The War of Jenkins' Ear

The War of Jenkins' Ear is perhaps one of the tall-taleish true stories to ever be found. It has a rather romantic background, one of smugglers, pirates, and chicanery, but serious historical consequences (at least, for a war of its diminutive size).

For many years, Great Britain and Spain had been jockeying for control of the New World. 1729's Treaty of Seville gave the Spanish the right to search any ship in their waters. The British were allowed one vessel per year to trade with the Spanish colonies of the Carribean.

However, the crafty English decided that this was simply unacceptable. Someone had a brilliant idea and decided that they would send out several ships, each filled to the brim, and one would restock the hull of the original after it was emptied. This plan was carried off for several years, inspiring dozens of British smugglers and pirates. The Spanish, though aware of this, had very little they could do other than pick off a few pirates every once and a while.

This changed when the unfortunate captain of the ship Rebecca was caught by a Spanish fleet near Cuba in 1731. Robert Jenkins was interrogated and tortured by the Spaniards, before they finally tired of his resistance and cut off his ear. They then released him, telling the poor man to "Show King George what they had in mind for him." (

Jenkins, however, somehow managed to retrieve his ear and put it in a bottle of wine to preserve it. It lay in its vintage tomb for several long years, unmolested.

But in 1738, spurred by some wardoves, Jenkins took the bottle to Parliament as a token of Spanish atrocities. Parliament was theatrically enraged, and though Spain denied the charges, war was declared in 1739 by Prime Minister Robert Walpole.

The war progressed as wars do, with much pretension at invading Cuba and such. It marked a number of firsts, notably the first time the British called their colonists "Americans." The end of the war in 1743 coincides with the beginning of the War of Austrian Succession. Indeed, it is the war that set off a period of deep unrest in Europe, culminating in the empire of Napoleon. Not bad for a pirate captain and some over-eager Spanish coast guards.

My AP European class notes
"War of Jenkins' Ear" {}
"War of Jenkins' Ear" {}