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Spanish history in art and literature

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Spain's lowest ebb
03 July 2020

The last blog was titled, Spain’s finest hour, but we ended with the Spanish under the heel of Bonaparte and the Spanish royal family imprisoned in Bayonne, whilst Bonaparte had installed his brother, Joseph, as the King of Spain. The Supreme Central Junta, who were writing the new Spanish constitution, first met on 25 September 1808 in Aranjuez and later in Seville, before being forced to retreat to Isla de León, Cádiz, by yellow fever and the French army. The future for Spain looked very bleak.

However, the English, who had aided the Portuguese royal family escape to Brazil, had not for gotten the Spanish. Whilst in Cadiz, the struggling remnants of the Spanish government could be supplied by sea. The Royal Navy controlled the seas around Spain after the Battle of Trafalgar, and British generals were tasked with restoring morale to the remaining Portuguese armed forces.

In August of the same year that the Cortez first convened, 15,000 British troops landed in Portugal under the command of Lieutenant-General Sir Arthur Wellesley, later to become known as the Duke of Wellington. Within a matter of weeks, they had smashed General Junot’s force of 14,000 men at Vimeiro. By October, command of the now 30,000 strong British forces was given to Sir John Moore, who continued to lead the combined British, Spanish and Portuguese troops.

General Romana in Denmark pledging his support for the british.

In 1807, Bonaparte had bullied the Spanish king into donating an infantry division to his army of occupation in Denmark and Hamburg.  They were commanded by General La Romana, who had contacted the British as soon he heard of the rebellion against Bonaparte. On the 27th August 1808, 9,000 of the 15,000 troops loaned to Bonaparte were spirited away from Denmark by the Royal Navy and landed at Santander. Romana was given command of the Army of Galicia, which was then commanded by General Blake, but on the very same day that Romana was to take command, Blake suffered a crushing defeat, and when the army regrouped, Romana had only 6,000 troops under his command.

Bonaparte had realised the threat now posed by Spain, and he threw the bulk of his Grand Armée into the fight to regain control. Moore was forced to retreat as Bonaparte abandoned his planned attack on Seville and Portugal and turned his army against Moore's position. Eighty thousand French troops faced the British, who retreated to the safety of La Coruña. Soult failed to catch Moore, but his retreat was marked by a breakdown of discipline in many regiments punctuated by stubborn rearguard actions. The British troops escaped by sea after fending off a strong French attack dring which Moore was killed. Some 26,000 troops reached Britain, with 7,000 men lost over the course of the expedition.

The Spanish were shocked by the British retreat, and the rearguard of La Romana's retreating force was overrun at Mansilla on 30 December by Soult, who captured León the next day. With his small force, he fought some defending actions for General Moore's retreat westwards to La Coruña. But with the British gone, and using his limited means to best effect, Romana conducted small scale attacks against the French during 1809. These met with success, and his men were able to distract the French and overwhelm isolated garrisons. Marshal Soult abandoned his attempts to re-establish French rule in Galicia. When Soult moved against the British on the Portuguese frontier, Romana drove the French from Asturias as well. Romana was elected to the Supreme Central Junta of Cádiz, where he served for a year before returning to the war under the command of the Duke of Wellington.

Romana died suddenly in January 1811, and along with Castaños, Romana was the Spanish general most trusted and respected by Wellington. When he heard of his death, Wellington wrote, "his loss is the greatest which the cause could sustain."

The battle-by-battle account of the Peninsular War is better told by others. But the overwhelming strength of the French forces, and the scattered and often badly organised coalition forces made conventional warfare difficult. The Spanish had never surrendered, and the Madrid uprisings of 2nd and 3rd of May had strengthened their resolve to continue fighting the French. This war was the first “People’s War” characterised by the guerrilla fighter.

The guerrilla style of fighting was the Spanish military's single most effective tactic. Most organized attempts by regular Spanish forces to take on the French ended in defeat. Once a battle was lost and the soldiers reverted to their guerrilla roles, they tied down large numbers of French troops over a wide area with a much lower expenditure of men, energy, and supplies. This facilitated the conventional victories of Wellington and his Anglo-Portuguese army, and the subsequent liberation of Portugal and Spain. Mass resistance by the people of Spain inspired the war efforts of Austria, Russia and Prussia against Napoleon. By 1813, Spanish guerrillas tied down over 75% of the French occupying army, leaving only a small fraction free to face the conventional allied forces under Wellington.

Juan Martin Diez.  From a painting by Francisco Goya

One of the most famous guerrilla leaders was Juan Martin Diez, El Empecinado. His nickname, or mote in Spanish, is from the verb to be persistent, empecinarse.  From his teens he had been a rebel, and when the French invaded he found a cause. Díez organized a party of warriors composed of his friends and even members of his own family. His first attacks centered around the route between Madrid and Burgos harrying the French supply lines, but he took part in the battles at Cabezón de Pisuerga bridge and Medina de Rioseco, both in Valladolid.  The Spanish army was defeated in both of these battles and Diez became convinced that conventional warfare was not the answer against seasoned French troops led by clever generals.

He began a series of guerrilla campaigns throughout the Duro valley. The principal function of the attacks was to disrupt the communication lines of the French army by intercepting the enemy's messages and by seizing convoys of supplies, money, and armaments. He was so successful that in 1809 Díez was promoted to the rank of cavalry captain, and during the spring of the same year, his field of action extended along the mountains in Gredos, Ávila, and Salamanca, and also in the provinces of Cuenca and Guadalajara. The damage to Napoleon's army was considerable, to such an extent that Joseph Léopold Sigisbert Hugo, a French general, was given the duty to "pursue exclusively" Díez and his guerrillas. Hugo, after trying unsuccessfully to capture Díez, opted instead to arrest Díez's mother and other members of his family. Díez, not to be cowed, had 100 French prisoners of war executed as retribution; his mother and family were promptly released.

By the latter part of 1812 the overreaching ambition of Napoleon was leading inexorably to his fall. His invasion of Russia had cost him dearly in French lives. His Grand Armée had ceased to exist during the retreat from Moscow, and he had abandoned East Prussia and the Grand Duchy of Warsaw, with Austria and Prussia joining his opposition. Bonaparte withdrew 20,000 troops from Spain.  He should have withdrawn to the Ebro, but he was afraid that the German princes, who had one eye on the approaching Russians, and the other on Napoleon’s nerve, were considering changing sides if he faltered.

The true situation was revealed when King Joseph of Spain, whom the Spanish had christened “el rey intruso” the intrusive, was forced to abandon Madrid in May 2013 and join the long train of refugees going north. During the early months of 1813, Wellington marched his army across northern Spain and took Burgos, thereby outflanking the French army. On June 21st The French army of 65,000 men were cornered by Wellington’s force of 57,000 British, 16,000 Portuguese and 8,000 Spanish at the battle of Vitoria. The French were overwhelmed, and despite attempts to regroup, the battle turned into a French rout. The French artillery was abandoned, and the extensive baggage train of “el rey intruso” was looted by the coalition forces. The French retreated to the Pyrenees and in early July began to regroup and begin operations to take San Sebastion and Pamplona. Wellington also paused to regroup before engaging the French. He had his own problems.

The summer of 1813 had been a wet one in Navarre and the Basque countries. The coalition troops had lived in damp, muddy conditions for months and had been forced to march long distances to fight. Sickness was widespread, and at one point, a third of Wellington's British troops were hors de combat, and fears about the army's discipline and general reliability grew. By 9 July, Wellington reported that 12,500 men were absent without leave, while plundering was rife. Major General Sir Frederick Robinson wrote, "We paint the conduct of the French in this country in very harsh colours, but be assured, we injure the people much more than they do ... Wherever we move devastation marks our steps".

Desertion was endemic. The Chasseurs Britanniques, who were recruited mainly from French deserters—lost 150 men in a single night. Wellington wrote, "The desertion is terrible, and is unaccountable among the British troops. I am not astonished that the foreigners should go ... but, unless they entice away the British soldiers, there is no accounting for their going away in such numbers as they do." Spain's "ragged and ill-fed soldiers" were also suffering with the onset of winter, and the fear that they would likely "fall on the populace with the utmost savagery" in revenge attacks, and looting was a growing concern to Wellington as the Allied forces neared the French border.

By the 10th November, Wellington had pushed the French to Bayonne, which he attacked by land and by sea. The weather was terrible, and the River Nive unfordable, so Wellington paused. He had reached a watershed. Not only was he fighting a truly formidable opponent, but the British government was becoming reluctant to fund the war. Also, the Spanish and Portuguese governments had not sent supplies or wages for their troops.

There was another problem. When the Spanish troops had crossed into France they had been responsible for vicious outrages against the French populace. Wellington is remembered in history as the Iron Duke, but in reality he was a compassionate leader. He would not tolerate this behaviour from his troops. He took the unprecedented step of sending 25,000 Spanish troops back to Spain and resigning command of their army. He expected a crisis between the British and Spanish governments because of his action, but nothing happened.

He was, of course, duty bound to pursue the French forces to the Seine if need be, but he rested his army over the winter of 1813 and resumed the offensive in February of 1814. By April, he had crossed the Garonne and attacked Soult at a heavily fortified Toulouse. He sent his remaining Spanish battalion in first, but they were repulsed. A second wave of English troops were more successful and took the city on April 12th.  On the 14th April, news came by couriers to both sides that Bonaparte had abdicated and the Peace of Paris was formally signed on 30th May 1814. The war was over. The Portuguese and Spanish recrossed the Pyrenees, and the French army dispersed throughout France. Louis XVIII was restored to the French throne; Napoleon was permitted to reside in exile on the island of Elba.

In all, the Peninsular War remains as the bloodiest event in Spain's modern history, doubling in relative terms the Spanish Civil War. But what followed was an even greater tragedy for Spain.

In March 1814, the Allies restored King Ferdinand VII to the throne of Spain.  At first he promised to uphold the constitution, but was repeatedly met in numerous towns by crowds who welcomed him as an absolute monarch. Sixty-nine deputies of the Cortes signed the so-called Manifiesto de los Persas ("Manifesto of the Persians") encouraging him to restore absolutism.

On the 4 May, just a few weeks after becoming king, encouraged by conservatives and backed by the Roman Catholic Church hierarchy, he abolished the constitution. By the 10 May, he had rounded up and arrested many liberal leaders who had helped draft the constitution. He justified his actions as the repudiation of an unlawful constitution made by a Cortes assembled in his absence and without his consent. Ferdinand had rewarded the traditional holders of power—prelates, nobles and those who held office before 1808—but not liberals. After 6 years of brutal warfare and near starvation fighting for an ideal that they believed in, the king had turned his back on his people and handed control back to the rich and powerful.

A revolt by Andalucian military in 1820 briefly restored the Constitution, but other European monarchs became alarmed at the success of liberal ideals, and helped Ferdinand to abolish it again.

  The monument to the constitution of 1812 in Cádiz. Photo By Diego Delso.

Upon the death of King Ferdinand VII in 1833, Spain was plunged into civil war, and over the next 60 years suffered twelve successive coups which destroyed the economy and reduced it to agriculture alone, with all the farmlands controlled by a few very rich and powerful landowners. She had lost all of her overseas possessions and was now one of the poorest nations in Europe. The world moved on and left Spain behind, but a new horror was waiting in the wings, and it was another little corporal who would bring it into the light. This time it was not a Frenchman, but a German who ushered in a new world order; Fascism.

On a lighter note: For those of you who live in Andalucia I reccomend a visit to La Pepa Museum in Cádiz. It's closed now because of Coronavirus, but first chance you get, go and see it. Here is a preview.

Read more about Spanish history on my website at



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Spain's finest hour
26 June 2020

Hi again,

As a follow on to my previous post about May 2nd and 3rd uprisings, and the paintings of Goya and Sorolla, I am posting the story of Spain's finest hour. Please bear with with me for the long text but if you are inclined to read more you can go to Page 22 of my website at      

OK here we go:

Only a month after the uprising in Madrid, Bonaparte sent out flying columns of troops to subdue any resistance to French rule and maintain security. A 20,000 strong column was led by General Dupont through the Sierra Morena to the Port of Cádiz where Spanish forces held a squadron of the French fleet captive. Bonaparte had given him enough men to free the French ships, but Dupont stopped to sack Córdoba on the way, and then when he saw the strength of the Analucian forces that had amassed in his path, turned back asking for reinforcements. 

Whilst Dupont was returning to Madrid, the Spanish field army commander at San Roque, General Castaños, and the governor of Málaga General von Reding, rode to Seville where the anti-French sympathisers had gathered and united all three of their separate military groups into one force.  They followed and caught Dupont at Bailén on the Guadalquivir River near to Jaén, and by a series of feints and attacks divided Dupont’s forces. After three desperate charges during which he lost 2,500 men Dupont asked for peace terms and was forced to surrender his army of 18,000 men. Furthermore, to the Spanish generals’ surprise, he also ordered his subordinate, whose division had not been surrounded by the Spanish, to surrender as well. This was the first time that Bonaparte’s army had been defeated in open battle, and the loss of 24,000 French troops shocked him into evacuating Madrid and recalling his troops from Zaragoza and León. He retreated behind the Ebro, whilst the rest of his forces collapsed in confusion. 

 The news spread throughout Europe, and the many countries that were under French tyranny realised that they could be defeated. Spain had given them all hope. But in Spain itself, the original centres of government had collapsed where the French had installed their own men. Juntas of poorly organised partisans sprang up when the French fled.

Spain now had Napoleon’s full attention, and he gave as many divisions of his Grand Armée as he could spare to General Soult to retake the peninsular. The Spanish army backed by thousands of partisan guerrillas was beaten back, losing major battles at Ocaña and Alba de Tormes until they were forced back into the area around Cádiz. In 1810 France had recovered the eagles that Dupont had lost in Bailén. 

Without a government, and led only by military generals, those opposing Napoleon tried to form a new governing body to co-ordinate their fight. Spain still controlled many overseas territories, and some of them had taken advantage of the confusion to declare their own independence from Spain. Nevertheless, on the 24 September 1810, surrounded by 70,000 French troops they convened the Cortes de Cádiz where 134 deputies met to decide how to rule Spain.

The American declaration of independence and the French revolution had shown the world that the old order could be changed for the benefit of all classes. 30 deputies represented overseas territories at the first meeting, but only one from the Americas. One third represented the church, one sixth the nobility and the rest were administrative and clerical officers. The agenda was to create a state where the power lay with a body elected by the people, not with the king. This was strongly opposed by the faction who supported the king, but they were promptly arrested.

 The liberalists continued to pursue their basic aims: equality before the law, reform of the taxes, replacement of the feudal ties by freedom of contract and the establishment of property rights. The liberals had the majority, and their votes carried the day and formed the basis of Spanish Constitution of 1812. Now all they had to do was remove the French from their country.


 The Cortes de Cádiz was painted by Salvador Viniegra y Lasso de la Vega, who was born in Cádiz in 1862 and studied at the Escuela de Bellas Artes in Cádiz. After achieving fame in Rome and Munich, he finally became deputy director of the Museo del Prado in Madrid. He died in 1862. His painting hangs in the Museo del Prado.

With the consent and support of the exiled royal family in Brazil, Portugal allowed the British to help reform the Portuguese army, which was led by General William Carr Beresford. They had also asked the British Army to help fight the French under the command of Lt. General Arthur Wellesley, who would later become the Duke of Wellington. The two armies under Wellington drove the French out of most of Portugal and established Lisbon as a base to continue the war against France.

The map is of the Spanish empire at the time of the French occupation.

For two years after the establishment of the Cortes de Cádiz, the Spanish had been holding out against the French using guerrilla tactics to constantly tie down Bonaparte’s forces. Napoleon wanted to continue with his ambitious plans for conquering the world and was growing tired of “The Spanish Ulcer” that he could not rid himself of.

The Spaniards nicknamed the Constitution La Pepa, possibly because it was adopted on Saint Joseph’s Day, and 'Pepa' is a nickname for 'Josephine'. It established the principles of universal male suffrage, national sovereignty, constitutional monarchy, freedom of the press, free enterprise and supported land reform. It is regarded as the founding document of liberalism in Spain and one of the first examples of classical liberalism worldwide. It came to be called the "sacred code" and during the early nineteenth century it served as the model for the Noregian Constitution of 1814, The Portuguese Constitution of 1822 and the Mexican one of 1824.

More can be seen of Spanish history on my website at     For the Spanish War of Independence go to page 22.


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The day Spain realised that it had been conned.
20 June 2020

We have looked at some of England’s links with Spain in previous blogs, but I have yet to mention art, which is also a theme of this blog. So, today I am going to tell you about a huge event in Spain’s past, and the artists who were there to capture it on canvas.

By 1799 Napoleon Bonaparte had established himself as ruler of France, but as we all know, his ambition was huge, and he had much bigger plans than anybody suspected. The English became worried about his ambition when, in 1796, Napoleon had planned to invade Ireland as a stepping stone to invading England. He gathered his “Army of England” on the channel coast in 1798, but was distracted by his other campaigns in Egypt and Austria. He revived his invasion plans for England by 1803, but by 1805 he had abandoned them for good.

In large part, this was because his lust for conquest had exceeded his abilities. France was beset on all sides, and was forced to fight against Austria and Russia at Austerlitz. In the same year, the French and Spanish navies came up against the Royal Navy led by Admiral Lord Nelson and were defeated at Trafalgar. Bonaparte turned his attention to his borders with Prussia and Russia, whom he defeated in battle, but left him with a very uneasy peace.

 Spain was allied with France by the treaty of San Ildefonso signed in 1796. After losing its fleet at Trafalgar, the Spanish became wary of Napoleon’s ambition, and moved troops to their border with France. In 1806 the Spanish forces came to readiness in case the Prussians beat Napoleon, invaded France, and then invaded Spain.

Bonaparte had a very poor opinion of Spain as an ally. Nearly bankrupt and politically fragile, the Spanish were still reeling from the loss of their fleet and resentful of the imposition of the Continental System that banned all trade with England. France had blockaded English ships from entering European ports, causing England to lose around a third of its exports, though it still had a thriving trade with Portugal and Russia. Furthermore, the trade embargo resulted in the English blockading Spanish ports, causing widespread food shortages. What irked Napoleon the most was that the Royal Navy was using Lisbon as a safe haven when not harassing the French fleet.

Napoleon told his ambassadors in Portugal to deliver an ultimatum which ordered Prince John of Braganza, who was regent of Portugal for his insane mother, to close all his ports to English ships, impound all English goods, imprison all the Englishmen in his country and declare war on England. Prince John refused, and Napoleon ordered the French and Spanish ambassadors to come home. He marshalled the French army on the border with Spain with every intention of invading Portugal, but first he needed permission from Spain to march his army across Spanish soil.

Bonaparte offered a treaty to Spain’s King Charles IV, which would divide up Portugal between France and Spain. King Charles’s Prime Minister, and the man who advised him to allow the French in, was Manuel de Godoy. Godoy was extremely unpopular with the Spanish nobility, and because of his public licentiousness, unpopular with the people. But under Napoleon’s treaty, Godoy would become administrator of the Algarve. The people of Spain saw his willingness to ally them with an atheist country against Christian (though Protestant) England as a betrayal. King Charles reluctantly signed the treaty, and Napoleon moved his army into Spain.

Napoleon’s generals arrived at the border with Portugal after a twenty five day, 300 mile, forced march. The Portuguese army was riddled with corruption, and Bonaparte’s elite troops met with little resistance. Prince John sent an emissary to Jean-Andoche Junot, who commanded the Emperor’s forces, offering to surrender his country on some very degrading terms.

The English became alarmed when they realised that 14 capitol ships, with 11 frigates, and a handful of smaller vessels belonging to the Portuguese navy were anchored in Lisbon harbour and could soon be in French hands. More alarming was the Russian squadron which was anchored in the harbour. The Russians at that time were allied with the French and were watching events closely. 

Admiral Sydney Smith arrived with a flotilla of Royal Navy ships to blockade the port. Prince John, having realised that he could not negotiate with Bonaparte, loaded his fleet with the royal family’s wealth, and along with all his nobles, and left for Brazil escorted by Admiral Smith. In a few short weeks, they had gutted the country of all its wealth, depriving Bonaparte of any gains to pay for his invasion.

Napoleon’s army marched into Portugal and took control in a relatively bloodless coup.  Much of Portuguese army was integrated into the French army and sent to Germany as an occupation garrison. Some were unlucky enough to be transferred to the battalions who would later invade Russia, and many would never see home again. 

Bonaparte needed a 25,000 strong French and Spanish occupation army to keep order in Portugal, so he levied heavy taxes on the Portuguese, and ordered the confiscation of the property of the fifteen thousand nobles who had fled to Brazil. It was barely enough, and dissent began to spread throughout Portugal. Meanwhile, the French troops in Spain began a series of campaigns in which they occupied San Sebastián, Barcelona and Pamplona. In March 1808, General Murat entered Madrid at the head of 40,000 troops to occupy the capitol. The king and his son, Ferdinand VII, fled south, but they were stopped at Aranjuez on the outskirts of Madrid where a mob surrounded them and forced the king to dismiss Godoy. Two days later, the king himself abdicated in favour of his son.

When word reached Bonaparte of Charles’s abdication, he invited them both to Bayonne for their own safety. With great trepidation they agreed, and once there they discovered that Napoleon would not recognise Ferdinand as king, and instead forced him to abdicate and give the throne to Bonaparte’s brother, Joseph. Napoleon had bolstered his forces in Spain to 100,000 troops, and the king and his son had no alternative but to agree.

The Spanish were unhappy with having Joseph Bonaparte as their king, and when Bonaparte ordered Ferdinand’s younger brother and his sister to be brought to Bayonne, too, the population of Madrid rose in revolt to stop the rest of their royal family leaving.

The 2nd of May 1808 saw a poorly-armed mob converge on the Royal Palace, and Murat called out the Imperial Guard. They opened fire on them with musket and ordered a charge by the Mameluk cavalry in the streets around the Puerta del Sol and the Puerta de Toledo. The street battles continued into the night, but early the following morning, the 3rd May, the French rounded up all the surviving rioters and shot them at a number of locations in Madrid. 

   The 2 de Mayo. Goya painted this and the 3 de Mayo paintings in 1814 within two months of each other, but six years after the event, and long after the French had left Spain.  During the occupation, Goya painted very little, but when the war was over, he asked the provisional government if he could show the heroes of the insurrection. He did not paint soldiers or nobles, but the ordinary people in the street who fought the French. He was probably not present in person during the riots, and painted these most famous scenes from eyewitness accounts.  Goya was asked to paint portraits of King Ferdinand after he had been reinstated as King of Spain, but Ferdinand did not like either of Goya’s battle scenes, and would not allow them to be shown. For many years they were locked away, and only when other kings and other governments ruled Spain did they see the light of day again. During the 1936 Spanish Civil War, Madrid was bombed, and the paintings were removed from the Prado for safety, but the truck carrying them had an accident and the 2 de Mayo was badly damaged. After the war, was it returned to the Prado, where it was repaired and still hangs there to this day.

3 de Mayo.

The Spanish military were deeply unhappy with the occupation of Spain by the French, but faced with overwhelming numbers, and as supposed allies, they had agreed with the French occupation army under General Murat that they would remain in their barracks to avoid altercations with the French troops. During the 1st of May, there had been several incidents with Bonaparte’s troops and civilians in the city, but under the agreement, French soldiers were to be allowed to deal with it.

Two Spanish officers had already tried to organise a military resistance to French occupation when French troops moved in, but were unsuccessful in their attempt. They were Captain Pedro Velarde y Santillán and Captain Luis Daoíz y Torres. Captain Daoíz was in command of Monteleón Artillery Park, with four officers, three non-commissioned officers and 10 soldiers as the only garrison.

For reasons unknown to historians, some event on the 2nd of May caused the French to open fire on the civilian population. When the shooting started, General Murat ordered French soldiers to move into Madrid’s barracks to stop the Spanish garrisons aiding the civilians.

When Captain Velarde heard the gunfire, he went to the Artillery Park to assist Daoíz at the barracks where a large group of civilians were asking for protection, or weapons to protect themselves. The two Captains decided to fight the French, and they opened their armoury to the civilians.

With 9 cannon, 120 soldiers and armed civilians under his command, Daoíz now made ready to defend of the barracks. A battery of 24 pounder guns were placed at the main gate facing into the street and were loaded with canister-shot by their military and civilian crews.  A small detachment of French who were stationed near the barracks were captured by Verlarde and their weapons and ammunition distributed amongst the defenders.

Joaquín Sorolla was born in 1863 in Valencia, Spain, and is recognised as one of Spain’s leading artists. He began his training in art at the age of 9 and by the age of 18 he was studying at Museo del Prado in Madrid. He worked in Rome and Paris, but in 1897 he won the Prize of Honour in the National Exhibition of Fine Arts in Madrid for his Portrait of Dr. Simarro at the microscope and A Research. His exhibition at the Paris Universal Exposition of 1900 won him a medal of honour and his nomination as Knight of the Legion of Honour. Within the next few years Sorolla was honoured as a member of the Fine Art Academies of Paris, Lisbon, and Valencia, and as a Favourite Son of Valencia. After his death, Sorolla's widow, Clotilde García del Castillo, left many of his paintings to the Spanish public. The paintings eventually formed the collection that is now known as the Museo Sorolla, which was the artist's house in Madrid. 

The French commanding officer, General Joseph Lagrange had around 2,000 men in the area, and the French made two assaults on the guns, but both were repulsed and the Spaniards captured a French colonel. A third wave of French troops reached the artillery lines and fired into the barracks, killing many of the defenders including Velarde before charging with fixed bayonets. Daoíz, who had been shot in the hip, continued to issue orders despite his wound, and was wounded twice more whilst fighting the French with his sabre.

A parley was called and Daoíz, carrying a white flag, limped forward to negotiate with a French officer when he was bayonetted in the back. The dying Daoíz was dragged away by his men, who continued to fight within the barracks buildings before surrendering at the request of Spanish Captain-General the Marquis de San Simón. The Spanish at Monteleón had held out against superior French numbers for around three hours. Daoíz was 41 years old when he died, and had over 26 years of continuous service in the Spanish Army. The bravery of the two captains has become a legend in Spain, and their heroic last stand against the French inspired the Spanish to begin a series of small attacks against the occupying forces. These “little wars” coined a new word for warfare. The Spanish for war is guerra, and the diminutive is guerrilla.

More of this story and other Spanish painters can be found on my website at

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The Spanish angel of Budapest
12 June 2020

Ángel Sanz Briz was born on September 28, 1910 in Zaragoza to a family of merchants. He studied law in Madrid and later obtained a degree in diplomacy, graduating the same year the Civil War started. His support for King Alphonse XIII and his conservative ideas motivated him to enrol with Franco’s rebels during the war in Ávila. Once it ended, he was assigned to the Spanish Legation in Egypt, and later to Budapest, where he arrived in 1942.

  Ángel Sanz Briz 1940

Franco declared that during World War II, Spain would remain neutral, but his dictatorship actively supported the Nazi regime in a variety of ways. Even though Spain suffered a famine after the Spanish Civil War, it sent food to Germany and on the battlefield provided reinforcements of 48,000 soldiers of the Blue Division (La División Azul) to fight the Soviets. For the most part, this Spanish-German relationship has not been incorporated into the Spanish public memory of World War II. Nor is another consequence of the of Franco’s alliance with Hitler; the approximately 10,000 Spanish Republican exiles who died in Nazi concentration camps.

When the Nazis began deporting Jews from France, the Franco regime at first allowed many thousands to flee through Spanish territory, before tightening the policy in 1940. Jews were refused transit papers, and those caught in the country illegally were rounded up and sent to a concentration camp at Miranda de Ebro. At no time was any significant number of Jews given the option of refuge in Spain, not even Spanish-speaking Sephardic Jews from the Nazi-occupied Greek city of Thessaloniki.

Hungary joined the Axis powers in 1940 under German pressure, after having absorbed fascist ideas during the previous decade, but it was not until 19 March 1944 when the Nazis invaded Hungary that the true plans of the Third Reich became clear. After the invasion, the chief SS Holocaust organiser Adolf Eichmann moved to Budapest with a plan to eliminate Hungary's roughly one million Jews in record time.

From the first day of the war, Jews in Budapest suffered various forms of maltreatment and humiliation from Germans and Hungarians, especially by the Arrow Cross Party led by Ferenc Szálasi. But the murder of the Hungarian Jews reached a level never seen before when Heinrich Himmler commanded Adolf Eichmann and an Einsatzgruppen to carry out the “Final Solution,” meaning the segregation of Jews in ghettos, transportation to concentration/death camps, and extermination.

In this desperate situation, a Spanish Jewish community in Tétouan asked for the protection and transfer of 500 Jewish children in Budapest and, later, the protection of 700 adults. Unfortunately they were not allowed to leave the country, but remained under the protection of the Red Cross. Books written by Jews or about Jewish men and women were burned in the streets by Nazi and Arrow Cross Party soldiers.

Briz was horrified by what he was seeing in the streets of Budapest and sent detailed information back to the fascist Franco government in Spain, including a drawing of the gas chambers of Auschwitz and reports of other Nazi killing sites. The drawings had been made by Alfred Wetzler and Rudolf Vrba, who managed to escape from Auschwitz.

Both Wetzler (who later took the name Josef Lanik) and Vrba (actually named Walter Rosenberg) spent approximately two years in Auschwitz. Wetzler had been transferred there from the camp at Sered in southern Slovakia on April 13, 1942, and Vrba had arrived at the end of June 1942, after being held for two weeks at the Majdanek concentration camp near Lublin in Poland. After their escape, Wetzler and Vrba made contact with representatives of the Jewish council in Zilina, Slovakia, and presented a report, which included a great deal of detailed information on the organization and functioning of Auschwitz. Initially drafted in both Slovak and German, the report was translated into numerous languages so that the international community would know what was happening at Auschwitz. The report aimed, in particular, to warn Hungary’s Jews of the Nazi regime’s imminent plans to annihilate their community. The Wetzler-Vrba Report was among the most important pieces of documentary evidence presented at the Nuremberg Trials of 1945.

Auschwitz. Photo: Getty

Weeks went by without word from Madrid, whilst the systematic deportation began in mid-May 1944. Within two months, approximately 440,000 Jews had been forcibly removed from Hungary, with most having been sent to Auschwitz. Finally, after repeated messages, he received a reply from the then Secretary of Foreign Policy, José Félix de Lequerica, who urged him to save “as many as he could.” A horrified Sanz Briz decided to carry out his own salvation plan without the knowledge or approval of the Spanish and Hungarian governments.

The Spanish Constitution included a decree signed by General Primo de Rivera on December 20, 1924 that allowed all Spanish Jews in Europe to apply for Spanish citizenship. Briz had found a way to grant Spanish citizenship to Sephardic Jews in Greece, Hungary, Bulgaria, and Romania. The decree had been overturned in1930, but neither the Nazis nor the Hungarians knew that. (The 1924 decree applied to Sephardic Jews, who were of Spanish origin, but Briz included Ashkenazi Jews, who were or Eastern European origin and even some non-Jews.)

Briz and the other embassy staff issued 5,200 fake papers to Jews in Hungary, giving them free passage to escape to Spain. Briz bought safe houses with his own money and taught the Ashkenazi Jews basic Spanish so they could pretend to be Sephardim.  The Jewish population lived in the walled ghettos established by the Nazis in the outskirts of the city, but before long, many Jews seeking potentially life-saving Spanish visas took the long, risky walk from their ghettos to downtown Budapest, specifically to Eötvös street, where the Spanish Legation was located.

As the Nazis and Hungarian fascists closed in on the city's Jews, moving them into confined quarters and killing people in the streets, Sanz Briz rented 11 apartment buildings to house the approximately 5,000 people he had placed under Spain's protection. Briz and the other embassy staff from the Legation issued visas and protection letters to all Jews who claimed to have any sort of relationship with Spain. But Sephardic Jews numbered only about 500 in Budapest. Sanz Briz was determined to save more.

The plan ran into trouble when Nazi and Hungarian soldiers began inspecting the visas, prompting Briz to turn individual visas into family visas and added letter sequences (1A, 1B, 1C, etc.) to increase the number of people protected. This way, if two members of the same family were inspected the same day, the illegality of the document could pass unnoticed.

“The 200 units that had been granted to me I turned into 200 families; and the 200 families multiplied indefinitely due to the simple procedure of not issuing a document or passport with a number higher than 200,” Briz explained. By the autumn of 1944 the deportations and the mistreatment of Jews greatly intensified. At this stage, Sanz Briz made use of his own resources to rent entire buildings a short distance from the Spanish Legation to provide shelter and food to every Jew who could be granted a visa or letter of protection. Meanwhile, the Red Army advanced from the east, and was already at the gates of Budapest by December.

On 24 October, 1944, the now Spanish foreign minister, José Félix de Lequerica, sent a telegram to Sanz Briz in Budapest. "On request of the World Jewish Congress please extend protection to largest number persecuted Jews," it said. With the Germans obviously losing the war, Franco had begun to think about Spain’s future international status in the light of the Holocaust.


Six weeks later, fearing reprisals against the Spanish for the involvement of the Brigade Azul on the eastern front, Sanz Briz received orders from Madrid to move to Austria. On December 20, Sanz Briz left the Legation in Budapest almost in secret, bidding farewell only to his closest employees. The Jews he had protected all this time were not abandoned. Giorgio Perlasca, an Italian fascist who volunteered to fight for Franco during the Spanish Civil War, where he had met Sanz Briz, was named Spanish consul and left in charge of the protection of the 5,000 Jews Sanz Briz had sheltered.

Perlasca, repulsed by anti-Semitism, had abandoned his early faith in fascism. By removing him, Madrid had silenced Sanz Briz and his story in order to avoid drawing attention to the Franco regime’s inaction in the face of the destruction of european Jewry. The historical deception of Sanz Briz’s role thus created a distorted version of the sheltering of Hungarian Jews which has been wrongly attributed to Giorgio Perlasca alone.

In the 30 years after the war, Ángel Sanz Briz worked in other destinations around the world, never mentioning a word about his heroic actions in Budapest, not even to his family. He was stationed in San Francisco, Washington D.C., Lima, Guatemala and Vatican City where he died on June 11, 1980. Briz retreated into a regular diplomatic career, and was not permitted by the stridently anti-Israel Franco regime to receive the honour of Righteous Among the Nations,  by Yad Vashem, Israel's Holocaust memorial centre, in his lifetime. An obituary for Sanz Briz published by Spain's ABC newspaper in 1980, (The same ABC newspaper that paid for Franco to be flown to Tetuan to start the Civil War.) makes no mention of his exploits in Budapest.

Although relatively unknown in Spain today, his work has recently drawn the attention of filmmakers, historians and novelists. The story has been depicted in a historic novel by the writer and journalist Diego Carcedo, Un español frente al Holocausto. Así salvó Ángel Sanz Briz a 5000 judíos (2000 Madrid: Ediciones Temas de Hoy). Sanz Briz is now the subject of both a documentary as well as an historical film for television: the aforementioned documentary by Fernando González titled Ángel Sanz Briz: the Spanish Schindler aired on Antena 3 TV in December 2008 –available at full length on Youtube–and the movie by José Manuel Lorenzo, El ángel de Budapest (2011) aired on La Primera de Televisión Española in December 2011. Hopefully this new popular attention to an intrepid Spanish diplomat will arouse interest in Spain and elsewhere about the complexities of Spanish diplomacy during the Holocaust.

Much of the above was taken from an article written by Macarena Tejada-López who has a Master’s degree in Women’s Studies from the University of Huelva and a Master’s in Romance Language from the University of Oregon. She currently lives in Huelva, Spain, teaching English to unemployed immigrants.2012

Other credits go to James Badcock, BBC News, for an article on 18 March 2019.

More about Spanish history can be seen on my website at 

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Did MI6 start the Spanish Civil War?
05 June 2020

Upon the death of King Ferdinand VII in 1833, Spain was plunged into civil war, and over the next 60 years suffered twelve successive coups, which destroyed the economy and reduced it to agriculture alone. What made matters worse was that all the farmlands were controlled by a few very rich and powerful landowners.  Catalonia was one of the poorest areas, but was the centre of a nascent trade union movement, with 53 different unions in Barcelona alone.

The breaking point came in 1909 when tribesmen in the Rif attacked mines in Melilla, which were being run by rich Spanish owners. General José Marina Vega, military commander of Melilla, asked Madrid for reinforcements to protect the mines and the Minister of War called up the active and reserve units in Catalonia.  The reserve units were comprised of men who had completed active duty, and were not expecting to have to serve again.  They were the only breadwinners for their families, and they were being forced to fight against other workers who were being exploited by wealthy mine-owners. Their unrest resulted in the union, Solidaridad Obrera - directed by a committee of anarchists and socialists, calling a general strike for Monday 26 July 1909.

Although the civil governor, Ángel Ossorio y Gallardo, had received ample warning of the growing discontent, acts of vandalism were provoked by elements called the jóvenes bárbaros (Young Barbarians), who were associated with the Radical Republican Party (Partido Republicano Radical) By Tuesday, workers had occupied much of central Barcelona, halting troop trains and overturning trams. By Thursday, there was street fighting, with a general eruption of riots, strikes, and the burnings of convents. Many of the rioters were antimilitarist, anticolonial and anticlerical. The rioters considered the Roman Catholic Church a part of the corrupt middle and upper class whose sons did not have to go to war, and much public opinion had been turned against the Church by anarchist elements within the city. Convents were burned, and of 112 buildings set fire during the disturbances, 80 were church-owned or associated with the church. The cemeteries and crypts were broken open and rioters brought the mummies out of their tombs and paraded them through the city in a scene that was pure Buñuel. The mob marched from the convents to the Ramblas and then on to the mayor’s office in the Plaza de San Jaime.  Finally, they reached the palace of the Marques de Comillas, the owner of the African mines which the drafted reservists were due to defend.

Barcelona during the "Tragic week"

Following the disturbances in the suburbs of Barcelona, civil guards and police fired on the demonstrators in Las Ramblas, resulting in the construction of barricades in the streets and the proclamation of martial law. The government declared a state of war and ordered troops to end the revolt. Working class conscripts recruited from Barcelona and already stationed in the city, were considered unreliable under the circumstances. Accordingly, other army units were brought in from Valencia, Zaragoza, Pamplona and Burgos. These reinforcements ended the revolt, resulting in eight dead soldiers and over a hundred civilian deaths. In Spanish history, this week is known as the “Tragic Week.”

The First World War raged across Europe, whilst Spain remained neutral, but after the war the working classes joined with the military in an effort to rid themselves of a corrupt central government. They were largely unsuccessful until a coup put Miguel Primo de Rivera in power as a dictator. He resigned in 1930 and was followed by a succession of dictators.  

King Alfonso XIII realised that there was no support for a monarchy, and he called for municipal elections in 1931. The Socialists, Republicans and Liberals won almost all the seats, and established the Second Spanish Republic. King Alfonso left the country knowing that Spain no longer wanted a king.

After anti-clerical violence in Madrid and the south west, which was brutally put down by the army and the police,  the workers union (CNT) called several strikes, leading to confrontations with the Guardia Civil in the streets of Seville, threatening to bring down the government. The elections of 1931 saw gains by the Republicans and Socialists which strained the political climate further.

When the Great Depression arrived in 1931 the Spanish government gave parcels of land to the rural populations so that they could feed themselves and brought in an eight hour working day. In December of that same year, Liberalists revised the constitution to make the country secular, closing many of the Church-run schools and charities and angering the Catholics.

Five years of unrest followed, with open violence in the streets, and elections that brought in radical governments which destroyed whatever policies the previous ones had made. In 1936 the then Prime Minister, Santiago Casares Quiroga, received word that the military generals were considering a coup.

The military had suffered cutbacks to their ranks, and many of the younger officers realised that there was no promotion likely in the near future. Also, their pay had been capped or reduced, with the ever present prospect of redundancy. In fact, plans for a coup had been discussed in private amongst the top echelons of the army, and the men who would take command were already in place and in contact with each other.

In an effort to defuse the dissent, the Prime MInister moved the army commanders to remote postings.  Francisco Franco to the Canaries, Manuel Goded Llopis to the Balearic Islands and Emilio Mola was moved to Pamplona. José Antonio Primo de Rivera was put in prison in mid-March in order to restrict the Falange (Facist) party.

Francisco franco

Mola immediately began planning the coup from Pamplona, and Franco sent a cryptic message to Casares hinting that the army was disloyal, but rebellion could be avoided if he were made commander of all the armed forces. Caseres ignored it. Cracks were already appearing in the plans of the plotters.

Franco had the respect of the army, especially the African Army known as the Legion, who were the most feared, fanatical soldiers in Spain’s fighting forces. He had been their commanding officer for years, and they were devoted to him. But Franco was in the Canaries, nearly a thousand miles away. The Prime Minister’s plan had worked. He had defused the coup by scattering its planners.

It was at this point that the fulcrum upon which Spain’s future balanced moved to Simpsons restaurant in the Strand, where Luis Bolín, the London correspondent for the right-wing Spanish newspaper ABC, was having lunch with Douglas Francis Jerrold, who was also a devout Catholic and the editor of the English Review, a very prestigious London magazine, with many of the greatest authors and thinkers of the day contributing to its pages. The conversation turned to the situation in Spain, and they both agreed that Franco should be brought back from the Canaries to Tetuan in Africa and reunited with his troops.

Simpsons restaurant

Over the next few days, they recruited a Catholic officer called Major Hugh Pollard, who had been a press officer in the Royal Irish Constabulary during the uprising in 1919 and had produced string of “fake news” periodicals, including a bogus Irish Bulletin, the news-sheet for the Irish Republicans. He was teamed with Cecil Bebb, a qualified and experienced pilot, and to finance the operation, the two were presented with a blank cheque signed by Juan March, the owner of ABC.

Major Hugh Bertie Campbell Pollard

 Douglas Francis Jerrold, as well as being an editor, was also a British intelligence officer, and Cecil Bebb was an ex-MI6 operative.

Dragon Rapide aircraft. The one which carried Franco is displayed at the military aviation museum in Madrid.

Together they hired a Dragon Rapide aircraft at Croyden airport, and at Jerrold’s suggestion they took along Pollard’s daughter and friend as “cover.”  Bebb piloted the aircraft to Teneriffe, where they landed on the 11 of July 1936. They had been given the name of a doctor to contact who would pass a coded message to Franco. By the 12th the aircraft was in Casablanca with Franco on board. Franco sent a cable to Mola saying that he thought that there was insufficient support for the coup. Mola, who was in the last stages of organising the coup, threw the letter on the floor in rage. Bebb flew Franco to Gran Canaria, seemingly to attend a funeral, but his real mission was to install General Orgas, another conspirator, as military leader of the Canaries. Franco was still doubtful of support, but any incident could lead to uncontrollable war and the spark was provided by the murder of a police officer by Falangists in Madrid on the 14th. A wave of reprisal killings started and the government did nothing to stop the slaughter or arrest the killers. As soon as Franco learned of the reaction in Spain, he realised that the killings had given him all the support he needed and cabled Mola in Pamplona to tell him that he was committed to the overthrow of the government.

Franco kissed his wife and daughter goodbye, and joined Bebb and Pollard who flew him to Tetuan where he was reunited with his troops and immediately began preparations for a coup on the mainland. When they landed at six in the morning, Franco was ecstatic and told the two Englishmen that “One day people will know what you have done. Today I have no words to express my gratitude.” 

Meanwhile, Luis Bolín flew to Rome, to request the loan of twelve bombers with a sufficient number of bombs. Mussolini had promised to help Mola to overthrow the government 1934, but he had no proof that Bolín represented Mola and refused. It was only when Mussolini contacted Mola direct that he realised that he was genuine. On July 25, he gave his permission, and the bombers took off for Morocco with Bolín aboard one of them. The bombers were necessary to break the blockade of the Moroccan waters by loyal Spanish war ships and enable Franco's troops to reach the mainland. Only nine bombers reached Morocco. Two planes crashed, and one made a forced landing in French Morocco, but Bolín was on one of the planes that landed safely in Tetuan.

 In return for his assistance, Bolín was appointed by Franco honorary Captain of the Spanish Foreign Legion. He also became Franco's chief press officer,

It has never been established whether Bebb and Pollard were acting with British government’s approval, but Pollard became MI6 station chief at the British Embassy in Madrid for the duration of the Spanish Civil War and Second World War.  



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Andalucia's shame and the crusading judge.
27 May 2020

In 2009 Judge Mercedes Alaya, a Sevillia born judge, began investigating allegations of extortion and corruption in what became known as the “the Mercasevilla case.” The ailing trading company in Sevilla wanted to build a new catering school, and had seemingly paid bribes to obtain planning permission. The company normally traded in fish, meat and vegetables and it owned large, old warehouses, but had begun downsizing its staffing because of the recession. What she discovered, was that some of the people who had been given redundancy pay-outs had never worked for Mercasevilla.  

Payments for redundancy came from an EU grant, and a fund called ERE (Expedientes de Regulacion de Empleo) was set up by the Junta de Andalucia so that officials of the socialist government could allocate funds at shop-floor levels. Brussels was trying to make the lot of the ordinary worker easier with redundancy payments when older industries declined and closed. The fund was controlled by the elected socialist party the PSOE, but administered on a local level by labour chief Javier Guerrero. Guerrero had been in charge of ERE fund pay-outs a for ten year period from 1998 to 2008, and Alaya discovered that he had been awarding generous retirement packages to his family. Guerrero admitted that he was guilty, and was expelled from the socialist party. The PSOE hoped that this would be the end, but Alaya then turned on the current labour leader, Juan Márquez, and charged him, too, with embezzlement. He was forced to drop his plans to run for election as mayor of Lucena del Puerto in Huelva. But Alaya had not finished, and the judge informed the labour leader who was in office before Guerrero that he was being charged for similar offences committed during his time in service.

Javier Guerrero, Photo, El Mundo.

The judge’s investigations uncovered more than 50 cases of early retirement pay-outs to people who never worked for the companies they supposedly retired from. Even more curious was the fact that the companies involved had no idea that the pay-outs had been made. 

Most of the payments had been made during Guerrero’s term, but the €650,000 fund had been set up by Antonio Fernández, who served from 2004 to 2010. Two of the beneficiaries of fake retirement pay-outs had been the family of Juan Lanzas, the UGT public sector union leader and friend of Fernández, and Antonio Garrido Santoyo, socialist party leader in Jáen whose family received €78,000 from the fund. As the web of corruption was uncovered, Judge Alaya opened more and more separate cases.

  Juan Francisco Trujillo, chauffeur for Guerrero. Photo ABC Seville.

The most revealing testimony in a trial by dominated by confusion and cover-up was given by the chauffeur for Andalucia’s former employment minister Francisco Javier Guerrero. During nearly ten years that Juan Francisco Trujillo drove for Guerrero, he was paid €1.3million, which he spent on property in Sevilla and luxury goods for friends and family. His boss and “friend” typically spent around €25,000 a month on cocaine and brothels. He would drive Guerrero and other party officials to top restaurants in Seville and then on to various “Puti” clubs, or brothels around the city. All of the money they used was illegally taken from the ERE fund that the EU topped up each year. Trujillo, now known as “the cocaine chauffeur” was been charged with 22 crimes including forgery, embezzlement, bribery and ‘influence peddling’. His boss was accused of a similar number of crimes.

The links eventually led through members of the Andalucian parliament. In 2014, Alaya charged all the members of the Governing Council of the Agency for Innovation and Development in Andalucía (IDEA) who were in power between 2003 and 2009. Among those was the president of Unicaja, Braulio Medel, and with him the ex-chief of judicial services in the Junta de Andalucía, Francisco del Río. These arrests brought the number of people charged with corruption to 181.

The EU fund became known as “the reptile fund” by its users because large amounts of it were used as bribes to pay union officials who resisted the criminals, or rival politicians who might blow the whistle on what was going on. The outsiders to their conspiracy of crime were known as “reptiles.”  Prosecutors believe that something like €200 million was illegally taken from the fund since it was first set up.

One of the pivotal figures in the scam has turned out to be Juan Lanzas, the head of the UGT union. He is thought to have made €13 million through fixing payments, allowing him to buy 12 houses and live a lifestyle far removed from the workers he is paid to represent. He was charged with five counts of embezzling public funds, breach of trust, forgery, conspiracy and bribery, but Lanzas was released from jail after his family miraculously produced €200,000 in cash to pay for his bail.

The trials and investigations begun by Judge Alaya continued for six years, but the trail had dried up, and the cover-ups had erased much of the evidence needed to bring charges. Up to this point, prosecutors had only succeeded in putting two people in prison, and it looked unlikely that anybody else will be sent to jail. The case documents had already run to over 40,000 pages and arrests were still being made in Seville, Jerez, Jaén, Granada, Madrid and Barcelona.

By this time, Judge Alaya had a fan club on Facebook which had grown to 40,000 people. She was known to the press as, “The Iron Lady of Spanish Justice.”  But even the stunningly attractive judge had doubts about being able to put an end to this evil. She had reached the top with her investigations, and openly confessed to the press that she had been stopped. "Prosecutors do not move a finger if they do not receive orders from Madrid.”

Nevertheless the prosecutions continued. The case became so large and unwieldy that it was broken up into 146 separate probes. Prosecutors estimated that, over a decade, members of the Andalusian administration diverted 680 million euros ($752 million) into their own and their family’s bank accounts. The money was discreetly passed on to people and businesses, often with close ties to the Socialist party, some of whom were not affected by layoffs.

When the trial finally came to court on December 2017 in Seville, it charged 19 former top officials from the ruling Socialists in Andalusia for their role in one of the biggest corruption cases in the country's modern history. The charges were that they distributed, without due diligence, hundreds of millions of euros meant to help the unemployed and companies in difficulty in the region of Andalucia. The court said there was an "absolute lack of control" in the management of the funds.

 Manuel Chaves and José Antonio Griñán waiting to be charged.

After a year, the case finally came to a conclusion, and on 19 November 2019, two former heads of Andalusia's regional government, Manuel Chaves and José Antonio Griñán, were among those convicted. Both men had served as ministers under former Socialist prime-minister Felipe Gonzalez. The court found Griñán, who had served as the PSOE’s regional premier in Andalusia between 2009 and 2013, guilty of embezzlement and misappropriation of public funds, and sentenced him to jail for six years. He was also declared ineligible for public office for 15 years. Chaves was found guilty of maladministration and the court declared him ineligible for public office for nine years.

In addition, former government minister and ex-regional economic chief Magdalena Álvarez, as well as another former regional minister, Gaspar Zarrías, were also barred from public office for nine years. Another four ex-regional ministers were given prison terms: Antonio Fernández and José Antonio Viera (Employment), Francisco Vallejo (Innovation) and Carmen Martínez-Aguayo (Economy).

But for the iron determination of Judge Mercedes Alaya, all of these high ranking officials would have walked free after organising the biggest corruption scam that Spain had ever seen.


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The Night of the Transistors
20 May 2020

Franco and the Prince of Spain, Juan Carlos.

As Francisco Franco aged, the factions that had supported him became more vociferous and began to make plans for who would replace him after his death. His far-right supporters demanded a return to a hard-line leader with absolute power, who could make his own constitution and laws. His left-wing wanted a more liberal government.

His first choice of successor was Admiral Luis Carrero Blanco, but a new radical separatist group called ETA had formed and used terrorist attacks to bring about the independence of the Basque country from Spain. They selected Blanco as a high profile target to bring attention to their cause and dug a tunnel beneath the road that he drove down every morning. They filled the tunnel with explosives and detonated them when the admiral’s car was above. The explosion threw the car five stories into the air, and over the top of a nearby building. Franco had to re-think his strategy and he turned to the Spanish royal family.

The Caudillo had a choice of royalty to nominate as his successor.  The true heir was Juan de Bourbón the son of the late Alfonso XIII, but Franco distrusted him and thought that his liberal rule would undo much of his work. Alfonso, Duke of Anjou and Cádiz who was an ardent Francoist was considered for a while. In the end, he chose Prince Juan Carlos, Juan de Bourbón’s son.

Juan Carlos’s early life had been marred by a tragedy that has haunted him all his life. When he was 18 he was involved in an accident that killed his 14-year old brother “Don Alfonsito.” They were on holiday together at Estoril in Portugal where the royal family lived in exile during Franco’s dictatorship. Juan Carlos had just returned from military school and was cleaning a revolver which fired, hitting the young boy in forehead, killing him instantly.

Nobody knows what really happened, but the future king said that he felt responsible for the accident.

In 1969 Juan was officially given the title of Prince of Spain, which was a watered down title, not the traditional one of Prince of Asturias usually given to the heir to the throne. He was required to swear loyalty to Franco’s regime, and his succession was ratified by the Spanish Parliament in July 1969. For six years, Juan Carlos accompanied Franco on state events. Outwardly, he supported the ailing dictator, but as Franco’s health deteriorated, Juan Carlos began to have secret meetings with political leaders and exiles who wanted sweeping reforms and the restoration of liberalism in Spain.  He had also been phoning his father in Portugal who was rallying support outside of Spain. Franco never suspected Juan’s duplicity and ignored the warnings from his hard-right advisors.

During 1974 Franco had periods of incapacity due to illness, and Juan Carlos dealt with all affairs of state and public appearances and on 22 of October 1975 he turned over all power to Juan Carlos. Three weeks later Franco died.

Two days after Franco’s death, the Cortes Generales proclaimed Juan Carlos I King of Spain and he immediately began making changes. Some of the Franco hard liners, especially in the military, heatedly objected to his political reforms. In 1976 the king dismissed prime minister Carlos Arias Navarro, who had been resisting his attempting to introduce freely democratic elections. He replaced him with Adolfo Suárez, a former leader of the Movimiento Nacional and the more liberal politician began to legalise all parties, including the difficult task of bringing the Communist Party back as a voting option. He led the Union of the Democratic Centre Party (UCD) and won the first general election in Spain since Franco took control 41 years earlier. He was elected as Prime Minister again three years later as part of a coalition under the new constitution. As a further boost to the reforms, Juan de Bourbón the King of Spain, abdicated in favour of his son, making Juan Carlos the legitimate king in order to strengthen his public support.

Adolfo Suarez

The reforms were not popular with many, especially his attempts to legalise the Communist Party. During his first year of office, Suárez faced revolt from the neo-Nazis in Spain who were now effectively outside of the new democratic process and formed into isolated radical groups. On January 24, 1977, a group of members of the Workers’ Commissions trade union (CCOO), and of the still-clandestine Communist Party of Spain (PCE), had gathered to meet in offices near to the Atocha railway station in Madrid.  During the meeting, they were raided by a group calling itself The Apostolic Anticommunist Alliance, abbreviated to AAA. The attackers were closely linked to Blas Piñar's Fuerza Nueva’s far-right party, the Falange-JONS.

They were looking for Joaquín Navarro, head of the CCOO's Transport Syndicate, which had recently called for a strike against the "Franquist transport mafia" which was linked to the Franco Guard, a group of hard-line fascist left over from the Franco regime. The gunmen lined up and shot 17 people, 9 of whom died. The assassins were so confident that they would not be arrested for their crimes that they did not leave Madrid. They were quickly arrested and brought to trial. 10,000 people attended the funerals of the victims, and popular sympathy for those killed, and the lack of any violence during them made it easy for the Communist Party to become an accepted political party. This in turn prompted Admiral Pita da Veiga to take over as Navy minister and form the Superior Council of the Army to combat reforms.

Suárez was a good politician, and his term in office saw many of the dictator’s laws and institutions discarded. But he was beset by opponents, and faced a vote of no-confidence from the PSOE (Spanish Socialist Workers' Party) in May 1980. Reshuffles in his own party had by October weakened his leadership so much that he decided to resign. The new Spanish government was struggling with 20% unemployment and 16% inflation. The army and police particularly felt that they were being forced into roles that were subservient to the politicians.

The day after Suárez resigned, the far-right newspaper, El-Alcazar, the mouthpiece of the “Bunker” neo-Nazi group that had formed to resist liberalisation, published an openly inflammatory article claiming that the government were too weak to lead the country.

The news that a leading member of ETA had been captured and tortured in the General Security Directorate for 10 days before being murdered led to a general strike in the Basque region and an acrimonious debate in the Congress with several resignations of leading ministers.   

Meanwhile, the King and Queen were booed on a visit to Gurnica by the Basque separatist party. At the end of 1980 at the party conference in Málaga, Suárez’s party chose Leopoldo Calvo-Sotelo to replace him as Prime Minister. On 18 February 1981 the Cortes met to introduce the new government that Calvo-Sotelo had formed, but he failed to gain the majority that he needed to become Prime Minister, so he adjourned the vote until the 23.

It was during this meeting at 6 o’clock in the evening that Lieutenant Colonel Tejero walked into the Congress of Deputies leading 200 armed officers of the Guardia Civil. With a pistol in his hand, he walked to the Speaker’s platform and demanded silence, then told everybody to lie on the floor. The highest ranking military officer in the Cortes was General Manuel Gutiérrez Mellado, who was also the Deputy Prime Minister.

He stood up and approached Tejero, and was joined by Suárez. The general ordered Tejero to put the pistol down, but when he tried to grab Tejero the policeman fired a shot into the air. This was followed by a burst of machine-gun fire from another officer at the upper gallery of the chamber. Gutiérrez was undeterred and remained standing, so Tejero tried to wrestle the 68 year-old general to the ground. Finally all the Deputies returned to their seats and Jesús Muñecas Aguilar stepped onto the speaker’s platform and told everybody to be quiet and await the arrival of competent military authority.

Adolfo Suárez stood up and asked to speak with the commanders of the coup and was met with shouts to sit down. Suárez continued, and one of the police officers pointed his machine-gun at the deputies. Tejero grabbed the Prime Minister and pushed him into a side-room where Suárez demanded that Tejero explain “this madness,” but Tejero simply claimed that it was “all for Spain.”  When Suárez pressed for a better answer, and tried to exert his authority as President of the Government, he was curtly told that he was no longer president of anything. A few moments later, Tejero’s men separated five of the deputies from the rest and kept them in isolation.

The cameras of TVE, Spain’s national television company, had been recording proceedings as normal, and the technicians left the cameras running during the coup. Similarly, the microphones of live radio broadcasts from SER, a private broadcaster, were left open and transmitting. All of Spain listened on their transistor radios as the events unfolded until finally the insurgents switched the transmitters off.

Meanwhile in Valencia, the Captain General of the region, Jaime Milans del Bosch, sent the 2,000 men and 50 tanks under his command out into the streets to take control of key objectives like the town hall and courts. By 7 o’clock the general went on air from Valencia to declare a state of emergency, and for the military commanders in other regions of Spain to take control by force. Not all the military was behind the coup, and when the general sent a column of troops to take the airbase at Manises, they were met with the threat of the base’s fighters attacking the rebel tanks with missiles.

At 10 O’clock, the President of the autonomous government of Catalonia, Jordi Pujol, gave a speech on national radio calling for calm and restraint from all parties. King Juan Carlos called a meeting with his advisors, whilst another of the planners of the coup, General Alfonso Armada, arrived at the Zarzuela Palace and asked to speak to the king. He had been a confident of the king in the past, and he was hoping to be able to offer mutually beneficial terms for the king’s support.

Juan Carlos refused to see him, and Amada joined Tejero at the Congress of Deputies around midnight and told Tejero that the king would support them. Tejero did not believe him, and he spat out his disgust at his superior. “I have not assaulted Congress for this!” General Amada then began negotiations with the congress in the hope that he could force them to accept his authority, but before they had gone far, all the televisions in Spain told the country what was happening.  

At 1:14 am on the morning of the 24th, King Juan Carlos of Spain wearing his uniform as Captain General of the Armed Forces, addressed his country on national television. He asked the nation to remain peaceful and that the military must have the approval of the Joint Chiefs of Staff before taking any action.  He said that the “Crown cannot tolerate in any form any act which tries to interfere with the constitution which has been approved by the Spanish people.”

When Tejero saw the special edition of El Pais that morning, he realised that the coup had failed and that Milans del Bosch had been arrested in Valencia. He gave himself up at midday and released the deputies.

The coup has become known as 23F, or 23 February, is now also famous as “The Night of the Transistors” because the whole of Spain sat listening to the radio through the night.

Tejero was the last of the coup participants to be released from jail on 2 December 1996, having then served 15 years in the military prison at Alcalá de Henares. He now lives in Torre del Mar in the Province of Málaga.

There is much more about this turbulent period in Spanish history on page 26 of my website as well as many more books that you may like to read about the long history of Spain. My website is at:

Much of the above has been taken from two books. The first is The New Spaniards, by John Hooper,

and the Ghosts of Spain by Giles Tremelt.


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When atomic bombs fell on Spain
13 May 2020

In 1953, when Francisco Franco was still dictator of Spain, the newly-elected President Eisenhower approached him with an offer. The US wanted bases closer to the Soviet block and they were willing to pay top dollar to get them. At this time, Spain’s economy was in tatters and the Generalissimo was only too happy to take the money. However, the deal came with a few caveats. Firstly, within the bases themselves, US laws ruled. No US serviceman or civilian could be arrested and tried by Spanish authorities even for a crime committed off base. The big one was that the US could use the bases to store and train with nuclear weapons and that they could install defensive weapons around the runways and fly armed aircraft in and out of the bases across Spanish land.

Three bases were rented by the US and converted to the high security levels that the Americans required. The first, and most important, was Rota on the north side of the bay of Cadiz. Rota was one of Spain’s most important naval bases and the Americans wanted to use a part of the port facilities there to service their warships. The naval base would be commanded by a Spanish rear-Admiral, but fully funded by the US. The other two bases were airfields at Zaragoza in the northeast of Spain and Morón near Seville.

At first, the US Navy used the naval base at Rota to service their nuclear patrol submarines carrying Polaris missiles. The plan was to have a repair and maintenance facility in the Atlantic, but close to the entrance to the Mediterranean. Things went well, and over the years, the US Navy converted their nuclear subs to carry Poseidon missiles and for a while based them in Rota.

With the death of Franco in 1975 the Spanish government re-negotiated the treaties and wanted the nuclear submarines and their missiles out of Spanish waters. The repair yards for the Subs were moved back to the US at King’s Bay in Georgia.  At its peak in the 80’s, Rota was the home to 16,000 sailors and their families. Now it has been reduced to just 4,000.

The US air bases remained active with the base at Rota used as a staging post for any Middle East or Southern European exercises. It was used as a base for tanker aircraft to refuel Strategic Air Command bombers which still trained with, and regularly carried nuclear weapons. It was in 1966 during exercise Chrome Dome that one of the potentially most dangerous accidents involving nuclear weapons happened.

A B52 being refuelled.

A B52 bomber piloted by Major Larry G. Messinger took off from Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, North Carolina in the early hours of the 17th January. It was tasked to fly east across the Atlantic and rendezvous with two KC135 tankers over the Mediterranean. Its mission then was to fly toward to the Russian boarder in a simulated attack. Everything was conducted as though the bomber would continue as if to strike targets inside Russia, but at the last minute turn back. To train crews and test procedures, the aircraft had been loaded with four live Mk28 hydrogen bombs.  

The B52 is a huge aircraft, and dwarfs the Boing 707 derivative KC135 tankers based at Morón. Relative speeds between the two aircraft must be equalised exactly before it’s safe to connect the two with the refuelling probe.

At around 10:30 am, the two crews began jockeying their aircraft into position at 31,000ft. Normally, the boom operator in the tail of the KC135 watches the approach of the aircraft to be refuelled and is in constant radio contact with its pilot. If the trailing aircraft is coming in a little too fast he calls “Break away” and the B52 would throttle back and fall away.

Major Messinger and his crew heard no request to break away and continued to hold station. Meanwhile on the tanker, the boom operator had missed the refuelling nozzle with the boom and the B52 crept forward beneath the tanker.  The B52 lifted slightly in the slipstream and the boom punched into the wing root of the bomber severing the port main wing spar. The wing of the bomber folded up and broke off, and the fuel in the boom ignited carrying the fire back to the tanker which exploded, killing all four of the crew instantly. Another B52 flying about a mile away saw the tanker disappear in a ball of flames whilst the crippled B52 cartwheeled down, breaking up as it fell. The four Hydrogen bombs broke free from their mountings and were thrown from the spinning wreckage.

Of the seven crew members on the B52, four parachuted to safety, three of them landing in the sea. The fourth was suffering from burns and could not separate himself from his ejection seat, but he landed safely on land.


Wreckage of the B52 around the village.

Manalo Gonzales was in the street near to his house when he heard the explosion and saw the burning wreckage of the two aircraft falling towards his village. His wife was teaching at the local primary school and he watched in horror a part of the B52 fell close to the school. He jumped on his scooter and raced across town, but the wreckage had missed the school. By a miracle, nobody on the ground had been injured by the accident.   

Other residents had seen the explosion and watched the aircraft fall. Several spotted the lone parachute slowly descending and drove to where it landed. They cut the injured airman from his ejection seat and carried him to their village clinic. Two of the other three airmen who landed in the sea were picked up by local fishermen on their boat the Dorita. The last to be picked up spent 45 minutes in the water before being spotted by Paco Simó Orts, on his boat, the Agustin y Rosa.

Broken Arrow is the call sign for a downed aircraft carrying a nuclear weapon and the signal flashed throughout all US forces in the area. There was already a contingency plan in place and Moron and Rota were rapidly mobilised. Helicopters were despatched carrying emergency teams while specially trained and equipped troops were loaded onto transport aircraft and flown to the crash site. Within 24 hours, the area was sealed off and the little town of Palomares was crawling with soldiers searching for the bombs and assessing the radioactivity. It did not take long to find the bombs, but the news was not good. Two of the warheads had detonated their conventional explosive triggering charges upon impact, scattering highly toxic radioactive Plutonium 239 over the area. When the bomb experts gave their first estimate the military were horrified to realize that around 3 Kilos of weapon grade Plutonium had been scattered around the village.

The third bomb was found intact in a riverbed and was returned to Morón with the remains of the other warheads sealed in lead cases. Of the forth bomb there was no trace, but the missing bomb’s parachute tail plate was found, leading the searchers to the conclusion that the retarding parachute had opened as it fell, and it had been carried out to sea.

By now, Palomares looked like a scene from the D-day invasions with hundreds of men clad in fatigues measuring the radiation levels around the town. Even though there had been a contingency plan for this kind of disaster, it had not allowed for a dozen or so farmers and hundreds of goats to be walking all over the danger zone. The two damaged bombs had created plumes of radioactive particles which drifted to the east on the wind. Requests were sent out for heavy earth moving equipment and special containers were brought in to be filled with contaminated soil. The Air Force had given the operation the code name of Moist Mop and a huge airlift began to remove the top three inches of soil from the worst affected areas and transport it all the way to America. In all, 1,700 tons of contaminated earth was shipped to South Carolina.

Meanwhile, the world’s press had been shut out. The Air Force denied that there had been an accident and even General Franco would not comment. With three of the nukes accounted for, everybody focused on the missing one. The Air Force put in a request for the US Navy to assist in the search. The Navy began searching through its personnel for people with the right training and experience for to recover the bomb and they were flown out to Rota to assist. US navy ships steamed to the area most likely to be where the bomb had fallen.  

The Alvin submersible. Photo Jholman, Wikipedia.

Two submersibles, the Alvin and the Aluminaut were shipped to the scene. Both could operate at great depths and had remotely operated arms to handle objects with. For a while the area was searched by without results. A mathematician was brought in to help with the search and he drew a grid and assigned probabilities to individual map grid squares and updating them as the search progressed. For about three miles offshore the sea is around 600m deep, but the depth quickly falls away to 1,000m and enters the Palomares trench which is over 2,000m deep. It was a very difficult underwater terrain to search for a small bomb.

The Bayesian search theory, as it was called, produced no results and after weeks of futile searching, Francisco Simó Orts, the fisherman who had picked up the last crewmember from the B52, contacted the Air Force. He had actually seen the bomb fall into the sea. By this time he was known in his village as "Paco el de la bomba" a name that stuck with him until his death. At last, the Navy now had a good idea where to look.

Meanwhile, on the surface, the Russians had got wind of the accident and Radio Moscow broadcasted that the entire area was drenched in “lethal radioactivity.” An Australian newspaper wrote of a “death rain” falling from a broken H bomb. By March 2nd, with still no sign of the missing weapon, the United States finally admitted to the world that it was hunting for a lost hydrogen bomb. The press were given updates on the search and the clean-up operation, and to silence the wild stories of radioactivity U.S. Ambassador Angier Biddle Duke along with the Spanish minister of tourism Manuel Fraga, held a much-publicized “swimming party” on the beach at Palomares on March 8th.

Angier Biddle Duke along with the Spanish minister of tourism Manuel Fraga.

A week later, the Alvin found the bomb. It was five miles off the coast in only 870m of water. Bringing it to the surface turned out to be no easy operation. The bomb was on its way to the surface when the cable lifting it snapped and it was another week before the Alvin could find it again. Finally, on April 7, 1966—nearly three months after the B-52 crash, the bomb was hoisted aboard the USS Petrel. Reporters were allowed to photograph it the following day. According to the New York Times, it was the first time the U.S. military had displayed a nuclear weapon to the public.

With the end of the Cold War, all the Spanish bases were downgraded and their manning levels reduced dramatically. Moron became inactive as a military base for a while, though in the 80’s, because of its long runway, the base at Morón became an alternative emergency landing site for the Space Shuttle. Special navigation and landing aids were installed, and Spanish personnel were trained to recover the Shuttle after an emergency landing.  In addition, during Shuttle launching periods, the Air Force deployed airmen to Morón to help provide onsite weather reporting.

In May 2015 the Spanish government approved an agreement granting the U.S. military a permanent presence on the base. Under the agreement, up to 3,000 American troops and civilians of the Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force - Crisis Response - Africa can be stationed there, while the number of aircraft can be increased to 40, up from the previous limit of 14.

As a sweetener for the deal, the US government agreed to further clean up the residual radioactivity at Paomares. Radiation in the area has been monitored since the accident and tests revealed high levels of Americium, a decay product of plutonium. The discovery meant that 50,000 cubic metres of earth were still contaminated and needed removing. The Spanish government bought the land in the land in 2003 and fenced it off to prevent it being used. In a joint press conference in Madrid with US Secretary of State John Kerry and Spanish Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Garcia-Margallo said the process would begin soon, but gave no details.

Parts of Palomares are still fenced off as a danger to the public.

Rota today is home to more than 12,000 US and NATO personnel, but the Ayuntamiento de Rota are not happy. Because the base is virtually a piece of the US grafted into Spain complete with its own laws and shops, the Roteña population feels that it is missing out on a lot of taxes that it could normally claim from its inhabitants. They believe that they are owed “historic payment” for the land it occupies. Local household taxes or vehicle taxes cannot be collected from the base, and worst of all the military personnel would rather spend their dollars on the base than in the town.

The Spanish government have no such complaint. In 2015 they received 3.5 million Euros annual rental from the US for the Rota base. Morón and Torrejón would donate something similar, bringing something like 10,000 Million Euros a year into the Spanish economy. On a lighter note, one part of Rota frequently enjoys the patronage of Americans from the base. On the seafront opposite the entrance to the harbour is an US Air Force themed bar called “Honey don’t cry.” which has signed beer mats stuck on the walls from just about every US airman ever posted to Rota.

The Honey Don't Cry Bar in Rota.

One unlikley spinoff from the disaster was a film released in 1966 starring Cliff Richards and the Shadows, called Finders Keepers. It was supposed to be a light hearted parody of the disaster. The script was written by Michael Pertwee, brother of Jon Pertwee, AKA Dr Who. The film bombed in the cinemas. (No pun intended.) Michael did much better with writing scripts for Danger Man, The Saint and others.

Fifty years on and there is still a cost to be accounted for. Victor Skaar was one of the servicemen sent from Rota to deal with the aftermath of the accident. “We had all been well trained; we had experience, but we were praying that we’d never have to face a real-life situation,” recalls Skaar, who is now 81. He and 60 other uniformed servicemen arrived in this poor rural spot in the middle of the night. There was an ambulance with them. The Cold War was in full swing, this was a highly sensitive situation, and Washington’s priority was to quickly eliminate all evidence of one of the biggest nuclear accidents in history. Health took a backseat.

For 62 tough days when food was scarce and US servicemen slept in tents, Skaar took measurements in Palomares and helped collect contaminated soil in barrels. He insists that he was following orders, and recalls an analogy that used to go around in his head: “It’s like getting shot: you worry about it, but if it happens, someone will take care of you.”

The problems began in 1982. Skaar was diagnosed with leukopenia, a condition that reduces white blood cells. His doctor attributed it to his exposure to plutonium in Palomares. Later Skaar suffered from prostate cancer and skin cancer, which are under control. Doctors again pointed at radioactivity as the most likely cause.

Following the first diagnosis, Skaar applied for disability benefits from the Department of Veteran Affairs, a standard move for retired servicemen who suffer from an ailment in connection with their years of service. But the request was denied. According to the US Armed Forces, neither he nor the nearly 1,600 soldiers who were in Palomares were exposed to radioactive risks. “They ignored us,” he says. Their medical records had disappeared. He suspects they were eliminated by some “high-ranking authority.” Skaar has a list of 40 veterans who were with him at the time and whom he hopes to include in a class action suit. Two of his acquaintances died of cancer five years after returning to the United States.

His accusation holds that the US administration made a “fundamentally flawed” analysis of the health risks posed by the incident in Almería, and that the claimants did not receive adequate protection, nor was their exposure to radiation measured in many cases.

Yet there are still 50,000 cubic meters of plutonium-contaminated soil in Palomares. In 2015 the US government pledged to remove it, but the promise has yet to materialise.

For a more comprehensive account of Spanish history go to




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The Hard Brexit (1570)
06 May 2020

12 years after her coronation, Elizabeth I of England was excommunicated from the Catholic Church. The Papal Bull issued on February 25th 1570 declared: "Elizabeth, the pretended Queen of England and the servant of crime." It went on to say that that: "She has removed the royal Council, composed of the nobility of England, and has filled it with obscure men, being heretics. We charge and command all and singular the nobles, subjects, peoples and others afore said that they do not dare obey her orders, mandates and laws. Those who shall act to the contrary we include in the like sentence of excommunication." Apart from inciting civil disobedience against Elizabeth, it meant that any Catholic in England could plot to kill her and be absolved of all sin. It also meant that no Catholic could deal with the English.

With nearly the whole of Europe dominated by the Catholic faith, it effectively cut England off from any trade with the continent.

Queen Elizabeth I

It would have been issued sooner if it were not for the delaying tactics of the various Catholic suitors who had been offering marriage to the Queen in the hope of healing the rift. She had tolerated Catholic worship in private, unlike Mary who had Protestants burned at the stake. Fearing Scottish Catholic insurrection, Henry VIII had moved power from the nobles in the north and brought it under royal control. William Cecil, Elizabeth’s counsellor and spymaster, urged her to do the same. Mary Queen of Scots had returned to Scotland three years after Elizabeth had taken the throne, and many of the northern Catholic lords were looking to Scotland for support. Mary’s father in-law, King Henry II of France, and the King of Spain were actively stirring up rebellion in favour of Mary. They were still questioning the legitimacy of Elizabeth’s mother’s marriage to Henry VIII, and the pope’s intervention added fuel to their cause.

Elizabeth's spymaster, William Cecil.

In the Atlantic, the Spanish were suffering so much from English privateers raiding their ships and Elizabeth’s support of the Calvinists, that they impounded all English trade goods in Antwerp. That same year, Queen Mary fled Scotland’s civil war and sought refuge in the north of England where she soon became a focus for rebellion backed by the powerful Catholic earls of Northumberland and Westmorland who had vowed to depose Elizabeth and put Mary on the throne. Though it was successfully put down, her recalcitrance in not accepting Mary was enough to induce the pope to excommunicate her.

There was another dimension to this plotting against the Queen. Ireland was then a part of England, and the Papal bull had given the staunch Catholic Irish a reason for discontent. Landowning nobles began to seek support from Europe, which alerted Elizabeth to the danger of an uprising there. She became more suspicious of her hidden Catholics, as well as the Jesuits who were inciting them to overthrow her. As if this was not enough, she now had a serious trade problem with the rest of the Catholic world.

With Spain controlling the Americas and the north of Europe, and Portugal dominating the African trade routes, there was nobody left to trade with. The Portuguese had made an error in north-west Africa by sending military incursions into the ruling Wattasid ports and cities. But the Wattasid dynasty was coming to an end, and Sa’adians, of Arab descent, overthrew them and made their capitol Marrakesh. What made all this interesting to the English, was that in 1537 they defeated the Portuguese at Agadir and expelled them. By 1554 they were the rulers of the west coast of Africa.

This was before Elizabeth became queen, but the English traders had seized the opportunity when the Portuguese had been ousted, and sent a trade delegation led by Thomas Windham to Morocco to trade English linen and wool and “diverse other things well accepted by the Moors.”          

In exchange they returned with dates, almonds and sugar. Four of Windham’s backers were Muscovy Company members and the profits began rolling in. The Portuguese still held Tangier and Magazan near Casablanca, but that left thousands of miles of West African coast open for trade.

When Mary and Philip ruled England, this trade had been stopped to please the Portuguese, but in her first parliament, Elizabeth ordered the traders to seek new opportunities for commerce including, “Those to Guinea, to Barbary, to Muscovy.” Within ten years of her giving free rein to the traders, England was importing 25 tons of Moroccan sugar every year, with total imports totalling £25,000 a year. The Portuguese were very unhappy with English ships making the relatively easy 1800 mile voyage to trade, but what really alarmed them was that the English ships were selling weapons to the Sa’adians to fight the Portuguese with. English traders began to clash with Portuguese warships and their ambassador to Elizabeth complained.

William Cecil drafted a letter for Elizabeth to sign, which airily explained that trade with the Moroccans, could only spread the faith and expand Christendom. The letter continued that “I cannot allow that more regard should be had to the enriching any particular person by monopolies or private navigation than to the public utility of the whole of Christendom.” It was a discreet slap in the face for the Portuguese. They were fighting the Moroccans who had besieged Magazan. In 1571, a year after the excommunication order, the Portuguese ambassador asked Elizabeth to stop trading with Morocco and she refused, telling him that it was not a Portuguese possession, and that the Moroccans could trade with whoever they wished. One third of the rich merchants in London were now trading with Morocco, and in most cases, they worked through Jewish intermediaries. With an ironic twist of fate, the Sephardic Jews who had been expelled from Spain nearly eighty years before were the trusted allies of the Sa’adian Arabs. They had a common enemy with the English; Spain.

The pope had made a fundamental mistake in excommunicating Elizabeth. In a slip of protocol, he had not informed Philip II of Spain, who was furious. In England, the bull divided the Catholics and enraged the Protestants strengthening Elizabeth’s hand. The widespread suspicion of a Catholic plot against Protestants was seemingly confirmed when in 1572 the House of Guise murdered 3,000 Huguenots in the streets of Paris and thousands more in the rest of France, sending shockwaves throughout Europe.

La masacre de San Bartolomé, by François Dubois.

Elizabeth’s court went into mourning, but Rome openly rejoiced, and Philip of Spain said that the massacres were “One of the greatest joys of my life.” Meanwhile, Philip had domestic troubles fuelled by the Ottoman Empire. In 1566 Suleyman the Magnificent had died, and his successor, Selim II continued the Ottoman expansion with a new fervour. Philip had been treating his Moriscos badly and they rebelled, using their old capitol of Granada as a centre. They offered to recognise Selim II as emir if he gave them aid to fight.

Emir Selim II

Philip now had the Protestants against him in the low-countries, and the Ottoman Empire re-establishing Muslim rule within his own boarders. The mosques of Constantinople offered prayers for the fighters in Granada as their ships carried weapons and men to assist them. After a string of successes by his predecessors Emir Selim now controlled the whole Mediterranean coast of North Africa, and he was poised to invade Spain and aid the Moriscos if they were successful in establishing Granada again.

Selim now looked east, and his covetous eyes settled upon Cyprus, well aware that an invasion would provoke war with its Venetian rulers. Cyprus was the fulcrum of power between the Ottoman Empire and Christendom, and in preparation, he ratified treaties with the French to ensure that they remained neutral in any disputes with Spain, the pope or Venice.

In the summer of 1570, he sent a Turkish army of 60,000 men to take the island. After sixteen months of brutal fighting, the Turks had besieged Famagusta. The pope and the Venetian authorities cobbled together a weak alliance that included Spain and the Knights of Malta. Don Juan, the half-brother of Philip of Spain, led a fleet of 200 ships, but they were too late to save Famagusta. Before they arrived, it had fallen to the Turks. When Don Juan heard of this, he led his fleet to Lepanto, where the Ottoman fleet of 300 ships lay at anchor. Early on the 7 October the two fleets engaged each other in what became the greatest naval battle of the century. By evening, the Turks had lost 210 of their ships and 15,000 troops, and the whole of Christendom united in celebrating the defeat of Islam. Processions and Masses all over Europe proclaimed the great victory.


Amongst the injured on that day was a 24 year-old Spanish sailor who had received three gunshot wounds whilst serving on the galley Marquesa. One of the wounds rendered his left arm useless, and he was hospitalised in Messina in Italy for six months. After an odyssey of further adventures, he finally arrived at home to his family in Madrid, where he put his one good hand to excellent use, and began to write. Miguel De Cervantes never made a living from writing, but one of his books, Don Quixote, has been translated into more languages than the Bible.


In London, bonfires were lit in the streets to celebrate the victory of Christendom over the Turk, but the euphoria was short lived when it was realised that with the Ottoman Empire in retreat, Philip II and Pope Pious V could now give their full attention to what he called “The English Turk.” Philip hated the infidel Protestants more than he hated Islam or the Jews, and Elizabeth was advised to seek alliances with Morocco and Portugal. Portugal might be difficult, but the Moroccans were a totally unknown quantity. All that was known was that they opposed Spain and Catholic Europe, making them valuable allies. Secretary of State William Cecil, now Lord Burghley, began trade talks with Portugal and arrived at a deal in 1576 in which England abandoned its trade with Guinea. The Portuguese treaty made no mention of Morocco, and so the English traders began to strengthen their hand with the Sa’adian rulers of North Africa. They now had a unique opportunity to trade with the Muslim world when nobody else could or would.

One of London’s “wisest and best” traders was Edmund Hogan, and 1572 he sent one of his top men to seek opportunities for trade with the Moroccans. John Williams immediately discovered a source of Saltpetre, or Potassium Nitrate, that was superior to anything the British could produce. In those days, the only way to synthesise this essential ingredient in gunpowder was a foul and messy process involving urine and animal excrement, and it was never as good as the naturally occurring compound.

The only problem was that the new Sultan, Abdallah Muhammad, did not want to trade wool or cloth for his Saltpetre. Williams reported that the Sultan had asked “If we would take it upon us to bring us bullets of iron for his great ordnance, we should have saltpetre.” Williams brought the saltpetre to England and showed it to Burghley and the Queen who promptly authorised the export of iron shot for the Sultan’s cannons. By the time that Williams returned with a trading deal, the Sultan had gone. Abd-al-Malik had marched into Morocco at the head of an Ottoman army and was the new ruler of the country. He was much more of a diplomat than his predecessor, and having just fought several battles, was in need of ammunition. He was eager to encourage the trade with England and ordered the casting of new cannons for his army. Williams was sent back with saltpetre and a substantial order for military ordinance.

Hogan wrote to Elizabeth’s advisors that al-Malik was favourable to giving English ships free and unrestricted passage to the Ports of North Africa, and the far-sighted Hogan saw another opportunity which might be exploited to England’s benefit. If a trade route could be opened across North Africa to Asia with the Ottoman Empire’s blessing, it would be much shorter and less perilous than the Arctic route now operated by the Muscovy Company. For his persistence, he was given the dual role of England’s first Ambassador to Morocco and chief negotiator for trade deals.

Three weeks after leaving Portsmouth, he arrived in Marrakesh to find that al-Malik had told the furious Portuguese and Spanish traders and ambassadors to greet him cordially. They gritted their teeth and smiled for the Sultan, whilst penning angry letters home in protest.

For a month, the Sultan entertained Williams. They watched what the trader called a “Morris dance” and cheered as the Sultan’s English dogs baited bulls. During these diversions, Williams managed to solve some of the problems that had slowed trade in the past. One of the Jewish traders had gone bankrupt, owing many English traders thousands of pounds. The Sultan persuaded the other Jewish dealers that it would be best if they settled the debt as a group to facilitate further trade. Finally, al-Malik presented Williams with 13 tons of saltpetre, without any mention of weapons in return. Williams wrote to Elizabeth that the Sultan had told him that “I make more account of you coming from the Queen of England than from any of Spain.” He added that the Sultan believed that “Philip cannot rule his own country, but is ruled by the Pope and the Inquisition.”

Williams discovered that the Sultan was extremely well read concerning other religions and had more respect for Protestants then Catholics, whom he saw as idolaters. He wrote to the Queen that the Sultan had offered unrestricted passage for his ships along the north coast of Africa to the Ottoman Empire for the purpose of trade. In late July Williams returned to England with a request to exchange ambassadors to formalise their agreements.

The Portuguese ambassador to Elizabeth was furious at the reception that Williams had received at the court of the Sultan and said that the whole of London was talking about new trading deals about to be granted to England. The Queen had been issuing stern letters condemning arms trades with the Muslim countries, whilst secretly giving her ambassador carte blanch for their sale. She was forced to write to al-Malik to preserve secrecy in their dealings. Even though there are no records of Williams taking arms to Morocco, it is extremely unlikely that the two other ships that sailed with him went with empty holds.

At the other end of the Mediterranean, the Ottomans had not only rebuilt their fleet, but enlarged it. They rolled back their losses by taking back Tunis a year after it had fallen into Christian hands. Worse was to follow. When Selim II, the Ottoman Sultan, died suddenly by supposedly falling in the bath, his son, Murad III succeeded him, and promptly had all five of his younger brothers strangled to avoid any later confusion over succession.

The strangest outcome of Murad taking the throne was due to his belief that Protestantism was more akin to Islam than Catholicism. He wrote a letter of praise to the Lutherans in Flanders and Spain saying that they do not worship idols or pictures that they have made with their own hands, but recognise the one God, with Jesus as his prophet.

Like al-Malik, Murad was well read and well informed, and whilst Hogan thought Malik was ‘nearly’ Protestant in his beliefs, he thought Murad believed the English ‘nearly’ Muslim in theirs. No doubt an alliance with England against the hostile Catholic block of Europe that threatened his empire was uppermost in Murad’s mind, but it was an opportunity that English traders could not miss. However, it soon became clear that Murad danced to his own tune, and not England’s.

In 1577 the Sultan’s attention turned to Persia, where the death of Shah Tahmasp had created instability, leaving the troublesome Shi’a dynasty at war with itself. Sensing an opportunity, Murad declared war and invaded. The effect on the Muscovy Trading Company was disastrous; their trade route to Asia was immediately closed by war. In England, Walsingham decided that the obvious answer was to embrace the powerful Ottoman Empire and its sympathetic-to-England leader, and supply him with the arms and clothing which his army needed; commodities which the English could supply in abundance.

Two years earlier, in 1575, Edward Osborne and Richard Staper, two of London’s biggest cloth traders and members of the Clothworkers’ Company, had come to the same conclusion as Walsingham. They already had extensive business interests in Spain, Portugal, Brazil and the low-countries, and now they were intent on opening up a trade route to Turkey through Poland. They sent John Wright and Joseph Clemens overland to Constantinople to negotiate free passage for William Harborne, an agent for the now, Sir Edward Osborne.

He stayed for eighteen months discussing terms, and while Clemens was in Constantinople talking with the agents of the Sultan, Thomas Cordell of the Mercer’s Company of London arrived by sea with a licence to trade Tin, Lead and Steel with Tripoli, Alexandria and Constantinople. His licence to trade was probably obtained from the French, and passed down from earlier trade deals.

English traders, diplomats and artisans were now plying their trade throughout the Islamic world from Marrakesh and Constantinople to Quazvin in Persia, but one king’s naivety and another’s bitterness were going to boil over into a war which would set back the Elizabethan expansion into Muslim lands. When al-Malik deposed Sultan Abdallah Muhammad, the Sultan fled to Portuguese-occupied Ceuta, where he stayed in exile seething with anger. Finally, he penned a letter the young King Sebastian of Portugal, offering to rule Morocco as a vassal state to Portugal if he helped him invade and take back power. Against all advice, Sebastian said yes and began to recruit an army. The pious king was desperate to prove his worth by fighting a glorious crusade against the Moor. His zeal blinded him to the fact that his tiny country would be attacking a foe that was backed by the mighty Ottoman Empire and that nobody else in Christendom was even going to consider helping him.

King Sebastian of Portugal

In the spring of 1578 he had begun to assemble a motley army of sixteen thousand mercenaries, renegades and adventurers, who were soon outnumbered by the staggering number of non-combatants and hangers-on that fed off the army. He sailed in July and the two armies met at El-Kasar-el-Kabir, where sixty thousand experienced Berbers, Turks, Arabs and Moriscos, thirty thousand of whom were cavalry and three thousand armed with wheel-lock arquebuses, which were probably loaded with English supplied shot. Outnumbered four to one, Sebastian’s advisors wisely suggested that they head for the coast and re-embark their ships. Sebastian dismissed them all, claiming that he had the element of surprise, and that an attack the next day would send al-Malik’s army running.  Fighting like a demon, he killed so many of the enemy that his men were inspired to follow him. He was last seen alive charging into the lines of Moors, his sword bringing death to all in his path; thus died the last undisputed King of The House of Avis that had ruled Portugal since 1385. The six hour battle ended with the total annihilation of Sebastian’s army. Only two hundred escaped, and the rest, including all the camp followers, were taken as slaves. Though Sebastian’s body was brought home, many believed that he had never died. Even today there is a yearning for what might have been and what might still be; called saudosismo, like the English legend of Arthur.

With Portugal leaderless, she became an easy conquest for Spain. In August 1580, Philip invaded and took control of all Portuguese trade routes and New World possessions. He now ruled all the Americas, the low countries and Iberia. With the pope’s backing, this made him leader of the most powerful empire the world had ever seen, and he turned his baleful gaze on a small country led by a frail Queen, who was defying his church and his power.

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The First Brexit
30 April 2020

When Elizabeth acceded to the throne in November 1558 she began to plan her coronation, which took place in Westminster Abbey on 15 January 1559. She ruled a deeply divided country and had to take great care not to offend either side. The coronation mass was said in both Latin and English and George Carew, the dean of the Chapel Royal, performed the elevation of the bread and wine. In a carefully rehearsed scene, she silently refused and stepped back. Her attempts to find a middle way between the two creeds would prove futile during the next few months.

Queen Elizabeth I

Two weeks after her Coronation, she was informed that when the news of Queen Mary’s death reached the King of France, he announced that his daughter-in-law was the true Queen of England. He even changed his coat of arms to include England within his possessions. Mary Queen of Scots, her half-sister and wife of the Dauphine, was already plotting to take Elizabeth’s throne.

Mary Queen of Scots

England was tired of the pendulum swings of power, especially religious power. They were happier to be free to worship without the tyranny of Rome. She was the only legitimate heir to the throne and she was Protestant, but most important of all she was popular. People who had met her told of a bright, witty, though strong willed young woman. She had not exactly snubbed the offer of marriage with Philip, but she had not reacted warmly to it either. Because of the marriage of Mary and Philip, England was still technically at war with France.

Not an easy situation considering that England was practically bankrupt and suffering from inflation. The army and navy were in disrepair and disillusioned. She could not afford to defend herself, let alone fight somebody else’s wars. The declaration from the King of France meant that England’s enemies now had one foot in Calais and the other in Scotland. To make matters worse, in March 1559 Philip signed a treaty with the French king Henry II to end a long running conflict between the two countries, and unite them against Protestantism.

As if those weren’t enough problems, more trouble was arriving by ship every day. All the exiled Protestants and Calvinists were flooding back into England and stirring up religious bigotry, eager to settle old scores and root out those who had persecuted them when Mary was on the throne. In an effort to forestall any bloodletting, Parliament passed two laws; the Act of Supremacy making Elizabeth Supreme Governor of the Church of England and the Act of Uniformity of 1559 which outlined what form the Church should take. The new bishops began to re-establish the Book of Common Prayer that Mary had abolished.

Christopher Columbus

In 1492 Isabel and Ferdinand of Spain had found a fabulous source of revenue in the New World by sponsoring Christopher Columbus when nobody else would. Their investment had paid off handsomely, and both Spain and Portugal began to reap huge profits from the New World. In 1494, at the Treaty of Tordesillas, they split the entire world outside Europe between Portugal and Castile by a north–south line drawn down the Atlantic Ocean; Spain had the Americas, and Portugal dominated the trade routes to Morocco and Guinea. The overland trade routes to the east were in the hands of the Ottoman Empire. The big prizes had already been taken by the most powerful nations, leaving England isolated as a poor neighbour to Europe, and struggling with a religious schism that threatened to boil up into civil war. Meanwhile, her enemies grew more threatening with every passing week. England had neither lands nor trade alliances, and was led by a 25 year-old virgin handmaiden queen.

When she was crowned, young Elizabeth had inherited a business plan which had been formulated during her father’s reign, and followed by later royal occupants of the throne. In 1527 an English trader called Robert Thorne watched from his offices in Seville as staggering amounts of gold from the Americas was being unloaded at the docks and stored in the Torre de Or. He wrote to King Henry VIII and advised that the only way to break the vice-like grip of Spain on the Americas was to look for a north-west passage to reach the unexplored treasures of the orient. 

By 1553 the collapse of the English cloth trade had forced traders to seek new trade-routes. During Edward’s reign, his advisers had instigated a novel idea with the mission of the “Discovery of Regions Dominions and islands unknown.” Their ultimate destination was Cathay, the Anglicisation of the name given to China by Marco Polo, but rather than sail around the horn of Africa in the Antarctic Ocean, they planned to sail east in the North Atlantic.

They planned to finance this voyage through a joint-stock Company which was set up during Edward VI’s reign. 250 subscribers, some of whom were Edward’s advisors, each put in £25 to raise the £6,000 for the expedition, which was led by Richard Chancellor. Their two ships sailed past Greenwich Palace and fired a salute to the dying Edward. Willoughby, on the second ship, was lost on the coast of Lapland and its frozen crew were found the following summer.

Chancellor had better luck. He ended up in the White Sea on Russia's North West coast, from where he travelled south to Moscow by sleigh and met with the Tzar of all the Russias, Ivan the Terrible. He made the best of a bad lot by arranging a trade deal between Russia and England, returning to London in the summer of 1554.

During the time he had been away, Mary and Philip had occupied the throne, and other ships of the Merchant Adventurers had gone south and found lucrative trading in gold, pepper, ivory and slaves on the West African coast. Philip frowned on their enterprise; by Spanish treaty, that was the trading area of Portugal, and the English were to be discouraged from going there.

Instead, Mary urged the traders to go north to seek their fortunes and in 1555 she granted them the Charter of the Merchants of Russia. It was the first ever charter of a joint stock company and later on, during Elizabeth’s reign, it came to be known simply as the Muscovy Company.

The Muscovy Company Seal

While Mary and Philip of Spain were preparing for their wedding, a young man was on Muscovy business 4,000 miles away in Bukhara, (in modern-day Uzbekistan) as a guest at the court of Abdullah Khan II, the Islamic khanate’s Shabanid ruler. His name was Anthony Jenkins.

Though unknown now, he was famous in his own time as an explorer and trader in cloth. He was born in Market Harborough and spent part of his apprenticeship in the Netherlands. In 1546 he left England and travelled through Europe to North Africa. By November 1553 at the age of 24, he had reached Aleppo, one of the oldest cities in the world.  Standing at the end of the silk route which brought fine silks and spices from Iran and India, the city had come under the rule of the Ottomans in 1517 and quickly attracted Jewish, Armenian and Italian traders. Within a few decades, it had come to equal Venice as a trading centre.

While Jenkins was in Aleppo, the city was visited by an army on its way to a war. Sultan Suleyman I marched 80,000 of his troops past the city on their way to a campaign against the Persian Safavid Empire and its ruler Shah Ismail. Jenkins watched them pass and detailed the bright costumes as only a cloth merchant could. The cavalry wore scarlet, whilst the infantry wore yellow velvet. The Sultan’s elite fighting corps, the Janissaries, wore silk and their distinctive Couculucia caps; the famed Turkish bork hats like a French hood with a great plume which waved like a meadow in the wind as the ranks marched past.

Jenkinson did not know it at the time, but he was witnessing as big a religious schism in Islam as his own country was facing with Catholicism. This was the Sunni Ottomans’ third campaign against the Shi’a Safavid Empire, in a centuries-old feud over control of the umma, the Muslim community after Mohammad’s death in 632.

News of the feud between the two branches of Islam reached Europe in1501, and France, Venice, Portugal and even the Pope sent letters of support to Shah Ismail in his war against their enemy, the Ottoman Empire. The Venetian merchants in Damascus wrote to the Shah saying that “This would be an opportune moment to form an alliance among the Christian princes and Persia in the most holy war to throw the Turk out of Europe.”

The Portuguese believed that the Shah would support their cause against Ottoman attacks on their trading ships in the Indian Ocean. Venice had the same problem with the Ottoman navy in the Eastern Mediterranean; an alliance would be very beneficial.

Jenkinson was a business man of the first degree and within weeks of watching the Sultan pass Aleppo with his army he had wheedled his way to getting an audience with him. Jenkins must have been an excellent salesman because he came out of the meeting with a trade agreement that would normally only be granted to heads of state.

The terms of his contract were that he could “lade and unlade his merchandise wheresoever it shall seem good unto him” and totally free of “any other custom or toll whatsoever” anywhere in the Ottoman Empire. Without any credentials, or even being able to speak Turkish, he had pulled off the deal of the century. Suleyman even sent letters to the French and Venetians “not to intermeddle or hinder his affairs.”

On his return to England, he was praised by the company, and at the age of 27 Mary and Philip gave their assent for him to lead an expedition of four ships north into the White Sea and thence to Moscow, to arrange trade with Ivan the Terrible. He arrived in Moscow in December and waited for an audience with the Tsar.

On Christmas day 1557, he sat down for a banquet with officials and visiting dignitaries from all over Europe. Within minutes, he was told that he would be granted unfettered access to the Caspian Sea and Persia. Ivan had recently conquered Kazan and Astrakhan, Muslim khanates that had controlled the Volga Delta and Caspian Sea. The way was open to trade with Persia and even China. The Tsar had no trade routes west from Moscow; hostile Poland, Lithuania and Livona blocked his access to the low counties. If England wanted to trade with the east, then this dangerous, torturous route was the only way.

A map drawn after Jenkins return showing the extent of his travels.

Jenkins left Moscow on George’s day 1558 and travelled south-east with two English companions and a translator. They reached Kazan, where they picked up the River Volga and sailed south. They travelled by boat, horse then camel through lands ravaged by plague and made desolate by the Tsar’s armies. By July, they had reached Astrakhan, 60 miles from the Caspian Sea. The following month, he reached the Caspian Sea and had reached Bukhara in present day Uzbekistan. Four hundred miles of mountains now stood between him and trade with China and India. He had found little to trade on the way through mostly desolate countries.

Indian and Jewish clothiers had a lively trade in silks and cotton cloth and the road before him led to warmer lands where he would struggle to sell English heavy woollens and cloth. For a while, he contemplated going on to China, but finally decided to return to England empty handed. He had been the first Englishman to reach the Caspian Sea, which was no small feat.

There was another reason that he decided not to press on. The sectarian divisions between his Muslim hosts made the possibilities of trade difficult if not impossible. Wars were often and cruel. Small warlords ruled, and constantly changed the political stance on the border between Russia and Persia. On the 8 March 1559 he began to retrace his steps to Moscow. After crossing the Caspian Sea, he raised the red and white flag of St. George, which had never been seen so far east before. By autumn 1560 Jenkins was back in England to report to his backers that there was some trade if they could exploit the constant wars between the Sunni and Shi'a. To his surprise, he discovered that England had a new Protestant Queen.

Elizabeth was informed of his progress, and took little convincing to approve another expedition to establish a trade route with Persia. When she took the throne eight months earlier, she had inherited a three hundred thousand pound trade deficit. Creditors were threatening to re-possess English assets abroad.

The second expedition led by Jenkins followed the same route, but with diplomatic hold-ups that frustrated Jenkins. Worse was to come. When he did reach the imperial capitol Qazvin in November 1562, there had been a change of Shah. The leader that Jenkins had arranged his deals with was dead, and Shah Tamasp now ruled. He was kept waiting for days and when he finally met the Shah the ruler was distinctly cold. The conversation turned to Jenkin’s religion and despite nimble evasion Jenkins was forced to admit that he and his country followed the teachings of Jesus. The Shah proclaimed him an unbeliever and ordered him out of his palace.

Unknown to Jenkins, the constant warfare of the region had produced an uneasy peace between the Shah and the Ottomans and he was trapped between the two. While Jenkins had been kept waiting to see the Shah, the powerful Ottoman envoys had concluded trade agreements with the Shah, and he was loath to endanger them by giving this unbeliever access. Abdullah Khan, the Shah’s cousin, who knew of Jenkins, intervened on his behalf and he was allowed to leave the city with his life, but it was a very close escape.

Jenkins never went back, but other English traders stepped into the breach and during the next twenty years, there would be five more expeditions led by Jenkins successor, Arthur Edwards. He succeeded where Jenkins had failed, and gained trading privileges from the Shah. Muscovy stock, which cost £25 in 1553 were now worth £200. Jenkins returned to Russia twice more before retiring around 1585 a very rich man.

By this time, things had changed in England, and other opportunities for trade were becoming available.

Most of the above was taken from Jerry Broton's book This Orient Isle.


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