Gibraltar which was published in 1782. (See LINK)
Seis años después (1587) tuvo también principio el monasterio de religiosas Franciscas con la advocacion de santa Clara. Había alcanzado antes la ciudad licencia real (the above mentioned Cedula from Phillip II) para un establecimiento semejante, i con este fin se habían destinado algunas rentas que se atesoraban hasta juntar cantidad suficiente para la fundación; pero la aceleraron dos señoras principales del pueblo Doña María y Dofia Isabel de Espinosa . . . . Eran ambas doncellas y ricas pero apreciando la tranquilidad de la vida religiosa, resolvieron abrazarla i dedicar su patrimonio á la fundación de un monasterio.
The two ladies then took their proposals to the principal Franciscan Friar of the Province of Andalucía - father Francisco de Meseva - who accepted their offer to found a monastery in Gibraltar and accepted their various conditions which included the following:
Que perpetuamente habían de entrar sin dote alguno dos monjas de su familia; que vendría a darles el habito su tía sor Leonor Gentil, profesa en Santa Clara de Sevilla; que había de quedar en calidad de abadesa y traer las religiosas que señalase. 
In exchange for all this they were prepared to allow the Monastery to be built on their property next to that of Nuestra Señora de la Merced and its church of Santa Ana donating an additional 12 000 Ducats to cover the costs. The place was eventually opened in 1587 led by Sister Leonora Gentil as Abbess and the three other nuns - Sisters Juana Gasco, Francisca de Areste and Teresa Narvaez- which she had brought with her from Seville. 

E.R.Kenyon in his 1911 Gibraltar under Moor, Spaniard and Briton suggests that Sister Gentil’s name is recalled “although perhaps not intentionally” by Leonora’s Cave. I must say that I doubt very much whether the two names are connected. What I do know is that María and Isabel de Espinosa joined and became nuns soon after. Over the years the number of Sisters gradually grew to well over seventy.

Leonora’s Cave - Gibraltar - Captain Brome (see LINK) explored this cave system in 1867. He named it after his wife Leonora claiming that the cave was ‘of unimaginable beauty’ - In other words, the name had nothing to do with Ms Gentile

By 1627 Alonso Hernández del Portillo - Gibraltar’s first proper historian - had quite few nice things to say about it:
El Monasterio de Santa Clara es de monjas y grande recogimiento y observancia, tanto que los Frailes de San Francisco a quien está subordinado, afirman ser el de mayor santidad y recogimiento en su Provincia. . . y va creciendo en número de Religiosas con la santidad y bondad que hemos dicho.
The place seems to have eased itself into its role as the youngest of Gibraltar’s main Monasteries - the others being el Monasterio de San Francisco de la Observerancia (the Convent) (see LINK) and Nuestra Señora de la Merced (see LINK).

Probably location of the Monasterio de Santa Clara    (1753 - James Montressor - detail - adapted)  (See LINK)

In 1693 the smooth routines of convent life were interrupted by the entrance into the Bay of several large English merchantmen under the protection of Admiral George Rooke. They were being perused by an even larger number of French warships under Admiral Coëtlogon. The British sheltered alongside the New Mole, the Spaniards refused to hand them over to the French as England was at that time their ally and an exasperated French Admiral turned his guns against the town. (See LINK

In a rehearsal of what would happen almost a decade later, the nuns all rushed out of town and took refuge in various churches and chapels in the southern area - in particular the Chapel of our Lady of Europa - leaving just one nun to look after the Monastery. As far as I can make out there were no casualties and the nuns returned to their cloistered life nine days later.

1693 - Vice Admiral Coëtlogon’s expedition

But perhaps the word “cloistered” is not the appropriate one. I doubt whether it had a similar meaning that it has today. All these local Monasteries- and many other churches and chapels - were money-making machines. They all seem to have owned lands and other properties which they rented, leased or sold for a profit. They received all sorts of donations from the rich and powerful and religious favours in the form of special dispensations, the purchases of commemorative masses and rights of burials inside places of worship rather than in graveyards were sold for hard cash - as they were of course, everywhere else in Spain and indeed Europe.

In 1704 it all came to an end. During the assault on the Rock before its eventual capture by Anglo-Dutch forces, the town was heavily bombarded. (See LINK) Once again the nuns fled south. This time, however the enemy did not sail away. Instead Gibraltar capitulated and the nuns - along with the great majority of the population - left the Rock for what they thought would be temporary exile. Ignacio Lopez de Ayala left us with a detailed account of what happened next to the nuns of Santa Clara:

1704 - The Anglo-Dutch assault on Gibraltar
El espectáculo más sensible para las gentes sensatas y cristianas fue el necesario destierro de las religiosas del convento de santa Clara, que en número de sesenta y cinco salieron de él entre mil temores y zozobras. Dispersas por el campo, y fatigadas del camino, que es molesto por los arenales, y muy áspero por las malezas, llegaron a la villa de Jimena, cuatro leguas distante, y fueron recogidas en el convento de padres Recoletos, extramuros de la villa, retirándose los religiosos a vivir entretanto a la enfermería que tienen dentro de poblado. 
Noticiosos sus superiores de la desgracia las repartieron en diversos conventos en grado de pupilaje a su usanza en esta forma: diez y siete en santa Isabel de Ronda; doce en santa Clara de Sevilla; ocho en santa Inés de la misma ciudad; nueve en el de Madre de Dios de Jerez; seis en santa Clara de Osuna; cuatro en Morón; tres en los conventos de la misma advocación. Pocos anos ha acabo santamente la última de estas religiosas en el de la ciudad de Ronda.
To record in such fine detail what happened to a smallish group of nuns when another 4000 inhabitants of the Rock suffered more or less the same fate as they did - or worse - says something about the diffidence and affection which the nuns of Santa Clara must have been held in at the time.

Cruel, satirical cartoon showing almost the entire population of Gibraltar leaving their home town never to return  (Unknown)

But left they did and the new Protestant landlords soon began to use el Monasterio de Santa Clara for other more secular purposes -  a military prison with a special section reserved for anybody who was insane and considered a public nuisance.

In 1728 at least part of the church and other buildings were converted into a barracks but the association of the place with people suffering from mental illness persisted to such an extent that the street to the north of it connecting Main Street to Irish Town - Calle Nueva - became known as Bedlam Court, an ironic reference to the notorious London institution Bethlem Hospital used for similar purposes if somewhat grander in appearance. Curiously, in 1772, a visitor - Francis Carter - mentions Bethlem Barracks - as against Bedlam - unfortunately attributing this name name to another converted church elsewhere.

The Monastery of Santa Clara once stood here - Bedlam Court corner with Main Street  (Possibly 1930s)

The real McCoy    (Possibly late 18th century)
Over time these makeshift church-based barracks failed to meet the Garrison’s needs and the gradual construction of buildings fit for purpose made the use of places such Bethlem Barracks surplus to requirements. During the early 19th century the place was bought by Giovanni Maria Boschetti a well-known local architect (see LINK) and friend to the rich and powerful - including General Don (See LINK). Could it be possible that the building we see today on the corner of Bedlam Court and Main Street was designed by him?

 Giovanni Maria Boschetti

And that really is the end of the story of el Monasterio de Santa Clara  . . . . although perhaps it might be of interest to any future amateur historian the reason why my account ignores the published research of George Palao - a local historian who was a pioneer not just in his research on the history of the Spanish churches of Gibraltar but of much, much else as well. But allow me to quote him.
Church of Santa Clara – also called the Church of Saint Anne  . . . originally called the Convento de Santa Ana it stood at the junction of Main Street and Tuckey’s Lane which was once called St Anne’s Street (Calle de Santa Ana) . . . Nuestra Señora de la Merced (Our Lady of Grace). This convent and church . . . . became the beautiful monastery of White Friars . . . it stood on the site of Cloister Buildings in Irish Town known as Calle de la Merced.

El Monasterio de Santa Clara ( 1970 - Adapted from George Palao )

I am not quite sure why Palao thought that Tuckey’s Lane was once known as Calle Santa Ana and Irish town as Calle de la Merced. All other historians seem to be in agreement that it is Irish Town that was called Santa Ana and I can’t find any other reference that it had ever been known as la Calle de la Merced - despite the presence on it of the Monastery of the same name. As for Tuckey’s Lane, this was almost certainly called Calle Nueva when Gibraltar was part of Spain.