Wednesday 25 June 2014

The War of Duke Cosimo's Perucke


The War of Duke Cosimo's Peruke was not destined to be the largest or most costly of the wars between Spain and England, nor the most famous, its battles and sieges being forgotten and engulfed by the Dutch Wars and the Glorious Revolution. Nonetheless it rates as an important sidelight of Caroline England's foreign campaigns.

Despite the peace with Spain in 1660 tensions between the two nations remained high. With the marriage of Charles II of England to the Portuguese princess Catherine of Braganza, England become involved in Portugal's struggle for independence from Spain. English troops served in the Portuguese army in their victories at Ameixial (Estremoz to the Spanish) in 1663 and Montes Claros in 1665. In return, Spain involved itself in England's struggle to maintain the colony of Tangiers, which Charles II had gained as part of Catherine's dowry, providing powder and shot for the Moorish amirs. In May 1663, Charles Harbord, an officer of the Tangiers garrison, had written to Lord Sandwich, telling him:

The Moors keep close to Tangier, but have been prevented from doing harm; but there will be no peace so long as the Spaniard feeds them with pieces of eight.

This was not the only scheme that the Spanish Court pursued, however. A particularly spiteful plot was to see the outbreak of hostilities between England and Spain that few now remember.

In 1663 the Spanish ambassador to the court of Louis XIV noted that increasingly large numbers of wigs were being ordered and exported to England by members of Charles II's court, as its members aped the fashion of the Sun King, the leading light of European fashions and culture. Whilst wigs were available in England, the finest makers remained those of France, and particularly of Paris.

The Spanish court devised a plan whereby agents in France would send coded messages detailing the dispatch of these perukes to privateers at anchor in Santander, who would then intercept and sink the ships. Such was the demand for wigs amongst the English nobility and gentry, especially as the aging court (and not least the king) was growing increasingly grey, the Crown and country would bankrupt itself in buying wigs.
The ludicrous-sounding scheme appears to have been dreamt up by Juan-Sebastien, the Marquès de la Tumbonas de Playas, a soldier and something of an amateur spymaster. He was in favour at court, having been given the title of Almirante de los Grandes Océanos following the success of a raid on the island of Jamaica during the war against the English Commonwealth. Through a similar use of spies and informants, the Marquès had captured nearly a year's production of the rum, which was being loaded in secret for return to England and the cellars of its increasingly dissipated Lord Protector, Oliver Cromwell.

The effects of this blockade were felt quite quickly and the price of wigs rose dramatically. Those who could not import them began to use local manufacturers. Here, though, there were problems with quality. The diarist Samuel Pepys records that on September the 3rd 1663 he:

put on my coloured silk suit, very fine, and my new periwig, bought a good while since, but darst not wear it because the plague was in Westminster when I bought it. And it is a wonder what will be the fashion after the plague is done as to periwigs, for nobody will dare to buy any haire for fear of the infection that it had been cut off the heads of people dead of the plague.

The situation became increasingly desperate and, by 1667 even the grandees of the English court were unable to maintain the quality of their hairpieces. Pepys again, on the 3rd of April 1667:

This day I saw Prince Rupert abroad in the Vane-room, pretty well as he used to be, and looks as well, only something appears to be under his periwigg on the crown of his head.

That September Pepys records how he:

Attended a review of Hys Majesty's horse guards at Saint James. All were very well turned out and did perform their exercises most admirably. There was much consternation, however, when my Lord the Earl of Oxford, who was commanding a troop, did suddenly pitch forward and fall to the ground. Though all did fear it an attack of apoplexy, it transpired to be nothing less than a rat that had become caught in the locks of his periwig. In its strugglings it did cause the piece to slip forward and unbalance his Grace. This abominable blockade by the Spaniards grows ever more tiresome and troubling.

The Earl of Oxford was at first reluctant to lead the force .... until his own close encounter with an infestation in his own perriwig!

Hereare some pics of Aubrey de Vere reviewing his regiment of Ironsides, nicknamed the 'Bicester Tins'

In 1668 matters came to a head. Duke Cosimo III de Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany arrived in England on his European tour, being well received by Charles and his court, and by the Royal Society. Whilst there the Duke sent to Paris for a new wig, a full-bottomed peruke with pole-lock; the very latest of fashions and worth a princely sum. Wary of the troublesome Spanish privateers Charles II tasked his brother the Duke of York in his position as Admiral of the Fleet, with escorting the visiting dignitary's package safely across the Channel. Once again, Pepys takes up the story:

Summoned before daybreak to Whitehall. Arrived to find all in uproar. Sea Rider [an eight-gun flyboat], having been sent to Dunkirk for to collect His Excellency the Duke of Tuscany's whigg, did return last night all safe and unmolested. Yet when the Duke's dresser did open the wig-case he found that the peruke had been replaced with a nest containing cuckoo chicks. It was said that his Majesty is most displeased and doth blame my Lord the Duke of York. In turn he hath demanded an answer from this Office and the Captain of Sea Rider. There is talk of war with the Spaniards for this latest and most grievous affront to the Kings' dignity.

Charles could not afford to ignore this loss of face but, equally, his army and navy were embroiled in a war against the Dutch, and the king could hardly afford a major campaign against another European state. Nonetheless a small expeditionary force was dispatched to the north Spanish coast to break the blockade once and for all.

Hearing of their coming, the Spanish Court appointed his Most Catholic Eminence, The Cardinale-Infante Ferdinand-José, a distant cousin to the Spanish king, to raise an army to defend Santander from the English force.
He recruited widely including foriegn mercenaries such as the Regiment of Col Eustacius FitzCarlo, Titular 3rd Earl of Kerrara, Comte d’Oi, Grande d’Espagna, 2nd class.


The response of Charles II to the news was one of outrage. He railed against the underhand Spaniards for ‘stealing’ his Irishmen, and said that he would dispatch his finest troops to ‘clip the wild geese’s wings’. Negotiating free passage of arms into Marseilles to contest the Spanish blockade The Earl of Oxford lead the Expeditionary force into the War Of Duke Cosimo's Peruke.
The first action was the disembarkation of the British troops, later meeting on the plain in Spain by the Spaniards, there was a brisk engagement...


Lead by the premier English regiment the 1st Foote Guards and the newly raised Oxford Horse nicknamed the Biscester Tins!
The Spanish were lead by the redoubtable Tumbonous de Playa
 The Blues charged the Spanish Lancers on the British Left Flank - only to come up short!
 Luckily the Spanish failed to sieze the initiative and the Blues regained their composure...
 Discharging their pistols at short range...
 They put the cream of the Infante's Horse to ROUT!!
Meanwhile on the British right the Castile Regiment marched with pupose to invest the Farmyard

 Opposing them were Dumbarton's fist Battalion who rushed forward to contest the issue

 With a skilful sequence of vollies and charges Castile was ejected from the farm suffering severe casualties...

 But nothing daunted they reformed to redouble their efforts to gain the Farm...
 And Dumbarton's were duly ejected in their turn!
General De Vere retired to his carriage with gout while the rest of the British line
demonstrated to their front

The Turning point came when the Blues, flushed with victory crashed into the flank of the Tumbonas Regiment itself

 Eventually breaking their stiff resolve, at which point the Spanish Generals ceded the field.

Lord Aubrey decided to follow at a distance which led to the second battle of the campaign fought the next day.

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