Lord Heathfield, the original of this portrait by Reynolds, is famous in English history as the hero of the siege of Gibraltar. Gibraltar, as is well known, is that great rock on the coast of Spain, overlooking the narrow strait which forms the passage between the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea. In the affairs of nations this rock occupies a position of great importance, forming, as it were, a "key to the Mediterranean." The Strait of Gibraltar is the gateway through which all ships must pass to gain the ports of southern Europe, and it is therefore a matter of moment to all the civilized world what nation holds possession there. Nature has made the rock a fortress, and military inventions have been added, through the centuries, to strengthen its defences. It has been the scene of some fearful conflicts.

Gibraltar once belonged to Spain; but, by the fortunes of war, it fell into the possession of the English early in the eighteenth century. Various attempts were made to recover it, but the most determined was that of 1779, when the combined land and sea forces of France and Spain were brought to bear upon it. The struggle lasted over three years; but, in the end, the English were victorious, and they have retained the fortress to this day.

The governor in command at that time was General Elliott, who was afterwards rewarded for his services here by being raised to the peerage as Lord Heathfield. General Elliott was already well known as a gallant officer. He had served in the war of Austrian succession, holding a colonel's commission at Dettingen, where the English defeated the French in 1743. In the Seven Years' War he had raised and disciplined a splendid corps of cavalry, known as the "Light Horse."

He was now over sixty years old, and his long military career fitted him admirably for the command at Gibraltar. He showed his calibre in the beginning of the siege, in refusing the keys of the fortress, which were demanded of him. With tremendous odds against him, his conduct has not inappropriately been likened to that of the Greek hero Leonidas, at Thermopylæ, when ordered by the Persian king to lay down his arms. Throughout the defence his intrepidity, resource, and generalship, proved him a man of remarkable military genius.

The crisis in the siege was reached in September, 1782, when a fleet of ten enormous floating batteries opened fire on the fortress, each one manned by a picked crew, and carrying from ten to eighteen guns. These batteries were the invention of the most skilled French engineers, and were believed to be impenetrable to shot. The cannonading began in the morning and continued all day. Soon after midnight nine ships were on fire, and the hostile fleet was doomed.


General Elliott showed himself a generous victor, and the men saved from the enemy's ships owed their lives to him. Five years later the returned hero, now become Lord Heathfield, sat to Reynolds for his portrait, ordered by a wealthy admirer—the public-spirited Alderman Boydell. The picture shows the brave old soldier as he took his stand in command of Gibraltar. Some one has said that it tells the whole story of the siege.

The general grasps firmly the key of the fortress, the chain wound twice about his hand, to emphasize the determination of the man to hold it against all odds. His sword swings at his side, ready for instant use; a cannon in the rear is pointed downward towards the hostile fleet, and the smoke of battle rolls in clouds behind him. Far away on the horizon a glimmer of light shines on the distant sea.

The veteran stands as immovable as a Stonewall Jackson. His face is set in determined lines, the lips firmly closed, the head thrown back a little, and the eyes steadily fixed on the battle. Yet the face is not altogether stern; there is much that is kindly and noble in the expression. One can fancy it in another moment softening into an expression of gentleness.

It was a remarkable feature of his success during these terrible months of siege, that he was able to hold the love and loyalty of his men. When the spirits of the little garrison flagged, under the combined influence of disease and impending famine, his genial presence animated them with fresh hope. His chivalry was as unfailing as his bravery. It is said that "his military skill and moral courage place him among the best soldiers and noblest men Europe produced in the eighteenth century."

The portrait painter makes us feel all this in his picture. The attitude is so dignified, the gesture so forcible, the countenance so expressive, that we are impressed at once with the dignity of his character. Even if we knew nothing of his history we should still be sure that this is a great man.

The last days of the hero of Gibraltar were spent at his home, Kalkofen, near Aix-la-Chapelle, where he died, July 6, 1790, in the seventy-third year of his age.