Today we don’t tend to think of the Philippines as a country that has seen much British influence, but, yes, we have invaded it and we have even ruled some of it for a bit.
The Philippines are, of course, named after Philip, the Philip in question being Philip II of Spain. Naming whole lands after ruling monarchs always seems slightly strange somehow, a bit like parents who name their children after themselves, though I’ve no idea whether Philip demanded or secretly suggested the islands be named after him, or whether Ruy Lopez de Villalobos, who named Samar and Leyte as Las Islas Filipinas, thought it would be a short cut to a bit of royal favour. To be fair, we have done the same (as with Carolina and Georgia).
Our links to the Philippines go back a long way. In the late seventeenth century a somewhat reluctant buccaneer, Captain Swan, ended up in Mindanao with his crew before joining the army of the local ruler Rajah Laut. When Swan tried to leave for London, he ended up being speared by the rajah’s men. Resignation disputes could get very nasty in those days.
By the eighteenth century we were ready to try something incredibly daring and audacious, and unlike some of the incredibly daring and audacious things we have tried, this one actually worked. Sort of. For a while.
In 1762, a British fleet consisting of seven ships of the line, plus some frigates and store ships, set off from Madras in India with forces on board that even included a couple of hundred French deserters. On 25 September, Colonel William Draper and his troops landed a couple of miles south of the Manila city walls, and on 4 October Draper’s men and the fleet opened fire on the defences of Manila, breaching them. The defenders counter-attacked, but were driven back. At dawn on 6 October, Draper’s men stormed the breach and broke into the city. To save the city, the defenders of the port and citadel surrendered and agreed to give us 4 million silver dollars to protect the town and its inhabitants.
Taking Manila was pretty much the high point of the whole episode from a British point of view. The destruction and looting that went with it did not endear us to the locals and resistance rapidly grew. In 1763, we agreed to give Manila and Cuba back in return for Florida and Minorca, and British troops left Manila in 1764. For some time afterwards we tried to get the 4 million dollars’ ransom, but somehow we never quite managed it. We also, rather cheekily, hung on with a base in the Sulu Islands until 1773.
We were involved in the Philippines area again in the Second World War, though the main Allied forces fighting in the area at that stage were Filipino, American and Australian. HMS Ariadne, for instance, along with a larger number of Australian vessels, such as the cruisers HMAS Australia and HMAS Shropshire, was part of the great armada assembled to invade and liberate the Philippines at Leyte Gulf in 1944.