ENGLAND INVADED: The Spanish Raid on Cornwall 1595

26 November 2020
A little known attack perfect for a miniatures game

Above: Get ready to open fire! A shot from the Editor's collection. Leicester Phat Cats Blood and Thunder game at Robin 2018.

As most readers will know, a combination of British seamanship, bad leadership, bad luck and bad weather saw the defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588, so Spanish troops never set foot on the soil of England, right? – actually, that’s wrong as Spanish soldiers and sailors successfully landed in Cornwall just seven years later and over a period of three days destroyed four villages and towns, sunk three ships and sent “Good Queen Bess” into a fit of rage. The attack also makes a great basis for a game.



Despite the defeat of Phillip II of Spain’s “Great Enterprise” in 1588, he had never given up hope of an invasion of England and had set about rebuilding his naval forces. Following a treaty with France, he began establishing naval bases in western France from which his navy could threaten England and Ireland. One such base was Blavet in Brittany. On 26th July 1595, Carlos de Amésquita set sail from Blavet with four galleys named Capitana, Patrona, Peregrina and Bazana and around 400 men heading for the Cornish coast. 

Amésquita’s raid had been planned with several objectives in mind. Firstly Spain hoped that he would recover a number of ships captured by the English four months earlier. Secondly, the Spanish had picked up rumours that Sir Francis Drake was gathering ships for another raid on the new world, so hoped the raid would delay or divert it. Finally it was believed that if he could seize and hold onto a port it could be used as a base for further raids and even a bargaining chip in any future peace negotiations. 

Cornwall had been picked as the target as the Spanish wrongly believed that many of the Cornish would happily convert back to the Catholic faith. Their assumption was based on the fact that the Cornish had rebelled against King Edward VI in 1549 over the introduction of changes in religious practices in what was known as the Prayer Book Rebellion. In this they were wrong as the Cornish stayed true to their Queen and opposed the invaders.


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After calling at Penmarch, the galleys attacked and sank a French ship manned by an English crew bound for England and on 2nd August 1595 they anchored off the beach a few hundred yards to west of village of Mousehole and landed a group of soldiers. The galleys then sailed to Mousehole harbour and bombarded the town destroying several houses and killing three men. 

Meanwhile, guided by an English Catholic Richard Burley, Don Leon de Ezpeleta and sergeant Major Juan De Arnica led the soldiers inland where they sacked and burnt the village of Paul including its church, killing four men and taking others prisoner. They then marched back to their galleys and re-embarked. 

On the 3rd August they sailed around the headland into Mounts Bay heading for Penzance and Newlyn giving the castle on St Michael’s Mount a wide berth to avoid its cannon. They needn’t have bothered as the garrison’s powder supply was so low as to be almost no existent and they were unable to fire as the galleys sailed past. The Spanish then landed their soldiers and advanced on Newlyn which they quickly burnt down and moved on towards Penzance.

By now Francis Godolphin, Deputy Lord Lieutenant of Cornwall had gathered 500 men of the County Militia and deployed them to block the Spanish as they advanced along the beach towards Penzance.

 It was later reported that before the Spanish advanced on the English force they had detached a small group of soldiers with orders to march around the militia and outflank them. The main Spanish force then advanced on the English whilst their galleys supported them by firing into the Militia’s ranks from offshore. When the detached group of Spanish soldiers arrived and launched their surprise flank attack the bulk of the Militia broke and fled leaving Godolphin with only twelve men trying to fight off the Spanish before they also retreated from the battle. Godolphin tried to rally his men but to no avail as they fled inland.

Penzance was then bombarded and reportedly” 400 houses were sacked and destroyed”. The only exception was St Mary’s church which Amésquita spared after Richard Burley told him that the Catholic Mass had once been held there. In addition, three ships “laden with good wine and other goods” were sunk. Brother Domingo Martinez who had accompanied the force then held Mass in an open airfield on the Western Hill outside of Penzance where Amésquita promised that once England had been conquered he would return and build a Catholic church on that spot.

Then observing that a growing number of Cornish militia were assembling nearby he marched his men back to the beach where he released all of his prisoners and re-embarked his men. Shortly afterwards Sir Nicholas Clifford arrived with a relieving force but was too late to fight the Spaniards and on 4th August the Spanish sailed off unmolested. Subsequently, Clifford blamed the local Militia for the failure in defeating the Spanish raid and for abandoning Godolphin.

Bullets won't stop them! Pistol proofed armour.


In reality Amésquita’s raid failed to achieve any of its key objectives having failed to find the captured ships, divert Drake from his planned raid or raised rebellion amongst the local population. All he had done was demonstrate the vulnerability of the English coast to such raids and frighten the Queen, her minsters and many people in the West Country. Never the less Lord Burghley, her chief minister, was forced to divert funds to ensure that defences around the coast were improved. 

However, encouraged by its outcome the Spanish attempted a second, smaller raid, on Cawsand in 1596 which ended in failure after the soldiers were scared off by a single man firing a shot. Despite this Phillip planned to launch an Armada to land in Cornwall in the autumn of 1597 but this also came to nothing due to a bad storm in the English Channel. 

Thus Amésquita’s raid of 1595 was the only time in the whole course of the war against Spain that the Spanish successfully landed a force in any part of England. They did land forces in Ireland but that as they say is another story.

Spanish and Englishmen have at each other with alacrity.


Amésquita’s men are variously described as soldiers or harquebusiers although it seems unlikely that his whole force was composed of “shot” without any other type of troops, some of whom may have been armed sailors from the galleys.

The Spanish army of the late 16th century appears to have increase the proportion of troops armed with firearms to around 60% with a corresponding drop in pike armed men to around 40%. However, it seems unlikely that Amésquita would have pike armed men on such a raid, so it is more likely that some may have been armed with the shorter half pike or armed only with swords or hand weapons instead. 

As for the shot armed troops it is unclear what proportion were armed with muskets and what proportion with Harquebuses or Calivers. The Spanish had introduced the musket into their armies in the 1560’s but despite their longer range as they had to be fired using a rest and were slower to reload many troops retained the lighter and shorter alternatives. 

In terms of protection, by this period only officers and pike armed or close combat troops wore any form of armour, usually back and breast plates sometimes with armour for the shoulders, arms and thighs along with burgonets, morions, or caps. The shot sometimes wore mail shirts or leather jerkins for protection although those armed with muskets who had to carry a weighty weapon plus its stand, bandolier and other equipment usually wore no protection at all and only soft hats for head gear. 

However they were armed or armoured they all appear to have been experienced disciplined soldiers who were more than a match for their English opponents. 

A member of the militia prepares himself.

Their English opponents who are described as Militia would have been members of the local “Trayned Bandes” or Trained Bands. The backbone of England’s defence each county was required to train a proportion of its men as well as arm and pay them so that they could fight against an invasion or rebellion. The Trained Bands were volunteers from the local community who in theory would spend up to 2 days a month or more learning drill and training in the use of their weapons. In practice many only trained for a few days a year. They were supported by “Untrained Men” who were most of the remaining male population. These men did no training and were raised only in times of crisis when they would be issued with arms and given a minimum of training before being used to bulk out the numbers of trained men. 

In terms of weapons, Robert Barrett’s illustration of 1598 shows a Trained Band armed with harquebus or calivers, muskets, bows, pikes and bills. A typical proportion was 15% armed with bows; 20% armed with harquebus or calivers, 20% armed with muskets, 15% armed with bills or halberds and 30% armed with pikes. It is also worth remembering that whilst the bows were Longbows, the men using them were not the yeomen archers of the Middle Ages but locals whose use of the bows had declined and so they were no longer an effective weapon, more an anachronism held over from England’s days of glory in France.

A captain of the Trayned Bands at the ready.

In terms of protection, some would have worn a steel or iron cap or helmet such as a burgonet or morion. For body armour, the richest wore a “half harness”, a front and back plate or occasionally ¾ armour covering their arms and thighs. The majority wore light armour such as brigandines or jacks (a type of sleeveless canvas doublet into which small plates of steel were stitched) or leather jerkins with soft hats.

No mention is made of mounted troops but it would seem unusual to me if the local gentry did not ride into battle, even if their horses were not trained in combat situations or to ride into blocks of men.

There has been a lot of speculation about how the Trained Bands would have fared facing Spanish solders from the Low Countries had the Amada succeeded in landing them on the shores of England in 1588. The fight on the beach before Penzance is the only occasion when this happened and by that account they might have fared very badly indeed. However, it must be borne in mind that at Penzance the men of the trained bands faced a frontal assault, with cannons from the off shore galleys firing into their ranks and a surprise flank attack. Even the most disciplined of troops would probably have broken in such circumstances.

Down at the docks preparation work is in place. A shot from the Editor's collection from Robin 2019.


Clearly attacks by troops on undefended villages do not make for great games, so the fight on the beach offers the best gaming opportunity. 

Given the small numbers involved in the fight, 400 Spanish troops versus 500 men of the trained bands this fight is best viewed as a “small action”. In our case we used our own in house Small Unit rules which use the command dice from Bolt Action and a D10 gaming system. However, the game can be played with any “small unit” rules for the Pike and Shot period, such as Warlord Games’ Pike and Shotte rules, or Pike Mans Lament by Osprey. I have supplied sample forces for both sets of rules which are on the Magazines Website plus some adaptation for using Pike and Shotte for small unit actions rather than large battles. tabletopgaming.co.uk/downloads Other rules may be available or can be adapted, such as Blood and Plunder by Firelock Games.

I have not given sizes for the various bands or detachments as these could be small consisting of two or more “bands” or they could be larger but whatever rules you choose to use I would suggest that they are roughly equal in size for both sides. In addition, whatever rules you use you need to ensure that they take into account the various abilities of the forces in conflict.



Spanish Soldiers 

  • Disciplined tough fighters with a high level of morale. 
  • They could be armed with Pikes, hand weapons or missile weapons such as a Harquebus or Muskets or classed as a Forlorn Hope using a combination of weapons
  • They might have a unit of Sword and Buckler men
  • Those with melee weapons might be armoured: shot wear only light armour such as leather or padded jerkins or none at all

Spanish Sailors if used 

  • Aggressive fighters who choose close combat over ranged attacks.


Spanish Galleys

  • Crews are disciplined tough fighters with a high level of morale
  • Effectively used as a mobile artillery piece which can either anchor off shore or move up and down the coast 

English Trained Bands 

  • They may be prone to panic
  • Those with Pike or Bills may be armoured: those with Bows or Harquebus wear only light armour such as leather or padded jerkins or none at all

English Gentry on Horseback 

  • Rash or aggressive fighters who choose close combat over ranged attacks but with poor discipline.
  • Might be armoured


As ever, religion plays a part...


The table should be 4’ x4’ and divided into 3 zones:

Zone 1 runs from one table edge to the other, is 6” deep and represents the sea and breaking waves. This area counts as bad going and any units trying to move through it or forced into it moves at ½ speed and must roll 1D6 on entering it – on a score of 1 or 2 they also become disordered. 

Zone 2 runs from one table edge to the other, is 24” deep and represents the beach. This is firm going but if a unit makes a multiple move roll 1D6 and on a score of 1 they become disordered due to soft sand and shingle.

Zone 3 runs from one table edge to the other, is 18” deep and represents the edge of the beach and the land beyond. There is no penalty for moving in this area but for scenic purposes, players might want to place the odd patch of scrub, stunted tree or similar.

This is a set battle so...

The English force sets up first and arrayed to block the Spanish advance with one flank on the edge of zone 1 facing the Spanish table edge (Penzance is assumed to be off their table edge)- their objective is to stop the Spanish advance.

The Spanish then deploy on their table edge facing the English - their objective is to break through the English to Penzance


In my version of the fight on the beach I rate the bulk of the Spanish forces as a Forlorn Hope as I believe that as raiders it is more likely that they would have fought with combined arms rather than in separate formations. I have also given them a small unit of musket armed men to reflect their use of the weapon. So for the fight they have:

  • full-size units of veteran soldiers
  • 1 small unit of veteran soldiers
  • 1 small unit armed with Muskets
  • They may substitute 1 of the full sized units of soldiers for a unit of sailors 


The Spanish may detach the small unit of veteran soldiers from their force before the set up their forces as an out flanking force. If they do so they must determine where on the landward side of the table they want it to arrive and on what turn – they must write this down before the battle commences. On the designated turn they roll 1D6 and check the result






Completely Lost!

The Unit has become hopelessly lost in the English Country side and will take no further part in the battle

Missed the Turning!

The Unit has become lost in the English Country side – roll again next turn to see if it arrives

We’re Here!

The Unit arrives at the designated spot on the table edge but may not move until next turn.

Perfectly timed!

The Unit arrives at the designated spot on the table edge and may make a command roll to see if it moves this turn



The Spanish have a galley anchored off shore which can fire an artillery piece onto the table. The player controlling the Spanish nominates a point on the sea edge of the table where the galley is (or use a suitable model) and measures the range from that point. 

The gun must a pass a command roll to fire each turn to represent the slow methods used to reload Spanish ships guns. 

The Galley may be moved 6” per turn if it passes a command roll but if it does so the gun suffers a -1 to hit its target due to the inaccuracy of firing at an infantry or cavalry target from a rolling deck.



I have rated the English as units with all of the militia members armed with same type of weapon as given their training or lack of it as it seems more likely that they would have arrayed their forces in this manner. I have also allocated them a group of enthusiastic local gentry mounted on horseback. There is no mention of such a force but it adds colour and gives them a little more hitting power to offset the quality of the Spanish and the use of off shore artillery. So for the fight they have:

  • 1 unit of Mounted Gentry
  • 1 unit of Militia armed with Bows 
  • 1 unit of Militia armed with Harquebus 
  • 1 unit of Militia armed with Pikes
  • 1 unit of Militia armed with Bills



Although Sir Nicholas Clifford’s men arrived too late to fight players may want to give the English a better quality force with which to face the Spanish that they actually had. If players pick this option they may replace the mounted gentry and two other militia units with the following:

  • 1 unit of Garrison Horse 
  • 1 unit of Garrison Shot 
  • 1 unit of Garrison Pikes

Such troops should be considered as follows:




Garrison Horse 

  • Disciplined fighters. 
  • Spear or light Lance Armed 
  • Half or three quarter armoured

Garrison Shot and Pike

  • Disciplined
  • Those with Pike are armoured: those with Harquebus wear only light armour such as leather or padded jerkins 


Preparing an Harquebus.


There are of course alternative scenarios which can be used to represent more”What if” games.



Although the attacks on the local Cornish villages were actually unopposed, this scenario presumes that a local fisherman spotted the four galleys reroute to the coast and raised the alarm. Although the landing was unopposed, some local forces have gathered inland to defend the nearest village.

The table should be 4’ x4’ divided into two halves, each 24” by 48”. A road or track way runs from one table edge to the other going through the idle of each half. A village consisting of four buildings with some low walls or hedges is set up in one of the halves, bisected by the road or track way.

The defenders are set up anywhere in the half of the table contain the village and consist of two units of trained bands chosen from:

  • 1 unit of Mounted Gentry
  • 1 unit of Militia armed with Bows 
  • 1 unit of Militia armed with Bills

Together with 2 units of “Untrained Men” who are rated as untested and untrained militia armed with improvised weapons. The other half of the table should respondent open heath land with few features. The Spanish force is composed of those outlined in the main scenario and deploys on the far side of this opposite the village. This is a set a raid so:

  • The English force sets up: their objective is to defend the village.
  • The Spanish then deploy: their objective is capture the village so they can loot and burn it.



Following the defeat of the English on the beach and the burning of Penzance, the Spanish retreat back to their boats was unopposed. This scenario assumes that Sir Nicholas Clifford arrived with his men in time to rally some of the survivors of the trained bands and attacked the Spanish who now have to make fighting retreat back to their boats. The table should be 4’ x4’ and divided into 3 zones as for the Fight on the Beach. 



The Spanish deploy where zone 3 and zone 2 join, so 18” facing the table edge for zone 3 with their backs to the sea as they intend to retreat to the shore line in zone 1 where boats will arrive to take them off of the beach and back to their galleys – their objective is to gain their boats and/or beat of the attack allowing for a safe retreat.



The Spanish must reach their boats each of which can accommodate one full sized unit or two small units. It takes one full turn to embark the troops onboard before the boat may move off of table edge. 

Whilst boarding a boat a unit may not shoot but may defend itself if attacked before the boat has launched into the sea.

The surf on the Cornish beach is rough which is affecting the arrival of the boats. At the end of the first turn the Spanish roll 1D6 to see how many boats have arrived so far







No boats have managed to land this turn


One boat has managed to land this turn


Two boats have managed to land this turn


Three boats have managed to land this turn


If any of the boats fail to arrive at the end of turn 1 then at the end of the following and each subsequent turn the Spanish must roll again to see if or when the rest arrive.


I know that there are many companies which produce suitable figures in 15mm for the late 1500s and so the battle could easily be played using these. However, I will restrict my comments to 28mm as these are what we used for the games.

The best figures for both sides are those produced by Wargames Foundry who have an extensive range of Swashbucklers and adventurers for the Elizabethan period, all very colourful figures on foot However, their mounted figures are more limited but do include demi-lances.

The Border Reiver figures previously produced by Graven Images and now sold by Hoka Hey Wargaming marketed as Timeline Miniatures are also excellent and usable. Redoubt Enterprises, now owned by Andy Grubb of Grubby Tanks, has an extensive range and equally useable range of Renaissance figures. The Assault Group also has a Renaissance range including demi-lances whilst Warlord Games Wars of Religion range also has some suitable figures. It is not necessary to use a galley for the game but having one on the table edge looks nice. 

So will the Spanish raiders break through the English forces to burn Penzance or will the stalwart English stop them - only you and the Gods of the Dice will decide – Happy Gaming! 


Words by Chris Swan

Pictures by Kevin Dallimore (mostly!)

This article originally appeared in Issue 448 of Miniature Wargames. Pick up the latest issue here or subscribe to make sure you never miss another issue.

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