Not just an Anecdote

“It must be considered that there is nothing more difficult to carry out, nor more doubtful of success, nor more dangerous to handle, than to initiate a new order of things.”

Niccolò Machiavelli, The Prince

Not just an anecdote

A few days ago I received from my dad a couple of random pictures from Madrid. My parents are on holiday in the Spanish capital but the subjects chosen by him to illustrate their time off were surprisingly dull, some old medals and a statue of an 18th century Spanish admiral. Puzzled by his choice I quickly searched the web to find out who the gentleman was and also what was the deal with the medals and voilà! It took no time to figure out the meaning of his choice. As I kept reading I smiled. It was not such a dull choice at all after all.

The medals he found in the Museo Naval de Madrid takes us back to 1741. In the Caribbean, the British and the Spanish have been in naval conflict for years. Basically, Britain was granted back in 1713 something called asiento, a contract or right to supply an unlimited number of slaves to the Spanish colonies, and 500 tons of goods per year. It was an opportunity for the British traders (and smugglers) to get their business into the closed Spanish American markets. Of course it did not go well. Spain had the right to board on to British vessels to check if there was any smuggling going on. You can imagine that of course, all sorts of dealing were going on and pirates were involved. The British Empire started to demand that the Spanish stopped checking their cargo. Troops were sent to West Indies by the British, which escalated tensions. The Spanish king, Felipe V, ended the right of asiento and confiscated as many British vessels as he could in response to a threat of attack and finally, in 1739, war was officially declared by King George II against the Spanish with an attack on La Guaira (a province of Venezuela).

Everything was going well for the Brits under the command of Admiral Vernon. A string of victories made Vernon believe the final victory would be his. Things were going so well that in 1741 he decided to attack Cartagena de Indias (in Colombia), a very important gold trading port for the Spanish. Sure of his victory to be, Vernon sent word to London to kick off the celebrations so medals were made to mark the occasion. One of them showed Vernon looking down upon the Spanish Admiral, Blas de Lezo on his knees. It reads “the pride of Spain humbled by Vernon”.  Another one depicts a proud Vernon pointing at Cartagena whose forts had just been destroyed by him. The thing is. Vernon was heavily defeated. Spain, commanded by the same Admiral Blas de Lezo, portrayed kneeling down to Vernon, claimed a very significant victory which consolidated even further its American empire. The battle for Cartagena lasted for almost 70 days and ended with the British fleet withdrawing in defeat. 18,000 dead or incapacitated, mostly by disease (yellow fever). The Spanish also suffered severely from disease including the underestimated strategist, Blas de Lezo, who died a few weeks after falling ill from the plague from so many unburied bodies. Admiral Vernon went down in history as the man who counted the chickens before they hatched.  One only hoped he kept any of the medals as a gentle reminder of his achievement of managing the biggest naval defeat that Britain saw in the 18th century.

Admiral Blas de Lezo and Admiral Vernon

So that was the mystery behind the choice of pictures of my dad. I cannot wait to read more about the battle of Cartagena and the whole of the War of Jenkins’ Ear, a much unknown period of our common history. As for why I have chosen to write about it in a Brexit blog… oh well. I let you all to jump to your own conclusions. I must admit it does feel good sometimes not to rant. I will let Friedrich Hegel to do the talking for me “Rulers, Statesmen, Nations, are wont to be emphatically commended to the teaching which experience offers in history. But what experience and history teach is this – that people and governments never have learned anything from history, or acted on principles deduced from it. Each period is involved in such peculiar circumstances, exhibits a condition of things so strictly idiosyncratic, that its conduct must be regulated by considerations connected with itself, and itself alone”. Hasta la próxima amigos

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