Mistress Wilding (Rafael Sabatini, 1910)

An historical fiction set during the Monmouth Rebellion. Anthony Wilding is a conspirator to oust the Catholic King James II for the Protestant Duke of Monmouth. He’s in love with Ruth Westmacott, though she does not care a fig for him. Her brother Richard insults him and he challenges him to a duel. Sir Rowland Blake is deep in debt and covets Ruth’s fortune. Diana, Ruth’s cousin, loves Blake and wants to see Ruth safely out of the way. She pushes her to marry Wilding in exchange for his forgiving Richard, which she does.

Monmouth arrives a year earlier than planned. He relies on the advice of Lord Grey, who is either thoroughly incompetent or secretly a saboteur. Neither Wilding nor the other conspirators have had time to sway the aristocrats with control of the militia to the cause, so they’re reduced to relying on the untrained rabble. Blake schemes to assassinate Monmouth and brags about it to Ruth — who he’s still trying to woo, despite her being married. Wilding would be caught in the same trap. To spare him as he spared Richard, she warns Wilding of the plot and he thwarts it. Enraged, Blake has Ruth arrested. Wilding outs himself to save her life and is, himself, condemned to death, but in the confusion of battle, he escapes. The rebellion is crushed. Wilding uses some documents implicating a high minister to have himself retroactively declared a spy for the King’s army in Monmouth’s camp — lifting the death sentence from his head. He and Ruth are united.

Inscriptions: Signed Bertha E. Shielock on the front flyleaf.

Captain Blood (Rafael Sabatini, 1922)

Peter Blood, Irish surgeon, has the misfortune of being caught rendering aid to a man on the wrong side of the Monmouth Rebellion. He had no care at all for the man’s politics and saw only that he was hurt. For this, Blood is condemned to slavery in Barbados. Spanish privateers sack the port city, and in the confusion, he and a group of other slaves steal the Spanish ship and escape, beginning their own lives of gentlemanly piracy. After the Glorious Revolution and the deposition of James II, Blood is once more a free man. More than that, after the valor he shows in his defeat of the French fleet threatening Jamaica, he’s made the governor of that island.

Inscription: a small strip of paper is pasted to the front flyleaf, on which has been typewritten “Harold T. Dunlap”.

The Fortunes of Captain Blood (Rafael Sabatini, 1936)

This is, I think, the fourth book in the Captain Blood series, but as its the only one I’ve read, I can’t comment on whatever continuing story there might be. I doubt there is one, as there’s really no overarching plot within this volume — each chapter is a more or less independent short story. Peter Blood, once an Irish surgeon, is a wanted man back in Europe for rendering aid to an injured enemy soldier and so is forced into piracy in the Caribbean. He remains, however, a virtuous sort of buccaneer, stealing only from those who deserve to be stolen from. Those people, generally but not exclusively, are the Spanish. Blood’s battles are sometimes won by violence and at other times by cunning. My favorite chapter, called “Sacrilege”, is an example of the later. An English slave trader is robbed by the Spanish commander of Havana. Blood disguises his compatriot as the Cardinal-Archbishop of New Spain and demands ransom from Havana for his release. The ransom, of course, is more than enough to repay the Englishman and make it worth Blood’s while.

No inscriptions.

Bellarion the Fortunate (Rafael Sabatini, 1926)

In 15th century Italy, Bellarion, an orphan, is raised isolated from the world in a monastery. Having exhausted all the learning available to him,  he obtains leave to travel to a distant monastery to study Greek. Along the way, he is robbed of his papers and taken for a thief himself. In his escape, he stumbles into the palace garden and meets Princess Valeria, who harbors him from his pursuers.

From there, the plot gets complicated. Indebted to the princess, he assumes the role of knight-errant in fulfilling her aim of deposing the current regent (Marquis Theodore) and replacing him with her brother, the rightful prince. This he does in a roundabout way over the course of several years of scheming, backstabbing, political intrigue, and graphic violence. Along the way, Bellarion is adopted by Facino Cane, the renowned condottiero, and advances himself through his military prowess until, by the end, he is himself a prince.

For reasons too detailed to do justice in a few lines, Valeria comes to believe that Bellarion is a tool of the regent and so does all she can to work against him — at one point, being complicit in his almost-execution. However, Bellarion never loses sight of his mission and at last sees it through. After deposing the regent, he intends to abandon his titles and return to the monastery. Valeria, at last realizing Bellarion’s faithfulness, asks him to marry her.