Red Shirts Over Manila: The Philippines Under The British Empire

Editor's Note : This is a reprint of my article series "Historical Controversies" in my old blog site . In this blog, I wil...

Editor's Note: This is a reprint of my article series "Historical Controversies" in my old blog site. In this blog, I will examine the brief British occupation of Manila during the Seven Years' War. I will also attempt to elaborate the reasons why the British left the country and decided not to replace the Spaniards as the new colonial masters.

You may agree with me or not, but most of us Filipinos believed that the Spanish, Americans and Japanese were the ONLY foreign countries that ruled our land. But in reality, we had some shares of unwelcome visitors that ravaged our motherland. The British had the largest empire the world has ever seen by the late 19th century but 200 years before that, Spain was the mistress of the world as her empire stretched from the North and South America, Africa and Asia. It was her crowning glory and as a fitting tribute to her glory, its dubbed as "Siglo de Oro." Despite her achievements, she remained envious of her enemies like the British, French and the Dutch. Because of this, she waged countless colonial wars against her adversaries and even attempted to invade the British Isles itself -- the first since Guillaume duc D'Normandie (William the Conqueror) and followed by the likes of Napoleon Bonaparte and Adolf Hitler.

A formidable British armada was assembled at the mouth of the Manila Bay
in preparation for its ground assault against the Spanish defenders of the Walled City
(Credits: /
Little did we know that as a Spanish colony, the Philippines is a prime target by Spain's enemies. A century earlier, the Spanish colonial government managed to rally the Filipinos against the Dutch invaders in the decisive battle at Playa Naval that defeated the likes of Olivier van Noort. But the British were a different enemy, it has a fearsome navy, which was second to none. This navy was the same navy that destroyed the vaunted Spanish Armada. And so a colonial war with the British would be a dagger in the Spanish presence in Asia. The real war did not happened in the colonies but in Europe itself.

The British invasion of the Philippines was brought about by the Seven Years' War. Many historians believed that its was the first 'world' war because of the fact the European war later involved wars within their colonial possessions. The war actually started between Austria and Prussia over the province of Silesia. The conflict may have been heightened because of the previous War of the Austrian Succession. We all know most of the European countries are monarchies and obviously one way or another these countries are bounded thru blood, marriage and military alliances. To cut the long story short, Britain became involved because she was an ally of Prussia while Spain supported Austria because of the fact that they are both Catholic nations and having Hapsburg pedigree.
Spain and its allies (green) against Britain and its allies (blue)
Despite the name, war was waged throughout the world from 1754 to 1763 and was named as the French & Indian War in North America and the Third Carnatic War in India. Though the war ended in a bloody stalemate in the European front, which led to little changes in the status quo, its consequences in the colonies were wider ranging and longer lasting.

Spain at first did not take part in the growing European conflict due to the influence of its pro-British Prime Minister Ricardo Wall. However, with the accession of Charles III to the throne Spanish foreign policy began to change. The king was alarmed by the British conquest of the French colonies in North America and he believed that his own colonial possessions would be the next target. Charles offered support to France after the signing of the Bourbon Family Compact.

With evidence of growing Franco-Spanish cooperation, British Prime Minister William Pitt suggested it was only a matter of time before Spain entered the war. Despite cabinet opposition of a war against Spain and the resignation of Pitt, war with Spain swiftly became unavoidable, and on January 4, 1762 Britain duly declared war on Spain.

Almost as soon as war had been declared with Spain, orders had been despatched for a British force at Madras, India to proceed to the Philippines and invade Manila. On August 1762, about 1,600 soldiers, 4,000 marines and 14 ships were sent to invade the Philippines. And on September 23, 1762, the powerful fleet of Vice Admiral Samuel Cornish with the armies composed of regulars and colonial troops under the command of Brigadier General William Draper have started the siege of the walled city.
The British forces brilliantly executed their invasion plan
against the defenders of the walled city
(Credits: /
The Spanish were in for a big surprise as an invading force that was more powerful than the Portuguese and Dutch forces they encountered suddenly appeared on the horizon. The colonial government were not aware that war was already been declared between both countries and so there was a general panic among the Spaniards in the Philippines.

Life in the Philippines before the war started were relatively peaceful despite some occurrences of rebellions against the Spanish and incursions from Muslim pirates and Dutch/Portuguese forces. One important thing about Spain's ill-preparedness was the fact that the archipelago was governed by Archbishop Manuel Antonio Rojo. The long coastline of the archipelago mean that they have lots of ground to cover from an invasion force. The colony was mismanaged and was only funded by an annual subsidy paid by the Spanish Crown. As a cost saving measure, and because the Spanish authorities never really contemplated a serious expedition against Manila by a European power, the 200 year old fortifications at Manila had not been much improved since first built by the Spanish. Despite the huge disadvantages, the Spaniards were able to rally the local population against the British forces by spreading propaganda that the "protestants" are going to kill everyone.

Draper's forces quickly attached Moratta first and about 3 kilometers into the Intramuros, the British were able to capture a supply and ammunition dump filled with gunpowder and artillery supplies. The invasion force suffered minor casualties but pushed through the defenses. In the area of what is now Taft Avenue, the British brought their artillery reinforced by the captured Spanish supplies and placed their artillery spots in present-day Ermita and the church of the Nuestra Senora de Guia near the walled city. This set-up would create a shocking blow to the defenders because they will be fired upon by artillery shells from different angles.

The army that laid siege to the city was not large as expected but it was more disciplined and battle-trained than previous invaders who tried to defeat the Spanish. It was composed mostly of British East India Company soldiers, in other words mercenaries like the Indian sepoys.

The British forces bombarded the fortress into submission (in what was today's 'shock and awe' approach used by the Americans in the Iraq War) and eventually antiquated wall gave way to the awesome firepower of the enemies. Intramuros' defense were only manned by crack group of 1,000 men (only 565 of them were professional soldiers) led by Brigadier General Marcos de Villa Maidana. An armed militia was formed including Augustinian friars to defend the city.

On October 5, 1762, the night before the fall of the walled city of Manila, the Spanish military persuaded Archbishop Rojo to summon a council of war. But the British had successfully breached the walls of the bastion San Diego, dried up the ditch, dismounted the cannons of that bastion and the two adjoining bastions, San Andes and San Eugeno, set fire to parts of the town, and driven the Spaniards from the walls.

On October 6, 1762, the Spanish surrendered Manila at the cost of 400 wounded and 85 dead. Four days later, the British captured Cavite at the cost of 24 British casualties. The British were promised to be compensated by 4 million Mexican silver pesos so that the city will be spared from any looting and indiscriminate destruction of properties, but the Spanish only paid them 1 million pesos.
Don Simon de Anda continued his fight against the British by
establishing a separate government in Pampanga
(Credits: Traveler on Foot)
According to "Manila Ransomed: The British Assault on Manila in the Seven Years War," by Nicholas Tracy, the Spanish military leaders recommended capitulation but Rojo would not consent. Tracy claimed that the only positive action from the council of war was the dispatch of Don Simón de Anda y Salazar to the provincial town in Bulacan to organize continued resistance to the British once Manila fell. I believed that the Spanish are still prepared to resist the British by establishing their government in Bulacan.

At that war council, the Real Audencia appointed de Anda Lieutenant Governor and Visitor-General. Shirley Fish noted in her book "When Britain ruled the Philippines, 1762-1764: the story of the 18th century British invasion of the Philippines during the Seven Years War," that de Anda took a substantial portion of the treasury and official records with him, departing Fort Santigo through the postern of Our Lady of Solitude, to a boat on the Pasig River, and then to Bulacan. He transferred his headquarters from Bulacan to Bacolor, Pampanga, which was more secure from the British, and quickly obtained the powerful support of the Augustinians.

He raised an army of up to 10,000 men but almost all were ill-armed native Filipinos. And on October 8, 1762, he wrote to the archbishop that he had assumed the position of Governor and Capitan-General under statutes of the Indies which allowed for the devolution of authority from the Governor to the Audencia, of which he was the only member not captive by the British. He also demanded the royal seal, but Rojo declined to surrender it and refused to recognise de Anda's self-proclamation as Governor and Capitan-General because he's a 'traitor."

But the native troops were no match against the fusiliers and artillery fire and in one encounter, when an artillery shell decimated about 400 of them, the rag-tag militia scattered in disarray.

Even though, the British were successful in the campaign, they did not tried to occupy all parts of the colony and so they were contented in holding their possessions in Manila and Cavite. Prominent Filipino historian Gregorio Zaide claimed that virtually most of the country were still controlled by the Spanish and some Filipinos who decided to rebel against the Spanish like what Diego and Gabriela Silang did in the Ilocos. The British finally received a written surrender from the archbishop on October 30, 1762.

The terms of surrender proposed by the Real Audencia and agreed to by the British leaders, secured private property, guaranteed the Roman Catholic religion and its episcopal government, and granted the citizens of the former Spanish colony the rights of peaceful travel and of trade 'as British subjects.' Under superior British control, the Philippines would continue to be governed by the Real Audencia, the expenses of which were to be paid by Spain.

The controversies I want to point out is that, if the British got what they want, why did they left the Philippines in two years time. Though a peace treaty was signed after the Seven Years' War wherein the British rose as a powerful imperialist nation by gaining more lands in the Americas and gaining a firm foothold in India by dislodging the French. I don't what life would be under British control, could we be like Singapore or Malaysia? But such scenario is harder to contemplate. I believe it was the successful effort of de Anda to rally some Filipinos against the British and I think the British were contented in having the seat of power, Manila, under their hands rather than prolonging a potential gruesome guerilla war against the Spanish-Filipino forces. Besides, all was one already. But I believe having the entire archipelago would serve a big purpose for the British because of the islands' strategic location. But just like a true gentleman, the British decided to return the Philippines back to Spanish control.
Some Sepoys remained in the Philippines
most of them settled in what is now Rizal province
Another interesting aspect of this British experience, some Sepoys who chose to stay in the country were said to be some of the ancestors of the people living in Angono and Cainta, Rizal, Fish relates. Former Manila mayor Ramon Bagatsing is believed to be a Sepoy descendant. Even some French mercenaries have married local women dedided to remain in the Philippines.

The Seven Years War was ended by the Treaty of Paris, which was signed on February 10, 1763. At the time of signing the treaty, the signatories were not aware that the Philippines had been taken by the British and was being administered as a British colony. Consequently no specific provision was made for the Philippines. Instead they fell under the general provision that all other lands not otherwise provided for be returned to the Spanish Crown.

I used to think that it was back to status quo, meaning, no territorial changes as far as the Philippines is concerned. But the British established a fort in a little island of Balambangan (in what is now Mandah) in the Sulu archipelago as headquarters of its spice trade in Maluku as well as its transit point for the products bound for Malacca. That remained a secret to the Spanish authorities and was violation of the peace treaty signed in Paris.

Eventually, they have started to treat the natives harshly and they even went into the extent of punishing a local datu by tying him into a post at the local plaza. An on March 5, 1775, a group of Tausugs led by a certain Tenteng attacked the fort and killed all the soldiers manning it except for the commandant and his aides who managed to escape with their lives. They plundered the fort of all its weapons and valuables but the datus of Jolo were afraid that the British may attacked them and so they disengaged. Tenteng returned to Jolo a hero with his plundered 2,000 Mexican pesos and patrol boat to boot.

But the British hit back, without the Spanish knowing it, in 1803 with a force of 6 British East India Company ships, 300 British soldiers, 700 Sepoys, 200 Chinese mercenaries. They attacked Zamboanga but were successfully repelled and so they returned to Balambangan. On December 15, 1806, they decided to left the island for good and destroyed their fort.

It was in the later part of the 19th century that the British entered the scene once again and this time they decided to rent Sabah, a domain owned by the Sultan of Sulu.

The British incursion into the scene had a profound effect on the course of our history. It marked the decline and degradation of Spanish power in the islands. It also strengthened the belief that the Spanish were not strong after all and that its just a matter of time that Filipinos can declare their independence from foreign occupiers.




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Istoryadista | History Blog | Cebu Blogger: Red Shirts Over Manila: The Philippines Under The British Empire
Red Shirts Over Manila: The Philippines Under The British Empire
Istoryadista | History Blog | Cebu Blogger
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