The SAR Magazine

Summer 2018

The SAR MAGAZINE is the official quarterly publication of the National Society of the Sons of the American Revolution published quarterly.

Issue link:

Contents of this Issue


Page 21 of 63

letters are filled with indignation toward France and Spain. He pledged that Britain's "enemies, who have undertaken this war upon such unfair grounds, may suffer for their temerity." In a subsequent letter, the prince elaborates on those unfair grounds, expressing hope that "those who have so unjustly taken up the war to assist rebellious subjects may feel the effects of our arms." But more than providing insight into the specific causes of grievance against Spain, Prince William made clear to George III that Spain's military prospects were not promising: "The idea of the Spaniard was to take Gibraltar by famine, but, as long as we keep a superiority at sea it is impossible. To take it by storm would be hardly practicable, for it is too strongly fortified, both by nature and art." Prince William was prescient, as Spain's repeated efforts to lay siege to Gibraltar in the early 1780s failed. Such intelligence was complemented and corroborated by other sources. One unknown source, before the Georgian Papers Programme began, was "Aristarchus," a correspondent who appears to have been based in London (certainly his letters are dated from London) but was plugged into a sprawling network that extended to Continental Europe and perhaps North Africa. We do not know his real name, but the provenance of his pseudonym was, of course, the ancient Greek astronomer and mathematician. We know little else about him: Was he a single spy, a conduit for many spies, or even the collective pseudonym for several spies? A great deal of the intelligence he furnished pertained to Spain. In March 1781, Aristarchus' informants suggested the extreme weakness of Spain in the Mediterranean: "Beyond the possibility of refutation, that on the bare appearances of one ship or at the most two battleships before the town of Ceuta, that healthy and important key to the Mediterranean would be delivered up to your Majesty's forces without bloodshed." Through Aristarchus, George III gained insight into the fractious and uneasy relationship between France and Spain, a tension that undermined their joint naval strength: "such is the jealousy between the two courts that neither of them will hazard the possibility much less the probability of weakening its respective naval force." And from Aristarchus, George III learned of a plan to create a "commercial company" that is "acceptable to the King and also to government" and which had established a committee, composed of "statesmen" and "merchants," and that had met "with the greatest possible secrecy and privacy." The "primary object" of this commercial company was "to force and establish a beneficial trade in Spanish South America," for which a military force of 5,000 would be sufficient. Aristarchus' correspondence with George III, then, suggests that offensive maneuvres against Spain previously unknown were under active consideration at the highest levels of government, a grand Spanish American design, to turn the conflict over retention of rebellious Colonies into a struggle for hemispheric dominance. George III maintained a journal of sorts, also held in the Royal Archives and kindly made available to me, entitled "George III Secret Intelligence, 1779-1782." It appears to have been drawn from northern European intelligence reports as well as intercepted correspondence from France (including letters by the highest echelons of the French government). It consists of snippets of information that crossed George III's desk and that he considered of strategic value. For example, from a February 4, 1780 entry: "The Spaniards all eager to get back Gibraltar, but don't wish that Jamaica shall fall into the hands of the French"; or, from March 14 of the same year: "The prevailing influence of France at Madrid is kept up with difficulty." From the Royal Archives in Windsor Castle, then, thanks to the Georgian Papers Programme, we gain new insight into the informational milieu in which George III was immersed, which undoubtedly informed his thinking beyond the previously known record of official channels and which perhaps account for his own approach to negotiations with Spain during the American Revolution. I had the honor of presenting some of what I encountered in the Royal Archives in a public lecture delivered in March in the Great Hall of King's College London, which was a thrilling experience. I am grateful to the SAR for this magnificent honor and opportunity. About the Author: Gabriel Paquette served as the SAR visiting professor at King's College London for 2017. He is professor of history at Johns Hopkins University. On March 26, 2018, Professor Paquette delivered the SAR Lecture in the Great Hall at King's College London (Strand Campus). The Great Hall was full, and the lecture was well received. President General (2013-14) Joe Dooley attended the lecture. PG Dooley serves as the chairman of the SAR-King's College London Partnership Committee. 22 SAR MAGAZINE Count of Floridablanca by Francisco Goya

Articles in this issue

Archives of this issue

view archives of The SAR Magazine - Summer 2018