The 18th century: between Spain and Great Britain

Menorca’s strategic position in the Mediterranean evoked great interest among the great military powers of the day: British, French and Spanish disputed control of the island through multiple periods of occupation. British rule was the longest, and left a notable mark on local urban development, architecture, culture and language. Governor Richard Kane brought about significant reform, like the construction of a road that crossed the entire island, suitable for military manoeuvres.

The port of Maó gained notable impetus: substantial defensive infrastructures were constructed and services were improved. The port’s bustling trade activity attracted British, Greek, Italian and other merchants and shipowners. A new, highly lucrative maritime activity also emerged, privateering. Corsairs plundered enemy ships with government authority.

During this period, the island’s population grew to 30,000; primarily peasantry and craftsmen. In Maó, a new social class appeared, the bourgeoisie, which grew prosperous thanks to port commerce and would even challenge Ciutadella’s traditional nobility for power.

The arrival of the Enlightenment resulted in visible influence on the island’s politics and culture, with leading references like the painter Pasqual Calbó Caldés or the Enlightenment body known as the Societat Maonesa. The island became the exponent of the 18th-century proliferation of written Catalan, which continued to be utilised in public administration. The British also preserved the continuity of the Catholic religion, despite differences between Anglicans and the Menorcan diocese.