The Battle of Cornwall
While the jingoistic-patriotic view of history has it that these islands were never invaded after 1066, the truth is far different. From the intervention of Prince Louis of France in John’s conflict with the Barons via French raids on Sussex in the 14th century to the American raid on Whitehaven in 1778 and the French attack on Fishguard in 1797 we repeatedly faced foreign military forces in Britain. The 1595 Spanish raid on Cornwall, sometimes known as the Battle of Cornwall, was one of the most serious of these events.
The Spanish force that arrived off Cornish shores in late July 1595 made what seems to have been an impromptu attack on several settlements around Mount’s Bay. This was in the middle of the Anglo-Spanish War that had begun ten years previously, and would only end in 1604. Four galleys containing – depending on the source – between 200 and 400 soldiers landed first in Mousehole on August 2nd. It may be that their commander, Carlos de Amesquita, originally intended merely seizing a few supplies and replenishing water butts. Terror gripped the locals, most of whom fled, though the squire, Jenkin Keigwin, died defending his home, and at least three others perished in what was then a town of regional significance.
Thatched roofs in Mousehole were fired, and the settlement suffered great damage, never regaining its lost status. The Spaniards moved on to Paul and Newlyn , burning them too, and to Penzance , which was bombarded from the ships as well as being put to the torch, with three ships in harbour sunk.
Militias supposed to defend against such invasions turned and fled at the sight of the well-armed and trained invaders, who to add insult to injury removed cannon from at least one fortress to their vessels. Drake and Hawkins , at that time assembling a fleet in Plymouth intended to raid Spanish possessions in the West Indies, were asked to help, but could only muster about 100 men that strategically or warily they used to guard roads inland.
Having held a Catholic service the Spanish left, without suffering any casualties. The church at Paul fired by the invaders still has an arch bearing signs of the fire that burned much of the building down.
Incidentally, Cornwall’s vulnerable location made it a target for other raids – in the 1650s Barbary pirates frequently took fishermen there captive to sell as slaves.
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