Wednesday, 15 July 2009

Jenkins' Ear

We probably all remember the War of Jenkins’ Ear from school. In 1731 Robert Jenkins, a part-time smuggler and pirate, was captured by the Spanish in the West Indies, tied to the mast and had his ear sliced off by the Spanish captain, who threatened to do the same to the King of England “if he is caught doing the same”. Jenkins made a dramatic fuss about the incident, but this insult to the honour of the nation was not avenged until 1738, when it was used as a pretext to declare war on Spain – really a dispute about the slave trade. One of the first actions of the war, which lasted from 1739 – 1742, resulted in the capture of Porto Bello, a silver-exporting town on the coast of Panama, taken in twenty-four hours by six ships of the line, under Admiral Edward Vernon. This victory was much celebrated in England, and in 1740, at a dinner in honour of the admiral, the song “Rule Britannia” (actually composed by a Scotsman, James Thomson) was sung for the very first time. And if you have ever wondered why the Portobello Road in London is so called, your answer is here!

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