Byron’s Europe: Plate 9, Cadiz, Spain

This is the twelfth instalment of a tour through the Illustrations to the Life and Works of Lord Byron published between 1832 and 1834.  Here we turn to plate nine which brings Byron to Cadiz on the Atlantic coast of south-west Spain. He was delighted by the city and found some of its citizens beguiling.


Cadiz, 1832
Engraved by Edward Finden after a watercolour by Lieutenant Colonel Batty
Etching and line engraving on steel, image 3 3/4 x 5 5/8 in (94 x 143 mm) on plate 7 x 9 5/16 ins (178 x 237 mm) on medium-weight, slightly textured [?machine-made] wove etching paper, slightly reddened with age, 11 ½ x 9 ins (291 x 229 mm).
Inscribed in lower margin, immediately below image left in small italic; ‘Drawn by Lieut. Col. Batty’ and right, ‘Engraved by E. Finden.’ Titled in small open caps lower centre, ‘CADIZ’. Publication line in small italics below, ‘London. Published Aug. 1 1832 by J.Murray and Sold by C.Tilt, 86 Fleet Street.’
Published as plate 9 of volume 1 (1833) of the three-volume set of ‘Finden’s Landscape and Portrait Illustrations of Lord Byron’s Life and Works’ and issued to subscribers in Part 6, no.3, 1832.

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Cadiz lies on the Atlantic Coast of southern Spain enjoying the open sea on one side and a large sheltered bay and anchorage on the other. It has been continually occupied for over three thousand years, and is one of the most important anchorages in the whole of south-west Europe.

Byron arrived on the evening of Saturday 29 July 1809 at the end of a two-day journey from Seville via the sherry city of Jerez.

The city sits on a rocky outcrop at the end of a sand spit and is very nearly an island. The town is surrounded by fortifications which over the century have been softened to promenades shaded by exotic trees.

Photograph taken by Professor David Hill, February 2020
Photograph by Professor David Hill

The engraving shows the north-facing promenade, the Alameda de Apodaca, which runs from the port at our backs around to the Iglesia del Carmen and the bastion of the Baluarte de Candelaria. Buildings have been rebuilt, trees grown magnificent, and the promenade strengthened and improved, but the essential character of the place is largely preserved, except perhaps for the constant stream of passing motors.

It is a commonplace amongst early depictions of European sites that the draftsmen were generally in some kind of military capacity. Lieutenant-Colonel Robert Batty (1789 – 1848), who contributed this illustration is a typical example. He took a degree in medicine in 1813 and then enlisted in the Grenadier Guards and saw action in the Peninsula War driving the French out of Spain in the western Pyrenees, and then in 1815 was wounded in the decisive battle of the Napoleonic Wars at Waterloo in Belgium. He swapped active service for literary, artistic and diplomatic. He published an account of the Battle of Waterloo, followed by several illustrated books, culminating in 1830-2 with a series of views by him of the Principal Cities of Europe. That included plates of Portuguese subjects and Gibraltar, and presumably brought him to the attention of the proprietors of the Byron project. I have not managed to establish when, exactly he was in Cadiz, but we do know that he was at Lisbon in 1826-7 as Field Assistant to General William Henry Clinton.

There is splendid documentation of Byron’s stay in Cadiz. Romanticpoets.org gives an excellent account of Byron’s time in Spain there and of its context. The most vivid and direct report of the visit is that given in the diary of Bryon’s travelling companion, John Cam Hobhouse, transcribed in an excellent online scholarly edition by Peter Cochran. Byron’s impressions in his letters are fully transcribed by the same scholar [search ‘Cadiz’]. The interested reader will enjoy exploring these references fully but for present purposes we might survey just a few examples.

His immediate responses was ‘Cadiz, sweet Cadiz!—it is the first spot in the creation. * * * The beauty of its streets and mansions is only excelled by the loveliness of its inhabitants. * * * Cadiz is a complete Cythera. Many of the grandees who have left Madrid during the troubles reside there, and I do believe it is the prettiest and cleanest town in Europe. London is filthy in the comparison. * * *

Naturally he was flattered by some potentially Romantic activity. Strange boy, he seems to have thought his mother the best person to tell all about this; at length;

– The night before I left it [Cadiz], I sat in the box {at the opera} with Admiral Cordova’s family, he is the commander whom Ld . St . Vincent defeated in 1797, and has an aged wife and a fine daughter. – – – Signorita Cordova the girl is very pretty in the Spanish style, in my {opinion} by no means inferior {to the English} in charms, and certainly superior in fascination. – Long black hair, dark languishing eyes, clear olive complexions, and forms more graceful in motion than can be conceived by an Englishman used to the drowsy listless air of his countrywomen, added to the most becoming dress & at the same time the most decent in the world, render a Spanish beauty irresistible. – I beg leave to observe that Intrigue here is the business of life, when a woman marries she throws off all restraint, but I believe their conduct is chaste enough before. – If you make a proposal which in England would bring a box on the ear from the meekest of virgins, to a Spanish girl, she thanks you for the honour you intend her, and replies “wait till I am married, & I shall be too happy.” – This is literally & strictly true. – Miss C. & her little brother understood a little French, and after regretting my ignorance of the Spanish she proposed to become my preceptress in that language; I could only reply by a low bow, and express my regret that I quitted Cadiz too soon to permit me to make the progress which would doubtless attend my studies under so charming a directress; I was standing at the back of the box which resembles our opera boxes (the theatre is large and finely decorated, the music admirable) in the manner which Englishmen generally adopt for fear of incommoding the ladies in front, when this fair Spaniard dispossessed an old woman (an aunt or a duenna) of her chair, and commanded {me} to be seated next herself, {at} a tolerable distance from her mamma. – At the close of the performance I withdrew and was lounging with a party of men in the passage, when “en passant” the Lady turned round and called me, & I had the honour of attending her to the Admiral’s mansion. – I have an invitation on my return to Cadiz which I shall accept, if I repass through the country on my way from Asia. –

It is a something of a wonder that the good folk of Cadiz didn’t simply throw British visitors into the sea. Previous encounters had done quite sufficient to fill a well with resentment.

Few can have had more good reason to dislike the British than the Cordoba family with whom Byron shared a box at the Opera. Admiral Jose de Cordoba y Ramos enjoyed a long and distinguished career as a navigator until war broke out with Britain in 1796 and he was put in command of the Spanish fleet. In February 1797 he suffered a major defeat at the Battle of Cape St Vincent, in which Lord Nelson played no small part. After the battle Cordova was relieved of his position and banished from court.

Admiral Cordoba

The British pursued the Spanish to Cadiz and bombarded the city for several days. The Spanish, however, forced Nelson to withdraw, but he managed to maintain a successful naval blockade until 1802. Now, just a few years later, the British were become allies. Given the history, however, the alliance was never entirely free of doubts. The British had a long history of bullying Cadiz. From Sir Francis Drake, who raided Cadiz in 1587 in order to set back the development of the Spanish Armada, to the brutal bombardment and sacking of Cadiz by the Earl of Essex in 1596, which destroyed most of the remaining medieval and Gothic city, to the farcical Cadiz expedition of 1625 when an expeditionary force of 100 ships and 15,000 men set out under the command of Sir Edward Cecil. His landing forces fortified themselves from the city’s stock of wine vats, with the result that the entire contingent ended up hopelessly drink. Plus ca change, one might think. Despite being ordered back to ship, about a thousand were too paralytic to respond, and were slaughtered by the relieving Spanish soldiers.

Under the circumstances, it seems remarkable that Byron enjoyed an outstandingly civil and generously friendly reception. But individuals are rarely so hollowed out of their civility to not attempt to get along with others. It is only psychopathy or politics that strips us of empathy and comradeship. There will always be those to find some cause that can rally others to their own aggrandisement. Always those who will see profit in lending their voice. And those willing to become something by joining the cause, or too passive to resist or too blind (or proud) to admit mistake.

So what might a contemporary viewer have taken from this image? The informed reader would know that Cadiz had since 1812 become a symbol of liberal government, but that at the time of publication an absolutist monarchy was pressing a population into narrow confines. Not that any of that is conveyed by the image. Few would have recognised that the fortifications had been mostly required to defend against British aggression, or noticed the cannon port in the foreground. Here, rather more positively, is a bright and breezy promenade; elegant villas fronting onto sparkling waters, vibrant with vessels in movement. At the very least it looks to be a place in which to feel bien etre and vigour.

And so it remains. As it happens it is the last place that I was able to visit before the Coronavirus lockdown began. We were there in February 2020. A maze of narrow streets, varied and grand facades, a thronging and vibrantly social people. And yet suddenly one might pop out from the stone-paved streets into the brilliant light of the ocean front. By the time I might be allowed to return, who knows how much will have changed in our relations.

At the viewpoint of the engraving. Cadiz February 2020

As I write this our politicians seem hell-bent on dividing us, and to connive with the press to make Europe our enemy. Really, it is time to turn away from all this venality. I mean.., when ever were YOU one of the people in control?. We must discard this narrow nationalism for openness and fellowship. We might be surprised how much benefit that will deliver.

Cadiz, February 2020

Next: Into the Mediterranean.

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