By the end of the eighteenth century, well before the revolutions for independence, Spain’s empire had already been profoundly transformed. The century opened with the War of Spanish Succession (1701-1714) which brought a dynastic change from the Hapsburgs (1516-1700) to the Bourbons. The treaty of Utrecht ended the war and granted Philip V the crown of Spain, but in return, stripped him of Spain’s possessions in Northern Europe and Italy. At the same time, while Britain had supported Spain during the war, this was only to check French influence, and her territorial ambitions led to conflicts later in the century. Closer relationships between France and Spain led to joint scientific missions as both countries embraced the intellectual ferment of the Enlightenment.


[1] The War of the Jenkin's Ear  
Vernon, Edward, 1684-1757. Original papers relating to the expedition to Carthagena. London: M. Cooper, 1744.

Following the War of Spanish Succession (1701-1714), Britain was awarded a thirty-year contract, known as the asiento, to supply slaves and trade 500 tons of goods per year to Spain’s American colonies. In 1731, a Spanish officer boarded the English ship Rebecca, and accused its captain, Robert Jenkins, of violating the terms of the asiento, and, as punishment, severed his ears. The resulting “War of Jenkin’s Ear” (1739-1742) was a global conflict between Great Britain and Spain. Admiral Edward Vernon successfully attacked and occupied Porto Bello in 1739. His 1741 attack on the well-defended Spanish port of Cartagena de Indias was not as successful, and in addition to the losses suffered in battle, many of his troops succumbed to yellow fever.

[2] Raid on Porto Bello

Walter, Richard, 1716?-1785. A voyage round the world, in the years MDCCXL,I,II,III,IV. By George Anson, Esq; commander in chief of a squadron of his majesty's ships, sent upon an expedition to the South-Seas ... London: John and Paul Knapton, 1748.

The successful raid on Porto Bello prompted the British to take the war into the Pacific, and George Anson commanded a squadron of eight ships with the intention of rounding Cape Horn and attacking Spain’s Pacific ports of Callo, Panama, and Acapulco. With many of his crew inexperienced or infirm, these ambitious plans were not successful, and all but the command vessel Centurion and 188 out of 1854 men were lost. However, after repairing and re-provisioning in Macao, Anson sailed for the Philippines with the hopes of intercepting the Manila galleon arriving from Mexico. This he did on 20 June 1743, capturing over one million pieces-of-eight.

[3] Divided British Opinion 

Towgood, Micaiah, 1700-1792. Spanish cruelty and injustice a justifiable plea for a vigorous war with Spain; ... Being a collection from authentic authors … London: R. Hett, 1741.

British opinion was divided over the conflict, with war opposed by British First Minister Robert Walpole. This pamphlet appeared during the elections of 1741 and evokes the “Black Legend” to argue in favor of the hostilities. Walpole’s faction lost ground in the elections of 1734, and further in 1741. News of the defeat at Cartagena contributed to his resignation in 1742.

[4] The Enlightenment & Spanish America

La Condamine, Charles-Marie de, 1701-1774. Relation abrégée d'un voyage fait dans l'interieur de l'Amérique méridionale ... Paris: Veuve Pissot, 1745.

In 1735, a joint Spanish and French scientific mission was sent to Ecuador, ostensibly to measure the circumference of the earth. Charles-Marie de la Condamine, Pierre Bouguer, and Louis Godin headed the French contingent, and Antonio de Ulloa and Jorge Juan led the Spanish. Their measurements led to the establishment of the metric system, while their other scientific observations included, to name but two, the use of quinine as an anti-malarial drug and the practice of rubber tapping. La Condamine’s portrait of the Spanish residents of the Viceroyalty was, however, quite critical, and he could not reconcile the image of the Inca nobility that he had taken from Garcilaso de la Vega with the natives he found in Lima.

[5] Spainish Response to La Condamine 

Ulloa, Antonio de, 1716-1795. Relacion historica del viage a la America Meridional hecho de orden de S. Mag. para medir algunos grados de meridiano terrestre ... Madrid: Antonio Marin, 1748.

Antonio de Ulloa’s Relacion historica was written at the behest of the Spanish crown, in part to counter the work of Condamine. Ulloa and Jorge Juan were naval lieutenants, quite skilled in astronomy and mathematics, though not among the top tier of Spanish savants. They were sent to accompany the French, in part, to provide a confidential report on colonial government and society in the context of increasing tension with Britain. Ulloa’s Noticias secretas, the results of this investigation, were highly critical of the Viceregal administration and were not published until the nineteenth century. Some of his critical opinion appears in the Relacion historica, however, as in this chapter recounting the attack of George Anson on the port of Payta. Ulloa’s ship was captured by the British as he returned to Spain, and he was held prisoner for a time. His scientific achievements were recognized, however, and he was elected as a member of the London’s Royal Society.

[6] Battle of Ideas 

Pauw, Cornelius, 1739-1799. Recherches philosophiques sur les Américains, ou Mémoires intéressants pour servir à l'histoire de l'espèce humaine. Berlin: George Jacques Decker, 1768-1769.

Condamine’s criticism was taken to the extreme by Cornelius Pauw who claimed that the climate of the Americas doomed the natives of the continent to be “a race of men who have all the faults of a child, as a degenerate species of humanity, cowardly, impotent, without physical force or vigor, and without elevation of spirit.” Such arguments, although emanating from an arch-rival (Pauw was Dutch), nevertheless had ramifications for Spaniards born in the Americas (creoles). Peninsular Spaniards assumed that creoles were fated to suffer the same climatically induced degeneration.

[7] Anglo-Spanish War 

An authentic journal of the siege of the Havana. By an officer. To which is prefixed, a plan of the siege of the Havana… London: T. Jefferys, 1762.

The Anglo-Spanish War of 1761-1763 again saw Spain drawn into a global war, entering on the side of France during the Seven Years’ War, itself an outgrowth of the French and Indian War in North America. The siege of Havana began on 6 June 1762, led by George Keppel, 3rd Earl of Albemarle, and lasted until 11 August, with the surrender of Governor and Capitan General Juan de Prado. The fall of Havana to the British, and the fall of Manila shortly thereafter, prompted Spain to introduce substantial military reforms within its colonies.

[8] The Fall of Havana 

Juntas tenidas en la Habana desde la declarcion de la guerra hasta su rendicion. Junta de 27. de febrero de 1762… [Madrid : s.n., 1763?].

Governor Juan de Prado was returned to Spain following his surrender of Havana. There he faced court-martial, was convicted and died in prison. This series of minutes were presented as a part of Prado’s court-martial. Between 1 August 1762 and 11 August 1762, Prado’s forces lost over 140 men, dropping from 772 to 631.

[9] A Reconfigured Empire 

The definitive treaty of peace and friendship, between His Britannick Majesty, the most Christian King, and the King of Spain. Concluded at Paris, the 10th day of February, 1763. To which, the King of Portugal acceded on the same day. London: E. Owen and T. Harrison, 1763.

The Treaty of Paris ended the hostilities between Great Britain and Spain, and resulted in the return of Havana and Manila, but Spain ceded Florida to Great Britain in return. Spain received the Louisiana territory in return for entering the war on behalf of France. Antonio Ulloa, who had taken part in the Spanish-French astronomical mission to South America, was appointed the first Governor of Louisiana, arriving in 1766. In what has been called the first revolution in the Americas, Ulloa was driven out of Louisiana in 1768 by French creoles and Acadians who had remained after the French cession of the territory to the Spanish.