Page images
PDF
EPUB

Gibraltar most needful at this moment.

323

much interesting information relating to the sieges of the rock since its seizure by Sir George Rooke in 1704. Captain Sayer has also put Coxe's histories of the Bourbon Kings of Spain, and his memoirs of Sir R. Walpole, and the Chatham Correspondence, likewise under contribution, and from these and other sources he has gathered together into a compact form a mass of materials hitherto widely diffused through many separate volumes. There are certainly no new or striking views in this considerable and creditably executed history. But on the whole, though somewhat diffusely, Captain Sayer has executed his task with sagaciousness and judgment, rather than with brilliancy. There is no attempt at ornament or fine writing in these pages. The style, notwithstanding some repetitions, is generally clear and forcible without being laboured or overlaid, and is such as might have been expected from a well-educated practical soldier. Though the details here made known to us are in great part connected with ancient and mediæval history, yet they derive an attractive, we had almost said an absorbing interest, from the attempts now making by more than one European power to acquire maritime influence in the Mediterranean. France, it is well known, has ever since the days of Colbert sought to secure a preponderancy in that inland sea; and Spain, which during the last ten years has, thanks to foreign capital, made greater material progress than most European nations in the improvement of her army and navy, and in the development of her fine natural resources, again dreams of re-possessing a fortress which she occupied during the more brilliant periods of her history. Russia, crippled in the Black Sea by the result of the Crimean campaign, also seeks some indemnification in the Mediterranean; and the kingdom of Italy has already directed its best energies and aspirations to the creation of a fleet which may be a worthy counterpart of its considerable, distinguished, and improving army. Under these circumstances it behoves our country to be watchful. Never at any period of our history was the possession of Gibraltar more needful to us; never, indeed, was it so needful as at this

moment.

There is no record to prove that the Mons Calpe of the ancients-mentioned by both Greek and Roman authors, and more minutely described by Strabo, and Pomponius Mela, who was born at Tangier-or the Jebel Tarik of the Moors, was inhabited till 711, when it was occupied by Tarik, with his romantic, enterprising, and energetic Arabs and Berbers. It was not until this period of the Mahometan invasion that Gibraltar occupied a place in the history of the world. From

this rock it was that the first footsteps of the Moslem host were planted. Hence streamed the mighty armies which crushed a powerful Christian monarchy, and established an infidel dynasty in Spain for upwards of eight centuries.

were as absurd to the romantic and This at least is

It is not our purpose to dwell here on the history of the invasion of Spain by the Saracens, or on those prolonged struggles which resulted in the overthrow of the Gothic dynasty and the establishment of the Moorish dominion. Much of this so-called history is wrapt in the mist of fable; and it trust to the traditions of the Christians, as to highly-coloured rhapsodies of the Arabians. probable, if not certain, that the first incursion into Spain was made by Ilyian, who landed at Algesiras; the second by Tarif, who landed at the present Tarifa; and the third and final one by Tarik, who disembarked at Gibraltar. At the time of Tarik's landing, Roderick, King of the Goths, was in the north of Spain, quelling an insurrection in the Basque provinces. He hastened southward with an army of 60,000 men. The two hosts came

in sight of each other on the banks of the Guadalete. Various engagements took place for six days, with varying success; but on the seventh day the Christians at length gave way, fled in disorder, and were pursued without mercy by the relentless Moors. With this protracted and sanguinary struggle ended the dynasty of the Goths and Christian power in Spain for the long space of 800 years. Tarik rapidly overran the country, and penetrated to the capital, Toledo, which he captured and sacked. City after city presently surrendered to him, and ere the year had closed the Moorish dynasty was established.

In 1086 Gibraltar was in the possession of Yusef ben Taxfin, a caliph of the Almoravides. The struggles between this leader and Alphonso of Castile throw no light on the history of Gibraltar; and the contests between Yusef and the Spanish Moors which resulted in the conquest of Tarifa, Algesiras, Granada, Seville, Badajoz, and Zaragoza, though considerable episodes in Spanish history, have little interest for the English reader.

It was in 1309 that the rock was for the first time exposed to a regular siege. At this period Ferdinand IV. of Castile resolved to dislodge the Moors, and directed a large portion of his army, under Alonzo Perez de Guzman (el Bueno), against the fortress. After protracted operations and many engagements, the garrison, which consisted of 1,200 men, surrendered.

In 1312 Ferdinand died, and was succeeded by Alonzo XI., under whose reign a religious chief, who prosecuted the war against the Christians with fanaticism, laid siege to Gibraltar;

Various Fortunes and Sieges of Gibraltar.

325

but after an attack of short duration, he abandoned his efforts to regain a position which was already recognised as the key of Spain.

In 1324 a Gallican knight, Vasco Perez de Meirà, was Governor of the fortress. He was a man of some military repute; but his most eminent defect was avarice, and during his term of office he embezzled the greater portion of the money appropriated for defence. After four months and a half of struggle the garrison capitulated, and the fortress was surrendered once more to the Infidels, after the Christians had held it for twenty-two years. On the 20th of August, 1462, after a comparatively bloodless siege, it again reverted to the dominion of the Christians. The success of this siege, and the important event of the annexation of Gibraltar to Spain, is attributable to Alonzo de Arcos. In 1464 King Henry, desirous of becoming acquainted with his new acquisition, set out from Seville to visit the fortress, already famous throughout Europe, but he was suddenly recalled by seditious outbreaks in his dominions.

The ninth siege of Gibraltar was in 1466. For ten months the besieged held out with heroic courage. Enraged at the obstinacy of the defence, and resolved to conquer, the Duke of Medina Sidonia sent his son, Don Enrique de Guzman, from Seville with reinforcements. At length the besieged were reduced to the most terrible privations. Grass and roots were their only food, and when these were consumed they had recourse to their shoes and leather girdles. The men, prostrate with despair, began to desert, and Estevan de Villacrees, the Lieutenant-Governor in command of the garrison, finding himself without hope, delivered up the fortress in June, 1467, to Don Enrique de Guzman, after a most memorable defence. Gibraltar remained in the hands of the family of Medina Sidonia until Queen Isabella annexed it to the Spanish crown in 1501-2.

In 1552, during the reign of Charles V., a celebrated engineer (Calvi, of Milan) traced out various works for the protection of the fortress; and in 1575 the gloomy and fanatical son of the abdicated Charles (Philip II.) sent an Italian engineer, named El Fratino, to increase the fortifications of the place. Several new batteries were at this period commenced and finished. In 1598 the son of Philip succeeded to the throne, and it was during his reign that the last remnant of the Moorish dynasty was expelled from Spain. From Gibraltar, where nine centuries before Tarik had landed with his victorious host, a fleet of galleys embarked the last of the exiles, and cast them destitute upon the shores of Africa. Thus, after the lapse of 900 years from the time when the battle of Guadalete extinguished the Visi

gothic dominion, and substituted the rule of the Infidels, the last trace of the great Mahometan dynasty was swept from Spain.

Spain, since 1689, in alliance with England and the Dutch, had been at war with France. The French Admiral, Tourville, in 1693 commenced a bombardment of Gibraltar, causing the greatest consternation among the inhabitants. But after continuing the fire against the place for nine days, the French squadron retired, the fortifications having suffered very little damage.

The war of succession, which had for its ostensible object the substitution of Charles, Archduke of Austria, ceased with the peace of Utrecht. That peace, though not creditable to the allies in many respects, is rendered memorable by the capture of Gibraltar. Admiral Rooke had been sent into the Mediterranean in 1704 with a powerful fleet, for the purpose of supporting the pretensions of the Archduke Charles to the crown of Spain. His instructions restricted him from undertaking anything of great importance; but that he might not incur the reproach of total inactivity, he resolved to attempt the capture of the rock. A body of 1800 men were landed upon the isthmus which connects the rock with the mainland, and a heavy firing commenced from the ships. In a few hours the Spaniards were driven from their guns. The garrison having capitulated, marched out with the honours of war, and on the 24th of July, 1704, the British took possession. The loss of this stronghold greatly alarmed the Spaniards, and orders were instantly given to retake it.

Villadarias, a General officer, and one of the best and bravest of Spain's soldiers, supported by a squadron from Toulon, laid siege to the place. The Prince of Hesse, who had been left as General, dispatched a message to Admiral Leake, who landed reinforcements for the garrison, and supplied them with a great quantity of ammunition, and provisions for six months. In January, 1705, a detachment succeeded in drawing the British from part of their works; but after possessing them about an hour, the Spaniards were compelled to retreat, and the British again received a number of additional troops, and a fresh quantity of provisions and ammunition. Despairing of reducing by force a garrison so powerfully supported, the Spaniards retired to some distance, and forming an intrenchment across the isthmus, converted the siege into a blockade.

The value of Gibraltar as a settlement was at this period but little appreciated by the politicians and writers of England; but Spain was fully alive to the importance of the place, and abandoned her operations against Portugal to direct the whole

Sir G. Rooke-Bishop Burnet.

327

of her resources against Gibraltar. The expedition of which we have just recorded the failure, was composed of 12,000 men -9,000 Spaniards and 3,000 French-with which a French squadron, consisting of twelve ships of the line and seven frigates, co-operated. The divisions of the Spanish army were commanded by the most distinguished men in Spain; amongst them Count d'Aquilar, the Duke d'Ossuna, the Conde de Pinto, and Marquis Aitona. The garrison of the fortress did not exceed 3,000 men, and many of these were in an undisciplined state. Ayala, one of the Spanish historians of Gibraltar, says, 'There 'were among them many vagabonds from Spain and deserters 'from the Spanish army.'

No man was better aware of the value of Gibraltar to the English nation, as the key of the Mediterranean, than the Admiral who took it, Sir George Rooke. By his orders the imperial banner was hauled down, and the royal standard of England hoisted in its stead. The city was taken possession of in the name of Queen Anne, and 1,800 English seamen were landed to occupy the place. So shrewd an observer as Bishop Burnet seems to have been unaware of the inestimable importance of the capture of such a place.

'It has been much questioned,' says he, 'by men who understand these matters well, whether our possessing ourselves of Gibraltar, and our maintaining ourselves in it so long, were to our advantage or not. It has certainly put us to a great charge, and we have lost many men in it; but it seems the Spaniards, who should know the importance of the place best, think it so valuable that they have been at a much greater charge, and have lost many more men, while they have endeavoured to recover it, than the taking and keeping it has cost us. And it is certain that in war, whatsoever loss on one side occasions a greater loss of men or treasure to the other, must be reckoned as a loss only to the side that suffers most.' *

There can be no doubt whatever that Burnet, a strong Whig partisan, entertained more than a disrelish for Rooke, who was a high Tory, and that the Bishop treats him unfairly, and with manifest injustice, whenever his name is mentioned in his history. But the truth is that Rooke, who, according to Campbell,+ was a man of good birth and education,' behaved with distinguished courage, and more than ordinary capacity, in every enterprise in which he was employed. This is admitted by Mr. Speaker Onslow in his notes to Burnet. Onslow, in stating that Rooke was a man of fashion, and fitter for a Court

* History of His Own Times, vol. ii. Oxford Edition. 1833.

Lives of the Admirals, vol. iv. p. 268.

« PreviousContinue »