The story of the attack by a small party of Spaniards who landed near Mousehole, is told by Carew. Sir Francis Godolphin thought their target was Penzance and sent out messages around West Cornwall, summoning men to help fight them off. His party did not do too well at first 'being seized with a sudden panic', but more supporters arrived the next day. This was rather late, as the Spaniards had already set fires in Newlyn, Mousehole and Penzance and then retreated.
This event was part of a series of episodes around the coast of west Cornwall where Spanish ships were seen, and attack feared or received. On July 20th Sir Thomas Dennis had written to the Earl of Essex that he had heard from Philip Bevill of Cornwall that a few days previously 4 Spanish galleys attempted to land men at St Evaull (St Eval) 3 miles west of Padstow. A son of Sir Richard Grenville raised opposing bands of Cornishmen but no subsequent fight is reported.
Sir Frances Drake was then sent from Plymouth to go around to the north coast of Cornwall to see if he could find the Spanish ships. He clearly failed as the Earl of Essex received another letter on July 26 reporting the raid above. The writer, Sir Nicholas Clifford had been with Sir Francis Godolphyn in Cornwall 'where, before our coming, the Spaniards, out of four galleys, had landed some four hundred soldiers, which burnt Moldsey (Mousehole), a small village, and Newland (Newlyn), with Penzance, a very good town.' His letter describes how Godolphyn had been utterly forsaken by 'the common sort' of his band. However, at some stage they appear to have taken some Spanish prisoners from the invading party, who apparently said that 'for want of fresh water, they would have landed again, with some 500 of Don John's best soldiers; but the wind shifting north they took the opportunity to avoid the fleet at Plymouth and retired again to Bluit.' (Probably Blavet (also called Plavet and now called Port Louis) on the south coast of Brittany where the Spanish had a large base with a spectacular star shaped fortress built in 1590).
The Spanish fortress at Blavet, now Port Louis, in southern Brittany. (photo Gilles Wagener)
Clifford advised the Earl of Essex that the prisoners reported many things 'but they seem uncertain' suggesting they should not be relied on.
Clearly the West country gentry were anxious that the Earl of Essex was kept properly informed of the Spanish attacks since at the end of the month Drake and Hawkins, from Plymouth, reported that they had not only sent several messengers but also Sir Thomas Gorges to report in person.
The Lords of the Council were sufficiently impressed to write to Lord Burghley, Lord Treasurer, to consider more carefully the defences of the coastline and the training of bands of horse and foot to be ready to meet future attacks, and to appoint local gentlemen to command them especially if they had experience of warfare. An especial request was that the Lord Treasurer should cause the beacons to be watched by honest persons 'with more care than hath been used, rather suggesting that the Mounts Bay settlements had been taken by surprise.
The Spanish threat continued for some time; a letter to Sir Robert Cecil on August 9th 1595 reported that a small Devon ship bound for Ireland had seen 15 or 16 Spanish ships off Scilly and heard reports of more, further off.
The sharp eyed among you may be wondering why a raid which is reported in contemporary correspondence as taking place on 23 July is being recorded here on 2 August. Until 1752 England and Wales used the Julian Calendar for official purposes but elsewhere the more accurate Gregorian calendar, introduced by Pope Gregory XIII in 1582, had gradually been adopted. Much of Europe, led by the power of Spain, switched calendars in 1582 but some of the Protestant countries of northen Europe, among them England, were not inclined to follow anything that was issued by the Roman Catholic Church. Scotand partly adopted the new calendar in 1600 but England and Wales had to wait until 1752, a year which, a a result of the change, had only 355 days, September 2nd being followed by September 14th. The legislation which enacted the change explained that the use of the old calendar was:
"attended with divers inconveniences, not only as it differs from the usage of neighbouring nations, but also from the legal method of computation in Scotland, and from the common usage throughout the whole kingdom, and thereby frequent mistakes are occasioned in the dates of deeds and other writings, and disputes arise therefrom."