Celebrated between the Crowns of Spain and Great Britain, to reestablish Friendship and good Relations in America
Madrid, July 18, 1670
The publication of this treaty responds to the desire to present here all diplomatic documents in which can be found the origin of any right on which England might pretend to base the defense of her possession of Belize.
Some authors have affirmed that the rights of England to lands in America originated from the provisions of this treaty, and, in order to clarify the matter, it is published,
The struggle to obtain domination over the extensive Spanish Empire of America was the cause of the uninterrupted wars between Spain and England: in 1670, the war was terminated by the treaty signed by the Spanish plenipotentiary, don Gaspar de Bracamonte y Guzman, Count of Peñaranda, and the Britisher, Mt,. William Godolphin, Knight of the Golden Spur. Article 7 of this treaty states in its pertinent part:
Moreover, it is agreed, that the Most Serene King of Great Britain, his Heirs and Successors, shall have, hold, keep, and enjoy for ever, with plenary right of Sovereignty, Dominion, Possession, and Propriety, all those Lands, Regions, Islands, Colonies, and places whatsoever, being situated in the West Indies, or in any part of America, which the said King of Great Britain and his Subjects do at present hold and possess, so as that in regard thereof or upon any colour or pretence whatsoever, nothing more may or ought to be urged, nor any question or controversy be ever moved, etc.
In 1670, England had no colony or possession whatever in Belize; all the territory bordering on the waters of the Gulf of Honduras belonged by right of discovery and of conquest to the crown of Spain.
Cristopher Columbus discovered the Gulf of Honduras during his fourth voyage, touching at the island of Guanaja and the Cape of Honduras or Caxinas;
Vicente Yañez Pinzon and Juan Diaz de Solis sailed in 1506 from Guanaja as far as Dulce Gulf (Lake Izabal) and explored the land lying to the south of Yucatan. From the Gulf of Honduras they proceeded northward and discovered Yucatan, exploring all the eastern coast of the peninsula.
Francisco Hernandez de Cordova in 1517, Juan de Grijalva in 1518, and Hernan Cortes in 1519, discovered and explored the western and northern coasts of the peninsula and, in the name of the King of Spain, took possession thereof;
In 1526, Francisco de Montejo arrived at the coast of Yucatan, and had the appointment of Adelantado and Governor of the conquered regions.
The Governor of Yucatan, Martin de Ursua, and the Captain General of Guatemala, Jacinto de Barrios Leal, conquered the nation of the Itzaes, which comprised the present department of Peten, of the Republic of Guatemala, and which, during the whole administration of the Spanish colony, was a province governed by the Captain General of this district: this extensive territory stretched to the south of the Yucatan peninsula, and comprised all that part of Belize which always belonged to Guatemala. (2)
In 1670, no one knew of the English settlement of Belize, nor had the English penetrated for the cutting of dyewood, which later on was the way of living of adventurers of different nationalities, although the English predominated:
No such place is included in Modyford’s list of the principal British logwood works in 1672; nor is it given in the Board of Trade memorial of 1717 as in existence in 1669. The first indication is the deposition in 1680 that a ship was captured by the Spanish off “the Cays of Yucatan”. (3)
In 1670, England had no settlement whatever in Belize, and consequently the Godolphin Treaty could never refer to it. On the contrary, this plenipotentiary has left definite official documents regarding the lack of rights of British subjects to cut timber in territories subject to Spanish sovereignty, In a letter of 10/20 of May, 1672, he informed the Earl of Arlington, Secretary of State that
“Spain has as well too much right as advantage not to assert the property of these woods, for though not all inhabited, these people may as justly pretend to make use of our rivers, mountains and commons, as we can enjoy any benefit of these woods, And this is the sense of all Spaniards since to inhabit and possess are distinct, neither is the former essential to the latter.”
He states that the Spanish Government objects to the cutting of timber by British subjects in Yucatan, because: a) the country is already “sufficiently peopled” by Spaniards, who have their own Campeche logwood trade; b)
(1) Antonio de Herrera: “General History”.
(2) Gomez Carrillo: “History of Central America”.
(3) Alder Burdon: “Archives of British Honduras”, 1, p. 2,
the English intrusion might “open a door to any further attempt we may design against their continent”. For that reason, Godolphin, after asserting that ,in his opinion, we did not have a shadow of a claim there, suggests that the English might cut the wood surreptitously “not avowedly in order not to give an example and pretence to other nations, but underhandedly and without making inroads or other depredations on the country”. If the treaty of 1670 is not otherwise infringed he (Godolphin) might persuade Spain to “connive” in the practice. (1)
And after Godolphin, Lord Lexington, British Ambassador before the court of Spain, in 1713, forty-three years after the Godolphin Treaty, proposed to the Spanish Government the addition of some articles to the Treaty of Utrecht:
…. to prevent this great evil and apply the most safe, convenient and present remedy to the same, it is proposed to His Catholic Majesty that he would suffer the subjects of Her Britannic Majesty to cut logwood in the lake which is called Isla Trista, (sic) or otherwise Laguna de Termino, and in the Bay of Honduras, or any of he aforesaid places upon condition that said subjects shall have and produce a license from Her Britannic Majesty obliging themselves thereby not to commit any hostility … that they will deport themselves according to the orders and provisions which His Catholic Majesty shall think fit to make … and that also they will pay such proportionate price as His Catholic Majesty shall judge fit to lay on each ton of Campeachy Wood”, (2)
Lexington suggested also that the King of Spain should establish customhouses for the due collection of those duties, and should fix the boundaries for the timber cutting activities.
And, referring again to the text of the Godolphin Treaty, at the end of article 7 there is a note which says:
Not having set forth in this article which were the lands, provinces, islands, colonies and dominions which the English possessed at that time in West India, has caused various disputes and the same omission is found in Article V and VI of the peace with the United Provinces in 1648; and although by an order issued on the seventh of June 1689, Nos. 26 and 27, it was said, among other things, that the islands which the English possessed in America were Barbada, New England, a part of San Cristobal, Canada and Jamaica, there is found in a volume in octavo written in English by H. Richard Blome, and which translated to French was printed in Amsterdam in 1688, with the title of English America or A Description of the Islands and Lands of the King of England in America, it is supposed that besides the colonies which said royal order mentioned, the English possessed in those regions the four provinces
(1) Alder Burdon, Op, cit., 1, p. 53.
(2) ibid. p. 62.
of New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland and New York, and the islands of Nevis or Novis, Antigua, San Vicente, Dominica, Monserrate, Anguila, Carolina and New Foundland and Tabuco, having occupied later the one called La Providencia: all of which, and others occupied recently by the French, Dutch and Danish were under the dominion and possession of this crown in the year of 1645; for in the diocesan synod held in the year mentioned in the Island of Puerto Rico, which was approved by the Council of the Indies the year of 1646, and printed in 1647, it is found on folio 127 that there attended, as from the territory of that bishopric, the secular and ecclesiastical delegates of the islands of Barran, Santa Cruz, the Virgin Islands, Anguila, el Sombrero, San Martin, San Vicente, Sabi, Estacca, San Crist6bal, las Nieves, Redonda, Monserrate, Tilin, Taria, la Barbada, Guadalupe, la Deseada, Marigalan, Todos Santos and Dominica, which are all windward islands; because those of the leeward islands attended the synods of the bishopric of Cuba, of which those islands were dependent. (Abreu.)
Belize is not comprised in this list of British possessions; Spain never recognized the legality in the British claims; and England had no title on which to base them. In the Spanish note of November 30, 1732, it was said:
“that the cutting of logwood is a notorious and detestable abuse appears by its not being allowed by any of the Treaties. Far from it, there are several transactions which confirm this prohibition, and some by which the Court of England has justified itself upon the matter, declaring that it had never consented to such a contravention and that ‘the frequent expulsions’ of the logwood-cutters had never been opposed by the court of England”. (1)
The British Commentator Sir Alder Burdon considers this argumentation “indisputable”. (2)
It is consequently perfectly established that, neither at the time of the signature of the Godolphin Treaty, nor afterwards, did England possess the territory of Belize, nor did it have any rights whatever of dominion, possesion or sovereignty in that region which belonged to the Spanish crown, and the northern part of which corresponded to New Spain and the Southern to the Capitancy General of Guatemala.
Shared courtesy of Amauri Marconi Leal
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- Hon. Julius Espat on Belize – Guatemala – ICJ (fiwebelize.com)
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