Lend me your ear

British operations in the Caribbean Sea during the War of Jenkins' Ear. (Wikipedia) On this date in history the best-named war ever started. Well, maybe not the best. But certainly in the Top 5. Specifically the War of Jenkins’ Ear which started on October 23, 1739.

The details are not unimportant. It was among the struggles between a rising Britain and a fast-fading Spain that we should be glad the British won. And it wound up merging with the War of the Austrian Succession, a classic hostile takeover and by a war with a much more boring name. Which would you rather be told you’re going to study in history class?

It also matters that people died in it, no less horribly for the quaint name. Not including Jenkins. What did happen to him, years earlier, was that he was caught smuggling by the Spanish, tied to a mast, and Spanish Captain Julio León Fandiño sliced off his ear and contemptuously told him to warn King George II that he would suffer the same fate if caught.

Somehow Jenkins retained the ear, had it pickled, and displayed it before a sympathetic Parliamentary committee in 1738, leading to diplomatic threats and then war. Jenkins himself seems to have enjoyed a distinguished career before fading from history and, serves you right, Julio León Fandiño was captured by the British along with his ship in 1742.

There’s one other curious thing about this war. It was cited by Honoré Mirabeau in the French National Constituent Assembly in 1790 to argue against giving the legislature the power to declare war lest it be swayed by this sort of emotional appeal.

To my knowledge no subsequent war was ever triggered by the display of a pickled appendage before enflamed popular representatives. There were significant geopolitical and political reasons for war which this particular outrage merely served to focus.

Besides, executive authorities have not proved more restrained in the sorts of things that set them off including what’s his name, that Corsican French guy. They just don’t usually manage to send others to fight and die under such picturesque names.