The War of the Pickled Ear

Wars have many reasons. Some are fought over land or resources, others over politics. Some are never really fought, but simply cool the global mood. And some are fought for absolutely novel reasons. The War of Jenkin’s Ear falls into the latter category.

Robert Jenkins wasn’t a particularly powerful individual. He wasn’t a banker, statesman, or lord. He was just a simple merchant.

And although it was gruesome when he got his ear cut off by Spanish coast guards (or captains, sources don’t agree) in 1731, he was far from the first or last Englishman to lose an ear to Spanish cutlasses. But he was the only one to have a war fought over his.

It took eight years to even get it started. It required a prime minister to fall out of favor with his opposition and British slave traders to fear for their profits. And it eventually became a war about whether a woman could take over the family business of ruling Austria. (According to the always progressive Brits, she could.)

Why it required the pickled ear of a merchant sailor to be paraded in front of Parliament we will never know; history is mute on that point.

But we will always have the delightful name of “The War for Jenkins’ Ear.”

British prime minister Robert Walpole swoons when he’s presented with the pickled ear of Robert Jenkins. I wouldn’t dare try to untangle the rest of what’s happening in the image. Source: The British Museum.
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