Reported 280 Years Ago (July 31 1739): War looms as British fleet gets dramatic order to seize Spanish ships

The Belfast News Letter of July 20 1739 (July 31 in the modern calendar)
The Belfast News Letter of July 20 1739 (July 31 in the modern calendar)
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From the Belfast News Letter of July 20 1739 (July 31 in the modern calendar):

From the London Gazette. Whitehall, July 10, 1739.

[The following reported order was a major step towards the War of Jenkin’s Ear, which would be declared in the autumn, and was the culmination of years of naval and colonial tensions with Spain, in which Spanish crews boarded and harangued British ships:]

WHEREAS many and repeated depredations have been committed, and many unjust seizures have been made in the West-Indies and elsewhere, by Spanish guarda costas and ships acting under the commission of the king of Spain or his governors, contrary to the law of nations, and in violation of the treaties subsisting between the crown of Great-Britain and Spain, whereby his majesty’s trading subjects have not only sustained great losses, but have also suffered in their persons by the cruelties and barbarities which have been exercised by the said Spanish guarda costas:

and whereas his majesty has caused repeated instances and representations to be made from time to time at the court of Spain, in order to obtain redress and satisfaction for such injurious treatment and unjust practices, and to prevent the like violences for the future:

and whereas a convention for making reparation to his majesty’s subjects for their losses by the said depredations and seizures, was concluded between his majesty and the king of Spain on the fourteenth day of January last N.S. by which convention it was stipulated, that a certain sum of money should be paid at London, within a term in the said convention specified as a balance admitted to be due on the part of Spain to the crown and subjects of Great Britain, which term did expire on the 25th day of May last;

and the payment of the said stipulated sum, as agreed by the above-mentioned convention, has not been made, by which means the said convention has been violated and broke on the part of the crown of Spain, and his majesty’s subjects remain without any reparation or satisfaction for their many great, and grievous losses;

his majesty hath therefore taken this injurious proceeding of the crown of Spain into his serious consideration, and his majesty having determined to take such measures as are necessary for vindicating the Honour of his crown, and for procuring reparation and satisfaction to his injured subjects, is pleased by and with the advice of his privy-council, to order, and it is hereby ordered, that general reprisals be granted against the ships, goods, and subjects of the king of Spain, so that as well his majesty’s fleet and ships, as also all other ships and vessels that shall be commisionated by letters of marque or general reprisals, or otherwise by his majesty’s commissioners for executing the office of lord high admiral of Great Britain, shall and may lawfully seize all ships, vessels and goods belonging to the king of Spain or his subjects, or others inhabiting within any the territories of the king of Spain, and bring the same to judgment in any of the courts of admiralty within his majesty’s dominions;

and to that end his majesty’s advocate general, with the advocate of the admiralty, are forthwith to prepare the draught of a commission, and present the same to his majesty at this board, authorizing the commissioners for executing the office of lord high admiral to issue forth and grant letters of Marque and Reprizal to any of his majesty’s subjects, or others whom the said commissioners shall deem fitly qualified in that behalf, for the apprehending, seizing and taking the ships, vessels and goods belonging to Spain, and the vassals and subjects of the king of Spain, or any inhabiting within his countries, territories or dominions; and that such powers and clauses be inserted in the said commission as have been usual and are according to former precedents:

and his majesty’s said advocate general, with the advocate of the admiralty, are also forth with to prepare the draught of a commission, and to present the same to his majesty at this board, authorising the said commissioners for executing the office of lord high admiral, to will and require the high court of admiralty of Great Britain, and the lieutenant and judge of the said court, as also the several courts of admiralty within his majesty’s dominions, to take cognizance of, and judicially proceed upon all and all manner of captures, seizures, prizes, and reprisals of all ships and goods that are or shall be taken, and to hear and determine the same, and according to the course of admiralty, and laws of nations, to adjudge and condemn all such ships, vessels and goods as shall belong to Spain, or the vassals and subjects of the king of Spain, or to any others inhabiting within any of his countries, territories, and dominions; and that such powers and clauses be inserted in the said commission as have been usual, and are according to former precedents:

and they are likewise to prepare and lay before his majesty at this board, a draught of such instructions as may be proper to be sent to the courts of admiralty in his majesty’s foreign Governments and plantations for their guidance herein; as also another draught of instruction for such ships as shall be commissioned for the purpose afore mentioned.

From the council Chamber at Whitehall, the tenth day of July, 1739.

Jo. Cant.* Holles Newcastle.

Lan. Edor* Cholmondel y

Wilmington, P. Torrington.

Godolphin, C.P.S. Ar. Onslow.

Dorset.