The literary life of EDWARD JAMES, author,reviewer, occasional poet and former pension adviser to the government of Kyrgyzstan
It’s here! Freedom’s Pilgrim is out on Amazon Kindle at £2.99
There really was a 13 year old boy named Miles Philips who went away to sea in 1568 to join John Hawkins third slave trading voyage from Africa to the West Indies. The English ships were ambushed at San Juan in Mexico and although Miles escaped he was later marooned on the Mexican coast and it took him 17 years to get home.
The outline of this Tudor odyssey was recorded by the chronicler Richard Hakluyt in his great work, Principal Navigations of the English Nation, in 1589, but there was so much that Miles dare not tell and Richard could not publish.
Freedom’s Pilgrim is imagined as the full story that the elderly Miles left for his grandchildren, narrating his life as a slave, a runaway slave, a prisoner of the Spanish Inquisition, a wandering healer, a Spanish soldier and a Barbary pirate and how he won his beautiful senorita and brought her home with him. It is a story of a boy growing up in strange and brutal circumstances to become a mature and resourceful adult poised for further adventures.
And here is old man Miles’ Dedication to posterity.
TO MY CHILDREN
I, Miles Philips, will soon be dead. I neither hope for Heaven nor fear Hell, although for the peace and safety of my family I have observed the religion of every country in which we have lived. Yet I must confess my story to you while I still have time.
All of you have heard of my adventures in Africa, the Indies and Spain. and some have read the account set down by Mister Richard Hakluyt in his several books on the Navigations and Voyages of the English Nation. You may think there is no more to tell, but you would be wrong.
Mister Hakluyt wrote of me as an Englishman who through all his travails never forgot his loyalty to the Queen or his Protestant faith, an example to my country. But my true story is very different. I need to explain to you the boy I was and how I became the man I am and the secret of the wife I brought home from the Indies.
And now the Prologue. The English fleet is ambushed by the Spanish Viceroy’s fleet at San Juan D’Ulloa, near Vera Cruz in New Spain (today’s Mexico).
‘There it is! There! there!’
I swear I saw it first, a tiny puff of smoke across the water on the hillside opposite, like a twist of wool on a hedgerow. Three seconds later the boom of a cannon-shot reached us and something hit the beach, kicking up a spray of shingle. Will Cook and I threw ourselves behind the breastwork we were heaping up to shelter ourselves and our gun.
‘Damned Spaniards’, growled Will, ‘I said not to trust ‘em’. Will was always angry about something, but now, I suppose, he had reason. ‘At least the waitin’s over. The waitin’s always the worst.’
‘I’d rather do the waiting’, I muttered.
‘I ‘spect you would, master Miles Know-It-All Philips, but you don’t know nothin’, you’re just an ignorant young puppy, see, and you’d do better to keep your trap shut. Waitin’ never did any good.’
‘I’ll be fifteen this summer’, I answered, ‘and I’ve sailed around Africa and the Indies with our Admiral and he’s talked his way out of worse than this. You said yourself John Hawkins could talk his way out of his tomb and come away with a profit’
‘Them was African kings and Spanish settlers’, snarled Will. ‘These are the Viceroy’s soldiers and there here to kill and be killed. That’s what they’re for, not to make deals.’
‘Why should they want to kill us. We never done them no harm. We’ve traded in peace around the Indies, bringing their settlers the black slaves they need to work for them. And the only reason we came in this harbour was ‘cos of the storm. All we want is some vittles and cordage and be on our way and we’re ready to pay for them.’
‘Like I said, you don’t know nothin’, and you won’t be fifteen this summer because we’re both going to die this afternoon. And the new Viceroy, he don’t know nothin’ neither. He only knows the King of Spain’s laws, and the King don’t know nothin’ about the Indies. He starves his settlers here of the things they need for the sake of a few rich merchants in Seville and calls us free traders interlopers.’
It was a silly time to argue. The men in the other gun pits were probably praying, but Will was not a prayerful man and I was a boy who asked too many questions.
By now we could scarce see the hillside opposite for puffs of smoke and there was gunsmoke all along the decks of the ships crowded in the harbour. At this range the Spaniards couldn’t hope to hit our English guns dug in on the beach, except by chance, but they could kick up enough shingle to keep our heads down while their boats came ashore, if that was what they intended.
‘Papist bastards”, screamed Will, shouting at the sky as another load of stones splattered the gun-pit. ‘Wait ‘til we get our hands on you.’
I tried to crawl lower into the pit and remembered pretty little Isabella, back in Cartegena. She was the only sort of Spaniard I cared to get my hands on.
Will was ranting on again. ‘Them bastards in the fleet from Spain, they spoilt everything, stupid bastards. Starving their settlers of things they need for the sake of a few merchants in Seville.’
He was right. The new Viceroy and his fleet had arrived the day after we reached St Juan and refused to let us refit. So John Hawkins, our Admiral, had decided that what cannot be won by love nor money needs be taken by force. He moved our five ships to the far end of the bay and seized the island that sheltered the harbour. It was more a bank of shingle than an island, scarce three foot above high tide at its highest, two bowshots in length and less in breath. Even so it stoppered up the port and John Hawkins told the Viceroy that he would unstopper it only when his ships were ready and he had sold him the stores and victuals he needed.
I noticed Will peeping over the breastwork. “
‘Satan’s Tits, there’s boatloads of ‘em.’
He ducked down again.
‘Light the fusees.’
‘I’ll light ‘em in five minutes”, I said. ‘The gun’s set to fire at 200 yards, so if we light the fusees now they’ll burn down needlessly before we can use ‘em.’
‘Anything you can do later you will, won’t you Master Know-it-All, even killing Spaniards. You don’t want to kill ‘em, do you? You’re soft on Spaniards. You believed in ‘em, believed their promises, thought it was good to exchange hostages, thought it was good to send Master Barrett to their city, because he talks their lingo. And all the time they was gatherin’ their men, getting ready to murder us. Well, being soft on Spaniards won’t do you much good when they comes ashore to get you, will it now?’ I swear he would have liked to have killed me, but he needed me to crew the gun.
Another shower of shingle stopped his ranting and he bent down into the pit to light the long coils of cord soaked in saltpetre that we had to keep burning to touch off the cannon.
The leading boats were now coming up to the point where we’d set our aim, so we both stood up to touch off our piece. We knew there was little we could do to train the gun, for it was a ship’s gun with a carriage made for work on a smooth deck, not in shingle, but aiming wasn’t our problem. The bay was crawling with boats. They really did look like a swarm of ants with their beating oars sticking out at either side like insect legs. It was only then that I truly understood what was happening. Of course I knew the Spaniards would shoot at us to dispute the island, but I thought we’d fence around another couple of days until we agreed a price for our victuals and rope and tar and then we’d be able to go back ashore with the senoritas again. Now I knew Will was right! They were coming to murder us, all of us, whatever the price. And we couldn’t win. I went cold with fright, for all we’d been working for hours in the Mexican sun.
It was Will who touched off the cannon and I nearly lost my foot with the recoil. My God! we hit one of the boats clean on the point of the bow and it split like a filleted herring. All the men spilled out to either side and I supposed they drowned, because they were still in deep water. Boy though I was I’d been in battles before, but I never did get used to seeing men die.
Now we had to get the gun back, load the powder, the tampon and the shot, run it out again and fire. No time to cool it between shots and we didn’t have the water. Yet fire as we might and even with these lucky shots we were dead men. The Spaniards were still firing over the boats at the beach, although they’d have to stop soon, and broken shingle was flying about our ears. I turned to look at Will and as I did so half his face flew away. All his teeth, what he had of them, were laid bare like a Death’s Head. And the ghastly thing was that didn’t seem to notice! He just carried on cursing God and Spain and serving the gun. It was too horrible to watch.
After that I kept my eyes on the Spaniards and the gun until there was too much smoke to see anything. I fancy our other cannon were firing as frantically as we, but we were in a world of our own and, as I said, we were soon blinded by our own smoke. It may surprise those of you who have never seen firearms used in battle that oft-times the gunners and even the musketeers can’t see the enemy or their own people. They rely on orders when and where to fire, which is difficult when one is deafened by the noise of one’s own piece as well as blind. There was no one to give us any orders, so after a few shots we knocked the wedges out of from under the cannon and fired at the water line. Our shot kicked up the shingle to make more shot, just like was happening to us.
I reckon we managed about one discharge a minute, double-shotted. There was no point in sparing either powder or shot and before long the gun was getting too hot to touch. By all the rules we should have stopped to cool it, but how could we? I became frightened the powder would explode before we could load the shot, but it was not that which was our undoing. In those days we mostly used brass cannon, not cast-iron, that oft-times twisted and split when hot. Well, you can guess what happened.
There was no great roar or flash of fire, or not that I remember. The world just vanished and that was the last I saw of the island.
And the Chapter headings.
CHAPTER 1 AFRICA REMEMBERED
CHAPTER 2 LOST IN THE INDIES
CHAPTER 3 SILVER
CHAPTER 4 INQUISITION
CHAPTER 5 DRAKE
CHAPTER 6 HACIENDA
CHAPTER 7 ESCAPE
CHAPTER 8 VERA CRUZ
CHAPTER 9 MAYA
CHAPTER 10 GUATEMALA
CHAPTER 11 ATLANTIC
CHAPTER 12 SEVILLE
CHAPTER 13 SIERRA MORENA
CHAPTER 14 XEBEC
CHAPTER 15 HOMELAND
And finally my Acknowledgements
My primary debt is obviously to Miles Philips himself, for telling Richard Hakluyt about his adventures in Mexico, Spain and elsewhere, and secondly to Hakluyt for including the story in his Principal Navigations. I was introduced to Hakluyt’s work by the librarian of the now defunct library of the Royal Commonwealth Society. I do not remember her name and she has undoubtedly forgotten me, for this was in the 1980’s.
At the time I was a civil servant in London working for what was then the Department of Social Security (now the Department of Work and Pensions) and was finding the work rather slow. I conceived the unlikely idea that I might write my way out of the civil service, much as Zane Grey wrote his way out of dentistry. With this in mind I began to spend my lunch hours in the RCS library, which was close to my office, and it was there that I decided to write a series based on the stories in Hakluyt’s Navigations, telling the stories behind the stories. I had even begun one of my books, based on Richard Chancellor’s voyage to Moscovy, when fate intervened.
My Department introduced an early retirement scheme and suddenly I had a private income and was free to do whatever I wanted with the rest of my life, without having to write or publish a word. My first thought was to finish my current book and set to work on the next, but to get some extra income and to add variety to my life I called myself a consultant in international social security (that had been my line in the DSS) and scattered business cards to likely contacts. For a while I had various small commissions, such writing conference speeches for persons more eminent than myself, and then fate intervened again.
The Berlin Wall had already fallen and now the Communist regimes in eastern Europe collapsed like dominoes until the Soviet Union itself disintegrated, Twenty-five nations wanted new social security schemes, wanted consultants in international social security. I had a phone call from Brussels asking me out to Moscow to join a team advising the Russian government on pension reform and after that it was non-stop for the next ten years. For seven years I wrote the European Commission’s annual report on trends in social security and I advised all the governments of eastern Europe and several former republics of the Soviet Union, as far afield as Kyrghyzstan.
About ten years ago I gave up overseas consultancy, although I continued to run training courses in London, and turned back to my historical novels. I was encouraged by a ‘Raw Talent’ award from D H Smith for the first chapter of my Moscovy book (The Frozen Dream) and a leading London literary agency offered to represent me for the present work, on the strength of the first three chapters. Alas, the remaining chapters were a long time in being written. I fell ill and underwent an emergency operation for bowel cancer. Fate was not so kind this time.
Without the help of the surgeon and his staff at the oncology unit in Cheltenham General Hospital this book most certainly would never have been written. I am also immensely indebted to the wonderful support of my wife and children during my illness and its aftermath.
I now had two novels written but was without a publisher or an agent and had reached the second half of my eighth decade, so I have decided to self-publish.
During the long gestation of my novels I have belonged to three writing groups, The Society of Civil Service Authors, The Sevenoaks Wednesday Writers and The Cheltenham Writers’ Circle, to all of whom I have read pieces of my novels as well as my short stories and poems. I am grateful for their comments and encouragement. For some years past I have been a reviewer and review editor for the Historical Novel Society, which has immensely widened my knowledge of the genre. Finally although I am self-publishing I had an editor for the opening parts of this book, Pippa Roberts of Fractal Publishing, whose suggestions were more than useful.
The covers for both my books, Freedom’s Pilgrim and The Frozen Dream, were designed by Avalon Graphics of North Carolina and the text was prepared for digital publication by Mike Brown, managing director of The Ebook Publisher in Gloucestershire.
If you wish to know more about my literary life please go to my blog, https://busywords.wordpress.com, and you can also contact me on Facebook and Twitter. And please write a review of this book and post it on Amazon or on my blog or your own blog.
Here are the Amazon ‘keywords’ to search for my book.
TUDOR, MEXICO, SLAVERY, SPANISH INQUISITION, PIRATES, DRAKE, HAWKINS