Thursday, September 11, 2014


AM | @HDI1780

"...a dark page in our records" — Winston S. Churchill

Three hundred years ago today, the city of Barcelona surrendered to the Spanish forces under the command of the Duke of Berwick. Following the Treaty of Utrecht and its clause forbidding the union of the crowns of France and Spain (1713), Catalonia had lost any strategic relevance in the eyes of the Anglo-Dutch. Peace negotiations between France and England had started, albeit secretely, in 1711. Queen Anne was keen to insist that any agreement should preserve to the Catalans "the full Enjoyment of their just and ancient Liberties". But King Philip V of Spain sternly opposed any concessions on that front. Finally, Secretary of State Bolingbroke, eager for peace at any cost, surrendered to the pretensions of the Bourbons:

Bolingbroke accepted the formula suggested to him by the plenipotentiary Marquess of Monteleón, which is contained in Article XIII of the Peace and Friendship Treaty between Spain and Great Britain (27 March 1713). The text states, cynically, that the Catalans were granted “all the privileges which the inhabitants of both Castiles [...] have and enjoy,” which was tantamount to saying that it suppressed the freedom of Catalonia. The Count of La Corzana, representing the emperor Charles VI, denounced the abandonment of the Catalans in exchange for the “Opium from Peru and Potosí that has currently put the English ministry to sleep”.

It was of little use that the Catalan ambassador Pau Ignaci de Dalmases, accompanied by the Earl of Peterboroug, was received by Queen Anne on June 1713, and sought her support, reminding her that the Catalans had become involved in the war at the request of the British and that “because this country is so free and loves freedom it should protect another country that in view of its prerogatives could be called free [because] the laws, privileges and freedoms are in all things similar and almost equal to those enjoyed in England” [1].

* * *

In his monumental biography of the Duke of Marlborough, Winston S. Churchill praises "Bolingbroke's statecraft" and his determination to put an end to the war. A few paragraphs later, however, he describes the apalling scenes that followed the capitulation of Barcelona, and the enduring shame that fell upon the British:

...the Catalans, who had been called into the field by the Allies, and particularly by England, and who had adhered with admirable tenacity to Charles III, were delivered over under polite diplomatic phrases to the vengeance of the victorious party in Spain [...] The fate of the Catalans, abandoned, slaughtered, and oppressed, made a dark page in our records, and even to-day plays its part in the internal affairs of Spain [2].

Among the many pamphlets published in England during these troubled years, Catalans are particularly fond of a 98 page-long anonymous text published in 1714 under the title The Deplorable HISTORY of the Catalans, from their first engaging in the WAR, to the Time of their REDUCTION. With the Motives, Declarations, and Engagements, on which they first took Arms. This is the account of September 11, 1714:

The Storm was undertaken the 11th of September, N. S., and was very Bloody and Obstinate. The Besieged disputed every Inch of Ground [...] The Negotiation was terminated the 12th in the Evening upon the following Conditions: That they should be assured of their Lives; that the City should not be plundered; that they should be left to the Discretion of the King of Spain, which they consented to with great Reluctance [...] How well they have kept the Faith of this Treaty, many of these miserable People have dearly experienced already; they were immediately stript and disarmed, forced to redeem themselves from Plunder by large Sums, the Laws of Castile publickly declared, and many of the Chielf of them distributed into several Goals (sic).

[1] Joaquin Albareda: "Catalonia background information", Public Diplomacy Council of Catalonia, October 2013.

[2]  Winston S. Churchill. Marlborough. His Life and Times, Book two [1936]. University of Chicago Press, 2002, pp. 992-996.


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