The People of Gibraltar
1462 - Gibraltar - The Spanish Fortress - Part 1
The 15th and 16th Century

Following the upheavals of previous medieval conflicts, in 1539, Gibraltar edged its way into the modern era. It was then that the both the city and the fortress became the backdrop of a struggle between the Spanish admiral Álvaro Bazán - and later his son of the same name - and Algerian corsairs such as Alí Hamet and Caramani.

The appointment of his under-aged son as Alcalde of Gibraltar meant that Álvaro Bazán senior as Captain General of the Spanish Galleys was more or less forced to increase his involvement in the affairs of Gibraltar. He really had little option - the town’s defences were not what they should have been. 

Álvaro Bazán the younger - 1st Marquis of Santa Cruz

That his concerns were more than justified were confirmed by the notorious Turkish raid of 1540 (see LINK) in which both Alí Hamet and Caramani were involved. This episode has been recorded in great detail by the soldier, writer and historian Perez Barrantes Maldonado who arrived  in Gibraltar a few days after the raid - and by Gibraltar’s first Historian, Alonso Hernández del Portillo.

Ever since Muhammed V of Granada razed Algeciras to the ground in 1379 Gibraltar had become the only town with any military relevance in the Bay. During the 17th century its galleys defended the northern shores of the Straits while the opposite shores were looked after by Ceuta. 

Map of the Straits of Gibraltar      (1628 - Luis Bravo de Acuña)

The above map more or less confirms that at any rate right up to the beginning of the 17th C Algeciras remained sparsely inhabited with no input whatsoever into the military and political manoeuvrings of the day. “Yila”  is la Isla Verde” - the Green Island which in Arabic is al-Jazīra al-Khaḍrā, from which Algeciras got its name.

Algeciras still in ruins in nearly 400 years later   (1726 - John Breval)

Towards the east Malaga was the most important town. The west was theoretically guarded by the out-dated fortress of Tarifa which lay a considerable distance from Cadiz, the next important Spanish port.

Muhammad V of Granada

It was this discrepancy in their defences that encouraged the Spanish monarchs of the day to develop the fortifications of Gibraltar and to establish a network of coastal defensive signal towers that mimicked their Moorish predecessors.  The Spanish Royal Engineers were particularly keen on improving Gibraltar’s defences as the Rock continued to be thought of as “La Llave de España”. 

After the conquest of the Rock the coat of arms of house of Medina Sidonia included for a while the phrase “The Keys of Straits belong to the house of Guzman”. The coat of arms with its golden key hanging from it also symbolises the place as the Key of Spain.

The coat of arms of Gibraltar

The design on the original document in which the coat of arms of Gibraltar was granted by King Ferdinand II of Aragon and Queen Isabella I of Castile - legend has it that Isabella embroidered the original flag with the help of her daughter Juana la Loca As Sáez mentions in a footnote, the castle and key metaphor was not unique to Gibraltar in the 16th century. According to Pedro Barrantes Maldonado in his Ilustraciones de la Casa de Niebla
Tarifa is now the guardian and key of the whole of Spain.

Tarifa’s coat of arms

At the end of the 14th century, Gibraltar and Tarifa were the main points used to attack the Moorish Kingdom of Granada. But it was soon obvious that the Bay of Gibraltar was less likely to be affected by bad weather than the dangerous waters around Punta de Tarifa, the southernmost point of the Iberian Peninsula and Continental Europe. In 1462 much to the delight of Enrique IV of Castile, the Duke of Medina Sidonia - and others - conquered Gibraltar from its Nasrid defenders. Soon afterwards Enrique IV transferred what might be termed the land rights of the town of Algeciras to Gibraltar. 

Enrique IV of Castile - From a contemporary manuscript   (Mid 15th century)

The theory was that this would allow Gibraltar to increase its revenues by adding to its taxable resources and would allow it to improve its defences accordingly.

Gibraltar and its hinterland (1712 - Gerard Van Keulen)

Eight years after Gibraltar was captured by Anglo-Dutch forces in the name of the Hapsburg pretender to the throne of Spain - almost the entire Rock and neighbouring land seems to have been given over to the cultivation of grapes   
Unfortunately the transfer of the land rights of Algeciras meant that previous royal arrangements by which the neighbouring towns became null and void. Tarifa, Jerez, Medina Sidonia and Castellar immediately lost out on their old privileges as regards the use of pastures for their cattle and - in the case of Tarifa its extremely profitable fishing rights.

Conil        (1572 - Georgius Houfnaglius )

It was from Tarifa and Conil with its almadrabas that the Medina Sidonia family made a good percentage of their money. They would not have been amused.

“The place and form of the City of Medina (Sidonia) is like this” (1541 - Pedro Barrantes Maldonado)

The result was a series of angry pleas to anybody in authority willing to listen, that some of the rights they had lost were those of common usage and that other rights that they had now lost had been given to them by the King. In 1514, the case was finally resolved in favour of Gibraltar. 

In 1462, not long after the end of the 8th siege Enrique IV miscalculated badly. He dismissed Pedro de Porras, who had previously been installed as governor of Gibraltar, and gave it to his court favourite Beltran de la Cueva - a man whose personal relationship with the king was suspect to say the least. Beltran then compounded the mistake by appointing his brother-in-law Esteban de Villacreses as his lieutenant. 

It was one move too many for Juan Alonso de Guzmán. None of these people had done anything to deserve Gibraltar. Guzman moved against Gibraltar, besieged it and took it on the 26th of July 1467, an event known historically as the 9th Siege of Gibraltar. A year later Juan Alonso was dead - he was succeeded by his son, Enrique Perez de Guzmán y Fonseca who felt rather less attached to the Rock than many of his ancestors. 

Alonso de Guzmán 1st Duke of Medina Sidonia and - although not directly identified, the boy is almost certainly his son Enrique Perez de Guzmán y Fonseca 2nd Duke of Medina Sidoña

In 1473 Enrique opened negotiations with a certain Pedro de Herrera, the leader of the Jewish Conversos of Cordoba and Seville in what was tantamount to an offer to sell Gibraltar to him. The sale was completed in 1474 but the transfer of power only lasted a few years as Enrique Guzmán reneged on his agreement and retook Gibraltar. During all these shenanigans any improvements to the defences of Gibraltar were relegated to an afterthought.

The outcome of the legal conflict with Tarifa simply confirmed which town would be the one to take over from Algeciras as the de facto capital of the Campo area that surrounded the shores of the Bay. From that moment onwards the era of the renaissance saw Tarifa become a second rate military power with an out-of-date defensive system.

Tarifa  (1813) 

Gibraltar on the other hand would continue to improve its fortifications until it finally became an impregnable bastion capable of resisting attacks by the Bourbons during the entire 18th century - admittedly when Gibraltar was no longer Spanish.
The situation in Ceuta was also problematic. Whenever it was menaced by its hostile neighbours it was towards Gibraltar and Tarifa that it was forced to turn to. Ceuta looked towards the northern side of the Straits for its food, troop and munitions. But it also did so during compromising political situations.
For example when Henry the Chaste of Portugal the Cardinal King died in 1580 some Ceuta leaders asked the mayor of Gibraltar at the time - Antonio Felices Doreta to back the proclamation of Philip II of Spain and the 1st of Portugal.

Henry IV - the Chaste of Portugal

Both towns were of interest to England. During the War of the Spanish Succession, however, its forces took Gibraltar, after having threatened its sister city on the opposite shore. 

“Ceuta besieged by the Moors in 1693 and raised by the Spaniards in 1720”   ( Thomas Bowles)

On the 2nd of March  1535 Charles I of Spain named Álvaro de Bazán Junior as Military Governor and Captain of the fortress of Gibraltar. He was also the 1st Marquis of Santa Cruz de Marcenado, Lord of the villas of Viso and of Valdepeña, Commander of León, a member of the King’s Council, and Captain General of the Spanish Atlantic Fleet.

The Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V almost always referred to by Sáez by his other title of Charles I of Spain    (Mid 16th century - Titian)

He was born in Granada on the 12th of December 1526, was named Mayor of Gibraltar when he was nine, and knight of the order of Santiago when he was sixteen. His first famous naval victory was against the French near Galicia when he was still only seventeen years old and at 44 he made a name for himself in the Battle of Lepanto. Nevertheless, according to the British historian George Hill:
In the long term his nomination to high command at an early age was to the benefit of Spain, but in the short term it did not prove such a happy one for Gibraltar. 

Fresco - The Battle of "Marbella"     (1563 - Palacio del Marqués de Santa Cruz - Ciudad Real - With thanks to Louis Caballero)

Until recently the Rock of Gibraltar shown in this fresco has been wrongly identified as Marbella. It actually depicts the capture of ten English sailing ships in the Straits brought to Gibraltar as prizes by Álvaro Bazán junior.

The problem was that Álvaro junior - an invincible admiral who was capable of defeating all comers be they Portuguese, French, English, or Moorish and was known to his men as “Father” - was hardly ever in Gibraltar. When the Turks raided the Rock, both Bazáns were hard at work elsewhere. 

A typical Ottoman Galley - Both Bazáns would have been battling against this type of ship                                             on  what would have seemed almost a daily basis

Nor had the young mayor ever properly put into practice his father’s suggestions as regards improvements to Gibraltar’s defensive fortifications, the later to such an extent that in 1578 Felipe II had to specifically instruct Álvaro Junior to supervise the construction of what is today known as the Old Mole. 

Plan of the Old Mole   (1605 - Unknown)

It was a project that had been started a short while previously and was designed to solve a perennial problem - that of an important naval base that was suposed to serve as a bridge to Africa and as a controller the Straits yet lacked a useable harbour. The construction of a proper mole allowed Bazán junior to establish his winter quarters in Gibraltar. It was good news locally as it stimulated the creation of naval repair workshops along the coast and increased commercial activity.

On the other hand, the accidental Admiral’s efforts at modernizing Gibraltar’s land fortifications proved a dismal failure - lack of money and resources may have been the reason why given how stretched these were during Spain’s involvement in the Americas, in the Low Countries and in the Mediterranean.

Development of the Old Mole from the mid 16th to the late 19th century

When Don Juan of Austria visited Gibraltar in 1568 he reported that Gibraltar didn’t have a Mole. From the simple breakwater shown in Wyngaerde’s sketch drawn a year earlier to the heavily fortified Devil’s Tongue shown in the bottom photograph (mid 19th century) - most of the conversion the work was carried out post 1704 by British engineers.

It was only after the conquest of Granada, that Castile transferred its military attentions to North Africa.

Mohammad XII aka Boabdil, the last Nasrid ruler of Granada gives the keys of the city to Ferdinand II who was accompanied by his wife, Isabella I of Castile  in 1492  (F. Pradilla)

In 1497 they conquered Melilla and in 1505 Mazalquivir. They followed this up in 1505 with the capture of Vélez de la Gomera, which controlled the port of Algiers. Finally came the boom year of 1509 with the occupation of Orán, Bugia, Algiers and Tripoli.

Meanwhile Ferdinand II of Aragon had allowed the Portuguese to expand their own influence in the area. His main idea was to create settlements in North Africa for people from the Iberian peninsular.

It didn’t work and success turned to failure as slowly but surely the coastal fortresses of North Africa were recaptured by the Berbers. The loss of the small island of the Peñón of Algiers in 1529 was decisive.  Algiers itself had been under the rule of the two Barbarossa brothers since 1516.

Peñón of Algiers just before it was captured and dismantled by Barbarossa  
(1529 - Unknown)

Two years later the Barbarossas placed themselves under the protection of the Sultan of Turkey.

The Sultan of Turkey, Suleiman the Magnificent (Titian) on the left - and Heyredin Barbarossa Pasha on the right

The danger these events implied in so far as southern Spain in general and to Gibraltar in particular were concerned was obvious and led to the notorious “Turkish raid” on Gibraltar of 1540.

In 1577 the Spanish engineer, Luis Bravo de Laguna, incorporated the campo area of Gibraltar within a system of twenty beacon towers which stretched all the way from Ayamonte to the west of the Rock to Almeria in the east. During his visit to Gibraltar that same year Bravo found that there were no soldiers on the Rock. Instead the town was dependent on a meagre civilian defence made up of:

351 residents with muskets
92 crossbowmen
32 with halberds, spears and the like
86 without arms
24 cavalrymen whose horses were usually left to graze for six months of the tear outside the city limits

In other words the town was hardly ready to defend itself against any determined opposition.

Luis Bravo de Laguna, incidentally, is reputed to have been responsible for setting up 20 watch towers along the coast from Ayamonte to Almería in 1577. The actual work was directed by another engineer - Gilberto de Bedoya. According to local historian Tito Benady, among these was la Torre del Diable - the Devil’s Tower once found in a south eastern corner of the isthmus connecting Gibraltar with the rest of the mainland.
If Benady’s date for the building of the Watch towers is correct, the Devil’s Tower is probably not on e of them as it appears in a sketch of the Rock dated 1567.

(1727 - Antonio de Montaigu de la Perille)

F = La Torre del Diablo   (1567 - Anton Van den Wyngaerde)

By the end of the 16th century there were about 1000 families - a population of about 5000 people - living on the Rock. Defensive arrangements had developed over the years in which residents were supposed to assemble in squads each of them under an alderman and a councillor whenever the town was under threat. These squads were then subdivided into smaller units under specifically chosen individuals from the civilian population known as corporals.