When Prince Charles unveiled a plaque commemorating one of Britain’s most ill-fated colonial ventures, the intention was to mark the suffering on all sides as well as attract a few more tourists to the Colombian city of Cartagena.
Unfortunately, some of the residents of the coastal resort have not quite seen it that way, and have taken exception to the marble monument glorifying 18th century “English pirates” to the extent that they are calling for it to be taken down.
Britain sent a vast naval fleet consisting of nearly 200 vessels and up to 30,000 military personnel to claim Cartagena in 1741, as part of an ill-starred attempt to seize control of key Spanish ports dominating access to the Caribbean and Latin America.
The resulting siege was a disaster for the British, resulting in the loss of 18,000 men to death or disease, including militia recruited from the then American colonies, and the effective end of any ambitions in London to extend the Crown’s list of imperial possessions to South America.
King George II was so embarrassed by the defeat that he ordered all mention of the campaign to be removed from newspapers and the destruction of hundreds of prematurely cast victory medals.
But efforts by Cartagena's mayor to draw a line under this ignominious episode, which also resulted in loss of nearly 2,000 Spanish casualties, and attract British tourists from cruise ships calling at the port are threatening to backfire.
In pictures: Prince Charles's most controversial moments
In pictures: Prince Charles's most controversial moments
1/10 Princely influence
The Prince of Wales tried to influence Tony Blair’s government on issues such as grammar schools, alternative medicine and GM food, a BBC radio programme revealed.
2/10 Charles and grammar schools
David Blunkett, right, was among those who disclosed they had been contacted by the Prince of Wales. The former Education Secretary spoke about Prince Charles’ attempts to expand grammar schools, and how he 'didn’t like' it when his suggestion was refused.
3/10 Ignoring austerity
The cost of the monarchy to the taxpayer rose by nearly six per cent last year - more than double the rate of inflation. Travel costs incurred by the Prince of Wales, who has recently begun to take over official duties previously undertaken by his mother, included a £434,000 visit to India with the Duchess of Cornwall, and a charter flight to attend the funeral of Nelson Mandela which cost £246,160
4/10 The 'withered' Prince
Spain’s King Juan Carlos reportedly said the aging Prince Charles was partly his inspiration for abdicating in favour of Crown Prince Felipe (left). He was reported to have said: 'I do not want my son to wither waiting like Prince Charles'
JAVIER SORIANO/AFP/Getty Images
5/10 Reforming capitalism
In May, the Prince of Wales spoke at a major conference about reforming capitalism - despite being advised not to speak on matters of public controversy. Charles' comments over the course of the month had reignited debate about the British monarchy
6/10 Putin 'acting like Hitler'
Prince Charles was claimed to have compared the actions of Russian leader Vladimir Putin to those of Adolf Hitler during a private conversation with a woman who had fled the Nazis
7/10 Australia? Take it or leave it
In April the veteran Australian journalist David Marr said the Prince of Wales once privately expressed his belief that if Australia became a republic it would be 'no skin off anyone's nose'
8/10 Satanic Verses
Prince Charles turned his back on Sir Salman Rushdie during his fatwa over publication of The Satanic Verses because he thought the book was offensive to Muslims, it was reported earlier this year. The claims were made by Martin Amis, who said Charles told him that he would not offer support 'if someone insults someone else’s deepest convictions'
Prince Charles has reportedly pushed for further research on the NHS about homeopathic remedies for a number of years. Labour MPs reacted with fury at the revelation in July 2013 that the heir to the throne had met Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt, with NHS support for homeopathy believed to be on the agenda
10/10 The 'black spider letters'
The Guardian has been trying for years to secure the release of a series of 'particularly frank' letters written by Prince Charles to senior Government figures. In October 2012, the attorney-general Dominic Grieve overruled a court's decision to allow access but now, barring a successful appeal to the Supreme Court, Charles's correspondence will be revealed at last
Since the unveiling of the plaque by Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall at a low key event last week, complaints have been made that it was built without consultation and honours little more than the murderous intent of British colonialists.
Hernando Marrugo, a tourist guide in Cartagena, which is a UNESCO World Heritage site, said: “The mayor has a nerve to commemorate the deaths of 10,000 English troops. These men intended taking Cartagena and massacring our ancestors. It makes me feel bad showing the plaque to the tourists.”
A local historian has called for residents to take the matter into their own hands, citing a previous example where a statue of a city hero widely considered inappropriate was taken down.
Sergio Lozano told local paper El Heraldo: “I believe the same thing will happen - the community took it upon themselves to remove the statue in order to remain faithful to the town’s history. The community is responsible for removing the plaque.”
Opponents of the plaque, who also took to social media to voice their discontent, pointed out that it was placed within metres of a statue to Admiral Don Blas de Lezo, the wily Spanish commander who is credited with seeing off the British challenge.
But supporters insisted the monument and the ceremony to mark its unveiling was intended to recognise the suffering on all sides in the three-month siege, which was part of a wider Caribbean campaign known as the War of Jenkin’s Ear - named after a British captain whose ear was apparently severed by a Spanish sailor and provided London with the excuse to open hostilities.
In a statement, the Corporation for the Historical Centre of Cartagena said: “The Prince and the Duchess expressed their condolences to the people of Cartagena, the Spanish, the British and the militia from the American colonies who lost their lives to the war.”
Clarence House declined to comment on the row, but the Colombian authorities said plans were in place for further monuments to mark the events of nearly 300 years ago.
Sabas Pretelt de la Vega, a member of the corporation, said: “We’ve made many tributes to the fallen of the city of Cartagena, and will continue to make them in the future. We seek a new chapter in the history of Cartagena.”
What was the War of Jenkin’s Ear?
The siege of Cartagena was part of a wider Anglo-Spanish 18th Century conflict known as the War of Jenkin’s Ear.
Named after a captain whose ear was severed by a Spanish sailor and then paraded in a pickle jar before a bellicose Parliament, the clash was intended to allow Britain to seize control of the Caribbean.
On paper, the odds were overwhelmingly in British favour as a fleet of 186 ships conveying an invasion force of 12,000 men arrived off the Colombian coast in 1741 opposed by just 3,000 Spaniards.
But a mixture of incompetence, illness and brilliant defence by the leader of the Spanish defence, Admiral Blas de Lezo, saw the British thrown back into the sea with huge losses.
Thousands of “victory” medals, including one which depicted the British Admiral Edward Vernon looking down on his kneeling Spanish opponent, were hurriedly recalled.Reuse content