The town could scarcely have recovered from this last calamity, ere it met with a further reverse of fortune: whilst Philip of Spain, irritated by Queen Elizabeth’s decided refusal to listen to his suit, was at war with England.

One foggy morning—the 23rd July, 1595—there was an alarm of Spaniards in the bay! I will give you an account of their landing in the words of an old fisherman of Newlyn, who, in more recent times, kept a record of Remarkable Occurrences or Principal Events, which has been continued by his son as far as the year 1836. He alludes to many incidents of local interest which occurred long before his time, and prefaces his memoranda with a short history of the event which spread dismay around this neighbourhood. He appears to have written from memory, after having read or heard some particulars of it. His style is quaint; and his story bears a strong resemblance to the account given by Carew in his Survey of Cornwall. He writes:—“In the year of our Lord 1595, July the 23rd, just as the sun was up and had chased a fog before him, which took away sight at a distance, four Spanish galleys came in by Mousehole, and [200 men] landed to the westward of Mousehole, and burnt Mousehole or part of it, and the parish church or part of it. Mr. Francis Godolphin, coming to or going from his house in Treveneath,2 saw the smoke, and he went to Penzance, and sent to Plymouth, where was a fleet bound to India, to make all possible haste they could. The Spaniards came ashore near Newlyn, to the slope of a hill; and they attacked Penzance; and Mr. Godolphin rose a crew to stand in Penzance, some of which ran to country.” Our chronicler confuses Mr. Francis Godolphin, of Treveneth (or Trewarveneth), in Paul, with Sir Francis Godolphin, of Treveneague, in St. Hilary. The latter individual it was who, on that unlucky morning, was journeying westward to pacify some controversies which had arisen in these parts, when he espied the fires in Mousehole and Paul, and hastened onward.

From this brief account all we learn relating to Penzance is that it was attacked, and that some of the crew raised to stand there “ran to country.” Evidently Penzance men were scarcely worthy of further notice in this Newlyn man’s opinion; or it may be that as this recorder of remarkable occurrences or principal events wrote for Newlyn more especially, he considered it unnecessary to relate any more minute particulars of the attack upon Penzance; nor does he allude to the burning of his own village. The subject was unpleasant or repulsive to his feelings, though after the lapse of so many years; and we can judge of the acuteness with which the incident must have been felt at the time, by the hatred for the proud race which has descended even to the present generation. If you wish to try the temper of a Newlyn man, call him a Spaniard—and take the consequences.

Carew, however, gives some additional information, and tells us how the inhabitants of Mousehole, being struck with fear at the burning of their houses, and of the Parish church of Paul, to the utter ruin of the great “stonie pillers thereof,” fled towards Penzance “very meanly weaponed,” and met with Sir Francis Godolphin on the Green, who forthwith communicated with all the captains of those parts, and sent by post to Sir Francis Drake and Sir John Hawkins, then at Plymouth, with a fleet bound for the Indies, advising them to beware of any greater fleet of the enemy at sea, and to send west with all haste what succour by land or sea they could spare. Then Sir Francis Godolphin advised those men—about 100 in number, amongst whom “were about 30 or 40 shot, though scarcely one-third of them were serviceable”—to retire to Penzance and prepare it for defence; but they insisted on marching against the enemy, and while they were so doing the Spaniards returned to their galleys, and removed towards Newlyn, where they anchored again; and, after having landed and taken a survey of the country from the high ground, forthwith marched towards Penzance. Sir Francis, with his small band, followed them; being plied with shot from the galleys as they crossed the Green. None were hurt, however, “but only a constable unhorsed without any harm, saving the shew on his doublet of the bullets sliding by his back; yet many, in a fearful manner, fell flat to the ground, and others ran away.” Sir Francis did his best to inspirit his men; but when he arrived at the Market place there were but some ten or twelve that followed him—chiefly his own servants; the rest neither with persuasions nor threatenings with his rapier drawn could he recall. Finding himself thus abandoned, and the Spaniards in the town, he was obliged to depart; the enemy setting fire to some houses as he went. Having then fired Newlyn and Penzance they returned to their galleys. By this time, towards evening, the Cornish forces increased in number, and amended in heart.

On the following day the enemy attempted to land again, but met with so resolute a resistance that they desisted, and being annoyed by the bullets and arrows which were fired into their galleys, were forced to move further off. On the 25th July, Sir Nicholas Clifford and Sir H. Power, with other captains, arrived with help from Plymouth; and some of Her Majesty’s ships were also on their way, having reached the Lizard, when the wind suddenly changed from the south-east to the north-east; and no sooner had this occurred than away packed the galleys with all haste.

Carew says, in concluding his account—the substance of which I have related—“Thus have you a summary report of the Spaniards’ glorious enterprise, and the Cornishmen’s infamous cowardice.” But he goes on to qualify the latter with the suddenness of the attempt, the openness of the town, and the advantage of the galleys’ ordnance over a people unprepared for such accidents.

A stranger might be inclined to think too severely of the “infamous cowadice” displayed upon this unhappy occasion; but it must be remembered that the inhabitants of these parts were impressed with the idea that in resisting the Spaniards they would be simply fighting against fate. The Cornish people were ever inclined to be superstitious, especially in remote districts; and there was an old prophecy which had been handed down from generation to generation, which is still preserved in the ancient language, and which became fulfilled at this time. It is:—

Ewra teyre a war meane Merlyn
Ara Lesky Pawle Pensanz ha Newlyn.

Which may be translated:—

There shall land on the rock of Merlyn
Those that shall burn Paul, Penzance and Newlyn.

The landing was effected not actually on the rock mentioned, but was sufficiently near it to give force to the prophecy; and you will notice that this prophecy once having been fulfilled—there being no resistance—the Spaniards had little chance of returning to the spoil, as they fully intended doing, so thought better of making a further attempt to land.

Carew speaks of Penzance as “a market towne, not so regardable for his substance as memorable for his late accident of the Spaniards’ firing.” This same incident is further memorable as being the only occasion on which Spaniards ever landed in England as enemies, and some bye-gone prophet is responsible for their ever having been allowed to do so.

Serious as must have been the effect of the invasion of the Spaniards upon Penzance at the time, yet within twenty years the town had not only been restored, and was again well-to-do, but was in a position to petition the King to be incorporated as a Borough; and a charter, dated 9th May, 1614, was granted by James I. This charter is a somewhat ponderous document of four skins, to which the impression of the great seal of England is attached by a silken cord. The initial letter contains a portrait of His Majesty, and the whole of the first line is highly flourished and ornamented. It is written in Latin, in a bold black letter; and from it we learn that Penzance was “an ancient vill and port, both populous and of great force and strength, that it exercised merchandise from time wherein the memory of men existeth not, and also having much commerce in and upon the high seas.” It then refers to the town having been “incidiously, and in a hostile manner, demolished and burnt” by the Spaniards, and being, “at very great pains, costs, and expenses, rebuilt, restored, and repaired” by the inhabitants. Instead of the one weekly market, as heretofore held on Wednesdays, two markets, on Tuesdays and Thursdays respectively, were granted,—as well as certain fairs. The limits of the Borough are defined to be within a radius of 500 paces, or half a mile, from the centre of the town—which for ever is to be known and called by the name of Penzance; and the Mayor, Aldermen, and Commonalty, are empowered to use a common seal.

Of course. at this time it became necessary to assume Arms for the town, and St. John the Baptist’s head in a charger was aptly chosen, in allusion to the signification of the name of the Borough—Holy head; and is further applicable as calling to remembrance the Knights of St. John of Jerusalem, who formerly had certain rights in the town, as already mentioned.

The charter also directs that John Madern is to be the first Mayor; and he is to oath for the faithful execution of his office before Thomas Seyntawbyn; William Chiverton; Hugh Trevanion; and Nicholas Godolphin, Esquires; or any three or two of them; and in case of the death of the said John Madern before he fills the office, John Clyes (who was one of the three chiefly instrumental in procuring the charter) was to be Mayor. It is further directed that “one of the more choice and discreet inhabitants” shall be yearly chosen to that office.

The eight “discreet men” named as Aldermen were:—John Clyes; John Game; Robert Dunkyn; Roger Polkinghorne; Joseph Lympanye; William Yonge; William Madern, Jun.; and Robert Luke.

The names of the twelve assistants, also, simply mentioned as “other men,” are:—William Luer; Richard Sampson; Morice Roche; William Tompkyn; John Davye; Richard Bennett; Richard Fynney; David Penlease; Nicholas Game; Richard Trott; Richard Penquite; and Simon Hooper. The Aldermen and assistants were to take oath before the Mayor for the time being. The Friday next after the feast of St. Michael the Archangel was appointed to be Mayor-choosing day, and the new Mayor was to take oath before his predecessor. Thomas Seyntawbyn, Esq., before mentioned, is named as the first Recorder, and Thomas Roswarne, gent., as town clerk; Nicholas Hicks, gent., to succeed the latter in his office if he should survive him.

Such was the original constitution of the corporation of Penzance; but the Municipal Act, passed in 1835, superseded the old arrangement, and the government of the Borough is now vested in the Mayor, six Aldermen, and eighteen Councillors. The same Act divided the town into two wards, and bestowed upon it a commission of the peace.

It may not be generally known that a portrait of John Madern, the first Mayor of Penzance, is in existence: it is preserved in Madron church, and the Lady Mayoress appears beside him. Another Mayor, John Clies, and his wife are also figured in brass in the same church. He was twice Mayor of this town, as is stated on his monument, and was one whom Penzance well approved:—

* * * “when he was found
Unto that towne a stay both sure and sound.
Where he had place and creddit with the best;
Till death of him his life had disposest.
So Blanche, his wife, this monument prepar’d
In love to him, for love to her declar’d.
God hath his soule, her heart his love still keepes;
The odds betwixt thim breath, thus all flesh sleapes.”

And be it remembered, after this pretty bit of sentiment, that Blanche, his wife, got married within a very short time of the decease of her husband.

One of the first acts of the original corporation was to purchase of Richard Daniel, of Truro, whatever right he had within the Borough, with regard to the quay, fairs, and markets, as lord of the manor of Alverton and Penzance; which—together with a three-corner plot of waste land lying in the said town of Penzance, bounded on every part thereof by the King’s highway, as well as the stone pier or quay—was conveyed to the municipal body for the sum of £34, and a perpetual rent of 20s. a year: a rent which is still paid to the Rev. John Tonkin, of Treverven, as lord of this portion of the manor of Alverton.

The three-corner plot will be at once recognised as the site of the present Market house, Post office, &c. From this commanding spot, when an open green, Sir Francis Godolphin is said to have watched the approach of the Spaniards; and here tradition says the ancient markets and fairs were held; so this place, in all likelihood has been the scene of buying and selling, of barter and business, ever since Penzance became a market town. The fairs, at one time so important, but now dwindled into comparative insignificance, had to give place to the first market house, which was erected by the corporation, as soon as the right to this very suitable site had been acquired. Probably they were pushed through the Green market,3 then along the side of Alverton street; till they eventually, at the appointed times, took up their station in the broader portion of Alverton lane, opposite and below where Penalvern gate now is. Here they continued for very many years, and are remembered to have been held less than a century ago.

2 Treveneth, or Trewarveneth in Paul, was at this time the seat of another branch of the Godolphin family.

3 It occurred to me that the Green market took its name from the fact of having been a part of the old village green, and remaining unbuilt over at a later period, rather than from the vegetables which were formerly sold there. Part of the ancient village green it probably was, but it did not take its name thence, for “an old Penzance man” remembers when the name Green market was first applied to this spot, to which the stalls for vegetables had been removed from the vicinity of the old Market house early in the present century. It had previously been the Bullock market, and was so distinguished in a plan of the “three-corner’d plot” before mentioned, drawn in 1805.

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