Part two of the series, Menorca becomes part of the British Empire
With the establishment of the small British arsenal at Mahon in 1669 (see last month’s edition) the Menorquin nobility and the authorities were well pleased with the continuing increase in maritime traffic and trade. This started to give more diverse employment to the hitherto traditional activities of farming and fishing, mainly for their own survival. Up to this time the Islanders had been very insular.
The seventeenth century closes on a peaceful people who felt secure in the knowledge that the Royal Navy was not only helping to protect them from pirate attacks which had been all too frequent earlier in the century, but also with the Island’s growing prosperity.
Fast forward to the beginning of the eighteenth century when Spain was undergoing a period of unrest.
In 1700 King Charles II of Spain died leaving no heirs. In his will Charles had named the 16-year-old Duke of Anjou Philip V to be his successor as the King of Spain. Philip was the second grandson of Luis X1V of France.
This appointment was hotly contested by Austria who wanted their own Archduke Charles to be King of Spain.
It was well known that if France and Spain united under a single Bourbon monarch this would upset the balance of power throughout Europe and pit a powerful France and Spain against the Grand Alliance of England, the Netherlands and Austria.
The result was 14 years of war in Spain known as the War of Spanish Succession.
You can imagine the consternation in the Houses of Parliament, the Lord High Treasurer Sidney Godolphin (there was no such thing as a Prime Minister until 1721) and Queen Anne who ascended the throne in 1702. The newly formed Great Britain would be very vulnerable. (Great Britain formed with the Act of Union with Scotland in 1707). All the great powers of Europe had to defend their territories and battles raged throughout Europe and around the world.
So what about little Menorca in all of this?
The main power of the British was in the strength of the Royal Navy which outnumbered the combined French and Spanish fleets. It had been strengthened over the years for homeland defense and to counter the continuing problems overseas and with the Barbary Coast pirates. Britain’s ground forces were, however, limited.
Although much of the Spanish population on the mainland was opposed to King Philip and sided with the Archduke Charles, the allied armies did not fare well against those of the combined French and Spanish.
However the Menorcan Nobles, generally backed by the people, were in favour of Archduke Charles, and the help of Great Britain was sought to defend the Island from a possible attack. There was already a small French/Spanish garrison on the Island on behalf of King Philip however.
Britain assembled a large fleet together with the Dutch which arrived at Menorca in 1708. This was, perhaps, a great turning point of the fortunes of the Island.
The Queen appointed Sir John Churchill, the Duke of Marlborough, as her Commander in Chief of military forces and he spent several years in campaigns in several European theatres including the Spanish Peninsular and especially Aragon and Cataluña.
However it was General James Stanhope who was the commander of the British troops that were landed in Menorca, where they sieged Mahon while Sir Edward Whitaker, with his Admiral’s flag in HMS Northumberland, landed at Ciutadella de Menorca and in Fornells.
The Island’s inhabitants were almost entirely pro-Austria, and greeted the British and Dutch soldiers as liberators. A week later the small French/Spanish garrison who favoured Philip surrendered with no lives being lost.
General Stanhope was appointed the first British Governor of Menorca where he remained in post until 1711. He proved a very capable diplomat negotiating with the noblemen and universities (councils) of the Island. However, like so many of those that succeeded him, most were Governors in name only with themajority of the day to day work of the administration being carried out by their Lieutenant Governors. Indeed, the majority of British Governors never even set foot on Menorca.
In the summer of 1712, Queen Anne signed orders for the Duke of Argyll to proceed to Menorca as its Governor. Under the terms of the peace treaty which was then being negotiated it was expected that the Island would remain in British hands.
Argyll remained titular governor for the next three years, but the work was really for Richard Kane, his lieutenant governor. Lt Col Richard Kane arrived on 10 November 1712 and remained on the island, apart from a few short absences, until his death twenty-four years later.
It is generally recognized that there was never a finer governor of Menorca for his unstinting and tireless work on behalf of the people of Menorca.
On 11 April 1713, Great Britain, Prussia, Savoy, Portugal, and the Dutch Republic, at last signed the treaties at Utrecht to secure peace with France. The negotiations had taken four years of skilled diplomacy by politicians from many European countries. It was ratified that Spain should cede Gibraltar and Menorca to Great Britain, and recognize the Protestant succession in Great Britain. The signatory to the Treaty of Utrecht being none other than the Spanish King Philip V.