Why Is Gibraltar Not Part Of Spain? Gibraltar, on the southern end of the Iberian Peninsula, has a long and complex history.
Throughout the centuries many have coveted the land; and who wouldn’t, the Rock of Gibraltar boasts panoramic views of the Mediterranean Sea and North African coast and is strategically located at the gateway to the Atlantic its location, location, location at its best!
Today, at just 6.7 square kilometres and home to over 30,000 people Gibraltar is a British Overseas Territory.
So why is a small piece of land on the southern end of Spain,one of the last remaining colonies of the British Empire?
We pick up our story in October 1700.
The Kingdom of Spain, with Charles the Second on the throne, controls Gibraltar.
Generations of royal inbreeding had left Charles physically, emotionally, and mentally retarded as well as infertile.
He died childless on the first of November leaving Spain without a clear Heir.
European powers had seen this coming, and had attempted to make diplomatic arrangements.
There were three competing claims: from Austria, France and Bavaria.
Bavaria being the weakest of the three was preferred by European leaders.
King Louis the 14th of France colluded with his rival William of Orange, who was both Stadtholder of the Dutch Republic and the King of England.
The two signed the Treaty of Den Haag to resolve the issue.
They proposed dividing the Spanish Kingdom, which included holdings in Italy, the Southern Netherlands, and colonies in the Americas and Pacific between the three houses.
But Joseph Ferdinand of Bavaria has suggested the heir of the bulk of the Spanish Empire preserving the balance of power between France and Austria.
Quite to everyone’s surprise, however, the health-stricken Spanish King outlived Joseph, undermining the whole treaty.
Louis and William reconvened and signed another treaty (of London), under the new arrangement; Archduke Charles from Austria was to inherit the Spanish Crown, with the Italian holdings going to France.
However, the Spanish didn’t want to see their Empire split and refused to sign.
As did the Austrians, who desired the entire inheritance for themselves and furthermore were more interested in Italy than Spain.
In one final effort to find a diplomatic solution Charles, on his deathbed, named his grandnephew Philip, the second-eldest grandson of King Louis as Heir to the Spanish Crown.
As Philip was not directly in line for the Throne of France his advisors hoped this would ease tensions and stabilize the power dynamics across the continent.
This left Louis with a decision to make.
He could follow through with his agreement and forbid his grandson from claiming the throne or he could accept the will of Charles of Spain and back Philips’s claim.
Both option appeared to lead to war, and accepting the Austrian claim would leave France with nothing, so he choose the latter.
The growing dominance of Europe’s big blue blob worried the other European powers.
The Grand Alliance that had fought France in the Nine Years’ War was reconvened and Britain, The Dutch Republic, and Austria declared war on France on the 15th of May 1702.
The War of the Spanish Succession had begun.
While the majority of the land offense took place to the north of the Pyrenees; the British sent a force to the Mediterranean to carry
out a diversionary naval offensive.
This took the form of an attack on Gibraltar, after heavy bombardment, British marines attacked the town, and the Spanish surrendered shortly after.
Although the Spanish attempted to retake Gibraltar they failed to do so before the end of the war.
Legend has it, that during one such attempt Spanish soldiers attempted to sneak into position to launch a surprise attack, only the monkeys that inhabit the Rock spoilt the surprise.
This has led to the notion that as long as the monkeys remain on Gibraltar so will the British.
However, during the war, the King of Austria who was by way, the Holy Roman Emperor and his successor died, leaving the Empire to Charles.
The prospect of a union of the Austrian and Spanish crowns was just as undesirable as a unified Bourbon monarchy of France and Spain.
Peace would come with the Treaty of Utrecht; Philip was accepted by Britain and Austria as King of Spain.
In exchange for guarantees that the crowns of France and Spain would not be unified and Spain ceded lands to the Austrians and British, crucially for our story, Gibraltar was officially ceded to Britain, but Spain resented the loss of territory.
Spain attempted to recapture Gibraltar during the Anglo-Spanish War of 1727 to 1729, and again during the American War of Independence; but they failed to retake the region.
Gibraltar’s strategic value became more apparent with time.
Allowing the Allies to control naval traffic into and out of the Mediterranean Sea during the war and during peace, she was a useful port for trade vessel sending cargo east via Egypt.
In 1954 the Queen visited Gibraltar, this angered Spain’s fascist Dictator General Franco who responded by imposing increasingly stringent restrictions on trade and the movements with Gibraltar.
But this didn’t weaken the resolve of the population to remain British as intended, the isolation did quite the opposite, and now they say that Gibraltarians are more British than the British.
After the war the United Nations was established, and opposed to imperialism.
The UN called for decolonisation throughout the world, including Gibraltar.
But while other British colonies moved through self-governance and then onto independence, that option was unavailable to Gibraltar.
The Treaty of Utrecht contains a reversion clause where if Britain is to give up her claim on Gibraltar, it will be returned to
But the UN push for decolonization reignited Spanish efforts to recover the territory.
The result was a referendum in 1967 where Gibraltarians were asked to choose between Spain and Britain.
The results were resounding, with over 12,000 opting to maintain the current relationship with Britain, to only 44 supporting a union with Spain, less than the number of invalid or blank votes.
The Francoist regime responded to the defeat by ramping up pressure on the dependency and closed the border.
While Gibraltar moved to establish a constitution that agreed the British would not impose a solution on Gibraltarians and acknowledged their right to self-determination.
After General Franco’s death, Spain sought to join the European Economic Community and needed British support.
The Lisbon Agreement was the first of a series between the British and Spanish Governments intended to resolve their differences over Gibraltar.
These talks eventually led to the reopening of the border but didn’t quite settle the issue.
Eventually, in 2002, Britain and Spain proposed to share sovereignty, but the government of Gibraltar, excising their now constitutional right, put it to a referendum and the agreement was rejected 17,900 to 187.
It seems, given their options, the Gibraltarians wish to remain a British dependency, but Britain’s impending departure from the European Union has once again brought up the issue, and Gibraltar finds itself again as a pawn in a bigger European game.
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