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THE UNION FLAG RISES OVER MENORCA
The Story of the British Involvement on Menorca

Following the disastrous attack on Mahón in 1535 by the infamous Barbarossa, (in English Red beard the Pirate) it was decreed by the Spanish King Charles 1 that a small fort be built at the entrance of the harbour to defend it from further attacks. It took best part of 25 years before it was completed and was, in effect, similar to a small medieval castle.

barbarossa

Khayr al-Din “Barbarossa” Barbary pirate who was later Admiral of the Ottoman fleet For three centuries after his death his pirate successors ravage the Mediterranean coastal towns
Sant felipe Mahon

Castell de Sant Felipe “St Philips Castle” The original design by the military engineer Juan Bautista Calvi and constructed about 1554 at last gave some defence to the harbour of Mahón

Britain´s important trade route with the Middle East through the Mediterranean was highly dangerous. Their merchant ships being continually attacked by the Pirates of the Barbary Coast of Algeria. The British Government ordered the Royal Navy to protect the merchantmen. The situation worsened so much that for security the Royal Navy decided to convoy the ships through the most vulnerable areas, the worst of these being the Western Mediterranean north of Algeria. With increasing numbers of war ships engaged in the operation, the Royal Navy required a safe haven, a place to shelter from inclement weather, carry out repairs, take on fresh water and food and a place where ship crews could rest for a while on dry land.

The British Government was fully aware of the island of Menorca due north of Algeria and approximately half way between France and the North Africa coast. They were also aware of the huge harbour on the south eastern corner of the island. They had now found out about the new defences at the entrance which had been completed. What better situation for that safe haven they required.

It must be emphasised that Britain was on friendly terms with Spain at this time and therefore any approaches had to be very diplomatically handled. Although the Royal Navy started to use the harbour from 1661 it was not until 1669 that Admiral Mansell, commander of the Western Squadron of the Mediterranean Fleet who reached such agreement with the local nobility and the Royal Navy started to build a permanent base. This first base, or Arsenal as it was called, was constructed on the southern side of the harbour and underneath the cliff of Mahón as plans and contemporary paintings show.

Mahon port

Mahon Port

THE FIRST BRITSH ARSENAL ON THE SOUTH SHORE TO THE RIGHT OF THE CAREENED SHIP

And so the British Union Flag was raised for the first time on shore on Menorca over this very small Arsenal. The local people found there was some extra employment and that there was significant increase in trade with the outside world as ships of friendly nations could safely find protection from the pirates and refuge from storms. The Noble families and the Authorities were well satisfied and close relations between them and the British was fostered. A friendship which proved to be so important some 50 years later, early in the 18th century.

Part 2 to be continued in next month’s edition of Roqueta Prepared by Bryce Lyons for and with permission of the Asociación Menorca Britannia www.menorcabritannia.org

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