The People of Gibraltar
1462 - Gibraltar - The Spanish Fortress - Part 2
The 17th Century

The main problem regarding the lack of professional soldiers necessary for a proper defence of the town was neither that the King nor the lack of requests by the relevant Spanish authorities but rather that the residents were loath to have soldiers quartered within the city walls. If soldiers were needed they should be camped well away from the town in the Campo area. Better still, should military aid be necessary then a request for a company of about 200 soldiers stationed in Seville should do the trick. 

El Campo de Gibraltar - which includes Gaucin and Jimena in the north east, Alcala de los Gazules in the north west, Tarifa in the extreme south, and the nearby townships of Castellar, Algeciras, Los Barrios, San Roque, La Línea de la Concepción and of course, Gibraltar    (1862)

There was hardly any change during the early decades of the 17th century and people such as the Italian architect and military engineer Tiburzio Spannocchi who was visiting the Rock on behalf of Phillip II of Spain and who should have known better was actually in favour of the status quo:
(Gibraltarians) are different to those from other places as all of them are soldiers who patrol and guard the place so well that they oblige your majesty to congratulate them for it.
Nevertheless a more or less diplomatic solution was found. A barracks was constructed by the New Mole well outside the town’s precincts, a sop that hardly resolved the underlying problem. 

The New Mole and its fortifications were developed in 1627 - as suggested by the plans shown above - Whether the barracks was retained, modified or rebuilt post Spannochi is a matter of conjecture for me    (1627 - Luis Bravo de Acuña)

They were living dangerously. The British were already sniffing the air. In 1620 Spain allowed the English to use Gibraltar as a base to fight the ever more adventurous Barbary pirates who were now actually raiding as far north as the English coast.  

Barbary privateer captured by an English ship

James I sent a squadron under Sir Robert Mansell and at some point during his campaign Mansell landed in Gibraltar several seriously ill members of his crew from a squadron of 18 ships. They were well looked after at the Hospital de San Juan de Dios.   The hospital had been founded by a local resident Juan Mateo in 1567 specifically to care for sick mariners.

Sir Robert Mansell - Admiral of the Narrow Seas (1615)

The Town of Gibraltar - The Hospital de San Juan de Dios is the large building with a courtyard that appears on the middle top of the plan  (1627 -Luis Bravo de Acuña)

In 1625 England was once again at war with Spain and a fleet under the command of Viscount Wimbledon was sent south to harass the Spaniards in the Straits of Gibraltar. The campaign proved to be an unmitigated disaster but during a council of war held off Cape Trafalgar there was a first real recognition by the British about the usefulness of taking possession of the Rock. It was thought that:
. . . the place was of great importance as being such by the advantage whereof he trades from all parts of the Levant might be brought under our command; That being but a small place it was the easier to be manned, victualled, and holden if once taken.

Edward Cecil - Viscount Wimbledon       (Michiel Jansz van Miereveldt)

In 1655 Oliver Cromwell now Lord Protector was at war with Spain and a British fleet under Admiral Robert Blake and General at-sea Edward Montagu was sent to operate against the southern ports of Spain. Cromwell suggested that they should try to capture Cadiz and if that was not possible then they should try elsewhere such as:
. .  the town and castle of Gibraltar.
Cromwell, undoubtedly influenced by his almost pathological hatred of Spain was convinced - as had the members of the council off Cape Trafalgar thirty years earlier. As he asked in his letter dated 1656 addressed to both Blake and Montagu that if they did mange this would it not be:
. . . .an advantage to our trade and an annoyance to the Spaniard: and enable us without keeping so great a fleet on that coast, with six nimble frigates lodged there do the Spaniard more harm than by a fleet?

Oliver Cromwell      (Samuel Cooper)

Admiral Robert Blake - Often acknowledged as the founder of the Royal Navy Blake    (1829 - Henry. P. Briggs)

Edward Montagu - 1st Earl of Sandwich      (1666 - Peter Lely)

Montague was perceptive enough to realise that Cromwell was taken with the idea of capturing Gibraltar and advised his leader with this in mind:
I perceive much desire that Gibraltar should be taken. My thoughts as to that are, in short, these: That the likeliest way to get it is, By landing on the sand, and quickly cutting it off between sea and sea, or so securing our men there as that they may hinder the intercourse of the Town with the Main; frigates lying near, too, to assist them: and it is well known that Spain never victualleth any place for one month. This will want Four or Five thousand men, well formed and officered.  This is my own only thought which I submit, at present.

Admiral George Rooke’s Plan (1705)

This plan shown above confirms Oliver Cromwell’s approval of Montague’s’s plan - The text reads as follows:
Ol. Cromwell had designs upon this place and would have cut this neck of land to make Gibraltar an island
In 1661, an officer employed by the governor of Gibraltar obtained what he considered to be interesting news while on a visit to Tangier - the British were planning to take Gibraltar.  These plans were of course out of date. Cromwell had died in 1658 and Charles II had little interest in picking a quarrel with Spain.

Charles II of England

In 1677 the Savoyard Raimundo de Lantry overheard in the British Consulate in Algiers that Sir John Lozen the Admiral of the British squadrons of the Mediterranean entertained plans to isolate Gibraltar from the mainland - as had been suggested previously by Edward Montagu, but the Spaniards continued to view the defensive shortcomings of the place with a singular lack of urgency. The garrison in Gibraltar consisted of scarcely a hundred men and its fortifications which were still badly in need of attention continued to remain unrepaired.

One fine day in June the inhabitants of the Gibraltar suddenly became aware that something unusual was happening. The year was 1693 and Spain was at war with France. In the distance at least 19 large and well laden merchant-men followed by four warships flying English flags were sailing through the gut and were heading towards the Bay of Gibraltar. Nothing unusual here except that they were being pursued by some twenty French men-of-war. 

The merchant-men tried to shelter in the New Mole where the defensive tower known as the Torre del Tuerto might offer them some protection. That was the theory. In practice the tower only had eight serviceable guns, not enough to make the slightest difference. 

Torre del Tuerto      (1607 - Detail - Adam Willaers)

The warships took up their position opposite the merchant-men on the bay-side of the Mole and even managed to land a few of their own canons to supplement those in the Torre del Tuerto.  But it was all too little and too late. The French squadron was led by Admiral Alain Emmanuel de Coëtlogon, a man who had as yet never lost a battle at sea and as far as I can make out - never would. 

Admiral Alain Emmanuel de Coëtlogon

Coëtlogon ordered the bombardment of the warships and by the second day he had either damaged or set fire to them. They were soon beyond repair.  

The painting shows fewer wrecks, hardly any ships on fire and fewer smaller boats carrying crews to shore than was actually the case - Most of the action is focused on the Old Mole rather than the New one which would have been considerably further south and out of sight from this perspective       (Théodore Gudin)

Perhaps as a result of the ease with which Coëtlogon had been able to bombard the harbour and town, Juan de Carrera, Captain General of the Spanish artillery sent a review on the state of Gibraltar’s defences to the authorities in Madrid. The town, he argued, was reasonably well supplied with weaponry - 52 bronze cannon, 30 made of iron and 6 Pedreros or short barrel ordnance. There was also a good supply of different types of hand held guns. There was civilian militia but - as had been insisted upon by the local population for quite some time, there were no professional soldiers on the Rock. According to Carreras:
 . . . the eight companies that make up the entire militia are made up of local men of spirit well drilled in the use of arms. They are so poor that on those occasions when they are unable to work at sea or cultivate the land, they will not be able to eat.
It is rather unfair to compare local amateurs with the real thing. Spanish artillery of the era and later during the early 18th century was actually held in very high regard. To quote an article on Spanish Ordnance 1745-65 by Stephen Summerfield:
Without doubt the most efficient part of the Spanish Army was the Artillery and sundry technical services. Renounced for their fanatical bravery the gunners often fought too the last man protecting their Gribeauval pieces. Oman (1902) also complimented the artillery.
The close association of the Spanish and French ruling houses since 1700 gave a strong French influence to Spanish ordnance. Foundries for casting bronze cannon were formed at Seville (Est. 1662 by Juan Gerardo

French style 24 pdr brass cannon - The ones sent to Gibraltar were probably smaller

The man who can be identified as the first person to realize that there was plenty of money to made on the Rock – albeit illegally - was actually not one of its Governors as would be the case later, but a Rear-Admiral. George Byng had been the man in charge of the bombardment squadron during Rooke’s capture of Gibraltar. Having done the dirty work he very quickly set about paying himself for the effort. The first thing he did was help himself to a couple of dozen Spanish brass cannon. 

Rear-Admiral. George Byng

Unfortunately two of these actually belonged to his nominal boss, Prince George of Hesse-Darmstadt so he was forced to return them. To make up for this loss he ‘bought’ all the wine in Gibraltar with a view to taking it back with him to England. In fact he was probably pilfering just about everything he could lay his hands on. 

Typical Spanish mortar with a brass bed

What was definitely in short supply were much needed materials for the repairs of the town’s many walls and bastions. Nor were there enough reserves of food in the form of cattle and wheat.

Admiral George Rooke 

There is a curious claim by some historians that Rooke was among those trapped and fired upon in Gibraltar during the Coëtlogon affair. It may be based on a misinterpretation. The merchantmen had indeed been part of a convoy under his protection but he and his ship probably managed to return to England unscathed, evading the consequences of what proved to be a major - and very expensive - disaster.