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"Manly" Battling with Matchlock, Rapier and Quarterstaff
The Attack on Cadiz and an Englishman duels three Spaniards at once in 1625.

Musketeer loading a charge of powder from a wooden apostle from his bandolier into the muzzle of this matchlock musket. (from Rembrandt's The Night Watch, 1648)
Musketeer loading a charge of powder from a wooden apostle from his bandolier into
the muzzle of this matchlock musket. (from Rembrandt's The Night Watch, 1648)


      RICHARD PEEKE DIDN'T NEED A NEW WAR TO FIGHT.
His purse was full with prize money from battling Barbary pirates near Algiers the previous year. As a result, England’s fledging trade routes into the Mediterranean Sea were a little safer and Peeke (pronounced Pike) was a richer man.

But instead of returning to his abandoned wife and children in Devonshire, the sea called to Peeke again. England was once again at war with Spain and Peeke could not resist: "the drum beating up for a new expedition, in which many noble gentleman and heroical spirits were to venture their honours, lives and fortunes; cables could not hold me… I vowed to go."

Southern Spain or Portugal were wealthy targets and an Anglo-Dutch fleet of 110 vessels set sail for the riches. Peeke was part of the crew of the 40-gun HMS Convertine when the force weighed anchor from Plymouth on October 5, 1625. It was a short uneventful voyage.

English fleet in the mid-17th Century. (by Isaac Sailmaker -Wiki
English fleet in the mid-17th Century. (by Isaac Sailmaker)

 

THE ATTACK ON CADIZ

Aside from the hope of catching some silver-ladden Spanish vessels returning from the West Indies, the English had no real plan. The fleet’s goals were not formally hatched until October 20, namely, to:

* destroy Spanish shipping

* possess some place of importance to Spain, and, most importantly,

* get rich by capturing Spain’s West Indian fleet

Lisbon was considered, but in the end Cadiz was chosen as the target of their expedition, which sat on the southern tip of Spain. Cadiz had been easily captured and sacked by the English in 1596, so was considered a low hanging fruit to pluck. Two days later the fleet arrived off the low shores of Cadiz. Action was immediate, though boarding on whimsical. They planned to simply take the city by running ships aground near the shore and unload the ship’s artillery for sieging the port. However, they incorrectly assessed the waters around Cadiz. The approach to the landing was too shallow, forcing the fleet commanding to provide a plan B.

They fixed on a fort of marginal importance outside of Cadiz. The Castello de San Lorenzo del Puntal, known more simply to the locals as "El Puntal", was a walled fortification in varying degrees of completion. The anchorage around Puntal was good and the English could at least land troops there.

Richard Peeke’s ship was part of the squadron tasked to capture Puntal. But matching wooden ships up against stonewalled castles was often a terrible idea. At the very least, the loss of men and ships made such actions an expensive endeavour. First to engage Puntal was the squadron’s flagship: "the Castle playing hard and hotly" upon them.

The HMS Covertine was called in to support. Peeke’s ship came close to the walls of Puntal, attempting to limit the number of cannons the Spanish could bring to bear on them. That position was costly gained. The Spanish "bestowed upon us a hot salutation" with iron round shot passing right through the ship’s hull, killing a number of seamen. One cannonball passed so close to the Covertine’s Captain that it’s windage produced a loss of all sensation in his hands.

Now in small arms range of the Spanish defenders, Peeke was called to the deck with his matchlock musket "to try if we could not force the cannoniers from their ordnance." With the aid of crew loading extra matchlocks for him, Peeke himself was able to unleash 70 rounds at the enemy. For three hours the Spanish and English blasted away at each other with musketry and artillery. Peeke counted over 200 Spanish muskets firing on them "whose bullets flew so thick that our shrouds [rope climbing rigging] were torn in pieces and our tacklings rent to nothing". Five hundred enemy lead musket balls covered the wooden hull of the starboard side of ship facing the castle.


Deck of a ship of war in 1619. Note the rope shrouds and wooden "tacklings" that were shot out
 by musketry during the battle. (National Maritime Museum)

With dead and wounded crew piling up on deck, musket fire from the HMS Covertine waned. Spying the mismatched small arms struggle from his nearby ship, the "valiant and noble" Sir William St Leger led forty of his crew onto the Covertine’s deck. The reinforcements reinvigorated to musketry duel. In the meantime, below decks the artillery gunners kept up a constant fire on the Spanish cannon emplacements. Bizarrely one English cannon ball scored a hole-in-one by landing right into the muzzle of a Spanish cannon. The ball being jammed in place, it "putteth that roarer to silence."

Spanish musket men concealed themselves behind an extended piece of castle while loading and firing. Peeke saw an opportunity dislodge them. Mounting the elevated forecastle of the ship, Peeke turned an artillery piece on the Spanish infantry’s position. Loading it with hailshot (multiple musket balls) Peeke unleashed a wall of projectiles at them, forcing the enemy to retreat.

Dutch Musketeers in 1625. All European armies tended to dress similarly to the fashion of the time. They were citizen soldiers pressed or hired into service. The Spanish illustrated also wearing ponchos.  (from Defence of San Juan by Eugenio Cajčs, 1634)
Dutch Musketeers in 1625. All European armies tended to dress similarly to the fashion of the time. They were citizen soldiers pressed
or hired into service.  English musketeers were to "be armed in good Spanish Morians upon their heads"
like the steel helmets shown here. (from Defence of San Juan by Eugenio Cajčs, 1634)

After a continuous bombardment of over two thousand cannon-shot, the Spanish artillery fell silent and with their infantrymen dislodged, a parley was requested to decide the terms for the castle’s surrender. The English terms were generous, giving the Spanish garrison what is called the "honours of war". The Spanish left through the gates of the castle "with their colours flying, their swords by their sides, their muskets charged with match burning in [the] cocke, their bandoliers full, and bullets in their mouth."

Having gained a foothold on the island, English troops landed and marched towards Cadiz as a demonstration of strength. When Peeke came ashore he saw some sailors carrying oranges and lemons. He decided to go foraging for the same. Soon he came upon the bodies of three dead Englishmen "being slain, lying in the way."

He found a fourth Englishman badly wounded near the executed corpses. While peeke tended to the fallen comrade, a mounted Spanish noble suddenly came upon him. Rushed by the Spaniard with a drawn sword, Peeke responded by unsheathing his own blade and wrapping his cloak around his opposite arm to use as a makeshift blocker. The slashing and thrusting of blades began. When Peeke backed up on to some high ground, the noble spurred his horse to the charge. At the last moment, Peeke startled the horse by striking him in the eyes with a flap of his cloak. Sidestepping the mount, Peeke grabbed the Spaniard and threw him to the ground.

 If the cloak wrapped around the arm is long, large, and flexible, it "will warde any edge blow." (Giacomo Di Grassi's sword manual published in 1570, republished in English in 1594. Defence with the cloak becomes more perfected  by 1653 with Francesco Alfieri's sword treatise.)
If the cloak wrapped around the arm is long, large, and flexible, it "will warde any edge blow."
(
Giacomo Di Grassi's sword manual published in 1570, republished in English in 1594.
Defence with the cloak becomes more perfected  by 1653 with Francesco Alfieri's sword treatise.)

 

The noble instantly begged for mercy. Peeke granted it and took him captive. Now mounted with the defeated Spanish knight, Don Juan of Cadiz, walking beside him, Peeke reflected "thus far my voyage for oranges had sped well." This was followed by another turn in his fortunes. Fourteen Spanish musketeers appeared levelling all their muzzles and taking aim. Wisely seeing there was no way out, Peeke yielded and was taken prisoner.

Peeke was just one of "our improvident and straggling men" who were ambushed by Spanish parties operating in and around the orange garden. The English responded by dispatching two regiments to "disperse the enemy’s ambushes." But this response was too late for Peeke.

Peeke’s mercy to Don Juan was not reciprocated. Once in possession again of his rapier, Don Juan slashed him badly across the face "from ear to ear." Jeers and insults from the populace welcomed Peeke to Cadiz. An additional wound came to him from the spear point of a soldier’s halberd, stabbed into his back near his kidneys.

Spanish troops in 1633. Note one has a lever trigger matchlock. Matchlock Reproduction found here. (from Taking of Brisach by Jose Leonardo, 1635)
Spanish troops in 1633. Note one has a lever trigger matchlock. Matchlock Reproduction found here. Spanish made use of the garment the poncho.
 (from Taking of Brisach by Jose Leonardo, 1635)

Bloodied and "so wounded in my face and jaws I could hardly speak" Peeke was brought before Cadiz’s governor, Fernando Giron, Marquis of Sofraga. Too injured to be interrogated, the Marquis kindly ordered Peeke to be cared for by the best surgeons.

In the meantime, the English efforts to take Cadiz had turned into a farce. The English Army had discovered a warehouse containing over a half a million pints of wine in iron bound casks. Each regiment was issued a couple of pints of wine as a "special favor" from the Army’s commander Edward Cecil, 1st Viscount Wimbledon.

The dispersing of the wine lead to confusion and the troops grew unruly demanding more wine. Verbal abuse and threats were hurled at the officers. Even Viscount Wimbledon was abused with "base and contemptuous words both against his person and his place." Nothing could stop the soldiers from breaking into the warehouse and comsuming all the wine. The troops "proceeded to distemper themselves therewith still more, till in effect the whole Army except only the Commanders, was all drunken and in one common confusion."

The only recourse for the officers was to break the wine casks as quickly as possible. Drunken soldiers used their hats and head pieces in a vain attempt to scoop up some of the river of wine that flowed through the cellars and vaults. Each soldier had brought several days of food rations ashore, but these were consumed all at once. The next day, the entire army was hung over and faint from lack of food. Discipline continued to deteriorate with some soldiers refusing to carry their arms.


Sitted to the left is Cadiz’s governor, Fernando Giron, Marquis of Sofraga. El Puntal castle is illustrated as a tower in the background.
The English army breaking into the wine cellars is also depicted at the building in the centre.
(The Defence of Cądiz against the English by Francisco de Zurbarąn, 1634)

The Attack on Cadiz: 1.Battle for Puntal (size downplayed) with English troops landed  2. landing of the English army 3. Skirmishing near orange grove 4. English discover the wine  5. English leave.
The Attack on Cadiz: 1.Battle for Puntal (size downplayed) with English gaining a beach head  2. landing of the English army
3. Skirmishing near orange grove 4. English discover the wine  5. English leave.

As for the fleet off shore, the Spanish sent out a fire ship to try and burn the besieging enemy ships. Only the quick work of musketeers in row boats with grapple hooks, were able to redirect the danger away from the fleet. With no trust in their own men, no siege equipment or provisions, and judging Cadiz too strong to take by assault, the whole enterprise was abandoned and the Anglo-Dutch fleet set sail leaving Peeke behind.

 

PRISONER PEEKE AND HIS QUARTERSTAFF

Imprisoned and rehabilitated for nearly three weeks, Peeke was transferred to the city of Jerez de la Frontera. Famous for its dessert wine, Sherry, the city temporarily housed Spain’s Council of War. The council was curious and wanted to meet the English captive.

Interpreters in the form of Irish monks were provided, and Peeke was brought before the council in grand style on November 15. From the prison to the council’s chambers he was paraded in chains through the city with two drummers and a hundred musketmen. Once in the chamber, he appeared before a host of dukes, condes, dons, earls and marquises. Peeke’s sword sat on a table before the lords and he was asked to confirm it was his. "I took it and embraced it with my arms; and with tears in my eyes, kissed the pummel of it."

The council promptly began interrogating him about how he had captured Don Juan, the ship he served on and its ordnance, the size of the fleet, armaments, the strength of Plysmouth and so on. The Spanish bragged about the high level of intelligence they had on the English fleet and his country’s defences. Someone from the crowd mocked the English, calling them all hens. The council burst out laughing at this. Peeke responded by suggesting the Spanish will turn chicken if they tried to invade England.

The Duke of Medina Sidonia, whose father had commanded the Spanish Armada against the English in 1588, seized on his insult asking him if he was up to fighting a Spanish "chicken". Peeke brashly responded "He is unworthy of the name of an Englishman, that should refuse to fight with one man of any nation whatsoever." Having accepted the challenge, Peeke’s shackles were knocked off and the iron ring and chains taken from his neck.

A Spanish champion was selected and room was made for the combatants. Each were armed with a rapier and a dagger. Peeke and the Spaniard traded blows and searched for advantage. Soon Peeke saw his opportunity: "I caught his rapier between the bars of my [dagger] and there held it, till I closed with him; and tripping up his, I took his weapons out of his hands and delivered them to the Dukes."

Fighting with rapier and dagger. Peeke was fighting with a light dagger called a Poignard.Trapping the enemy's rapier blade is best done when the dagger's cross-guard is hook-shaped.
Fighting with rapier and dagger. Peeke was fighting with a light dagger called a Poignard.
Trapping the enemy's rapier blade is best done when the dagger's cross-guard is hook-shaped.
(from Jacques Callot, Les Caprices Series B, pub'd 1620)

His victory embarrassed the council and those gathered in the room: "I too well knew that the Spaniard is haughty, impatient of the least affront; and when he receives but a touch of any dishonour, disgrace or blemish… his revenge is implacable, mortal and bloody."

The noblemen pressed Peeke again and again to accept a new challenger. He relented on the condition he be allow a new weapon: "give me leave to play at mine own country weapon called the quarterstaff." The council assented. A quarterstaff was improvised by removing the head of halberd. This left Peeke with a staff 7 or 8 feet long, with the spiked iron shoe at it’s base still on.

When a challenger reluctantly came forward, Peeke suggested one adversary was no sport because the quarterstaff had never failed him. A second companion rouse to the call with his rapier and dagger in hand. Peeke called for more. A third accepted. Three to one.

Peeke didn’t expect to survive the encounter. He hoped being outnumbered would bring him an honourable death, and at the same time deny the well-armed Spaniards any glory. The duel commenced with the combatants traversing their ground. Peeke sidestepped probing rapier thrusts from the Spaniards while gaining a feel for the situation.

Two advantages served the Englishman. First, being well-practiced with rapier and dagger, Peeke knew the reach and dangers he faced. Secondly the Spaniards were ignorant on how to fight against a quarterstaff. Had they known the danger they faced, the Spaniards would have crossed their dagger and sword blades to protect their torso and deflect the staff, allowing them to approach their prey. They were unaware, that the quarterstaff would be used to counterattack, especially "charging thy point directly to the enemy’s breast." So, when one swordsman lunged at him, Peeke responded by thrusting and burying the steel-pointed end of his staff into the Spaniard’s chest, killing him. Then there were two.

Peeke quickly follow up his success with a serious of blows and thrusts, disarming the last two "causing one of them to fly into the army of soldiers then present, and the other for refuge fled behind the bench." Though faint and wearied, Peeke had won.

Here the quarterstaff is held in the low guard position point at head to the opponent, ready to thrust. (Two engravings merged from Joseph Swetnam's defence treatise, 1619)
Here the quarterstaff is held in the low guard position point at head to the opponent, ready to thrust.
 (Two engravings merged from Joseph Swetnam's defence treatise, 1619)

Peeke then found himself in a room filled with angry men and he felt more danger than in his round of combat: "a general murmur fill the air, with threatening at me: the soldiers expecially bit their thumbs." However the Duke of Medina Sidonia came to his rescue and "instantly caused proclamation to be made that none, on pain of death, should meddle with me." To Peeke’s surprise, he received money for his victory from the Spanish council lords and was taken under their protection.

The following month, Peeke was escorted to Madrid for an audience with the King of Spain. On Christmas day he stood before the 20-year-old King Felipe IV, along with his Queen and infant son Carlos. The king unsuccessfully attempted to entice Peeke to join the Spanish military. Appealing to the crown, Peeke boldly asked to be allowed to return home, and for money to help pay for his way back to England. Surprisingly his requests were granted and on 22 April 1626, Richard Peeke landed back in his country.

While in prison, Peeke lamented about his wife and children and one is tempted to assume he returned home to his family to live happily ever after. However, for Peeke, the call of the sea and glory were ever enticing.

The cover image of Peeke's book showing Don Juan asking for mercy, his rapier and
The cover image of Peeke's book showing Don Juan asking for mercy, his rapier and
dagger duel, and finally him defeated three Spaniards with his trusty quarterstaff.

 

POSTSCRIPT

Shortly after returning home Richard Peeke’s story was written down and published under the title: Three to One: Being An English-Spanish Combat.

The story proved a hit and soon after a London playwright (attributed to Thomas Heywood) brought the patriotic story to the theatre under the title: Dick of Devonshire. A Tragi-Comedy. (Copy Found Here). Who could resist such a entertaining yet true story with a sailor who became known as "Manly Peeke".

COMICAL INTERLUDE

Duffy Duck and His Quarterstaff
(length: 37 sec.)

 

----------------

SELECT BIBLIOGRAPHY

Francesco Alfieri, L'Arte Di Ben Maneggiare La Spada, 1653.

Giacomo Di Grassi in his book Ragione di adoprar sicuramente l'Arme, si da offesa come da difesa, 1570.

Rev. Alexander B. Grosart, ed. The Voyage to Cadiz in 1625 being a Journal Written by John Glanville Secretary to the Lord Admiral of the Fleet (Sir E. Cecil). Camden, 1883.

Gervase Markham, The Souldiers Accidence. Or an Introduction into Military dDiscipline...London, 1625.

Joachim Meyer, Gründtliche Beschreibung der Kunst des Fechtens 1600.

Richard Peecke, Three to One: Being An English-Spanish Combat, Performed by a Western Gentleman of Tawstoke in Devonshire with an English Quarterstaff, against three Spanish Rapiers and Poniards, at Sherries in Spain, 15 November 1625 in the Presnce of Dukes, Condes, Marquesses, and other Great Dons of Spain, being the Council of War. London, c1626.

Joseph Swetnam, The Schoole of the Noble and Worthy Science of Defence. Being the first of any Englishman’s invention, which professor the said Science; so plainly described, that any man may quickly come to the true knowledge of their weapons with small pains and little practice. London, 1617.

 

 Author Robert Henderson enjoys unearthing and telling stories of military valour, heritage, and sacrifice from across the globe. Lest we forget.

 

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