Gibraltar

Publication Details

Our latest book, Gibraltar: The Greatest Siege in British History, is published in the UK by Little, Brown in hardback, ISBN 9781408708675. It is also available as an e-book in various formats, and there is also an unabridged downloadable audiobook produced by Hachette Audio (UK), brilliantly narrated by the acclaimed actor John Telfer. In the United States and Canada, the same book will be published in hardback by Viking on 13th March 2018, ISBN 9780735221628, and also as an e-book.The book is 449 pages long, plus a prologue, black-and-white and colour plates, and several maps. Reviews and interviews are given at the end of this page.

“A rip-roaring account of the dramatic four-year siege of Britain’s Mediterranean garrison by Spain and France – an overlooked key to the British loss in the American Revolution.

 


UK hardcover (September 2017)


US hardback (March 2018)

The two jacket designs are both based on paintings by American artists. The Little, Brown jacket is based on a painting by John Singleton Copley, while the Viking one uses a painting by John Trumbull.

“well-researched and briskly written narrative … worthy of the most melodramatic Hollywood blockbuster” (Sunday Times)

The Great Siege

Gibraltar: The Greatest Siege in British History is an epic tale of courage, desperation, endurance and intrigue, brought to life by eyewitness accounts and in-depth research using unpublished archives and contemporary late 18th-century accounts. For more than 3½ years, from June 1779 to February 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.

 

Looking from the Moorish Castle at Gibraltar towards La Linea in Spain. The runway marks

the position of the isthmus. A great deal of development and land reclamation has taken place since the Great Siege

Located between the Mediterranean and Atlantic, on the very edge of Europe, Gibraltar was by then a British military garrison and also home to several thousand civilians, a place of varied nationalities, languages, religions and social classes. During the siege, soldiers, civilians and their families withstood terrifying bombardments, starvation and diseases. Very ordinary people lived through the most extraordinary events, from shipwrecks and naval battles to an attempted invasion of England and a daring sortie out of Gibraltar in order to destroy Spanish fortifications. Deadly innovations included red-hot shot, shrapnel shells and a barrage from immense floating batteries. This is military, naval and social history combined, 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 2 square miles of awe-inspiring rock.

Furnace for heating red-hot shot, depicted on the funerary monument

of George Augustus Eliott at Buckland Monachorum church

American Revolution

The British government’s obsession with saving Gibraltar was blamed for the loss of America in the War of Independence – also known as the American Revolution. When France sided with the American colonies and offered all sorts of help, they soon saw the possibility of destroying Britain’s sea power, but Spain’s naval support would be needed. The French began a diplomatic campaign and eventually persuaded Spain to join forces against Britain. In return, France promised to do everything possible to assist Spain in gaining control of Gibraltar and the island of Minorca. Spain also agreed to support a French invasion of southern England, where the main bases of the Royal Navy were located.

 

The siege of Gibraltar, the siege of Minorca and the attempted invasion by an armada of French and Spanish warships were all inextricably linked with the struggle of the American colonies for independence from British rule. Such a complicated conflict drew in soldiers right across Europe, from Morocco to Italy, to fight on both sides, and the Great Siege of Gibraltar was not finally resolved until the American War of Independence was ended with a peace treaty in 1783.

A soldier of the 72nd Manchester Regiment at the gunpowder magazine

near Willis’s battery, part of the ‘City Under Siege’ display at Gibraltar.

The 72nd was originally raised to serve in America, but was sent to Gibraltar instead.

Barbary apes

Many visitors today want to see the Barbary macaques – usually referred to as apes, but they are actually monkeys without tails, the only free-ranging monkeys in Europe. Before the Great Siege, there were considerable numbers of macaques, and officers would shoot them for sport. Little mention is made of them during the siege, but with food so scarce, some may have been eaten. They would have retreated to safety on the eastern side of Gibraltar, which was then virtually inaccessible, except by boat.

A Barbary macaque


The eastern side of the Rock where the macaques were found

Gibunco Gibraltar International Literary Festival

We gave the first talk at the 2017 Gibunco Gibraltar International Literary Festival, on our new book ‘Gibraltar: The Greatest Siege in British History’. This prestigious and popular festival took place over four days, with venues including the Garrison Library, which is where our talk was held. The library was founded in 1793 by John Drinkwater. He was in the 72nd Regiment throughout the Great Siege and afterwards published his detailed diary which became a bestseller. Our talk was sold out, standing room only, and the response to it was incredible and overwhelming. See our Events page for further details.

Talks and other events

Our publicist is arranging talks and other events, which will be added to our website’s Events and Interview page. She can be contacted as follows: Hayley Camis, Press Officer, Little, Brown Book Group, Carmelite House, 50 Victoria Embankment, London EC4Y 0DZ. Tel. 020 3122 6000. Email: Hayley.Camis@littlebrown.co.uk.  @hayleycamis

 

A World War Two gun on the site of Willis’s battery.

During the Great Siege, Willis’s battery played a key role


Spain viewed from a gun emplacement in the siege tunnels


The south end of Gibraltar viewed from the Straits

For other stories related to Gibraltar and the Great Siege on our website, see the Trafalgar page for various bits and pieces; newsletter 22 for the depression gun during the Great Siege, newsletter 44 for the Pillars of Hercules, newsletter 47 for Coxheath Camp, and newsletter 48 for the sinking of HMS Britannia in World War One, newsletter 50 for all things Gibraltar, including George Augustus Eliott, postage stamps and John Drinkwater, and newsletter 51 for all things Gibraltar, including post boxes.

Review and interviews

We’ve been doing all sorts of radio and magazine interviews, including one with Giles Brown of the ‘Let’s Talk’ show on Talk Radio Europe, as well as another radio interview with Carrie Cooper for BBC Radio Jersey. One online interview was with Family Tree magazine, which you can read here, and we are ‘Top Choice of the Month’ in their December issue. In the November 2017 issue of the magazine History Revealed, we were featured as Book of the Month, and there was also an interview with us. There have been several features in local newspapers, such as the Chiswick Herald, Gibraltar Chronicle, Gibraltar Panorama and Sussex Express, and there has been a double-page digest feature in the Daily Mail, attracting a lot of comments. You can see the piece here.

Various reviews are still coming in, and they include:

“The husband-and-wife historian team once again exhibit their talent for enlivening British history … Many readers will wonder why this episode [the siege] hasn’t been made into a movie, with all the heroics of soldiers, civilians, and, especially, families … The story is as compelling as it is fantastic – a page-turning history of one of the most important eras of Western civilization” (Kirkus Reviews, starred review)

“a fascinating, well-crafted account of a siege that defined Britishness” (Andrew Lambert, BBC History Magazine)

“never loses sight of the human story at the heart of an extraordinary international incident” (History Revealed, Book of the Month)

“Fascinating and timely” (Tony Rennell, Daily Mail)

“highly readable … Rather than hovering above events and providing an overview, the reader is taken directly into the action … The writing is first-rate right from the start … With plenty of drama to draw upon and an impressive commitment to research, this is a book to delight the military history enthusiast” (History of War magazine)

“well-researched and briskly written narrative … worthy of the most melodramatic Hollywood blockbuster” (Dominic Sandbrook, Sunday Times)

A few days before Gibraltar was published, we had a full-page review in the ‘Culture’ section of the Sunday Times, which was very pleasing. The reviewer did express concern that readers were entitled to mangled bodies and spattered entrails from the outset, though if all the soldiers were blown to bits early on, our book would have been very brief. In the early chapters, he felt there was too much moaning about the lack of vegetables (even though people were dying from scurvy), but he was later amused when Eliott wrote ironically to the Spanish commander saying that the English liked to do gardening as an amusement from their siege duties. We can visualise a ‘Gardener’s Question Time’ programme being broadcast from Gibraltar during the siege, with soldiers putting their questions to the expert panel. Anyway, we can reassure readers looking for a bit of action that our initial chapters include not only vegetables, but also a diet of naval battles, a Spanish warship explosion, a captured Spanish admiral, a failed invasion of England, hundreds of children dying of smallpox, a terrifying attack by fireships, night-time gunboat attacks and much more.

“With the issue making national news again, and ruffling political feathers, this book comes at an apposite time. The Adkins have captured the tortured and contested story of this solitary rock with aplomb … The Adkins’s page-turning account makes you feel as if you were there amid the smoke, blood and gunpowder” Catholic Herald

“a brilliant book and a brilliant story” Patrick Geoghegan (‘Talking History’ on Newstalk.com)

“What a fantastic book to review. So much so that I am now reading it again, and I can’t remember a time where I ever did that before. Roy and Lesley Adkins have produced a tour de force here … This book is easily read, and you will be absorbed into the atmosphere of the late eighteenth century armies and navies struggling to get the upper hand … What a book. I heartily commend it to you and am sure that, like me, you will stand a wee bit taller. Also, let me tell you that it was so absorbing that at four in the morning when I had to get up to my nightly visit I would read a chapter … go and get it!” (A British army soldier reviewing on the Army Rumour Service website (ARRSE)

“another epic and illuminating look at Britain’s past from Roy and Lesley Adkins, masters of the historical narrative. Ordinary mortals in extraordinary circumstances leap off the pages” (George D. Jepson, Quarterdeck)

“A definitive new book … it recounts in detail the stirring story of the conflict and Lord Heathfield’s key role in ensuring a momentous British victory” (David Arnold, Sussex Express)

“The Adkins bring the siege vividly to life, especially the everyday experiences of all those involved in the struggle for a fortress located on little more than two square miles of rock … An epic page-turner” (Julian Stockwin, September Bookpick blog)

“Well written history, excitedly told. Why not get yourself a copy?” (J J Alcantara, Gibraltar Chronicle)

“fascinating … an enthralling and colourful history told with human stories at its heart” (Family Tree, Top Choice of the Month)

“Roy and Lesley Adkins’s Gibraltar … describes in fascinating detail the siege of that place” (Martin Brayne, Parson Woodforde Society Journal)

“This is a fine work of social history that would appeal to a wide audience” (Steve Earles, Hellbound)

“This is military and social history at its best” (The Globe and Laurel)