Liberation of Barcelona 1706

A solar eclipse and a medal makes one battle of the Spanish Succession War remarkable for the posterity. The medal is a representative example how politics used medals as propaganda devices.

The Spanish Succession War was fought after the death of Charles II Spanish king between 1701 and 1714. On one side stood the Holy Roman Empire and its allies: Great Britain, the Dutch Republic, Portugal and smaller Duchies, while on the opposite side: France, Spain, the Electorate of Bavaria and Hungary. During the war the Holy Roman Empire and its allies started to siege Barcelona on September 14, 1705, and the city was captured on 19 October. To recapture it the France and Spain concentrated forces initiated a siege on 3 April, 1706. Shortly a large English fleet appeared at the city carrying reinforcements, and the siege was abandoned on 27 April.


The path of totality of solar eclipse on 12 May, 1706

Soon after this on 12 May a total solar eclipse was seen from Europe and the central path of totality crossed right above Barcelona. The totality occurred at 9 am at 48° altitude, generating a spectacular event. It need not too much time that common speak treated the eclipse as the “eclipse of Sun King” i. e. the eclipse of the power of Luis XIV, king of France. On this base the liberation army, the liberated city and the allies issued this commemorative medal. The design was supported by the nature this time.


On the obverse the radiating Sun with four crowns are depicted. On the “head” of the Sun the Spanish, on the right the English, on the left the Spanish-Dutch, while below the Habsburg crown are visible. Along the rim text "MIT GOTT DVRCH M. O. G. VND L. WIRDSDA VND DOR-TEN WIEDER HELL" means that with God and the help of M(arlborough), O(uwekerke), G(alloway) és L(eake) here and there lightens again. The men mentioned here were generals of the allied force.

The reverse shows the event of totality, when the Moon fully covers the disk of the Sun and the radiating solar crown becomes visible. What the designer of this medal meant by “here and there” on the obverse reveals from the text of this side. Here on the revers the successes of allied forces are listed. 170hatlapAbove "BARCELONA LIBERATA A(nno) 1706 12 MAI(i) ECLIPSISSOLIS.", that is liberation of Barcelona 12 May, 1706, solar eclipse. On the right "BRABANTIA. OCCVP(ata) m(ense) MAJ(o)", i. e. occupation of province of Brabant in May. On the left "MADRITVM OCCVP(atum) m(ense) MAJ(o)", i. e. occupation of Madrid in May. Below "TIRLEMONT(ana) CLADES m(ense) MAJ(o)", i. e. conquer of Tirlemont in May. Below the flower the initials engraver's name GFN means Georg Friedrich Nürnberger.

The winners commemorated the victory by their own medals also. In England Queen Anne minted a victory medal. On the obverse the portrait of Anne facing left and her ruling titles were written in legend around. Below the name of the engraver, John Crocker displayed. On the reverse the peaceful port of Barcelona with ships with all sails furled, while over the city the Sun hiding behind Moon dominates the landscape. The legend around is "BARCELONA LIB. GALLIS FVG." means Barcelona's liberation and the running of the Gauls. Below the date “I MAII. MDCCVI”, i. e. in May 1706. This small, less than 35mm bronze medal shows surprising tranquility landscape, as if war could not have taken place.  



The opposite is shown on the coin issued by the Habsburgs, which was minted for the name of Charles III King of Spain and Austrian Grand Duke. The obverse looks like the previous medal, but the portrait of Charles just to the right. Around his royal titles. On his shoulder the engraver's initials P H. M. covers the Philipp Heinrich Müller.


On the reverse Barcelona is shown from almost the same point of view as on the previous coin. The eclipse was displayed almost exactly the same way. But here the sea is no longer peaceful. The ship sails flown, while on the right side firing artillery guns were lined up and the soldiers can be seen. The sea and the dry land separated by the dam where the engraver carved "BARCELONA" name. The legend around isn "VNIVS LIBERATIO ALTERIVS OPRESSIO"  ie, freedom of ones suppression of others. Below the inscription is almost the same words by words as the English coins "FVGA GALL. ET ECLIPS. EOD. DIE 12. MAI. 1706", that is the Gauls and the eclipse runaway (disappearance) happened on the same day May 12 1706. On the rim legend "O NIMIVM DILECTE DEO, TIBI MILITAT AETHER" means Oh, well beloved of God, Heaven fights for you. The displayed coin was made of tin, but there are also silver items.

This medal is also mentioned in book History of Great Britan during the Reign of Queen Anne by Wyon (1876 Vol. 1 p. 429) as follows "Charles was himself present in Barcelona, and being consequently in great danger of falling into the hands of the enemy, he would naturally feel grateful that Heaven had interfered and fought for him. He gave orders for a medal to be struck suitable to the occasion; one of which, set round with diamonds, he presented to Sir John Leake, the English Admiral. Whether this, or one of those mentioned hereafter, was the one presented does not appear. That an augury should be drawn from so unusual a phenomenon as an eclipse at such a moment was not surprising, and that which suggested itself to the Allies was a favourable one. "As the well-known device of Louis XIV was a sun in splendour, an eclipse, occurring on the day when his troops were actually in retreat, could portend nothing else than the annihilation of the affairs of France in the Spanish kingdom."

Barcelona remained in allied hands until 11 September, 1714 when finally after a long siege they lost the city and their presence in Spain ended.

The 1706 total solar eclipse and the connected political and military events appeared on numerous other medal of time, but interestingly it also can be found on a medal issued in 1999. This medal was issued for a solar eclipse as well, because both the 1706 and the 1999 eclipsed passed above Ludwigsburg. The city got its name from the similarly named palace, whose foundation-stone was laid at 1704. Surrounding the palace the ruler, prince Eberhard Ludwig populated the city from 1715, allowing 15 tax-free-years for the settlers. I was not able to revels what was the connection between the eclipse of 1706 and the building of the palace, but it must have been important, if it appeared again on a medal in 1999. On obverse the disk of the Sun with both dates of eclipses engraved appears above. In the center the Moon and its shadow path over the schematized globe of Earth is visible. The letter L must mean the city. Around the issuer names are displayed, the Bank of Ludwigsburg and the Medal-Friends of Ludwigsburg. On the reverse the view of the palace and the name of the city were depicted. As visible on the map above the city – that is located 12 km to north from Stuttgart – was touched by the edge of totality path of the 1706 eclipse, while the last eclipse of the last millennium was almost centered above it.