War of Jenkins' Ear

Eyridiki Sellou | Oct 10, 2022

Table of Content


The War of the Seat was a war that lasted from 1739 to 1748, in which the fleets and troops of the Kingdom of Great Britain and the Spanish Empire confronted each other, mainly in the Caribbean area. Due to the volume of the means used by both sides, the enormity of the geographical scenario in which it took place and the magnitude of the strategic plans of Spain and Great Britain, the War of the Seat can be considered a true modern war.

From 1742 onwards, the conflict was transformed into an episode of the War of the Austrian Succession, whose outcome in the American theater would end with the British defeat and the return to the pre-war status quo. The most significant action of the war was the siege of Cartagena de Indias in 1741, in which a British fleet of 186 ships and almost 27,000 men was defeated by a Spanish garrison of some 4,000 men and six ships of the line.

During the conflict, given the enormous superiority in numbers and means used by Great Britain against Spain, the extraordinary efficiency of the Spanish intelligence services was decisive, as they managed to infiltrate agents in the London Court and in the headquarters of Admiral Edward Vernon. The general British plan, as well as the tactical project for the capture of Cartagena de Indias, were known in advance by the Spanish Court and by the colonial commanders with enough time to react and get ahead of the British.

It is also known as the War of Jenkins' Ear due to British influence. The name used by English historiography (War of Jenkins' Ear) is due to the episode considered casus belli: the seizure off the coast of Florida by the Spanish coast guard ship La Isabela of the British vessel Rebecca, captained by Robert Jenkins, in 1731. According to the testimony of Jenkins, who appeared before the House of Commons in 1738, as part of a warmongering campaign by the parliamentary opposition against Prime Minister Walpole, the Spanish captain Juan León Fandiño, who seized the ship, tied Jenkins to the mast of his own ship and with an accurate slash with his sword cut off one of his ears while telling him -according to the Englishman's testimony-: "Go and tell your king that I will do the same to him if he dares the same", then let him go, after disarming and plundering his ship. In his appearance, Jenkins denounced the case with his ear in a jar and, considering Fandiño's phrase as an insult to the British monarch, the opposition forced the Government to ask for a compensation of 95,000 pounds, which Spain refused. Walpole was forced, reluctantly, to declare war on Spain on October 23, 1739.

In the Caribbean, the conflict was known as the Italian War. This name is due to the fact that, for Spain, this war was linked to the War of the Austrian Succession and it was in Italy where the main Spanish actions took place.

The conclusion of the War of the Spanish Succession, with the Treaty of Utrecht (1713-1714) had not only meant the dismemberment of the heritage of the Hispanic monarchy in Europe. England, already Great Britain, apart from having avoided the creation of a hegemonic power on the European continent (with the combination of the Bourbon monarchies of France and Spain, together with the possessions of the latter on the continent), had obtained some commercial concessions in the Spanish Empire in America. Thus, apart from the possession of Gibraltar and Menorca (territories repeatedly claimed by Spain during the eighteenth century), Britain had obtained the so-called "asiento de negros" (license to sell black slaves in Spanish America) for thirty years and the granting of the "navío de permiso" (which allowed direct trade of Britain with Spanish America for the volume of goods that a ship of five hundred tons capacity could carry, amount extended to one thousand tons in 1716), thus breaking the monopoly for trade with Spanish America, previously restricted by the Crown to merchants from metropolitan Spain. Both trade agreements were in the hands of the South Sea Company.

However, Britain's direct trade with Spanish America would be a constant source of friction between the two monarchies. Apart from this, there were other reasons for conflict: border problems in North America between Florida (Spanish) and Georgia (British), Spanish complaints about the illegal establishment of dyewood cutters on the shores of the Yucatan peninsula in the region that now corresponds to Belize, Spain's constant claim for the retrocession of Gibraltar and Menorca, the British desire to dominate the seas, something difficult to achieve in the face of the recovery of the Spanish navy and the consequent rivalry between Great Britain and Spain, which had previously caused a short war between the two countries in 1719 in which there was even a failed Spanish attempt to invade England.

However, it was in the commercial field where frictions produced an incessant growth of tension. Spain maintained the commercial monopoly with its colonies in America, with the only exception of the concessions made to Great Britain, related to the ship of permission and the slave trade.

Under the terms of the Treaty of Seville (1729), the British had agreed not to trade with Spanish America (apart from the vessel of permission), for which they agreed to allow, in order to verify compliance with the treaty, Spanish vessels to intercept British vessels in Spanish waters to check their cargo, which became known as "derecho de visita" (right of visit).

However, the difficulties in supplying Spanish America led to the emergence of an intense smuggling trade in the hands of the Dutch and, fundamentally, the British. In view of these facts, Spanish vigilance was increased, while ports were fortified and the system of convoys that served as protection for the valuable treasure fleet arriving from America was improved. According to the "derecho de visita", Spanish vessels could intercept any British ship and confiscate its goods, since, with the exception of the "navío de permiso", all goods bound for Spanish America were, by definition, contraband. Thus, not only royal vessels, but other Spanish vessels in private hands, with concession from the Crown and known as coast guards, could board British vessels and confiscate their goods. However, these particular activities were qualified as piracy by the Government in London.

Apart from smuggling, there were still British ships engaged in piracy. A good part of the continuous harassment of the Fleet of the Indies fell on the traditional action of English privateers in the Caribbean Sea, dating back to the times of John Hawkins and Francis Drake. The numbers of ships captured by both sides differ enormously and are therefore very difficult to determine: up to September 1741 the English speak of 231 Spanish ships captured against 331 British ships boarded by the Spanish; according to the latter, the respective figures would be only 25 against 186. In any case, it is noteworthy that by then successful Spanish boardings were still more frequent than British ones.

Between 1727 and 1732, there was a particularly tense period in bilateral relations, followed by a period of détente between 1732 and 1737, thanks to the efforts of the British Prime Minister (Whig), Sir Robert Walpole, and the Spanish Ministry of the Navy, as well as the collaboration between the two countries in the War of the Polish Succession. Nevertheless, the problems remained unresolved, with the consequent increase of irritation in British public opinion (in the first half of the 18th century the British parliamentary system began to consolidate, with the appearance of the first newspapers). The opposition to Walpole (not only Tories, but also a significant number of disgruntled Whigs) took advantage of this fact to harass Walpole (aware of the balance of power and, therefore, opposed to war with Spain), starting a campaign in favor of war. In this situation came the appearance of Robert Jenkins before the House of Commons in 1738, a British smuggler whose ship, the Rebecca, had been seized in April 1731 by a Spanish coastguard, confiscating its cargo. According to Jenkins' testimony, the Spanish captain, Juan León Fandiño, who seized the ship, cut off his ear while telling him: "Go and tell your king that I will do the same to him if he dares". In his appearance before the chamber, Jenkins supported his testimony by showing the amputated ear.

The parliamentary opposition and later public opinion sanctioned the incidents as an offense to national honor and a clear casus belli. Unable to cope with the general pressure, Walpole gave in, approving the sending of troops to America and a squadron to Gibraltar under the command of Admiral Haddock, which caused an immediate reaction on the Spanish side. Walpole then tried to reach an understanding with Spain at the last moment, something that was momentarily achieved with the signing of the Agreement of El Pardo (January 14, 1739), by which both nations agreed to avoid war and to pay each other compensation, in addition to agreeing on a new future treaty that would help resolve other differences about the territorial limits in America and the commercial rights of both countries.

However, the Convention was rejected shortly thereafter in the British Parliament, and was also strongly opposed by the South Sea Company. As it was, King Philip V demanded the payment of the agreed compensation from the British side before Spain did so.

On both sides the positions hardened, increasing the preparations for war. Finally, Walpole yielded to parliamentary and street pressure, approving the start of the war. At the same time, the British ambassador in Spain requested the annulment of the "right of visitation". Far from yielding to the British pressure, Felipe V suppressed the "right of seat" and the "ship of permission", and retained all the British ships that were in Spanish ports, as much in the metropolis as in the American colonies. Faced with such events, the British Government withdrew its ambassador from Madrid (August 14) and formally declared war on Spain (October 19, 1739).

First attack on La Guaira (October 22, 1739)

After Vernon arrived on the island of Antigua in early October 1739, he sent three ships under the command of Captain Thomas Waterhouse to intercept the Spanish merchant ships making the route between La Guaira and Portobelo. After Waterhouse spotted several small ships in the port of La Guaira, he decided to attack by putting into practice a very rudimentary plan. This consisted of simply lowering the British flag of his ships and raising the Spanish flag, to enter the port quietly and once there, take the ships and assault the fort. The governor of the province of Venezuela, Brigadier Gabriel José de Zuloaga had prepared the defenses of the port very diligently, and the Spanish troops were well commanded by Captain Don Francisco Saucedo. Thus, on October 22, Waterhouse entered the port of La Guaira flying the Spanish flag on his ships. The artillerymen of the port waited for the British fleet to be in range, and when the time came, they opened fire simultaneously on the British. After three hours of intense cannonading, Waterhouse ordered the withdrawal of his battered ships, which had to land in Jamaica for emergency repairs. As justification for his defeat, Waterhouse claimed to Vernon that the capture of a few small boats would not have justified the loss of his men.

First attack on Portobelo (November 20-21, 1739)

The second action was carried out by Admiral Edward Vernon, who in command of six ships captured and destroyed Puerto Bello (present-day Portobelo, in Panama), a silver export center in the Viceroyalty of New Granada in November 1739, on this occasion, the careless governor, Francisco Javier de la Vega Retez, had not acted in accordance with the imminent war situation, and the defense was very deficient. On this occasion, the careless governor of the place, Francisco Javier de la Vega Retez had not acted in accordance with the imminent war situation, and the defense was very poor. Vernon ordered to respect the civilian estates, in anticipation of a good relationship with the population when England replaced Spain as the regional power. Although the spoils only amounted to about ten thousand pesos for the pay of the Spanish garrison, the success was greatly magnified by the nascent English press, which published all kinds of satire on the Spanish forces while cheering Vernon. At a dinner in his honor attended by King George II of Great Britain in 1740, a new hymn created to commemorate the victory, "Rule, Britannia!" was introduced. A vestige of these celebrations can still be found on the map of the City of London: the well-known Portobello Road, although developed in the second half of the 19th century, derives its name from a farm formerly located on the site, and named Portobello Farm in commemoration of this battle.

First attack on Cartagena de Indias (March 13-20, 1740)

After the success of Portobelo, Vernon decided to try his luck with Cartagena de Indias, considered by both him and the governor of Jamaica, Edward Trelawny, a priority objective. Since their arrival in the Caribbean, the British had tried everything they could to ascertain the state of Cartagena's defenses without success. Even in October 1739, Vernon had sent his first lieutenant Percival along with two Spaniards aboard the ship Fraternity, with the excuse of delivering a letter to Don Blas de Lezo and another to the then governor of Cartagena, Don Pedro Hidalgo. Percival would take the opportunity to make a detailed study of the Spanish defenses, but this was not possible because, as was foreseeable, Hidalgo forbade the Fraternity to enter the port. Thus, again with the objective of testing the Spanish defenses of that square, on March 7, 1740, Vernon left Port Royal in command of two brullets, three bombards and a paquebote, arriving in the waters of Cartagena on March 13. Immediately several men disembarked in order to study from land the disposition of the forts, and the bulk of the fleet anchored at Playa Grande, west of Cartagena. After observing no reaction from the Spanish, on the 18th Vernon ordered his three bombards to open fire on the city, with the intention of provoking a response that would allow him to get an idea of the defensive capacity of the Spaniards. But Lezo knew Vernon's motivations, and such a response was not forthcoming. The veteran Spanish sailor simply ordered the dismantling of some of his ships' batteries to form shore batteries to cover them. The British carried out a landing attempt of some four hundred soldiers that was easily repulsed by the Spanish garrison. After three days of British bombardment, in which three hundred and fifty bombs damaged the cathedral, the Jesuit college and several civilian buildings, Vernon assumed the stalemate in which he found himself and ordered a retreat on the 21st, leaving the ships Windsor Castle and Greenwich in the vicinity with the mission of intercepting any approaching Spanish vessel. In Vernon's opinion, the mission had been a success.

Destruction of the fortress of San Lorenzo el Real del Chagres (March 22-24, 1740)

After the destruction of Portobelo in November of the previous year, Vernon set out to eliminate the last Spanish bastion in the area, attacking the fortress of San Lorenzo el Real del Chagres, located on the banks of the Chagres River and in the vicinity of Portobelo. This fortress was a base for Spanish coast guard ships, and was defended by only eleven cannons and thirty soldiers under the command of infantry captain Don Juan Carlos Gutiérrez Cevallos.

At 3 o'clock in the afternoon of March 22, 1740, a British squadron composed of the ships Strafford, Norwich, Falmouth and Princess Louisa, the frigate Diamond, the bombard ships Alderney, Terrible and Cumberland, the brigs Success and Eleanor, and the transports Goodly and Pompey, under the command of Vernon himself, began to cannonade the Spanish fortress. Faced with the overwhelming superiority of the British forces, Captain Cevallos surrendered the castle on March 24, after resisting for two days.

Following the strategy applied in Portobelo, the British then destroyed the castle, and seized its artillery and two Spanish coast guard sloops, to then depart for the meeting point of the British forces in Portobelo itself.

While the British kept their forces distributed in the Caribbean between Portobelo and Cartagena, an event took place in Spain that would have a decisive value later on: the ships Galicia and San Carlos left the Galician port of Ferrol carrying the lieutenant general of the Royal Armies Don Sebastián de Eslava y Lazaga, who would replace Don Pedro Hidalgo as governor of Cartagena de Indias. After Vernon learned of this, he immediately sent four ships of his fleet to intercept the Spanish ships, but they finally managed to outwit the British surveillance and enter the port of Cartagena on April 21, 1740, disembarking the new governor and several hundred valuable veteran soldiers.

Second Attack on Cartagena de Indias (May 3, 1740)

After the British forces had tested the defenses of Cartagena in March, Vernon decided to return in command of thirteen warships and a bombard with the intention of taking the city. To the surprise of the British admiral, this time Lezo decided to deploy the six ships of the line he had so that the British fleet was trapped between a field of short and long shots. Faced with the enormously disadvantageous position in which the British found themselves, Vernon ordered a retreat, but not before dropping some 300 bombs on the city. Vernon, once again, maintained that the British attack was nothing more than a testing maneuver, although the main consequence of his action was to put the Spaniards on notice.

Third attack on Cartagena de Indias (March 13-May 20, 1741)

The extreme ease with which the British destroyed Portobelo (which would not recover its port importance until the construction of the Panama Canal) led to a change in British plans. Instead of concentrating his next attack on Havana with the intention of conquering Cuba, as had been foreseen, Vernon would set out again for New Granada to attack Cartagena de Indias, the main port of the Viceroyalty and the main departure point of the Fleet of the Indies to the Iberian Peninsula. The British then assembled in Jamaica the largest fleet ever seen, composed of 186 ships (60 more than the famous Great Armada of Philip II) aboard which were 2620 pieces of artillery and more than 27,000 men, including 10,000 British soldiers in charge of initiating the assault, 12,600 sailors, 1,000 slave macheteros from Jamaica and 4,000 recruits from Virginia led by Lawrence Washington, half-brother of the man who would become the father of the independence of the United States.

The difficult task of defending the square was the responsibility of the veteran sailor Blas de Lezo, experienced in numerous naval battles of the War of the Spanish Succession in Europe and several confrontations with pirates in the Caribbean Sea and Algeria. He had only the help of Melchor de Navarrete and Carlos Desnaux, a flotilla of six ships (the captain ship Galicia plus the ships San Felipe, San Carlos, Africa, Dragon and Conquistador) and a force of three thousand men between soldiers and urban militia joined by six hundred Indian archers from the interior.

Vernon ordered to blockade the port on March 13, 1741, while disembarking a contingent of troops and artillery destined to take the Fort of San Luis de Bocachica a few meters from where today is the Fort of San Fernando de Bocachica, against which the British ships opened fire simultaneously at a rate of 62 cannon shots per hour. Lezo directed four of the ships to the aid of the 500 soldiers defending the position with Desnaux at their head, but the Spaniards finally had to retreat towards the city, which was already beginning to be evacuated by the civilian population. After also abandoning the castle of Bocagrande, the Spaniards assembled in the castle of San Felipe de Barajas while Washington's Virginians deployed on the nearby hill of La Popa to take up positions. It was then that Edward Vernon made the mistake of taking the victory for granted and sent a courier to Jamaica communicating that he had succeeded in taking the city. The report was later forwarded to London, where the celebrations reached even greater heights than those of Portobelo, and commemorative medals were minted showing Blas de Lezo kneeling before Vernon (). At that time Lezo was one-eyed, lame and had an impaired hand due to different wounds suffered years before (he was known as Mediohombre), but none of these defects were reflected in the medals so that the idea of having defeated a weak enemy would not be taken for granted.

But to Vernon's misfortune, what was to come was not the long-awaited British victory. On the night of April 19 there was an assault on San Felipe that was judged to be definitive, led by three columns of grenadiers supported by the Jamaicans and several British companies, conveniently aided by the darkness and the constant bombardment from the ships. Upon arrival they found that Blas de Lezo had had ditches dug at the foot of the walls so that the ladders were too short, so that they could neither attack nor flee due to the weight of the equipment. Taking advantage of this, the Spaniards opened fire on the British, resulting in unprecedented carnage. At dawn, the defenders abandoned their positions and charged the assailants with the bayonet, massacring most of them and causing those who remained to flee to the ships. Despite constant bombardments and the sinking of the small Spanish fleet (mostly by Lezo himself, to block the mouth of the harbor), the defenders managed to prevent the remaining British troops from disembarking, who were forced to remain on the ships for another month without sufficient provisions. On May 9, with the infantry practically destroyed by hunger, disease and fighting, Vernon was forced to lift the siege and return to Jamaica. Six thousand British died compared to less than a thousand Spanish dead, leaving some British ships so empty that they had to be sunk for lack of seamen.

Vernon tried to mitigate this great failure by attacking the Spaniards in Guantánamo Bay in Cuba and then, on March 5, 1742, with the help of reinforcements from Europe, in Panama. There he hoped to repeat the success of Portobelo and it was precisely to this place where he went. However, the Spaniards abandoned the square (which was still destroyed) and retreated to Panama City, thwarting the subsequent British attempt to disembark and plant battle on land. Vernon was replaced in command of the fleet by Chaloner Ogle and was forced to return to England in 1742 where he reported that the triumph he had previously reported did not exist. This caused such embarrassment to George II that the king himself forbade his historians to write about it.

As previously mentioned, the British had chosen Cuba (by far the largest and most important of the West Indies) as one of their initial goals, but the plan to conquer it was shelved after the success of Portobelo. When Vernon's fleet failed to take Cartagena de Indias and the British realized that New Granada was not as poorly defended as they initially believed, they decided to resume the Cuban enterprise. The initial plan included the capture of Santiago, where a base would be established from which to blockade the Passage of the Winds located between Cuba and Hispaniola. On July 1, 1741 Vernon's fleet left Jamaica and headed for Santiago de Cuba, although the plan of campaign defense devised only months earlier prevented Vernon from taking it, either by direct attack by forcing entry into the bay or by landing on some of the nearby beaches. Instead, the ships headed eastward and on the 18th 3400 soldiers led by General Thomas Wentworth landed in Guantánamo Bay. Among them were the survivors of Lawrence Washington's Virginian regiment.

The new plan this time called for the construction of a base north of the bay, from which to invade Guantánamo and later attack Santiago. Although Wentworth reached the vicinity of Guantánamo with little resistance, the enterprise failed because his army was seriously affected by tropical diseases. By July 23 Wentworth considered the initiative a failure, a fact that earned him a reprimand from Vernon. The troops withdrew from the island in November, although the British fleet continued to blockade the port of Santiago until the following month. Subsequently, the bulk of the ships returned to the Jamaican base at Port Royal, while a few ships went to the Windward Passage for privateering activities, and others were sent to guard the Spanish fleet in Havana.

Cuba would not play a relevant role in the war again until 1748, the year in which British Rear Admiral Charles Knowles left Jamaica with the intention of intercepting the Fleet of the Indies on its voyage from Veracruz to Havana. After hovering for several months off the coasts of the island, Knowles' squadron finally clashed with the Havana fleet commanded by General Andres Reggio on October 1 in the Bahamas Channel. This confrontation ended without a clear winner. Subsequently, Knowles set course for Havana, where on October 12 he encountered almost by chance a small Spanish squadron of 6 ships commanded by Reggio and also General Benito Spinola. Despite its superiority, the British fleet was only able to sink one ship and damage another enough to force its own crew to set it on fire. The other four Spanish ships returned to Havana. Knowles, however, considered that he had not done badly and sent a report to London saying that he was preparing to capture the Fleet of the Indies. To his surprise, what he received was a reprimand, since the British and Spanish governments had signed peace a few days earlier.

North America

The fighting on the North American front was centered in Georgia, a young colony founded by ex-convicts in 1733, which had already seen war against the Spanish in 1735, and which was in the eye of the storm because of its proximity to the Spanish possessions in Florida and the French in Louisiana. With the idea that a preemptive attack would be the best defense against a foreseeable Spanish invasion, Governor James Edward Oglethorpe agreed to make peace with the Seminole Indians in order to keep them neutral in the conflict and ordered the invasion of Florida in January 1740. On May 31 the British laid siege to the fortress of St. Augustine, but it held up well and the raiders were forced to lift the siege in July due to the arrival of Spanish reinforcements from Havana and retreat across the border. Other British attempts to penetrate Florida were equally unsuccessful.

The Spanish counterattack, of little importance due to the fact that most of the troops were occupied in other fronts, finally took place in July 1742. In order to block the passage between the British base at Savannah and Florida, Governor Manuel de Montiano led a small operation on Saint Simons Island, defended by forts Saint Simons and Frederica. The attacking troops consisted of soldiers from St. Augustine, grenadiers from Havana and black militiamen from Fort Mosé, former runaway slaves of the British who had been taken in and armed by the Spanish to form a peculiar frontier force. The Spaniards first occupied Fort St. Simons in order to make it their base of operations, and then advanced toward Frederica. However, they were caught in ambush by a collection of English soldiers, Scottish Highland settlers and Yamacraw Indians and had to retreat after suffering a dozen casualties. During the return journey Montiano realized that some soldiers had become separated behind the English lines and planned a rescue expedition through a swamp. In the middle of it they were ambushed again by an English patrol, but after a few fights they put it on the run towards Frederica. This angered Oglethorpe, who ordered the escapees to return along with part of the fort's garrison to attack the Spaniards. However, when they reached the marsh they found that the Scots had fought another battle with the Spaniards, killing seven of them and forcing them to retreat when they ran out of ammunition. However, the Spanish presence in Saint Simons represented a constant danger, so Oglethorpe decided to eliminate it by means of deception: he informed a Spanish prisoner that great reinforcements were about to arrive from Charlestown (which was false, since only some minor ships had been able to be sent) and immediately released him. The latter returned to Saint Simons and communicated the false news to Montiano, who decided to destroy the fort and return to Florida.

Atlantic Ocean

Although the vast majority of the actions of the War of the Seat took place in America and the Caribbean Sea, there were also clashes in the Atlantic Ocean between English and Spanish ships that crossed each other on their respective voyages between the Old Continent and America. The best known case was the so-called race of the Glorioso, a succession of four naval battles in which a single Spanish Navy ship of the line, the Glorioso, with seventy guns and carrying four million pesos of silver, successively faced four English squadrons and managed to land its cargo in Spain before finally being captured, after having exhausted its ammunition.

Anson's expedition to the Pacific

On September 16, 1740, another British squadron formed by seven ships and led by Commodore George Anson, headed towards South America with the intention of skirting the southern cone and reaching the isthmus of Panama, where they would attack by surprise the Spanish positions, splitting the Spanish-controlled territory in two and linking up with Vernon's forces after taking Cartagena.

Spain had managed to infiltrate intelligence agents in the London Court, so when Anson's intentions were known, a fleet of five ships was immediately sent under the command of José Alfonso Pizarro with the mission of gaining latitude over the English, preventing them from crossing the Strait of Magellan and fighting them in the Pacific in case they did not manage to cut them off. Finally, Pizarro managed to get ahead of Anson, forcing him at Cape Horn to face the fierce southern squalls close to the coast, a circumstance that resulted in the loss or uselessness of 4 of the 7 ships of the English fleet, leaving it totally incapacitated for the assigned mission.

In June 1741 the three remaining ships reached the Juan Fernández archipelago; by then the crew had been reduced to a third of the original one, mainly due to the action of diseases. Between November 13 and 14 the British sacked the small port of Paita, on the coast of Peru.

Finally, they managed to reach Panama but Vernon had already been defeated at Cartagena. After abandoning two of his ships and putting all the surviving sailors on the flagship, HMS Centurion, Anson set course for the island of Tinian and then on to Macao with the intention of intercepting the Manila galleon, charged with carrying the revenue from trade with China to Mexico. However, upon arriving in the South China Sea, Anson encountered unexpected attacks by the Chinese. For the Chinese, any ship that did not arrive in the area with commercial interests was considered a pirate and as such had to be captured and sunk.

Anson did not give up and after evading the Chinese ships for a year he managed to capture the galleon Nuestra Señora de Covadonga on June 20, 1743, while it was sailing in the vicinity of the Philippines. The captured goods were resold to the Chinese in Macao and Anson then returned to Great Britain after rounding the Cape of Good Hope in 1744. After so many calamities suffered, the commodore became a rich man thanks to the profits obtained from the capture of the Covadonga.

French participation

Due to what was agreed in the First Family Pact (1733), France was immersed in the war in support of Spain, so Cardinal Fleury himself, Louis XV's favourite, sent to the Caribbean a fleet of twenty-two warships under the command of Admiral Antoine-François d'Antin.

However, the French participation was not remarkable because an epidemic broke out on the fleet while it remained anchored in the colony of Saint Domingue (Haiti), waiting to join the Spanish ships. This was compounded by difficulties in supplying the French troops from the metropolis, since unlike the Spanish colonies, the French possessions in America could not guarantee a good food supply. After a few minor actions, France and Great Britain agreed on a truce between 1741 and 1744, thus keeping France out of the war of the Settlement.

When hostilities resumed, the French fought the British in India and Canada as part of the War of the Austrian Succession, but there were no joint operations with the Spanish outside Europe. Overall, the American campaign was bad for the French, who lost the fortress of Louisbourg, located on Cape Breton Island (present-day Nova Scotia).

Lisbon negotiations

Beginning in August 1746, negotiations began in the city of Lisbon, in the neutral country of Portugal, to try to arrange a peace settlement. The death of Philip V of Spain had brought his son Ferdinand VI to the throne, and he was more willing to be conciliatory on trade issues. However, because of their commitments to their Austrian allies, the British could not accept Spanish demands for territory in Italy and the talks broke down.

The war came to a stalemate after 1742 (except for minor actions by Anson and Knowles) but the outbreak of the War of the Austrian Succession in Europe, in which Spain and Britain had conflicting interests, meant that no peace was signed until the Treaty of Aachen in 1748. This put an end to all hostilities, returning virtually all conquered lands to those who ruled them before the war in order to ensure a return to the status quo ante.

In the case of Spanish America, the action of the treaty was practically non-existent, since at the end of the conflict no territory (with the exception of Louisbourg, which returned to French hands) remained under any other occupation than the original one. Spain renewed both the right of seating and the ship of leave with the British, whose service had been interrupted during the war. However, this restitution would last barely two years, since by the Treaty of Madrid, Great Britain renounced both in exchange for an indemnity of one hundred thousand pounds. These concessions, which in 1713 seemed so advantageous (and constituted one of the clauses of the Treaty of Utrecht), had become dispensable in 1748. Moreover, by then it seemed clear that the peace with Spain would not last long (it was broken again in 1761, when the Spanish joined the Seven Years' War in support of the French), so their loss was not at all catastrophic.

Until well into the 19th century, Britain's assessment of the Seacoast War was based on the study of pamphlets, correspondence, parliamentary debates and newspaper articles written at the time of the fighting or shortly thereafter, so they were logically not impartial. Vernon, for example, already begins to defend his actions in his correspondence long before returning from the Caribbean. He was strongly supported in this enterprise by Charles Knowles, who in his book Account of the Expedition to Carthagena (published in 1743 after two years circulating as a pamphlet) did not hesitate to attribute all the blame for the failure to General Wentworth.

In December 1743 a reply to these accusations was published under the title A Journal of the Expedition to Carthagena, now attributed to Wentworth himself in collaboration with an officer under his command, William Blakeney. Vernon responded in turn by publishing some of his official correspondence, though only that which suited him best. Fortunately for him, public opinion lost interest in the unsuccessful New Granada campaign fairly soon, as it focused on the new war unleashed in Europe over the Austrian succession. The fall in 1742 of the government of Prime Minister Robert Walpole, who had been highly critical of the war and had tried unsuccessfully to abort it, was eventually interpreted as proof that Vernon's militaristic course had been the right one. Thanks to this, Edward Vernon was able to recover his deteriorated public image towards the end of his days, being remembered more as the hero of Portobelo than as the failure of Cartagena. After his death in 1757, he was buried in Westminster Abbey along with other illustrious Britons.

A Briton, Sir Herbert Richmond, relying exclusively on available evidence and sources, published The Navy in the War of 1739-1748 between 1907 and 1914, as part of a collection of studies on the History of the Navy. While it is true that Richmond allowed his work to be influenced by his own prejudices about civilian influence over the Navy (the author unashamedly blames the failure on Walpole's cabinet, judging it incompetent and indecisive), the text is still regarded today as one of the great works of research in the English bibliography on the Royal Navy.

New works, most notably Richard Harding's Amphibious warfare in the eighteenth century. The British Expedition to the West Indies, 1740-1742 by Richard Harding, tend to undervalue Richmond's text, especially with regard to the figure of Edward Vernon. In a detailed reconstruction of the British expedition to the West Indies, Harding succeeds in reconstructing both a seamless account of the military and historical aspects of the war, and in demonstrating Vernon's share of the blame for the British failure.


  1. War of Jenkins' Ear
  2. Guerra del Asiento
  3. Expansión fundacional y crecimiento en el norte dominicano (1680-1795): El Cibao y la Bahía de Samaná.
  4. North Carolina Through Four Centuries. «For eight years, Spanish and French privateers infested the colony's waters, captured merchant vessels, ravaged the coast, plundered towns, and levied tribute on the inhabitants almost at will. »
  5. ^ Bemis, Samuel Flagg (1965). A Diplomatic History of the United States. Holt, Rinehart and Winston. p. 8.
  6. ^ Newman, Gerald; Brown, Leslie Ellen; Fruchtman (Jr. ), Jack; Graham Cummings, A.J.; Tasch, Peter A. (1997). Britain in the Hanoverian Age, 1714–1837: An Encyclopedia. ISBN 9780815303961. All in all, the war cost Britain 20,000 casualties and 407 ships, primarily merchantmen, in exchange for little commercial or strategic gain.
  7. ^ Walpole, Horace (2015). Delphi Complete Works of Horace Walpole (Illustrated). We have already lost seven millions of money and thirty thousand men in the Spanish war and all the fruit of all this blood and treasure is the glory of having Admiral Vernon's head on alehouse signs!
  8. ^ Newman et al. 1997, p. 744.
  9. Paulo Drumond Braga (2014). «D. Mariana Vitória de Bourbon». Consultado em 28 de Dezembro de 2019
  10. James, p. 59
  11. Lodge pp. 202–07.
  12. A cette date, le royaume de Sardaigne inclut aussi le Piémont et la Savoie, d'où le nom (pédagogique) de « royaume de Piémont-Sardaigne ».
  13. A cette date, le royaume de Sicile s'étend sur l'île de Sicile et sur le sud de la péninsule italienne (dit « royaume de Naples »). Le roi de Sicile, Charles V, est le second fils de Philippe V et deviendra roi d'Espagne en 1759 sous le nom de Charles III.
  14. Alexander Selkirk, matelot qui fut marooned (abandonné par punition) sur Juan-Fernandez par Dampier. Il y vécut seul de 1704 à 1709, et son aventure inspira des récits, et en particulier le roman réaliste La vie et les étranges aventures de Robinson Crusoé de Daniel Defoe, qui parut en 1720 et connut un grand succès.
  15. Pour revoir une opération amphibie de pareille ampleur, il faudra attendre le débarquement allié en Normandie.

Please Disable Ddblocker

We are sorry, but it looks like you have an dblocker enabled.

Our only way to maintain this website is by serving a minimum ammount of ads

Please disable your adblocker in order to continue.

Dafato needs your help!

Dafato is a non-profit website that aims to record and present historical events without bias.

The continuous and uninterrupted operation of the site relies on donations from generous readers like you.

Your donation, no matter the size will help to continue providing articles to readers like you.

Will you consider making a donation today?