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). In the United States and Canada, it is published in hardback by Viking , (ISBN 9780735221628) It is 449 pages long, plus prologue, black-and-white and colour plates, and several maps. It is also available as an e-book in various formats, and there is an unabridged downloadable audiobook produced by Hachette Audio (UK) and Penguin Audio (US), brilliantly narrated by the acclaimed actor John Telfer. This audiobook is the winner of an Audiofile Earphones Award, and there have been many other great reviews, which are given further down 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 hardback


US hardback

Both jacket designs feature 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.

“worthy of the most melodramatic Hollywood blockbuster” (Sunday Times)

“Many readers will wonder why this episode hasn’t been made into a movie” (Kirkus Reviews)

“a true epic, and one that would make a terrific miniseries” (Dallas News)

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of courage, desperation, endurance and intrigue, brought to life by eyewitness accounts and in-depth research using unpublished archives and contemporary late 18th-century accounts.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, and Gibraltar became the most famous fortress in the world. The 240th anniversary of the start of the siege will be marked in 2019.

 

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 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 in the UK 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 6082. Email: Hayley.Camis@littlebrown.co.uk.  @hayleycamis. For events in north America, please contact Theresa Gaffney, Associate Publicist, Viking/Penguin Books, 375 Hudson Street, 4th Floor, New York, NY 10014, email: tgaffney@penguinrandomhouse.com, tel. 212-366-2338.

 

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, newsletter 51 for all things Gibraltar, including post boxes, and newsletter 52 for John Trumbull’s paintings of the sortie, Henry Ince and Gibraltar’s tunnels, and the Prudential and the Rock.

Review and interviews

We’ve been doing all sorts of radio and magazine interviews, including one with Patrick Geoghegan on the ‘Talking History’ programme for Newstalk Radio, which you can listen to here, another with Giles Brown of the ‘Let’s Talk’ show on Talk Radio Europe, and another with Carrie Cooper for BBC Radio Jersey. One online interview was with Family Tree magazine, which you can read here, and we were ‘Top Choice of the Month’ in their book pages for 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 was a double-page digest feature in the Daily Mail, attracting a lot of comments. You can see that piece here.

Various reviews are still coming in, and we start them off with one for the audiobook:

“John Telfer’s masterful reading … is a model of audiobook technique … The effect is singular, and the story he tells is itself amazing” (AudioFile Magazine, winner of AudioFile Earphones Award)

“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)

“The Adkinses have diligently pieced together a lively and compelling narrative, laying bare the grim realities of the siege, from the grinding everyday hardships of hunger and cold to the numbing terror of incessant bombardment … in their fine book, such indelible episodes go far to explain why Gibraltar’s long ordeal captured the imagination of contemporaries, and why the Rock’s future continues to matter to Britons and Spaniards today” (Stephen Brumwell, The Wall Street Journal)

“one of those finely researched, richly detailed, seemingly narrow histories that opens surprising vistas in our understanding of great events … a true epic, and one that would make a terrific miniseries” (David Walton, Dallas Morning News)

“gripping, dramatically paced and thoroughly researched history of the dogged defense of Gibraltar” (Aram Bakshian Jr, Washington Times)

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

“a page-turning tale of one of the era’s longest and most significant sieges … this well organized, fast-paced book is a worthwhile addition to the literature on a still-neglected subject” (Publishers Weekly)

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

“This detailed account of possibly one of the greatest events in British maritime history concerns the three and a half year siege of Gibraltar between 1779 and 1783. This event, I suggest, was as important to Britain as was the Siege of Stalingrad to the USSR in World War Two … The authors give a superb social history dimension to the official military archives … This book is thoroughly recommended” (Martin Hazell, South West Soundings)

“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)

“This book is fascinating. It’s excellently well written, painting the characters involved in a very engaging way – one of those superbly done factual books where you know how the end plays out, but you wish it were different as you turn page after page for the story unfolding” (Nicky Moxey, The Historical Novels Review)

“This intense account portrays the heroism and sufferings of the defenders while offering interesting vignettes that cover intriguing personalities on both sides. The Adkinses have created an absorbing examination of an important episode in British and European history” (Jay Freeman, Booklist Online (American Library Association))

“drawing heavily on primary sources and providing a meticulous look at the military and civilian experiences … readers interested this oft-overlooked facet of the American Revolutionary War will likely appreciate the thoroughness” (Kathleen McCallister, Library Journal)

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

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. We can reassure readers looking for a bit of action that our initial chapters includes 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 page turner that vividly recounts the titanic, but little known, behind-the-scenes struggle between England, France and Spain that so dramatically influenced world events during the American Revolution” (History500.com: Best American History Books)

“a riveting story … making sure the reader is swept up in each twist and turn of the battle” (Noah Cruickshank, Shelf Awareness for Readers)

“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)

“It’s a riveting story … Just like a novel I often found myself reading longer than intended” (Tony Gerard, HMS Acasta blog)

“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)

“Such a fantastic read and a must for all Gibraltarians” (My Rock, My Passion blog)

“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)