War of Jenkin’s Ear

by Ellen Castelow

All wars have names, and England has taken part in many.

The Wars of the Roses, The War of Spanish Succession, The Boer War and of course World War I and World War II, but the War of Jenkins’ Ear, now that is an odd sounding war!

The first question is, who on earth was Jenkins, and what had his ear to do with anything?

Robert Jenkins, owner of said ‘ear’, was a British Sea Captain whose ear was said to have been cut-off by Spanish Coast Guards who boarded and searched his ship ‘Rebecca’.

Why, history doesn’t state.

When Jenkins returned to England, with his ear pickled in a bottle, it had tremendous effect on the country.

The House of Commons summoned Jenkins to appear before them, and told to produce the ‘ear’, which he duly did.

When asked ‘What did you do?’ Jenkins replied, ‘I commended my soul to God and my cause to my country.’

Fine words indeed!

Jenkins’ ‘ear’ caught the country’s imagination and the power of this shrivelled object was immense and became a symbol of English pride.

Presentation of Jenkins ear to Walpole WKPD

Robert Jenkins shows his severed ear to Prime Minister Robert Walpole.
1738 satirical cartoon depicts Prime Minister Robert Walpole swooning when confronted with the Spanish-sliced ear, which led to the War of Jenkins’ Ear in 1739. British Museum, London

The attitude of the English people was that the Spanish must be taught a lesson, they cannot be allowed to cut off Englishmen’s ears!

But, had it really been cut-off by the Spanish or had he ‘lost’ it in a pub brawl?

We shall never know, but the ‘ear’ was to start a war between Spain and England in 1739, and consequently the war is remembered as the War of Jenkins’ Ear.

Without doubt this ‘ear’ must be the most famous one in history.

Next article