War of Jenkins’ Ear Begins
The 23rd of October 1739 AD
The most strangely-named conflict in our history (the War on Terror only qualifies as the least accurately titled) is named for an incident that happened eight years before it was declared. The War of Jenkins Ear (not actually called that until the Victorian historian and essayist Robert Carlyle came up with the name) was fought from 1739 to 1748.
In 1731 Spanish coast-guards boarded the British brig Rebecca trading out of Jamaica. Her captain, Robert Jenkins, was first mock-hanged, and then bound to his ship’s mast. The Spanish commander, Julio Fandino, was said to have sliced off Jenkins’ ear supposedly threatening to do the same to George II were he to have the temerity to appear in the same waters.
The event was used in 1738 by those in Britain keen to go to war with Spain to pressurise Prime Minister Robert Walpole , Jenkins summoned to testify to a parliamentary committee (at which legend has it he produced his ear, kept pickled in a jar). The root of the grievance was a less than noble one: disagreements over the British right to sell slaves in South America (and also to land 500 tons of goods in that region yearly). Walpole resisted the pressure until he could no longer do so, and on October 23 1739 declared was on the Spanish.
Echoes of previous Anglo-Spanish conflicts can be seen in the subsequent War of Jenkins’ Ear: like Drake , Raleigh and Hawkins before him Commodore George Anson seized a fortune in silver from captured Spanish ships; and Admiral Edward Vernon’s raid on Porto Bello in Panama struck at Spanish silver production as Elizabeth ’s privateers had on the same coast a century and a half earlier.
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