My 8th great uncle was Gabriel Crespigny, a Huguenot refugee from Normandy.
Born in 1666, he was sent to England by his parents when he was just twelve years old, and had joined the army in 1686 at the age of twenty. In 1691 he was commissioned as a Lieutenant in the First Foot Guards – later the Grenadier Guards – with effective rank as a Captain. Serving in Flanders against the armies of King Louis XIV of France, he was wounded in 1695 during the successful assault on Namur in present-day Belgium.
In 1701 Gabriel transferred to be Captain in a newly formed regiment commanded by Arthur Chichester the Earl of Donegall. Raised at Belfast in Ireland and numbered as the 35th Foot, the regiment was a strongly Protestant unit and had authority from King William to bear orange facings on the uniform.
The Nine Years War against Louis XIV – essentially the War of the English Succession – had concluded with the Treaty of Ryswick in 1697, but conflict broke out again with the War of the Spanish Succession in 1702, and the Earl of Donegall’s Regiment was designated for “sea service” – amphibious attacks on enemy ports and shore positions. Following an unsuccessful raid on Cadiz in August, it was engaged in the West Indies but returned to Spain in 1704. In 1705 the regiment joined the garrison of Gibraltar under Spanish attack, and later that year it was engaged in the capture of Barcelona. On the following 9 April the Earl of Donegall was killed in the defence of that city; his place was taken by Sir Richard Lord Gorges, another Irish Peer, and the name of the regiment was changed accordingly.
Having taken part in the capture of the port of Alicante later that year, the regiment was brought into the main British-Portuguese field army, but in 1707 the allies were heavily defeated by the French-Spanish coalition at the battle of Almansa; Gorges’ Regiment lost its colours and many of its officers and men were killed or captured. The remnants were brought back to Ireland, where the regiment was re-formed; Captain Crespigny had escaped the debacle and was one of the officers in the new arrangement.
Forerunner of the present-day Army Board, the Board of General Officers of the British Army was established at the beginning of the eighteenth century, gathering men of that rank to deal with matters of discipline, disputes, recruitment and the provision of supplies.
At its meeting of 9 February 1708, however, a letter written by Captain Gabriel Crespigny had been presented in which he complained to Colonel Phineas Bowles, commander of another regiment, that, after the colonel of Gabriel Crespigny’s regiment, Colonel Lord Donegall, was killed at Barcelona on 10 April 1706, Thomas Caulfeild, Viscount Charlemont, had appropriated a quantity of Donegall’s goods and papers. It appears that this matter had come to the notice of Lord Peterborough, leader of the English and Dutch armies in Spain, and was the initial reason for Charlemont bring summonsed to discuss his position. The minutes of the meeting then record that
After which all Persons being ordered to withdraw, as they were passing out, Mr Caulfeild, Son to the Lord Charlemont, gave Capt Crepigny several blows over the Face and Head with a Cane. Whereupon Mr Caulfeild was sent Prisoner to the Guard, to be kept there until Her Ma[jes]tys or the Princes Pleasure should be known.
The Disorder being then over….
At its meeting on 5 May 1708 the Board took official notice of the quarrel between two officers, Captains Gabriel Crespigny and Thomas Caulfeild. Captain Caulfeild had insulted Captain Crespigny, and the matter was considered extremely serious: the Prince Consort George of Denmark, husband of Queen Anne, was advised that “to Repair so great an Injury and Affront to a Gentleman’s Honour,” Captain Caulfeild should be required
In the …Guard Chamber, during the [next] Sitting of the Board, on his knees, to ask pardon of Captain Crespigny, who is at the same time to have a Cane in his Hand, with Liberty to use it, as he please.
The background of Gabriel’s opponent was very different. Thomas Caulfeild was the second son of William, second Viscount Charlemont in the peerage of Ireland. A strong supporter of William of Orange against James II, in 1701 the Viscount was rewarded with command of a newly-formed regiment – later to be known as the 36th Foot. Like the Earl of Donegall’s Regiment, Viscount Charlemont’s was sent on sea service, and the two units took part in an attack on Cadiz and the campaign in the West Indies in 1702 and 1703.
Born in 1685, and thus twenty years younger than Gabriel Crespigny, at the age of sixteen Thomas Caulfeild had been commissioned as an Ensign in his father’s regiment at the time of its first formation in 1701. He took part in the attack on Cadiz, but received permission, with his father, not to join the enterprise in the West Indies. Rejoining the regiment on its return to Ireland in 1704, he accompanied it to Spain in 1705, where it took part in the siege and capture of Barcelona alongside the Earl of Donegall’s unit. When the city was attacked by a Franco-Spanish force in April 1706, Charlemont’s Regiment formed part of the relief force.
Viscount Charlemont had been made a Brigadier-General in 1704, but in May 1706 he was replaced as Colonel by Thomas Allnutt, and the name of the regiment was duly changed.
This gave cause for controversy. During an assault on Fort Montjuȉc at Barcelona, several men of Charlemont’s regiment had taken to flight, though he himself maintained the attack and did his utmost to bring them back to order. The fort was captured, and the Earl of Peterborough, commander of operations in eastern Spain, congratulated him on the success. Later, however, a document appeared, said to have come from Queen Anne herself, which ordered his dismissal, and Peterborough compelled him to relinquish his command. Charlemont subsequently appealed to the Board of General Officers, which found that he had properly carried out his duties and that the Earl of Peterborough had been deceived by a forgery and made a mistake – an elegant compromise. Charlemont was soon afterwards promoted Major-General, but the regiment remained under Allnutt’s command.
In the following year the two regiments – the 35th Foot commanded by Lord Gorges with Gabriel Crespigny serving as a Captain, and the 36th commanded by Thomas Allnutt with Thomas Caulfeild probably serving as a Captain – were part of the main field army which suffered defeat at Almansa on 25 April 1707. Like Gorges’ Regiment, Allnutt’s was all but destroyed, and Colonel Allnutt himself was wounded and taken prisoner. Released on exchange in September, he was commissioned to rebuild the regiment; enlistment, however, was no longer in Ireland but was based upon Cheshire.
Since their regiments were rebuilding separately, the 35th in Ireland and the 36th in England, one must assume that the quarrel between Thomas Caulfeild and Gabriel Crespigny had arisen while they were together on campaign in Spain. Though we have at this time no details, it was very likely related to some aspect of the defeat at Almansa, and the most obvious accusation which one officer could levy against another was that of cowardice.
One may wonder why the insult was not followed up by a duel between the two men: though duelling was formally outlawed, it was common at this time, particularly – as might be expected – among military men. Again, it is possible Caulfeild refused the challenge.
Caulfeild may have refused to regard Crespigny as a gentleman of appropriate rank: though both were commissioned officers, Caulfeild was of noble birth and Crespigny was foreign born and of uncertain heritage (Gabriel Crespigny and his brothers Pierre and Thomas had had their gentry lineage and pedigree certified by the College of Arms ten years earlier, but this may not have been enough for all whom they encountered in British society).
Alternatively, if Caulfeild was convinced his opponent was a coward, he may have refused to meet such a fellow on equal terms. Men of lower rank were unworthy of swords or pistols, and should be dealt with by the horsewhip or a cane.
In any event, the Board of General Officers found Thomas Caulfeild’s accusations and his conduct of the quarrel to have been quite unjustified – and the reference to his potential punishment with a cane makes one suspect the second explanation is most likely.
Prince George died in October 1708 and it seems that without his support the direction lapsed. Perhaps the humiliation of Caulfeild was held to be sufficient without Gabriel Crespigny actually using the cane. The minutes of the Board of 26 October 1708 record
Capt Crepigny [was] called in on his Petition for Satisfaction from Mr Caulfeild, and [was] told that Lt-Gen Seymour not being at the Board, who presided when the matter was first under Consideration, and had attended the Prince. Therefore the Pet[itioner] could not be then informed what Directions His Royal Highness had given therein.
Lieutenant-General William Seymour was Colonel of The Queen’s Regiment of Foot, now
part of the Royal Marines. He had presided at the Board Meeting of 5 May, but later joined his regiment in Spain; in September he and his men had taken part in the capture of the Mediterranean island of Minorca. Since there had been no written reply from the prince, nor any report of what he might have said, the matter was left to lie.
We may note that at this time Captain Crespigny was forty-two years old and had been on active service for more than twenty years. Captain Caulfeild was twenty-five; he had seen combat at Cadiz in 1702, followed by two years in Spain and the defeat at Almansa.
It does not appear that the two men had any further dealings, and their subsequent careers were very different.
Gabriel Crespigny returned to his duties with Gorges’ Regiment, but three years later he was wounded in a riot when engaged on recruitment at Wigan, north of Liverpool. With any system of regular conscription, recruitment – either voluntary or forced – was essential for any unit of the army, but it was often resented by the civilian population, and especially by friends of those who were tricked or compelled to join the colours. Gabriel was so seriously injured that he was obliged to leave the army, selling his commission to pay his debts, and was eventually granted a pension at half-pay. He died in Ireland in 1722.
For one reason or another, perhaps associated with the Crespigny affair, Thomas Caulfeild transferred his commission to the marines; since his original regiment had been involved in sea service, the change was not inappropriate. In 1710 his new unit, numbering four hundred men, was sent to America to militia regiments from the colonies of New England in an attack on the French base at Port-Royal in Nova Scotia. Having distinguished himself in the campaign, Thomas Caulfeild was named Lieutenant-Governor of the newly-acquired province of Nova Scotia, and had charge of the territory until his death there in 1717 at the age of thirty-two.
- de Crespigny, Rafe Champions from Normandy: An Essay on the Early History of the Champion de Crespigny Family 1350-1800 AD, 2017, pp. 127-136.
- Scouller, R. E The armies of Queen Anne. Clarendon Press, Oxford 1966, p.48
- The National Archives of the UK WO 71/1 (Proceedings of the Board of General Officers )