Treaty of Seville Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

In 1727, Spain mounted an unsuccessful attempt to recapture Gibraltar from Britain, which had held the peninsula since 1704. The Treaty of Seville ended this military conflict and contributed to the rising power of Britain and the decline of Spain in the eighteenth century.

Summary of Event

During the War of the Spanish Succession (1701-1714), Spanish Succession, War of the (1701-1714) Gibraltar Gibraltar, Siege of (1704) was captured in August, 1704, by British-Dutch forces under the command of Admirals George Byng and George Rooke. Spain’s military attempt the following year to regain the southernmost part of the Iberian Peninsula Iberian Peninsula was unsuccessful. The Treaty of Utrecht, Utrecht, Treaty of (1713) which ended the war in 1713, not only dismembered Spain’s European empire but also, in Article 10, forced Spain to cede Gibraltar to the British. [kw]Treaty of Seville (Nov. 9, 1729, and Feb., 1732) [kw]Seville, Treaty of (Nov. 9, 1729, and Feb., 1732) Treaties;European Seville, Treaty of (1729, 1732) [g]Spain;Nov. 9, 1729, and Feb., 1732: Treaty of Seville[0750] [c]Diplomacy and international relations;Nov. 9, 1729, and Feb., 1732: Treaty of Seville[0750] [c]Wars, uprisings, and civil unrest;Nov. 9, 1729, and Feb., 1732: Treaty of Seville[0750] [c]Expansion and land acquisition;Nov. 9, 1729, and Feb., 1732: Treaty of Seville[0750] Philip V Farnese, Isabella Walpole, Sir Robert Fleury, André-Hercule de

Spain’s King Philip V and his new Italian queen, Isabella Farnese, soon actively resisted the provisions of the treaty. They sent military expeditions in 1717 and in 1718 to attempt to regain some of their empire’s former Italian territories. These Spanish incursions into Italy led to war with Britain and France from December, 1718, to 1721. Spain next attempted the diplomatic route: The Spanish negotiated with Austria to regain Gibraltar and their Italian lands, signing the First Treaty of Vienna Vienna, Treaty of (1725) in 1725. This treaty only provoked more alliances against Spain, however, and was ultimately unsuccessful. In all the alliances, secret pacts, and peace agreements it conducted between 1713 and 1726, Spain received promises of support for the restoration of Gibraltar. These included a famous letter of June 12, 1720, from Britain’s King George I, in which he promised that he would restore the peninsula if Parliament approved. However, none of these promises was fulfilled.

By the end of 1726, Philip V decided to retake Gibraltar by force. The loss of Gibraltar had been particularly galling to the Spanish, because Spain had held Gibraltar since 1462. Moreover, the seizure of the peninsula represented the first time since Arabs invaded the country in the Middle Ages that Spain had lost part of its own soil to a foreign power. Philip effectively declared war on January 1, 1727, when he sent a letter to London stating that Article 10 of the Treaty of Utrecht was null and void as a result of British infringements of prior agreements. Spanish troops were assembled under Count de Las Torres, who decided against a direct, surprise attack on the fortress of Gibraltar. He chose, instead, the formalized and systematic operation of a siege—often the preferred mode of warfare in the first half of the eighteenth century, because it tended to be of short duration with fewer casualties than pitched battles. By early February, his forces began digging trenches and building batteries with which to initiate the attack.

On February 22, 1727, the military conflict began. The British, under the command of Lieutenant Governor Jasper Clayton, fired the first shots, seeking to halt construction of the batteries and trenches. By the end of March, 1727, despite damage to their construction efforts and weapons, Spanish batteries had launched a ten-day barrage of cannon fire. Heavy rain in April slowed the siege, as it filled the trenches and swept away batteries, but in May the Spanish launched a massive bombardment against the British that again ultimately failed.

The Spanish troops were at a disadvantage, because the British were quite secure in their elevated position at the top of the Rock of Gibraltar. British weapons and batteries, like the famous Willis’s Battery, were already in place, and most of the damage to the defenders’ armaments could be repaired at night. Furthermore, the fleet in the bay, under the command of Admiral Sir Charles Wager, kept the British protected and supplied with fresh provisions. The Spanish troops were also weakened by weather-related illnesses, by drunkenness, and by desertion—a common problem among mercenary troops. More than half of de Las Torres’s troops were foreigners, and of the twenty-four hundred men the Spanish lost, nine hundred deserted.

With a total loss of only three hundred men, the fortified Gibraltar proved to be impregnable to a land attack by means of eighteenth century weaponry. After five months of conflict, a seven-article truce for a cease-fire was agreed to on June 24 between de Las Torres and Gibraltar’s governor, David Colyear, Lord Patmore. Troops, however, remained in place on both sides until March, 1728, when Philip V ordered the cessation of the siege.

The formal resolution of the British-Spanish hostilities in 1727 was a long, drawn-out diplomatic affair. In May, 1727, even before the military action had ceased, France’s new prime minister, Cardinal André-Hercule de Fleury, brokered preliminary points of agreement between Spain and Britain in line with stipulations from Britain’s prime minister, Robert Walpole. On March 6, 1728, the preliminary agreements were signed at the Convention of Pardo, officially ending the siege, with further negotiations to be held in a general congress in Soissons, France, beginning June 14. Lasting for more than one year, the discussions at Soissons laid the foundation for the Treaty of Seville between Britain, Spain, and France, which was finally signed on November 9, 1729. In July, 1731, Austria agreed to accept the terms of the treaty, and the treaty’s complete and final version was signed in February, 1732.

The Treaty of Seville confirmed the general terms of agreement of the Treaty of Utrecht with a few adjustments. Although Spain was allowed to take possession of fortifications in Livorno, Parma, Piacenza, and Tuscany, it had to cede Sardinia to Savoy and Sicily to Austria. Austria agreed to suspend the operation of its Ostend India Trading Company Austrian East India Trading Company for seven years, returning the European trade balance to its status before the war.

Britain profited the most from the treaty, because the agreement dramatically strengthened Robert Walpole’s ability to achieve his longstanding goals for economic expansion. Britain’s commercial privileges were reinstated, particularly the Spanish asiento de negros Asiento de negros (slave trade license) Slave trade;licensing of (“Negroes’ contract”). The asiento was a license from Spain to furnish slaves to its possessions in the New World that had passed from France to Britain in 1713 for a thirty-year period, but it had been superseded during the war, because Spain had embargoed British trade. Britain, through its South Sea Company, was to supply forty-eight hundred African slaves annually to Spain’s overseas markets, so when the Treaty of Seville lifted the two-year embargo by Spain, Britain’s resumed trade activities were quite lucrative.

The treaty, however, left untouched two areas of serious disagreement. First, demands for compensation brought by Spain and Britain against each other for longstanding trade grievances were left unresolved. Prior incidents of Spanish seizures of British ships and of illegal trading by the British remained disputes that dragged on in the courts from 1732 to 1738. Second, the ownership of Gibraltar was not explicitly discussed at the diplomatic table. The unresolved tensions over these issues would later lead to more hostilities.

Significance

The Treaty of Seville essentially returned Europe to its political and economical status quo before the war. The retention of Gibraltar helped Britain remain the supreme power in the western Mediterranean and continued to give it an important base of operations for trade with the New World. With the reinstatement of the asiento, Britain was again poised to become the dominant commercial power in Europe and to increase its colonial power overseas. Spain, on the other hand, continued to regress militarily and economically throughout the rest of the century.

The failure of the treaty to resolve compensation issues and officially to confirm the status of Gibraltar eventually led to further conflict. Within a decade, old and new trade grievances between Spain and Britain erupted into the War of Jenkins’s Ear. Jenkins’s Ear, War of (1739-1741)[Jenkinss Ear, War of] From 1779 to 1783, Philip V’s son, Charles III, attempted one final siege against Gibraltar, Gibraltar, Siege of (1779-1783) which was unsuccessful, and in 1830 it became a British crown colony. The Treaty of Seville afforded only a momentary respite to the enmity between Spain and Britain on the seas and in the colonies that would continue for the rest of the eighteenth century and beyond.

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Black, Jeremy. The British Seaborne Empire. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 2004. Focuses on the naval component of the expansion of the British Empire, in Europe and the Americas, from its beginning to the present. Extensive notes, index.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Harvey, Maurice. Gibraltar. Kent, England: Spellmount, 1996. Good historical overview with helpful maps, illustrations.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Jackson, Sir William G. F. The Rock of the Gibraltarians: A History of Gibraltar. Cranbury, N.J.: Associated University Presses, 1987. Detailed accounts of all the sieges of Gibraltar; illustrations, photos, maps and appendices, including the text of Article 10 of the Treaty of Utrecht.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Kamen, Henry. Philip V of Spain: The King Who Reigned Twice. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 2001. Favorable biography of Philip; detailed account of the treaty. Glossary, index.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">_______. Spain’s Road to Empire: The Making of a World Power, 1492-1763. New York: Penguin Putnam, 2002. Account of Spain’s rise and fall, militarily and economically.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Thomas, Hugh. The Slave Trade: The Story of the Atlantic Slave Trade, 1440-1870. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1997. Excellent in-depth discussion of the political and economic contexts for slave trade; good explanation of asiento and its history. Notes, bibliography, index.

War of the Spanish Succession

Treaty of Utrecht

Development of Great Britain’s Office of Prime Minister

War of Jenkins’s Ear

Charles III Gains the Spanish Throne

Spanish-Algerine War

Siege of Gibraltar

Related Articles in <i>Great Lives from History: The Eighteenth Century</i>

Charles III; André-Hercule de Fleury; George I; Philip V; Robert Walpole. Treaties;European Seville, Treaty of (1729, 1732)

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