When Spain’s King Charles II died in 1700, there was a big pan-European spat over who would succeed him. Charles had nominated Philip of Anjou, grandson of French king Louis XIV. But that would unite France, the continent’s dominant military power, with Spain, owner of the world’s largest empire.
The maritime powers, England and Holland, weren’t having that. So they proposed Archduke Charles, son of Leopold 1 of Austria, and took up arms under the banner of the ‘Grand Alliance’ to enforce their claim. So began the War of the Spanish Succession, which would be waged for 13 years.
After a few battles in and around the Low Countries, the war moved south after Portugal was ‘persuaded’ to open its ports to alliance ships, so they could more easily move in to the Mediterranean to take on the French fleet. But a port of refuge nearer the action was required. An attempt to take Cadiz had already failed, and so Gibraltar was proposed.
On 4 August, English and Dutch marines landed to the north of the rock while ships’ guns pounded it from the sea. After six hours of bombardment, troops landed and took the town.
The inhabitants who refused to pledge allegiance to “Charles III of Spain” were allowed to leave. They moved to the north of the bay, to the town of San Roque, whose motto to this day translates as “The very noble and very loyal city of San Roque, where Gibraltar lives on”.
Gibraltar was ceded to Britain “in perpetuity” in 1713 by the Treaty of Utrecht. However, had the Grand Alliance succeeded in their aim of getting their man on the throne, it would almost certainly remained part of Spain, as it was taken in Charles’s name, not Philip’s. As it turned out, Philip was recognised as king of Spain, but renounced any claim to the throne of France.