For over three and a half years, from 1779 to 1783, the tiny territory of Gibraltar was besieged and blockaded, on land and at sea, by the overwhelming forces of Spain and France. It became the longest siege in British history, and the obsession with saving Gibraltar was blamed for the loss of the American colonies in the War of Independence.
Located between the Mediterranean and Atlantic, on the very edge of Europe, Gibraltar was a place of varied nationalities, languages, religions and social classes. During the siege, thousands of soldiers, civilians and their families withstood terrifying bombardments, starvation and diseases. Very ordinary people lived through extraordinary events, from shipwrecks and naval battles to an attempted invasion of England and a daring sortie out of Gibraltar into Spain. Deadly innovations included red-hot shot, shrapnel shells and a barrage from immense floating batteries.
This is military and social history at its best, a story of soldiers, sailors and civilians, with royalty and rank-and-file, workmen and engineers, priests, prisoners-of-war, spies and surgeons, all caught up in a struggle for a fortress located on little more than two square miles of awe-inspiring rock. Gibraltar: The Greatest Siege in British History is an epic page-turner, rich in dramatic human detail - a tale of courage, endurance, intrigue, desperation, greed and humanity. The everyday experiences of all those involved are brought vividly to life with eyewitness accounts and expert research.
The Adkinses (Jane Austen's England) offer an alternative to the repetitive accounts of field operations that often dominate military histories of the 18th century: a page-turning tale of one of the era's longest and most significant sieges, described from the perspective of those who lived through it and situated in wider military and diplomatic contexts. Gibraltar, a small territory at the bottom of the Iberian peninsula that's considered the key to the western Mediterranean, had been in British hands since 1704. Spain attempted to retake it during the American Revolution; in June 1779, the Great Siege began. As the noose around Gibraltar tightened over the next three and a half years, sicknesses and shortages overshadowed battle and bombardment. A particular strength of this work is its domestic dimension; the besieged had ample time to write, and to air fears and grievances. The authors use primary accounts to bring to life the experience of Gibraltar's residents, including the roughly 1,500 wives and children of soldiers who lived there, and demonstrate that Gibraltar's defense depended more on endurance than heroics. Specialists may find little new material, but this well organized, fast-paced book is a worthwhile addition to the literature on a still-neglected subject.