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he Union Flag over MInorca---
Chapter 8 of the series

A Spanish Island Once More

Chapter 7 ended with the re-conquest of Minorca by the French/Spanish coalition and the terms of the British surrender signed on the 6th February 1782 between Governor Murray and the Duc de Crillon

With Minorca once again under Spanish rule there was great consternation by the population throughout the Island. during the previous years under British and the 7 years of French rule the liberties enjoyed by the Menorcans encouraged continuous growth in trade and therefore employment and the consequential betterment of living standards for the majority of the population. Was their relative prosperity about to be lost and, very importantly, was their freedom of religious tolerance be under immediate threat? Juan de Silva Meneses, Conde de Cifuentes was put in the position as the new Governor taking up his post at a very difficult time for Minorca.

During both periods of British colonial rule and also the 7 years of French occupation (1756-1763) the Menorquins were allowed to practise their Catholic religion without interference. Now the Bishop in Mallorca seized the opportunity and missionaries arrived on the island from mainland Spain to impose their strict rules. The Inquisition, which the British had outlawed way back in 1713, was re-imposed to the dismay of everyone.

Duque de crillon
DUQUE DE CRILLON
Conde de cifuentes
CONDE DE CIFUENTES

The laws and customs, which the Duque de Crillon had promised the people would be respected, were soon substituted by new directives from Madrid. Taxes were imposed for the first time for over half a century, imports of goods was severely controlled by the customs authorities and all boats had to be registered taking away the liberties of the sailors and fishermen. The Spanish government attempted to reintroduce the one in twenty levy on all young men for military service which since the medieval times they had been excused from serving outside the island. The most insulting law that was imposed on them was that their Catalan language spoken since 1287 must be replaced by Castillian. The most colourful and fruitful time for the Menorquin language having been during the British colonial times with many of the illustrious writers belonging to the Societad Maonesa de Cultura which had been established during the second period of British rule.

The very active governor, Conde de Cifuentes, did his best to appease the population but he could not disobey the direct orders of the government in Madrid however he certainly did everything in his power to alleviate the suffering of the people and brighten their lives. Amongst many other projects he was responsible for the construction of the beautiful Paseo de la Alameda at the inland end of the harbour which was depicted in so many contemporary paintings of the time. Unfortunately this was left unattended and deteriorated early in the 20th century but from the painting it was a very attractive park lined with poplar trees and a wonderful place for the Ladies and Gentlemen to take their afternoon and evening walks. It apparently curved around the Colasarga, the end of the harbour where the boat hire offices are currently situated. Most of it now lost and a still vacant new block of modern apartments stands in its place. However the part which remains has the coat of arms of and a citation to Cifuente on the building still existing

Georgetown was quickly renamed Real Villa de San Carlos after Charles III of Spain and Cifuentes continued the growth of trade and commerce started by the British.

The one thing which totally dismayed Cifuentes however and to which he was vehemently opposed was the order from the government to destroy the fortress of San Felipe. Although the upper workings had been badly damaged during the siege of 1781/82, and previously during the French siege of 1756 it was still a formidable fortification and defence at the entrance to the harbour. Had the powers in Madrid forgotten that both Britain and France had coveted the Port mahón for years? Had they forgotten that Great Britain had spent some one million pounds on the enlargement of the fortress? (A vast amount of money in those days.)

Did they not realise that the geographical position of the harbour, not just the defensive role of San Felipe, made this the most important and strategic port in the Mediterranean? Did they think that the elimination of the fortress would make it less likely for an attack by either Britain or France and thereby make Minorca a safer place? Well, obviously these considerations were not seriously debated and if they were then they were totally ignored.

On behalf of King Charles III his ministers gave the demolition order on 16th February 1782. This was just 10 days after General Murray had surrendered the Fortress of St Felipe to the Duque de Crillon indicating how little thought had been given to the consequences. Six months later Juan Guillelmi, the Lieutenant Colonel of artillery reported that the demolition was complete. The huge star shaped bastions of San Felipe and castle of San Antonio at Fornells, together with their underground passages and workings had been razed and made un-useable. Menorca was left undefended except a small battery of guns at La Mola, a further four batteries sited on the rubble of San Felipe and three at Fornells. Ciutadella was protected only by its walls and the small San Nicholás tower. Governor Cifuentes was dismayed to see the Menorcans, once again , having to resort to their own devices to ensure their safety. I quote from his own words “As they see themselves with few troops and no defence fortifications, no one can convince them they are secure”.

The famous Menorca historian Hernández Sanz writes ”It must be agreed that only with a Governor like Cifuentes could the island have adapted itself to the new regime” It is apparent that he worked tirelessly to pacify the population until his death in 1792. He was succeeded as governor by ANUNCIVAY

Times were difficult for the population of Minorca. Poverty caused by having to supply the Spanish ships of war and to take in many French political refugees caused the prices to rise of their basic necessities. This was increased by a succession of bad harvests, storms and epidemics of diseases possibly caused by a plague of rats.

At this time, the 1790’s, the birth rate was being exceeded by the death rate. The general moral of the population was low with no feeling of obligation towards the Madrid government whom they believed had let them down badly. They could only look back on the good and prosperous lives they had enjoyed during the previous British rule. Now with no serious form of defence the population felt very vulnerable. After Spain declared war on Britain in 1796 and from the beginning Anuncivay, the then Governor, had repeatedly asked Madrid for reinforcements to be sent to Minorca but to no avail.

On the death of Anuncivay in 1797 Brigadier Juan Quesada was appointed Governor.

He immediately tried to put the defences of Minorca into some form of order. Without reinforcements these could only be described as disastrous with only about 100 cannon and a total of 2600 men, many incompetent and undisciplined, to defend the whole island.

Following the European turmoil caused by the French Revolution and the execution of Louis XVI and once the political situation had stabilised somewhat the natural alliance between France and Spain was once again cemented in 1796 by, not only a defensive, but also an offensive treaty. After all they had, historically, one mutual enemy and that was Great Britain. As Manuel Godoy the favourite minister of the now King Charles IV stated “England is the only power from which Spain has received direct injuries, the present alliance shall only have effect against her in the present war”

The Spanish fleet’s main objective was in defence of Bonaparte’s advances in Italy and therefore the main theatre of battle was the Mediterranean however this soon spread across the Atlantic. Here admiral Jervis defeated the Spanish fleet of Córdoba off Cape St. Vincent (Jervis later took the title Earl St Vincent) but this British victory was promptly repaid by the defeat of Commodore (as he was then) Nelson by Mazzaredos victory in Nelson’s blockade of Cadiz. The Spanish attacked the British fleet once more at Tenerife and here Nelson lost his arm and had to retreat. With little in the way of a land army Britain had to rely on the Royal Navy to halt the amazing advance of Napoleon throughout Europe. It was decided to send a combined fleet to the Mediterranean but this was not in position before Malta was overrun, captured by the French in the June of 1798. Landing in Alexandria Napoleons land forces then conquered Egypt. Nelson however quickly took revenge in his brilliant defeat of the French fleet at the bay of Aboukir. Basically wiping out the French fleet he proved, this time, the Royal Navy’s domination of the seas.

The British Government under Prime Minister William Pitt (the younger) recognised the immediate necessity of a safe base of operations within the Mediterranean and the obvious choice was the deep water harbour of Mahón. The man chosen to plan and lead the expedition to re-take Menorca was the brilliant Lieutenant-General Sir Charles Stuart.

Follow General Stuarts amazing retaking of Minorca and the final British period in Chapter 9
“The return of the British and the Treaty of Amiens”

Bryce Lyons Historic Tour Guide President Asociacion Menorca Britannia

 

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