Today, I’m delighted to be sharing an excerpt from Tony Riches’ new book Drake – Tudor Corsair as part of his blog tour with the Coffee Pot Book Club. This is the first book in his new Elizabethan Series.
Gorhambury Manor, home of the Lord Keeper of the Great Seal, Sir Nicholas Bacon, May 1577
My meeting with the queen had the worst possible start. Gorhambury proved to be further from Plymouth than London, and I lost my way in failing light on country lanes. By the time I arrived, tired and exhausted, the queen had retired for the night.
The room provided for me looked like servants’ quarters, low-ceilinged and simply furnished, with a rush-matting floor and a pallet bed. I’d expected better, but my host, Sir Nicholas Bacon, was entertaining the queen, as well as her travelling entourage of ladies and courtiers.
A maid brought a platter of bread and cured ham, which I ate alone, and washed down with a tankard of beer. The tiring ride from Plymouth meant I slept soundly, despite the uncomfortable straw mattress on a wooden pallet which creaked each time I moved.
Waking at dawn, I lay thinking about how my life had changed. I’d risen in the world, but wished I’d brought William Hawkins for company. He’d never had an audience with the queen, but knew the mysterious protocols of the royal court.
I used a jug of cold water to wash, and dressed in a new linen shirt, my black doublet with silver buttons and padded sleeves, black breeches and woollen stockings, finished off with a starched white ruff. I’d chosen to wear a sash of Spanish indigo silk I’d acquired on my travels. I wasn’t certain if the colour was permitted, but it made me look like a man of some status.
I had no idea when I would see the queen, but I would be ready if summoned. I polished the road dust from my leather boots and paced the room, recalling William Hawkins’ advice: ‘Kneel and remove your cap. Don’t stand until you’re told to – and don’t speak until you are spoken to.’
When the call came, I followed the queen’s servant down the wood-panelled corridor with a growing sense of foreboding. The dull ache in my leg from my wound at Nombre de Dios returned, making me walk with a limp.
Although I’d travelled more widely than most men in England, nothing had prepared me for what I was about to do. My heart pounded, and my palms felt moist with sweat. I took a deep breath and said a silent prayer for guidance.
The door opened and I breathed in the delicate, intoxicating scent of perfume. Queen Elizabeth sat in a gilded chair, flanked by older ladies. A high collar of lace, wired with shimmering gold thread, framed her golden ringlets. Her sharp eyes fixed on me with a strange intensity and, for the first time, I understood the absolute, magical power of royalty.
I removed my hat as I approached and kneeled, avoiding her eyes, but acutely conscious of their appraising gaze. A long moment passed in silence before the queen spoke. It took me a moment to understand that she’d dismissed her ladies and invited me to be seated. The door closed with a clunk behind me, and my pulse raced. I was alone with the Queen of England.
‘Drake.’ Her voice sounded sharp, as if annoyed. ‘We would gladly be avenged on the King of Spain, for the injuries he has caused our people.’
‘I am at your service, Your Majesty, and have my own score to settle with the Spanish.’ My West Country accent echoed in the empty room, and her failure to respond made me wonder if I’d said too much.
Queen Elizabeth was said to be a great beauty, yet the powder dusting her pale skin failed to hide shadows under her dark-brown eyes. Her long fingers were bare of any rings and fidgeted with her necklace as she spoke. The Queen of England might be the most powerful woman in Christendom, yet her pallor reminded me she was as mortal as any of us.
‘Tell me how you might injure the Spanish.’
‘The Spanish believe they have the measure of us in the Indies, Your Majesty.’ I looked away from her bodice, surprised at how much her low-cut dress revealed. ‘They do not expect to encounter English ships in the Southern Sea.’
‘Why do you believe you can succeed where other men have failed?’ She spoke more softly this time, yet with a note of challenge in her voice.
‘By God’s good grace, Your Majesty, my experience of the Spanish in the West Indies has prepared me well for the task.’
‘Walsingham believes that Spanish spies watch over my court. How do you propose to keep our secret?’
If she had been anyone else I might have mistaken her tone for flirtation. ‘I’m an honest merchant, Your Majesty, seeking new routes for trade, and Master Walsingham can let that be known to the Spanish.’ I decided to take a risk. ‘If we happen across a Spanish treasure ship, we shall treat them well and, of course, relieve them of their burden.’
Her red lips parted in the briefest smile, showing yellowed and uneven teeth. ‘The King of Spain has put a high price on your head, Drake. It would not go well for you if you were captured.’
I smiled at her understatement. ‘The Spanish had opportunities enough to capture me, Your Majesty, but each time I had the better of them. My plan is to outgun them with superior firepower, outrun them with swifter ships, and return to fill your treasury with Spanish gold.’ I regretted my boast even as I said the words, but I was encouraged by the glint of amusement in her eyes.
‘It would please us to use Spanish gold to build our navy.’
I judged the moment was right and reached into the pocket of my doublet to take out a small velvet purse, which I handed to her. The briefest frown showed on her face, but I’d aroused her curiosity – she pulled open the purse and dropped the large pearl into the palm of her hand.
‘It’s the size of a bird’s egg!’ The delight sounded in her voice.
‘The largest pearl I’ve found on all my travels, Your Majesty.’
She held the pearl up to the light from the window, and admired its translucent glow. ‘I shall have the royal jeweller set this into a pendant, so I might wear it.’
‘I am honoured, Your Majesty, and trust this pearl will remind you of those of us who venture into the world for the glory of England.’
‘What is it like to sail to faraway lands, not knowing what dangers you might find there?’
‘In truth, Your Majesty, I find it harder to remain in Plymouth.’ I smiled. ‘The dangers are great, yet so are the rewards. More than once I’ve seen more silver and gold than we could carry away, and I’ve seen how cruel and treacherous the Spanish can be. If it is God’s will for me to avenge those they’ve wronged, I am ready for the task.’
* * *
From the author of the best-selling Tudor trilogy – the Elizabethan series begins.
1564: Devon sailor Francis Drake sets out on a journey of adventure.
Drake learns of routes used to transport Spanish silver and gold, and risks his life in an audacious plan to steal a fortune.
Queen Elizabeth is intrigued by Drake and secretly encourages his piracy. Her unlikely champion becomes a national hero, sailing around the world in the Golden Hind and attacking the Spanish fleet.
King Philip of Spain has enough of Drake’s plunder and orders an armada to threaten the future of England.
‘If you are looking for your next Tudor fix, then look no further. Drake – Tudor Corsair (The Elizabethan Series Book 1) by Tony Riches is a novel that will enthral you with its brilliance and leave you gasping for more…’ The Coffee Pot Book Club
Tony Riches is a full-time UK author of best-selling historical fiction. He lives in Pembrokeshire, West Wales and is a specialist in the history of the Wars of the Roses and the lives of the early Tudors. Tony’s other published historical fiction novels include:
Owen – Book One Of The Tudor Trilogy,
Jasper – Book Two Of The Tudor Trilogy,
Henry – Book Three Of The Tudor Trilogy,
Mary – Tudor Princess,
Brandon – Tudor Knight and
The Secret Diary Of Eleanor Cobham.