In 1704 – as every Gibraltarian schoolboy knows – the Rock was taken on behalf of Britain almost single-handedly by Admiral Rooke. A far less memorable version of this historic event is offered by pedantic scholars in their ivory towers – the Rock was taken not by Rooke but by Anglo-Dutch forces under Prince George of Hesse-Darmstadt. Worse still they would have insisted that Rooke wasn’t British, he was English, and that Gibraltar had been taken in the name of Charles Archduke of Austria, pretender to the Spanish throne during the War of the Spanish Succession
1704 – From somebody who was actually there
Archduke Charles - known to the Anglo-Dutch as Charles III of Spain – He never made it (c1707 – Francesco Solimena )
In 1706, a year after the inevitable attempt by Philip V of Spain to recover “his” Rock, the Union with Scotland was passed by the English Parliament and a year later Union with England was given the go-ahead by Scotland. Gibraltar was now British
Philip V of Spain ( 1723 – Jean Ranc )
But not necessarily to everybody’s liking. None less than the Hanoverian George I – King of Britain and Ireland - had grave misgivings. In June 1721 he decided to do something about it. He sent the following letter to Philip V in which he promised to give him back Gibraltar.
George I ( 1720s – Gerog Wilhelm Lafontaine )
Sir, My Brother,
I have learned with great Satisfaction, by the Report of my Ambassador, at your Court, that your Majesty is, at last, resolved to remove the Obstacles that have for some Time delay'd the entire Accomplishment of our Union. Since, from the Confidence which your Majesty expresses towards me, I may look upon the Treaties which have been in Question between us as re established; and that, accordingly, the Instruments, necessary for the carrying on the Trade of my Subjects, will be delivered out:
I do no longer balance to assure your Majesty of my Readiness to satisfy you, with regard to your Demand touching the Restitution of Gibraltar; promising you to make use of the first favourable Opportunity to regulate this Article, with the Consent of my Parliament.
And to give your Majesty a farther Proof of my Affection, I have ordered my Ambassador, as soon as the Negotiation with which he has been charged shall be finished, to propose to your Majesty new Engagements to be entered into, in Concert, and jointly with France, suitable to the present Conjuncture, not only for strengthening our Union, but also for securing the Tranquillity of Europe:
Your Majesty may be persuaded that I, on my Part, will shew all the Facility imaginable, promising myself that you will do the same, for the mutual Benefit of our Kingdoms, being most perfectly.Sir, My Brother,
June 1, 1721
Your Majesty's Good Brother,
To the King of Spain Monsieur my Brother.
The original letter was written in French – a consequence perhaps of George’s poor command of the English language. The above translation is taken from The History and Proceedings of the House of Commons: 1733-1734, published by Chandler in 1742.
Whatever the original language used by George the timing proved inappropriate. Parliament did not return Gibraltar to Spain and continued to refuse to do so for almost another three hundred years. All of which allowed all those Gibraltarian children to continue to believe in Rooke. He had taken Gibraltar in the name of a non-existent Britain in 1704 and that is why they were all British rather than Spanish.
In any case, who the hell was Prince George of Hesse-Darmstadt? And what did he have to do with anything anyway.