|Fig.1: I miss the days when people loved their lobes so much, they were willing to fight for them.|
|Fig.2: The handbook to the asiento|
was featured on the New York Times'
Worst Sellers List.
Things came to a head in 1731 as British Captain Robert Jenkins and the HMS Rebecca set sail after visiting the Spanish colony of Florida. It was soon flagged down by the Spanish patrol boat La Isabela and its captain, Julio León Fandiño, who flashed his high beams at them. As was normal, the Spanish searched the ship for smuggled goods, and reportedly found a cache of items hidden away. As was not normal, Fandiño tied Jenkins to the mast of his own ship and began to interrogate him. When Jenkins denied knowledge of the goods, the Spanish captain sliced his left ear off and said something to the extent of, "Go and tell your king that I will do the same to him, if he dares to do the same!" The captain had an ear-y suspicion that His Highness would become quite ear-itable if given such a inconsid-ear-ate message.
|Fig.3: Captain Jenkins showing his severed ear to Sir |
Robert Walpole, who was one of those people who got
queezy over that kind of thing.
Fighting started immediately in the Caribbean, where the Brits were just looking for an excuse to snag some of Spain's wealthy ports and sandy beaches (gotta have your honeymoon somewhere). They had minimal success until November 1739 when they attacked the coastal town of Porto Bello in present-day Panama. This was the center of Spain's silver-trading operation, and was so coveted that it had been targeted by the notorious pirate Henry Morgan over 70 years prior for its booty (of both varieties). For such a prized position, you would think it would have been heavily defended? Instead, British Vice Admiral Edward Vernon blew through Spain's meager ships, infantry, and weirdos rambling on about killing his father and preparing to die to capture Porto Bello in less than 24 hours. The town was destroyed and abandoned, hurting the Spanish economy that so relied on taking shiny things from the ground and staring at them for days on end. Vernon became a national hero, and the song that always plays in films during establishing shots of London in Mary Kate and Ashley movies was first performed in honor of the victory.
Vernon hoped to follow up his capture of Spain's main silver-exporting port with the capture of Spain's main gold-exporting port. That would be Cartagena, located in present-day Colombia; unlike Porto Bello, the Spanish actually had invested in a cannon or two to defend Cartagena, much to Vernon's displeasure as his sailed up the city in March 1741. His plan was to clear the seas of Spanish ships while a group of 4,000 recruits from Virginia, led by Lawrence Washington, would land and lay siege to the city walls. The battle started well enough for the British: Spanish ships quickly retreated after being outgunned, the Virginians took the high ground surrounding the city, and Mary Poppins was providing aerial support with her flying umbrella. Vernon was so confident in victory that he sent a message to London that the city was in his possession. But Han Solo's advice of "Don't get cocky" rang true, as soon enough the Spanish mounted a successful counterattack that forced Washington and his men to retreat to their ships. There they stayed for over a month, where more died from yellow fever than the actual battle (at least it saves bullets!). It took as long for the news of the defeat to reach England, who had been celebrating the "capture" of Cartagena with medals and parties and more annoying patriotic songs. Vernon would soon be back in London, where he was elected to the Parliament. Lawrence Washington survived and returned to his estate in Virginia, which he would dub "Mount Vernon" after his commander, a name that would stick even after his little-known half-brother George inherited it.
|Fig.4: Florida, circa 1740.|
|Fig.5: You have to commemorate your only success|
As exciting as the War of Jenkins' Ear was, it was soon superseded by an even greater war over something even stupider. In 1740, the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles VI of Austria, died and was succeeded by his daughter, Maria Theresa. That's right, misogynists: a woman emperor. Well countries like France, Spain, and Prussia used this "women can't drive or rule a empire" excuse to challenge the HRE's authority, thus beginning the War of the Austrian Succession. Great Britain, already at war with Spain and sympathetic to Maria Theresa's cause, joined her side and continued fighting the Spanish in Europe. Forces were directed away from the colonies and towards the motherland, thus ending the hoopla over Jenkins' Ear. In the end, nothing was really settled regarding the smuggling issue, though England and Spain started to develop a more trusting relationship following this conflict (sometimes you just gotta have it all out). As for Robert Jenkins himself, he has essentially been lost to history, as nothing about him has survived following his appearance in Parliament that started the war! I suppose you could call him ear-relevant!
Okay, I'll stop with the puns! You don't have to keep pointing those pitchforks at me!