PH History Today: Manila pledges allegiance to the English King
My youngest daughter once went through a delightful phase of funny accents and giggles over the British Queen’s English. We Pilipinos hab a rader rigid tongue that is used to pronouncing every sound and syllable in a word – in contrast, the Queen’s English sounds very sophisticated and regal to our unused ears. But have you ever imagined us being trained to speak British English instead of American English? Perhaps if the surprising, once-in-a-lifetime event that happened one day in 1762 was not retracted, then the United Kingdom would have counted our little group of islands among its royal territories.
The date I have in mind is the 25th of October, 1762 – the day Filipinos took an oath pledging their loyalty to the King of England, George III.
But before we talk about what happened in the shores of our innocent country, we will have to take a peek at what was happening in Great Britain, France and Spain during that period.
Seven Years’ War
Let’s roll back the years to the 18th century, the Age of Discovery. During this time, the world powers – that is, West and Central Europe – were fighting over territory and trade rights. In the background of these disputes was the fight for the title of the true superpower, and two nations in particular were battling for the crown: Great Britain and France.
Now, you might be thinking ‘Where does the Philippines enter the picture?’ Of course, it’s not advisable to go to war alone, so Britain and France each rallied their allies. Spain, who happened to occupy the Philippines at this time, teamed up with France by virtue of the House of Bourbon. Think of it as a matter of family ties, and that the Bourbon family happened to hold the thrones in both countries.
British and French soldiers in the Battle of Minden during the Seven Years’ War, 1759
When war was declared between Britain and France, the former wanted to hit the latter where it least expected. It just so happened that the weakest spot in France’s turf was a group of islands to the east of Britain’s most successful venture in Asia. Let’s turn our eyes away from our royal houses in Europe and focus on the fermenting Brits in India and the oblivious Spaniards in the Philippines.
The Battle of Manila
In a sly backdoor move, the British East India Company dispatched a fleet to conquer Spanish settlements in the Philippines. It’s kind of funny to note that then acting Philippine governor-general and Manila Archbishop Miguel Rojo had no idea there was a war going on in Europe until Britain was aiming its weapons at his doorstep. Manila was therefore grossly unprepared for what came next.
A map of Manila depicting the movements of British soldiers
September 22, 1762. The British fleet finally reached the shores of Malate in Manila and, no, they didn’t waste a second to lose the advantage they had over the unaware Spanish settlers. But Spain didn’t give up the fight so easily. They mustered whatever forces they had and declared Manila under a State of Defence.
By October 3, the British had Intramuros under siege and the ports of Cavite were under fire from their fleet. Rojo made a final push of 5,000 native soldiers, but the Brits drove them back and, 3 days later, successfully battered the walls of Intramuros to force the Spaniards to surrender.
King George III of Great Britain
All Hail, the King
October 25, 1762 – With Spanish forces virtually harmless by now and the most valuable forts and ports under British command, the first batch of Filipinos took their oath of allegiance to King George III of England. However, British control over the Philippines was cut short in 1765 when in Europe the bickering superpowers finally put an end to the war by signing the Treaty of Paris.
For such a long-winded war, the sudden passage of the Treaty of Paris seemed like an anti-climactic resolution, right? But it was a timely move since the British were taking rare and valuable documents and primary sources about the Philippines out of the country and into their own museums.
British fleet General Dawsonne Drake’s new acquisitions eventually ended up either in the British Museum in London or in an auction block in Sotheby’s, to be scattered elsewhere in the world… a sad ending for us Filipinos who are deprived of our own cultural treasures.
However, there is one positive note that may be gained from the flash invasion of the British. The defeat of the Spanish became monumental to the eyes of Juan dela Cruz, in that he realised that, my, the Spanish were not gods at all and they can be defeated. In fact, it was this crack in the image of imperial Spain that gave Diego Silang the courage to revolt in Ilocos. His death later on inspired his wife Gabriela Silang to take up arms against the colonisers, and this earned her the title of being one of the country’s greatest heroines.
Monument to Gabriela Silang in Ayala Avenue, Makati City
Today, the term ‘Gabriela’ stands for a group that advocates women’s rights and issues in the Philippines. From a 2-year British occupation of Manila to an advocacy group in present-day Philippines, small events can affect the course of history. The British invasion may be a mere speck in the Philippine colonial period, but it led to consequences that resound even today
Connections like this crisscross countless of lives through the years, but it is up to us to live up to the heritage our ancestors gave us. It might be easy for us to forget these moments in history, but a quick reminder – like what I’m doing now! – can help us recall them and make us proud of our ancestors who lived life with courage and creativity. Meanwhile, I think my granddaughter is picking up after her mom and trying to speak her best British English. I’ll see you for another chapter of our great and quirky history.
Harry Potter, tea, your British boyfriend or girlfriend… there’s bound to be some British influence in your life. Share them here by commenting below, and let’s commemorate the times Pinoys and Brits crossed paths in history!