Word has it that Sophia, Queen of Spain and sister to the exiled King of Greece, has been advised not to go to London to join the British royal family in celebrating Elizabeth II’s sixty years on the throne of Great Britain. The reasons given are political. The essential word has nine letters – Gibraltar.
Here we see a badly mixed cocktail; three parts of royal connection (and very old friendship), plus one part of squabble do not gel into an acceptable and creamy mix. Queen Sophia is Greek, descended from the Danish royal family as well as Queen Victoria. The King of Spain’s grandmother was English. When a group of radically-inclined colonels threw their crowned King Constantine out of his own palace and confiscated his possessions (not very many, but Mother Frederika had left something) the young man and his family went immediately to London, where they have been domiciled to all intents and purposes every since. Doña Sophia is and always has been very close to her exiled brother.
Now the Madrid Government tells Sophia not to join Elizabeth, a cousin, in her anniversary of sixty years on the throne. Then again, Charles and Diana, Princess of Wales made Gibraltar part of their honeymoon itinerary, another shambolic error. But the worst part of this infantile behaviour on the part of both foreign offices, governments and royal families is that it is entirely unnecessary.
Gibraltar, a strategically important town and rocky headland which dominates the linking passage between the Mediterranean and the Atlantic oceans is in the extreme south of Spain. In 711 it was captured and fortified properly by the Moors, ancient enemy of the Iberian Peninsula. They named it Jabal-al-Tariq. In the fifteenth century, after years of wars between Moor and Spaniard, Gibraltar became Spanish again (1642). During the irritating and disaster-strewn War of the Spanish Succession (1704) the fortress of Gibraltar surrendered to the commander of a large Anglo-Dutch fleet, and was later awarded to the British at the Treaty of Utrecht (1713). This enormously important treaty was of course signed by Spain, as well as other countries involved in the war of succession.
Despite the signing, frequent attempts were made by Spain following Utrecht to re-capture ‘The Rock’, often with the help of the French, always ready and willing when political or military attacks are made on Britain. In 1779 Gibraltar withstood a very long siege by superior Franco/Spanish ships and land forces. Treaty or no treaty the Spanish were determined to recover that Rock.
But it stayed British, and vital as a naval base during both World Wars. It still is a Dependency, with its own elected government, and this insistence on remaining British is supported by the majority of its population, many of whom are Italian, or indeed Spanish, as well as Maltese and Portuguese.
General Franco patriotically closed the land borders in 1969, which was a thorough nuisance, but again diplomacy intervened and an agreement was signed in Brussels in 1984. The borders were opened in 1985. British military forces were withdrawn in 1991, though the Royal Navy looms in Gibraltar to this day, and repairs to British warships made at the Rock infuriate the Spanish press every now and again, especially if the reparations are made to nuclear-powered (and armed) submarines.
The biggest problem for both foreign offices, Spain’s and Britain’s, is that the people of Gibraltar would like very much to be totally independent, but this seems unlikely. They repeatedly hold referendums in which they are asked if they would prefer to be a part of Spain, and they cussedly refuse. It seems the only way Britain and Spain could come to an agreement would be to ingest the entire population of Gibraltar (with very few exceptions) into Britain’s home population. Then El Peñon could become Andalusian and be ruled by Mr Griñan, who would undoubtedly profit by the riches Gibraltar has to offer.
To return to Queen Sophia for a moment. I believe that through her brother she holds British nationality as well as Spanish. If this is so, one can see no reason why she cannot join Elizabeth and Philip at the 60th. It is remarked on both sides of the English Channel that Sophia spends most of her life now in London anyway. I suspect this is all a storm in a teacup, and it is useless to cry over spilled Tapas.