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Authors: Laurie McBain

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Wild Bells to the Wild Sky

BOOK: Wild Bells to the Wild Sky
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For

Kathleen E. Woodiwiss

with

affection and continuing admiration

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wild Bells to the Wild Sky

 

 

Laurie McBain

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

She shall be lov's and fer'd. Her own shall bless her;

Her fo
es shake like a field of beaten corn,

And hang their heads with sorrow
.
Good grows with her;

In her days every man shall eat in safety

Under his own vine what he plants; and sin

The merry songs of peace to all his neighbours.

S
hakespeare

 

 

 

Prelude

 

"
T
he
Queen is dead
, God save the Queen, Elizabeth of England!" And with those fateful words, proclaimed on a November morning in 1558, Elizabeth Tudor, daughter of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn, succeeded to the throne of England. The death of Elizabeth's half-sister, the childless Mary Tudor, a devout Catholic and daughter of King Harry by his divorced Spanish wife, Catherine of Aragon, brought the Protestant princess, who had been declared a bastard and banished from the court shortly after her birth, the crown of a country that had yet to become the great seafaring nation that was to build a world empire.

The realm that the young queen inherited was facing bankruptcy, rising inflation, civil and religious unrest, and a heightening of hostility from its powerful Catholic neighbors, France and Spain, who saw England as an uncivilized island of heretics. Ever since Henry VIII had renounced the supremacy of the pope and severed all bonds with the Church of Rome, England had become the revolutionary symbol of the great Reformation sweeping through Europe and, in the eyes of the papacy and its zealous defender, threatening the very heart of Christendom.

King Philip II of Spain, fanatic champion of the Catholic Counter-Reformation, ruled an empire that not only dominated the Continent but had conquered the New World. From her colonies in the Americas and Indies, Spain filled her royal coffers with gold and silver, precious stones, and the riches reaped from unrestricted trade with the Far East. By papal decree nearly a century earlier, Pope Alexander VI had established a demarcation line across the seas and lands of the newly explored western world, which forbade crossing by other nations, and allowed Spain and Portugal a monopoly on the wealth of the New World. And enforced by the unchallenged superiority of their well-manned and heavily armed fleets, the Spanish seemed destined for world dominion.

Across the English Channel, in France, Mary Stuart - daughter of Mary of Guise, a French princess, and of James V of Scotland, and the great-granddaughter of Henry VII - married the Dauphin of France. The marriage presented a grave threat to England and her queen. It united two ancient, Catholic enemies of an ever-growing Protestant England. And Mary Stuart, Queen of Scotland, and the future queen of France, also claimed the English crown. Under Catholic canon, which had never recognized Henry VIII's divorce from Catherine of Aragon, Elizabeth Tudor had been born out of wedlock and had no right to wear the crown.

Raised and educated in the French court, the devoutly Catholic Mary Stuart would find that her heretical English cousin would be a difficult rival to overthrow, and her native Scotland would be an even more difficult land to rule. The Reformation, which until then had been confined to England and the Continent, now took root in Scottish soil. The ancient faith found itself under attack by parish ministers, inspired by the soul-stirring speeches of the Protestant reformer John Knox, repudiating papal edict. And in the highlands and glens of Scotland, rebellious lairds and clan chieftains, aspiring for wealth and power through the dissolution of the monasteries and acquisition of church holdings, actively plotted the overthrow of their Catholic, foreign-bred queen.

In 1560, Mary Stuart had to meet that challenge, for in December she became a widow and, childless, lost her right to the French throne. In the summer of 1561 she returned to Scotland to rule an impoverished country of lawless subjects. Falling prey to the divisive politics of the time, as well as having ruled with her heart rather than her head, Mary Queen of Scots was dethroned by Protestant nobles only seven years after returning to her homeland. Her reign, which had been beset by murder and intrigue, was over, and fleeing for her life she sought exile in England.

Elizabeth was faced with a difficult decision. Despite her personal feelings for Mary Stuart, she was a staunch supporter of a hereditary sovereign’s right to rule, and she would never willingly become a party to the shedding of royal blood. However, because England needed an ally on her unprotected northern border, she had secretly supported and aided the rebellion in Scotland. Mary Stuart had abdicated in favor of her infant son, James VI, who was protected by a Protestant regent. England need no longer fear a French-supported invasion from her northern neighbor. Elizabeth wished to preserve that alliance. She could not allow Mary Stuart the freedom to join forces with England’s Catholic enemies on the Continent.

Queen Elizabeth would not sentence her cousin to death nor give her her freedom. And because Elisabeth Tudor never wed and had no heirs to inherit the crown, the Catholic Mary Stuart was heir-presumptive to the English throne. As long as she lived there would be those who would conspire to place that crown on her head prematurely and see the ancient faith restored to the heretics of that rebellious northern isle ruled by the Protestant usurper. The threat of assassination was an ever-present danger to Elizabeth and to the destiny of her kingdom.

During the following years of her reign, Elizabeth I sought to maintain peace with her neighbors while she restored order and stability to her realm and began to build a fighting force, especially a naval fleet, far superior to the might of her powerful foes. Elizabeth Tudor was a master in the fine art of diplomacy. Until she felt England could successful
ly
defend her shores, she would not involve her people in a war. War was to be avoided at all costs. Elizabeth knew the end result would be for more devastating to her nation than a mere wrecking of the country’s economy and a draining of the royal treasury. And tax her people to keep her armies fighting in a war on the Continent she would not, for that would only promote further unrest and rebellion in the land, abetting the Catholic cause.

She would only engage in warfare to protect her people and defend her land from invasion. It was with reluctance that she allowed Englishmen to fight on the Continent, and it was with grave reservations that she even sent money and arms to her Protestant allies to aid in their struggle against the armies of Spain and France. Although she wished to keep the Netherlands in Protestant hands, she felt it would be only too easy for the papal-inspired armies of Philip II to cross the Channel and shed blood on English soil.

Elizabeth I remained stalwartly determined to keep her crown and her loyal Protestant subjects safe from the armies of Spain and the Roman Church’s Holy Inquisition. She would not provoke Philip II’s all-consuming ambition to make England a part of his empire or return her people to the orthodox faith. Despite increasingly strained relation, Elizabeth patiently continued to pursue a nonaggressive course and maintain an outwardly friendly diplomacy with Spain. But, privately, the queen and her council worried, knowing that it would be but a matter of time before the religious fanaticism of Philip II and his belief in a holy crusade of conquest in the New World would involve England in direct conflict with the Spanish crown.

Spain’s aspirations for a world empire depended on her unchallenged supremacy in the New World. The religious and civil wars that had dominated western Europe throughout the century were bankrupting Spain, whose royal treasury financed the armies of mercenaries hired to suppress rebellion and restore the true faith.

Mountains of silver and temples of gold, masks studded and sparkling with emeralds and pearls were no longer legend when the
conquistadores
returned to Spain. Their ships’ holds were filled with incredible riches plundered from a savage New World that existed beyond the western seas. This dazzling wealth raised Spain to its pinnacle of power. King Philip II came to depend on the great treasure fleets sailing home from the Spanish Main, a territory that stretched from Trinidad and the mouth of the Orinoco River at its southernmost point, to Cuba and the Straits of Florida at it’ northernmost, and encompassing Central America and Mexico to the west and the Bahamas to the east.

Spain’s claim to all of the lands and seas of the New World would not go unchallenged for long. For years, French, Dutch, and English pirates, sailing along the coast of Europe, had been harassing the heavily laden Spanish galleons that had become lost from the well-protected fleet sailing home to Seville, but few sea rovers had dared to venture into the Spanish Main.

Now a few bold men, intent on winning a share of the plunder and wealth of the New World, sailed into these Spanish water. Adventurers and privateers, backed by merchants hungry for access to the trade routes and natural resources so abundant in the New World, challenged the almightiness of Spain and Philip II’s ordained right of sovereignty over the lands and seas of this once fabled terrestrial paradise.

Though Elizabeth was constrained by the precariousness of her position and vulnerability of her people to appear content with Spain’s monopoly of the New World and its bounty, some of her more impatient and reckless seafarers now openly defied Spain’s claim to a world empire. Seldom did these adventurers receive public support from their queen, in whose name they made their courageous voyages for gold and silver, honor and glory. But each captain and crew knew that they sailed with the silent prayers and good wishes, and some even with the private monetary backing, of Elizabeth Tudor. The white flag bearing the red cross of St. George flew proudly on the mainmasts of their trim ships. These enterprising, defiant Englishmen steered a course into the heart of the Spanish Main.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

PART ONE

 

The Journey

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We must take the current when it serves,

Or lose our ventures
.

S
hakespeare

 

 

Chapter One

 

 

January, 1571--West Indies

Fifteen leagues northeast of the Windward Passage

 

W
hen
the
Arion
had set sail from Plymouth sound the church bells had pealed. Many a Godspeed followed in her wake. It was the heart of winter and she was not more than thirty tons, with fewer than forty hands manning her. She made her way out into the Channel and turned her prow into the fierce, storm-driven seas of the Atlantic. Within a fortnight the Canaries were sighted, where fresh water and provisions were taken on board. Keeping a northeast wind off her quarter, she steered south by west with the trades filling her sails.

Her captain was an English gentleman by the name of Geoffrey Christian and one of Elizabeth Tudor’s most illustrious privateers. Also on board the
Arion
was Geoffrey Christian’s wife, the former Doña Magdalena Aurelia Rosalba de Cabrion y Montevares. The captain of the
Arion
had met Doña Magdalena seven years earlier when boarding and capturing the Spanish galleon on which she and her family had been passengers for the journey to Madrid from Hispaniola, where the Montevares family had a sugar plantation.

The Montevareses had been journeying to Spain to celebrate the birth of their first grandson. Their eldest daughter, Catalina, who now lived in Seville, had been married for five years. She had given birth to three beautiful daughters, but until Francisco there had been no male heir. Don Rodrigo Montevares and his wife, Doña Amparo, knew that the lack of a son to inherit his father’s name and titles was a grave disappointment to their son-in-law, Don Pedro Enrique d
e
Villasandro. Don Pedro was a scion of an ancient, aristocratic family of Andalusia, and he exerted an influence at court that few rivaled and many envied. For him to have chosen a colonial for his wife, even on whose blood was pure Castilian had been the greatest honor and had filled Don Roderigo with pride and great expectations. Not only was Don Pedro master of many fine estates in Spain but by royal grant he held great estates in Hispaniola and Cuba. He captained his own ship and had traveled extensively throughout the Spanish Main. He was a gentle man and a soldier and held in the highest esteem by all who
knew
or served him. There had even been talk that he was to be the next governor of Hispaniola. It would be the culmination of all of Don Rodrigo’s hopes and dreams if his daughter Catalina were wife of the future governor and her family were to take up residence in Santo Domingo. And if he succeeded in his plan to marr
y off his only other daughter, M
agdalena, to Don Pedro’s recently widowed cousin in C
ó
rdoba he would no longer have to concern himself with trying to save the family’s once thriving sugar plantation which now, due to his mismanagement, was failing. Although the bridegroom, Don Ignacio de Villasandr
o, was old enough to be Magdale
na’s father, he was a gentleman of impeccable respectabil
ity and considerable fortune. M
agdalena, however, was less than pleased with her father’s endeavors on her behalf and refused to believe that anything good would come of her father’s intentions or of the voyage.

It was aboard Don Pedro’s ship,
Maria Concepci
ón
, that the Montevares family was sailing to Spain. Don Pedro had very graciously offered to escort them personally to Seville, where Catalina and her newborn son awaited them, then on to
C
ó
rdoba, where Don Ignacio awaited Magdalena. Setting sail from Santo Domingo, the
Maria Concepci
ón
had join
ed
the treasure fleet sailing from Havana and had made her way through the treacherous waters of the Straits of Florida without incident. The Gulf Stream carried them northward to Bermuda, where they caught the westerlies and the
Maria Concepci
ón’s
bow swung eastward toward Spain. It was near dawn of the third day after they’d survived a sudden squall, which had blown them off course and separated them from the protection of the rest of the fleet, that the red cross of St. George was seen flying atop the mainmast of a ship bearing down on them.

Don Pedro had been momentarily stunned at the daring of the English captain. What madness was this? The
Maria Concepci
ón
was a five-hundred-ton galleon with sixty bronze cannon and over two hundred seaman and soldiers defending her. Calling his men to arms, Don Pedro, from his exalted position of command on the deck of the towering sterncastle, fully expected to disable the smaller ship within minutes of firing a deafening volley of broadsides. Grappling irons would have brought the English ship close enough to have been boarded and the English captain to his knees before the unconquerable might of Spain. It was, therefore, with a look of incredulity that Don Pedro watched the royal arms of Spain fluttering at the mainmast-head of the
Maria Concepci
ón
blown into the sea along with the mizzenmast and rigging.

The Englishman’s ship seemed to sail out of danger almost magically, then, throug
h some sorcerer’s trick, or so D
on Pedro would later swear, maneuvered to windward of the broadside after punishing broadside wreaked death and destruction on the crowed decks of the
Maria Concepci
ón
. Listing dangerously, her quarterdeck in shambles, her masts splintered, the
Maria Concepci
ón
surrendered when the English ship ranged alongside her crew armed with sword and musket and standing ready to board.

Don Pedro Enrique de Villasandro’s humiliation had only just begun. Catching sight of the frightened passengers, Geoffrey Christian insisted they come aboard the
Arion
. Unrepentantly he warned them that the
Maria Concepci
ón
might very well sink before the rest of the Spanish fleet could rescue her. He felt responsible for their safety, since it had been the
Arion’s
cannon fire that had left the Spanish ship foundering. With a mocking smile that had Don Pedro reaching for his sword only to be bitterly reminded of an empty scabbard, the English captain informed the Montrevareses that they need have no further cause for fear once aboard his ship, which was still seaworthy, for he would personally guarantee a safe, uninterrupted voyage to England. Once there, he assured them that they would be able to continue their journey to Spain.

The
Maria Concepci
ón
was in far less danger of sinking, however, after her hold was emptied of its treasure and loaded aboard the victor’s ship. As the
Arion
gathered way, the furious Don Pedro swore vengeance against the swaggering English captain who had caused him much mortification.

Geoffrey Christian’s thoughts had not lingered long with the vanquished captain of the
Maria Concepci
ón
. The Spanish captain might have lost his ship in the battle, but the Englishman had lost his heart.
Doña Magdalena was an ivory-skinned, bronze-eyed beauty w
ith hair of darkest Venetian re
d. Although it was the fairness of her face and figure which first caught Geoffrey Christian’s roving eye, it was the beautiful Spanish girl’s undaunted spirit that finally captivated him. She had not experienced a fit of the vapors and been confined to her bed, as had Doña Amparo, nor had she remained in her cabin weeping or s
ulking. With exceptional grace
, Doña Magdalena accepted the challenge of being aboard an English privateer’s ship. Soon, even the most prejudiced crew member was enamored of the vicarious, laughter-loving young
señorita
who, despite the elegance of her appearance and her unfamiliarity with the English language, could mimic their captain to perfection as he roared his orders, much to the amusement of the crew.

The captain had shown unusual patience; even smiling at the jesting and good-natured pranks, for the game was his and, soon, so would be the lady. Pursuing the dark-eyed Castilian with all of the reckless determination that had so successfully marked his career as a privateer, Geoffrey Christian captured the beautiful Magdalena’s heart by the time the
Arion
reached the shores of England.

With a wrathful indignation that left him purple in the face, Don Rodrigo refused Geoffrey Christian’s request for Magdalena’s hand in marriage. Thinking the unfortunate affair ended, he booked passage for himself, his wife, and his shameless daughter aboard a Spanish ship sailing for Spain. But Don Rodrigo’s daughter had a mind of her own, and the heady memory of Geoffrey Christina’s kisses and the disturbing thought of a portly Don Ignaciao awaiting her in C
ó
rdoba helped Magdalena to make the most important decision of her young life. Despite the vehement objections of her father and tearful protestations of her mother, Doña Magdalena eloped with her handsome, fair-haired inamorato. In a quiet ceremony performed by a minister and witnessed by several of Geoffrey Christian’s friends--without the blessing of her church and against the wishes of her family—Magdalena made her sacred vows to the man she loved.

BOOK: Wild Bells to the Wild Sky
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