Old Sherry Book Cover


The Story of
First Hundred Years

1835 - 1935

First Impression, 1935










IN the year 1783 the little seaboard town of Sanlúcar de Barrameda, a few miles from Cadiz, in Southern Spain, was agog with excitement over the appointment, and the imminent arrival, of a new Administrator of the local Salt Marches.
    The inhabitants of Sanlúcar experienced few thrills in course of their placid existence, but they made up for the lack of excitement by a dignified pride in the knowledge that the chief industry of their town supplied no inconsiderable part of the revenue which enabled their King, Charles III, to maintain his reputation as one of the most benevolent despots who had ever ruled their country-at any rate, in the latter years of his reign, which is the period of which we are writing.
    So the Salt Marches (or pits of sea-water from which the saline content was extracted by the action of the sun's rays) were a most important part of the King's personal property, and their profitable running a matter for the constant attention of the Royal eyes in Madrid.
    The Administrator, in any event, would be a person of the highest importance in the eyes of the local community, but when it became known that the post was to be filled by none other than the handsome 25-year-old Don José Antonio González y Rodríguez member of the Royal bodyguard, and known throughout Spain a one of the most favoured young men in the retinue of the King and queen, excited anticipation reached something like fever heat.
    Stories of his gallant exploits, tinged with something less than scandal and with something more than romance, had many times been circulated among the young ladies of Sanlúcar in recent years. It was rumoured (not without justification, one suspects) that his new position had been gained not only through the King's desire to confer fresh honours on his favourite, but also became that astute monarch had noticed the favour with which his attentions were received by some of the most exalted ladies of the Court circle,
    Be this as it may, there can be no doubt that the post of Administrator of the Salt Marches was a very great honour-especially when bestowed on so young a man. The chagrin that Don José felt at having to cut himself off from the gay life of Madrid was certainly not shared by the younger feminine element in Sanlúcar and district. The presence of such an extremely eligible bachelor was going to make life very colourful indeed.
    From the very outset, Don José was a first-class success in his new capacity. Being such a valuable commodity, the product of the Salt Marches was frequently the prey of armed robbers, and the Administrator needed physical courage and military organising ability, rather than mere commercial instinct, adequately to fill the position. These Don José possessed and made use of, to the full satisfaction of his Royal employer.
    Correspondence passing between Don José and his friends at this period is preserved to this day, but as the writer still considers that private letters should remain private for all time (thereby differing from many authors of present-day books of reminiscences), it is not proposed to publish them here.
    One can content oneself by saying that it is quite clear that many of the hours not spent guarding and administering the Royal property were passed in pleasant communication with the beautiful young women for which this part of Spain is famous.

Jerez de la Frontera, from a seventeenth century print.

    Among those was one called María del Rosario Angel who was distinguished not only by her features and accomplishments among other young ladies of the neighbourhood, but also enjoyed the unique position of being an "only daughter" in a country where large families made (and still make) solitary children of either sex an extreme rarity in any family. Her father had died when she was very young, and her mother had long since married a Señor Peña, by whom she had had no other children.
    As can be well imagined, the betrothal of the dashing Don José caused as much excitement at the Court as it did in the neighbourhood of Sanlúcar, and his friends chaffed the master of the salt pits about his wonderful good fortune in having a King and Queen for his friends and an "Angel" for his wife.
    We do not know the precise length of the engagement, but it is certain that it was of not less than eighteen months' duration. Courtship in Spain was a very lengthy matter, and during its early stages the couple saw little of each other save through the iron bars of a window. Even then, the girl was not considered completely safe unless she had a chaperone in the room. It was for this reason that lovesick young men of the period counted it so necessary to be accomplished players upon the guitar. Under cover of the music the lover and his lass were able to interchange many innocent whispered confidences that could not be overheard by the straining ears of the alert chaperone.
    The marriage was celebrated in Sanlúcar, amid the acclamation of Don José's friends and with the immediate blessing of the King and Queen, and all seemed set fair for Don José to enjoy an even more prosperous and happy career as a married man than as a bachelor.
    For a few years all went as merry as the marriage bells on their wedding day. Don José was making an even greater success of his appointment at the salt pits, and everyone considered it a certainty that even higher positions waited the fortunate young husband. The couple soon had (as we should consider) a large family of seven children, five of them sons - and it was at this stage of his career, at the height of his success and happiness, that Don José Antonio González y Rodríguez died.

Missing Illustration: Jerez de la Frontera Today (1935)


Chapter II