by Robert Gaudi, Robert
New York: Pegasus Books, 2021. Pp. xx, 364.
Illus., maps, biblio., index. $29.95. ISBN: 1639362967
A New Account of a Forgotten War in the Age of Sail
In 1731 British sea captain Robert Jenkins was caught smuggling in the Caribbean by the Spanish coast guard, and had an ear lopped off by a Spanish officer. British public opinion over the incident festered for several years, while tensions between Britain and Spain grew over other issues, notably access to trade – notably in slaves – to Spain’s colonial empire. In 1739 war was declared against Spain. Surprisingly, “The War of Jenkins Ear” turned out badly for Britain, the Spanish Navy proved quite capable, and the expedition ran into problems with tropical disease. The fighting petered out in 1742, as the conflict became subsumed in the War of the Austrian Succession (1740-1748).
Interest in this now virtually forgotten war has recently received fresh attention.
Journalist and historian Gaudi has produced the first comprehensive account of the war in English in several decades. He opens with a look at Anglo-Spanish relations, including the importance of the slave trade in bringing the war about, as the English sought access to Spanish colonies for their slave ships.
Unlike older accounts of the war in English, Gaudi not only covers British expeditions into the Caribbean, with the successful capture of Porto Bello and a disastrous failure at Cartagena in Venezuela, but also on a world-wide scale, as there was fighting in Florida and Georgia, a siege of Gibraltar, and even a British effort to interrupt Spanish commerce in the Pacific, which ended in a circumnavigation.
In telling this tale, Gaudi offers us looks at some of the leading characters; Prime Minister Walpole, Admirals Vernon and Anson, the Oglethorpes of Georgia, and, on the Spanish side the excellent sea dog Blas de Lezo. Although Gaudi does tell us more about the Spanish side of the war, his treatment is still rather concentrated on the English side of the story. Nevertheless, The War of Jenkins’ Ear is a very good modern account of a long overlooked conflict, marred by a lack of references.
Note: The War of Jenkins' Ear is also available in several e-editions.
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