Eighteenth century London newspapers did not especially enjoy a reputation of being kind to foreigners in the columns that they printed. A constant (usually) low-level, xenophobia was maintained when describing life and people in places other than Britain. This xenophobia increased when Britain entered into a state of war with another European country. During the Seven Years War, there were a considerable number of newspaper columns in the London press about Spain and Spaniards. Though not a belligerent until the start of 1762, Spain’s neutrality was never assured. For most of the war Anglo-Spanish relations were crucial to Britain’s wartime strategy. As a long standing imperial rival and trading partner to Britain, Spain and Spanish affairs were liberally discussed in the print world of wartime London. There was, during the war, a distinct writing style when discussing Spain that was linked together by ideas of patriotism and sensationalistic ‘othering’.
The patriotism that emerged in articles about Spain or Anglo-Spanish affairs was manifested as examples that showed Britain or British culture as being different from, and superior to, its Spanish counterpart. This particular brand of patriotism can be seen in a range of publications discussing a wide variety of issues. This post, and the next three, will focus on four particular articles on Spanish affairs in the wartime London press. The first, and the subject of this post, is a description of a bull fight in Spain. The second is a description of King Ferdinand VI going mad, the third is an article that portrays Spain as a friend of France and thus enemy of Britain, and the fourth is a depiction of Spain as an ungrateful friend and trading partner to Britain. Though the topics vary, they are all representative of the patriotic ‘othering’ that is emblematic of how Spain was described by the London press during the Seven Years War.
In the London Chronicle edition of 14 July 1759, on the second to last page, there appeared an article entitled ‘Lord Clarendon’s Description of the Toros, at which he assisted; with Lord Cottington, when they were sent Ambassadors to Madrid by King Charles II.’ As usual with such articles in the eighteenth century British press, there was no explanation or context for the article. The summer of 1759 was a period of heightened tensions in Anglo-Spanish affairs with the two governments at loggerheads over negotiations about Spain’s neutral maritime rights. Since the end of 1757, the London press had discussed Anglo-Spanish affairs with some regularity and readers would have been aware that there were grievances between the two powers that might lead to a war. Within the context of strained Anglo-Spanish relations, the point of an article about bullfighting during the reign of Charles II was Patriotic ‘otherism’.
The article takes up almost two-thirds of a page and is very detailed. Its start is deceptively complimentary:
‘…both the ambassadors had a box prepared for them to see the Toros: which is a spectacle very wonderful. Here the place was very noble, being the market place, a very large square, built with handsome brick houses…the Torreadors enter, all persons of quality richly clad, and upon the best horses in Spain, everyone attended by eight or ten or more lackeys…’
The opulence of the occasion emerged clearly from the description of the opening of the bull fight and evoked the riches for which Spain was still famed in the seventeenth century. To a British reader in the mid-eighteenth century steeped in the whigish lore of the British as a ‘commercial, maritime, and free’ people, it is possible that a description of Spanish opulence would have drawn a scoff of derision as likely as an expression of awe. The description continued in this vein until the bull was released from his pen. The article then turned to describing the extreme violence that was unleashed upon the bull, the horses, and the men involved. It also extolled their bravery. There was an interesting insertion of English pride at this point in the article as well. Once the bull had killed many men and horses the author commented that it was customary for the King of Spain to call for two mastiffs to be released in an attempt to bring down the bull. If the two dogs were also killed by the bull then the King called for the release of a single English Mastiff who ‘…rarely misses taking the bull, and holding him by the nose, till the men run in; and after they have hocked him, they quickly kill him.’ The implication was that only an English breed could reliably take down a crazed rampaging bull. This was in contrast to the Spanish breed which, even in a pair, could not manage the same feat as an English dog. This is a small example of patriotic ‘othering’ because it demonstrates British strength, personified in a dog breed, in opposition to Spanish weakness.
After the bull has been killed in the article and the bravery of all the men involved applauded, the tone of the article shifted perceptively:
‘It is a very barbarous exercise and triumph, in which so many mens lives are lost, and always ventured; but so rooted in the affections of that nation, that it is not in the King’s power, they say, to suppress it; though if he disliked it enough he might forbear to be present at it.’
The author of the article is supposedly Lord Clarendon, one of Britain’s ambassadors to Spain, so it was a member of the British government declaring that bull fighting was barbarous and that such barbarity was loved by the Spanish people. The Spanish people, therefore, can be read as barbarians from the point of view of the article. The criticism goes even further, because even the king, a supposed absolute Monarch, did not have the power to deny his people the bloody sport. It is further implied that the King himself was a barbarian because, as a frequent visitor to bull fights, he had no desire to suppress the sport. The patriotism here is not as direct as in the comment about the mastiffs, however, it is still very much present. A British ambassador to Spain held a considerable amount of authority and, as a visitor to Spain, accusing the practice of bull fighting of being barbaric served as a claim that he, a British man, was not as barbaric as the Spanish and their king. There is an implied superiority of British culture over the barbaric culture of Spain. The idea that British culture is superior to that of Spain is a thread that runs through much British writing on the Spanish throughout the eighteenth century.
The author went further than just likening Spanish culture to barbarism, he ended the piece with a comment on Catholicism and how bull fighting was anathema to the Catholic Church. He claimed that in the time of Philip II, under pope Pius V, a papal bull was issued against bull fighting in Spain which remained in force. The bull declared that anyone killed in a bull fight was not eligible for a Christian burial and that any clergyman present at a bull fight was excommunicated ispo facto. The author was, in some respects, correct. Pius V did issue a papal bull against bull fights and the threat of attending them was indeed excommunication. Future popes, however, limited the ban and had it apply only to clergymen. The author also claimed that at the bull fight he attended, and at all others, there was a gallery kept for the use of the officers of the inquisition and that all clergymen, except the Jesuits, always frequented bull fights. The accusation leveled here is, ultimately, that Spain and the Spanish Church is full of morally corrupt people even by the standards of Catholicism. It is also a statement that undermined the authority of the Catholic Church because it implied that Rome was unable to control the barbarity of its Catholic diaspora. In contrast to British Protestantism, the author painted Spanish Catholicism as barbaric, morally corrupt, and not under the control of its leader, the pope. It is of course impossible to determine how much articles such as this affected how the British population perceived Spain and Spaniards. Nonetheless, it was a type of public opinion that was repeatedly printed in London newspapers during the war and it is unlikely that it had no affect on how some portion of the population saw the Spanish in patriotic juxtaposition to the British.