1704 – Siege of Gibraltar

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Hierarchical Path: War of the Spanish Succession (Main Page) >> Sieges >> 1704 – Siege of Gibraltar

The siege lasted from September 1704 to May 1705


At the beginning of August 1704, an allied force had captured Gibraltar. It was not long before the Spaniards and the French undertook the siege of the place.


Map of the siege of Gibraltar in 1704 and 1705


At the end of August 1704, a Spanish force of 7,000 men (8 bns, 9 sqns) under the Marquis de Villadarias marched towards Gibraltar. They were followed by a siege park of 20 pieces.

On 5 September, the first units of Villadarias’ forces reached the isthmus giving access to Gibraltar. Villadarias joined them a few days later. His army included Andalusian militias as well as regular line infantry rgts under the Count de Aguilar, and the Reales Guardias Valonas under the Duke de Havre.

The Prince of Hessen-Darmstadt appointed his adjutant, Count Nugent, as governor of Gibraltar. He also reinforced the defensive works of the New Mole, and established batteries along the north side of the peninsula. However, he had only 24 heavy cannon and bread for three months. The garrison initially consisted of 2,000 Marines. The British naval troops were initially to be replaced by 2 Portuguese rgts and 1 Spanish rgt formed by the Almirante.

Early in October, Vice-Admiral Sir John Leake was informed by the Prince of Hessen-Darmstadt that the Spaniards, who were to attack Gibraltar on the land side, had secured a promise of the cooperation of a French squadron under de Pointis.

On 4 October, de Pointis arrived at Gibraltar with 18 French ships, including 12 ships of the line and took position in the Bay of Algeciras.

De Pointis disembarked 6 French bns (approx. 4,000 men), 20 heavy cannon and some mortars at the head of the bay of Gibraltar. They joined Villadarias’s siege corps and began the siege of Gibraltar.

On 12 October, leaving 6 frigates off Gibraltar, de Pointis sailed to Cádiz to refit.

The operations were pushed forward with great vigour, and the besieged were soon hard beset.

On 21 October, the besiegers opened the trench in front of the Round Tower on the west side of the isthmus.

In the night of 24 to 25 October, work began on a battery.

By 26 October, 4 cannon and 2 mortars located in the battery opened against the Round Tower from which the defenders had hitherto seriously disrupted the siege work. Simultaneously, the 6 French frigates began the bombardment of the town. The Prince of Hessen-Darmstadt had armed the Terror ship with mortars and posted it near the Old Mole, in a position from where it could fire against the siege works as well as against the French frigates.

In the night of 27 to 28 October, the French frigates destroyed the Terror bomb under Commander Isaac Cook. However, apart from this small success, the siege progressed extremely slowly. The neck of the isthmus consisted mainly of sand, and the object of the attack mostly of rock. The wind almost destroyed the work in the sand. and the shelling against the rock was quite ineffective.

The Prince of Hessen-Darmstadt sent many messengers to Lisbon to ask Vice-Admiral Leake for his rapid intervention. Until then, Leake had always considered that his squadron was not strong enough to make a relief attempt. Furthermore, the Portuguese were still asking to launch a naval expedition against Cádiz.

On 29 October, the Dutch Vice-Admiral van der Dussen arrived at Lisbon with a squadron of 6 ships and a reinforcement of 2,000 men. He was soon followed by 3 British ships transporting 1 bn.

In the first days of November, a herdsman offered the Marquis Villadarias to lead troops along an unguarded rocky path into the interior of the Allied defences. Therefore, 500 Spaniards under the command of Colonel de Bucaro were made ready to follow this herdsman over the next few nights. As soon as this detachment would have reached the interior of Gibraltar, Villadarias planned to launch an assault with 2,000 men against the breach in the curtain wall; while the French frigates would attack the New Mole.

On 6 November

  • Franco-Spanish
    • Villadarias finally managed to establish a battery of 8 artillery pieces opposite the curtain wall.
  • Allies
    • Vice-Admiral Leake set sail from Lisbon with 23 ships, but without any reinforcement destined to the garrison of Gibraltar.

On 8 November, Villadarias’s new battery opened a breaching fire against the curtain wall. The defenders answered with a lively fire from their large battery located above the curtain wall. The French ships encircled the entire peninsula and directed their attacks against Europa Point and the New Mole.

The Prince of Hessen-Darmstadt was uncertain about the point where the French would attempt to land and the garrison was not strong enough to defend all potential landing sites. Combat and illness had reduced the garrison to only 1,200 men fit for duty, a number barely sufficient to man the various guard-posts in the works, and no reserve remained available for the commander. The prince realised that the fortress could fall victim to an all-round general assault unless the fleet appeared.

On 10 November, Leake’s Fleet entered Gibraltar Bay and had the good fortune to surprise there a 42-guns frigate, a 24-guns frigate, a 14-guns brigantine, a 16-guns fireship, 1 storeship laden with bombs, 1 tartan, and 2 vessels which had been taken from the British. All these were run ashore and destroyed by their crews. Another 30-guns frigate and a tartan which got out of the Bay, were chased and taken.

Vice-Admiral Leake landed some gunners, carpenters and mechanics at Gibraltar, together with an officer of engineers, one Captain Joseph Bennett, whose energy and ability were of priceless value. He also resupplied the defenders with provisions and ammunitions.

In the night of 11 to 12 November, despite the destruction of the French frigates and the arrival of reinforcements for the garrison, Villadarias decided to launch the attack, which he had planned at the beginning of the month. Accordingly, Colonel de Bucaro and his 500 men, guided by the herdsman, followed the hidden path towards the inside of the defences. Using ropes and rope ladders, the Spaniards reached with great danger a small pass and hid themselves in Michael's Cave. Before dawn, a small detachment attacked a British outpost.

On 12 November at dawn, Bucaro’s 500 men marched to the Siletta rocky peak and then waited for the general assault planned by Villadarias before advancing against the town. However, Villadarias did not dare to launch an assault under the fire of the Allied fleet. He contented himself with the bombardment of the place and moved his troops away from the coast. Meanwhile Bucaro’s detachment had been spotted and Governor Val de Sotto, Colonel Fox and prince’s brother quickly assembled some troops and advanced against the small Spanish force. After a brief combat, Bucaro’s detachment was defeated, the Allies took 141 men and Colonel de Bucaro was killed. For their part, the Allies lost Governor Val de Sotto and Colonel Fox, both killed; and the prince’s brother, who was severely wounded. Villadarias then established a new battery on the coast to prevent the Allied fleet from getting within range to cannonade the siege works.

On 13 November in the evening, a British frigate managed to get close enough to the coast to briefly bombard the siege works.

The breaching of the St. Paul Bastion, the curtain wall and the main wall next to the Round Tower progressed slowly but steadily, so that the Prince of Hessen-Darmstadt was forced to order significant work in order to keep the perimeter assault-proof. To help with this unceasing work, Leake contributed 500 Marines daily. With their help, the prince erected new defensive works behind the breached sectors. The Spanish prisoners were embarked aboard the fleet, so that the garrison did not have to spare men to guard them.

Vice-Admiral Leake was kept well informed of the movements of de Pointis' squadron, and knowing that, although he had been slightly reinforced since Rooke's departure, he was still of inferior strength, he was careful to make such dispositions as would prevent him from being in turn surprised. Instead of remaining in the Bay, he stood off and on to the eastward of it, keeping the Rock always in sight.

On 15 November, a powder mill exploded, killing or wounding some 200 Franco-Spanish soldiers. With this accident, Bucaro’s failed raid and the intense fire from the fleet and the walls, the losses of the Franco-Spanish were mounting. Several officers were sent from Madrid and additional rgts were sent from Ciudad Rodrigo to reinforce Villadarias’s Army.

In the night of 28 to 29 November, as some workers approached the breach, the garrison was alerted and a significant and rather pointless fire was kept up in the dark.

By the end of November, the garrison of Gibraltar had dwindled to 1,000 men, exhausted by the fatigue of incessant duty. After three months, despite bad weather and heavy desertions, the Franco-Spanish trenches had reached a point within 40 paces of the counterscarp of the curtain wall and the “Laguna,” a marshy area located some 200 m north of these outworks (in future sieges of Gibraltar, the besiegers would never reach such an advanced position). However, the Spanish and French forces did not cooperate very efficiently and problems arose around supply.

The Prince of Hessen-Darmstadt placed a large mine under the ditch of the curtain wall and established new batteries.

On 30 November, Leake’s Fleet, which had done so little to support the defenders, left the road stead of Gibraltar and anchored in the northern part of the bay, because of unfavourable winds. When Villadarias was informed of this movement of Leake’s Fleet, he initially feared a landing behind his own positions. His cavalry was moved towards the coast opposite the new location of the Allied fleet.

On 1 December. Vice-Admiral Leake send some launches towards the coast to drive the Spanish cavalry away. The cavalry fired on the approaching launches and additional troops were sent to its support, but night soon put a stop to the engagement.

In the night of 1 to 2 December, the besiegers advanced from the left wing of their first parallel on the Round Tower. Since this tower was already completely reduced to rubble, the Prince of Hessen-Darmstadt had had it undermined and kept ready for exploding in the event of an assault. However, 300 men were working to repair the covert way. The attackers opened fire so fiercely that the defenders had soon lost 2 men killed and 23 severely wounded.

In the night of 2 to 3 December, the besiegers tried to advance along the beach towards the St. Paul Bastion, but they were driven back by the defensive fire from the Old Mole.

Weather then seriously worsened and for a whole week a hurricane and several thunderstorms erupted over Gibraltar. The siege works were full of water and the besiegers were kept very busy repairing them. Their artillery was silent for a while. However, work on a second line of entrenchments behind the Round Tower by the Allies was also delayed.

On 5 December, a relief convoy (22 ships transporting 3 British foot rgts and 1 dragoon rgt under Colonel Shrimpton and 500 Dutch troops) destined for Gibraltar arrived at Lisbon. There, 500 Portuguese joined the expedition, while the dragoon rgt, which had lost all but 80 of its horses during the sea voyage, stayed behind at Lisbon. Since all news from the French fleet in Cádiz indicated that it would intercept the Allied relief convoy, 4 warships were assigned to the escort of the convoy.

On 7 December, Leake’s fleet returned to the road stead in front of Gibraltar and work restarted with increased activity on the second line of entrenchments.

On 8 December

  • Franco-Spanish
    • Weather improved and the besiegers opened a lively fire. There were now eight practicable breaches in the walls.
  • Allies
    • Vice-Admiral Leake sent 2 warships to reconnoitre in the vicinity of Cádiz. They found Pointis’s Fleet in the bay of Puntales, ready to sail.

On 9 December, de Pointis’s squadron of 16 ships of the line, 6 smaller vessels and 3 armed merchantmen reached the road stead of Rota.

On 10 December, de Pointis’s squadron sailed from Rota.

On 11 December, de Pointis’s squadron reached Cape Spartel and then waited for more favourable winds to sail for Gibraltar. If de Pointis had known about the approach of the Allied convoy under such circumstances, he would have had no problem to intercept it.

On 12 December, the news of the approach of a relief convoy and of the presence of a French fleet reached Gibraltar. Vice-Admiral Leake immediately decided to sail in search of the enemy fleet. He recalled all his men aboard, leaving only a small garrison at the New Mole.

On 13 December

  • Allies
    • Leake’s squadron tried to sail from Gibraltar. However, despite efforts, it was unable to leave the bay due to the lack of wind.
  • Franco-Spanish
    • A small reinforcement arrived at Villadarias’s camp. But, despite the departure of the Allied fleet, Villadarias did not seize the opportunity and stayed idle in his camp.

On 14 December, the Prince of Hessen-Darmstadt was informed that the Franco-Spanish were again planning an attack. The outposts on the eastern side of the peninsula also reported that armed boats had approached during the previous night to locate out a favourable landing point. The prince immediately reinforced all his guard posts and had Colonel Gonzales and Colonel d’Usson put under arrest. They were supposed to supply Villadarias with the necessary information for his planned attack by land and see in the night of 16 to 17.

In the night of 16 to 17 September, the Prince of Hessen-Darmstadt manned the defensive works and opened a lively fire against the siege works, inflicting heavy losses to the besiegers. Villadarias realised too late that his design had been uncovered.

On 17 December at daybreak, south of Cap Trafalgar, the French spotted 26 sail trying to enter the strait. It was the Allied convoy. De Pointis tried to use a weak westerly wind to intercept this convoy.

On 18 December, the Allied convoy, deceived by the Anglo-Dutch flags that the French had hoisted, sailed slowly towards the strait until small vessels discovered that the approaching fleet was that of De Pointis.

In the night of 18 to 19 December, a British warship and 9 transports managed to gain the strait by sailing along the Spanish coast and soon reached Gibraltar.

On 19 December at daybreak, other transport ships tried to follow the course taken by the 10 Allied ships during the previous night. However, de Pointis’s ships gave chase, favoured by a light south-westerly wind. They managed to capture 3 transport ships, while the others escaped to the north-west and only 2 managed to gain the strait unscathed. De Pointis pursued the latter for a short time and, as he was no longer able to enter the strait due to a strong south-south-westerly, he returned to Cádiz, confident that the rest of the Allied convoy had sailed north to Portugal. However, on his arrival at Cádiz, de Pointis was informed that the rest of the Allied convoy had probably turned back and was now sailing for Gibraltar.

In the night of 19 to 20 December, the 2 transport ships reached Gibraltar.

On 20 December

  • Franco-Spanish
    • Villadarias resumed the bombardment of Gibraltar with renewed energy.
    • De Pointis sailed from Cádiz for the Strait of Gibraltar. On the way, de Pointis was informed that the rest of the Allied convoy had already passed the strait. Considering that a large naval force was now assembled off Gibraltar, de Pointis decided to return to Cádiz. In fact, the winds had chased Leake’s squadron away from Gibraltar, and the place was now without news of it.

By 21 December, the two parts of the convoy, one in charge of the Antelope (54), and the other in charge of the Newcastle (50), had come in safely at Gibraltar and disembarked a reinforcement of 2,000 men (detachments of the 1st Regiment of Foot Guards, 2nd Coldstream Regiment of Foot Guards, Earl of Barrymore's Foot and Earl of Donegall's Foot), 1,000 Portuguese and Dutch (an unidentified Portuguese unit and the Dutch Waes Infantry) and a quantity of stores.

By that time, the trenches of the besiegers had reached a point only 150 paces from the counterscarp.

On 24 December at 7:00 p.m., 300 men made a sortie against the closest parallel and spent one hour destroying the siege works in this area.

On 25 December

  • Allies
    • Leake’s squadron finally managed to return to the Bay of Gibraltar.
  • Franco-Spanish
    • Expecting a counter-attack by land and sea, Villadarias had all his troops under arms for the whole day.

On 27 December, with the arrival of reinforcements and the imminent departure of the fleet, the Prince of Hessen-Darmstadt called a council of war, where it was decided to make frequent sorties against the besiegers.

On 28 December in the afternoon, seeing that the Fortress of Gibraltar was in a position to take care of itself for some little time to come, and that his ships needed refitting and cleaning, Leake decided to return to Lisbon.

In the night of 31 December to 1 January, 400 men made a sortie, driving the besiegers back to their first parallel and burning several gabions. Villadarias sent some cavalry against the Allied party but they were repulsed. In this action, the Allies lost 5 men killed and 30 wounded, including 6 officers.

On 1 January 1705, after some delays caused by unfavourable winds, Leake finally sailed for Lisbon. On his passage thither, he saw nothing of the enemy.

At the end of January, a reinforcement of 4,000 men reached the Franco-Spanish camp. Their batteries renewed their fire, and a great breach was made in the Round Tower, which formed one of the main defences on the western side.

On the morning of 7 February, the Franco-Spanish army launched an assault, and 1,300 men (18 coys) swarmed up to the attack of the Round Tower. They were met by a brave resistance by one-fifth of their number of British, but after a severe struggle they overpowered them, drove them out, and pressed on to gain possession of a gate leading into the main fortress. There, however, they were checked by a handful of the Queen's Own Regiment of Marines, just 17 men, under Captain Fisher. Few though they were, this gallant little band held its own, until the arrival of some of the Earl of Barrymore's Foot and of the Coldstream Guards enabled them to force the enemy back and drive them headlong out of the Round Tower.

On 9 February, the Newport and the Tartar conveyed supplies of men and ammunition to Gibraltar unhindered.

In mid-February, the French Maréchal de Tessé arrived at Gibraltar and assumed direction of operations. Humiliated, Villadarias and other Spanish officers, left and retired to his residence in Antequera.

Tessé fell back on the bombardment of the town, which was speedily laid in ruins.

On 16 February, the Roebuck and Leopard convoyed further supplies of men and ammunition to Gibraltar.

On 18 February, the Tiger convoyed further supplies of men and ammunition to Gibraltar.

On 25 February, de Pointis returned to the Bay of Gibraltar with part of his squadron (14 men-of-war, 2 fireships) to assist in the prosecution of the siege. News of his arrival was promptly conveyed to Sir John Leake at Lisbon.

The advent of the French squadron seemed likely at one moment to hearten the besiegers to renewed efforts, but Bennett, who ever since his arrival had been the soul of the defence, had by that time constructed fresh batteries and was fully prepared.

Leake had recently been joined by Rear-Admiral Sir Thomas Dilkes with 5 third-rates from England.

On 17 March, Leake quitted Lisbon with 23 British men-of-war, 4 Dutch men-of-war and 8 Portuguese men-of-war.

On 20 March at noon, Leake’s fleet sighted Cape Spartel and lay by to avoid discovery from the Spanish shore.

On 21 March, Leake’s fleet engaged part of de Pointis’ fleet in the Combat of Cabrita Point and defeated it. When the rest of de Pointis’ ships learned of the result of the engagement, they cut their cables and made for Toulon.

Realising that, without naval support, he would be unable to prevent the British Navy from resupplying Gibraltar, the French commander decided to raise the siege. However, before doing so, he established a land blockade to make sure that the place could not be used to launch raids in Andalusia. Once the works on the blockade completed, the besiegers started to retire.

By the end of April, the siege of Gibraltar had been raised.


Though the scale of the operations may seem small the siege had cost the Franco-Spanish army no fewer than 12,000 men.


This article incorporates texts from the following books which are now in the public domain:

  • Clowes, Wm. Laird: The Royal Navy – A History from the Earliest Time to the Present, Vol. II, Sampson Low, Marston and Company, London: 1898, pp. 396-408
  • Fortescue, J. W.: A History of the British Army, Vol. I, MacMillan, London, 1899, pp. 447-450
  • Abtheilung für Kriegsgeschichte des k. k. Kriegs-Archives: Feldzüge des Prinzen Eugen von Savoyen, Series 1, Vol. 6, Vienna 1879, pp. 705-718

Other sources

Arre Caballo – Guerra de Sucesión Española. Campañas en 1.704