Goffe, Whalley, or the Devil

J.M. Aucoin . Fencing, History, Swords 918 No Comments

Ran into this fun little story on Tumblr recently about a judge who trolled the hell out of a fencing master in Boston in 1660.

To show the dexterity of the Judges at fencing, this story is told: That while at Boston, there appeared a gallant person there, some say a fencing-master, who, on a stage erected for the purpose, walked it for several days, challenging and defying any to play with him at swords.

At length one of the Judges, disguised in a rustic dress, holding in one hand a cheese wrapped in a napkin, for a shield, with a broomstick whose mop he had besmeared with dirty puddle water as he passed along: thus equipped, he mounted the stage. The fencing-master railed at him for his impudence, asked what business he had there, and bid him be gone. The Judge stood his ground—upon which the gladiator made a pass at him with his sword, to drive him off—a rencounter ensued—the Judge received the sword into the cheese, and held it till he drew the mop of the broom over his mouth, and gave the gentleman a pair of whiskers.

—The gentleman made another pass, and plunging his sword a second time, it was caught and held in the cheese till the broom was drawn over his eyes.

—At a third lunge, the sword was caught again, till the mop of the broom was rubbed gently all over his face.—Upon this, the gentleman let fall, or laid aside his small sword, and took up the broad-sword, and came at him with that.

—Upon which the Judge said, Stop, sir, hitherto you see I have only played with you, and not attempted to hurt you; but if you come at me now with the broad-sword, know that I will certainly take your life.

The firmness and determinateness with which he spake struck the gentleman, who desisting, exclaimed, “Who can you be? You are either Goffe, Whalley, or the Devil, for there was no other man in England that could beat me.”

And so the disguised Judge retired into obscurity, leaving the spectators to enjoy the diversion of the scene and the vanquishment of the boasting champion. Hence it is proverbial in some parts of New England, in speaking of a champion at athletic and other exercises, to say that none can beat him but Goffe, Whalley, or the Devil.

It’s a fun story, but being that it’s on Tumblr, decided to do some more digging. Fortunately, the blog post had a citation — John Hayward, A Gazeteer of Massachusetts, p. 164. Boston, 1846. The passage is quoted from an older work, Stiles’ History of the Judges.”

I really want to bring “None can beat him but Goffe, Whalley, or the Devil” into the SCA lexicon to describe fencers that had a really good day.

A History of Three of the Judges of Charles I by Ezra Styles is available as a free eBook on Google.

J.M. Aucoin

Author. Fencer. Sometimes actor. Full-time nerd. I write swashbucklers & historical adventure novels.

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