21 September 2012

HNS Conference Guest for Today: Jenny Barden


Jenny  has had a love of history and adventure ever since an encounter in infancy with a suit of armour.  Her debut novel, Mistress of the Sea is based on Francis Drake’s first successful campaign in the Caribbean. 
Jenny has been the brain and brawn behind organising the London 2012 Conference - for which we all say a hearty thank you !

The Conversation

Thank you very much for inviting me here, Helen. May I say, straightaway, that none of the dinner guests I've invited to join my table are still alive today. Had I allowed myself the luxury of choosing from my among my contemporaries, I would not have known where to stop; indeed, there are so many wonderful people attending HNSLondon12, I would have struggled to know where to start! So let me introduce myself...

I'm Jenny Barden, the author Mistress of the Sea, which, by the time this post appears, should be in print and on a few shelves. 

This novel is my debut; my publisher is Ebury Press, Random House, and I'm extremely excited about the prospect of my book being available to readers. The novel is an epic romantic adventure set against the backdrop of Francis Drake's first great enterprise: the attack on the Spanish 'Silver Train' carrying bullion from the New World across the isthmus of Panama. It features Ellyn, who tries to escape a loveless marriage planned for her by stowing away aboard Drake's ship dressed as a cabin boy. This brings her back into association with Will, one of Drake's crew who has courted her playfully in England. Will is intent on vengeance against the Spanish for the loss of his brother, a quest which is eventually transformed into a hunt for treasure and then into a fight to win Ellyn's love. Against the backdrop of Drake's enterprise, Ellyn and Will are brought together then torn apart, and ultimately reunited as Will finds his brother. That's the story...


But what I'd like to talk about in more detail here (knowing how much you love pirates, Helen!) is the very first time that Drake showed his hand as a 'corsair'.

The incident is interesting because it laid the foundations for Drake's modus operandi for the rest of his career. It began in 1571 on the second voyage Drake led to the Caribbean (Mistress of the Sea also begins with this voyage). An earlier voyage passed without incident, and it is generally assumed that Drake was engaged in trade for slaves in the same way that his sponsor, John Hawkins, had traded in African slaves along the Spanish Main in previous expeditions.

In the process, Drake gained invaluable information about the way Spanish bullion was transported over the isthmus of Panama, the weakness in defences, and the potential for establishing secret bases in the coves and coral islands off the northwest coast.
The next time he arrived in the region he was ready to strike - and to have his vengeance for what he saw as the Spanish treachery at San Juan de Ulúa three years before which led to the rout of John Hawkins' fleet.

Jenny signing books aboard The Golden Hinde
Drake's first act of piracy is described by two Spaniards, a gentleman and a lady, who were on a frigate blown past Nombre de Dios on the north coast of Panama and forced to anchor in a bay to the west. Here a pinnace approached them with two small culverins (a type of long cannon) in the bow. The boat was carrying 15 or 16 men, two with their faces painted (one red the other black); they were armed with arquebuses (primitive muskets) and bows and arrows. These 'corsairs' sounded a trumpet to parley and then attempted to board. The Spanish put up resistance which resulted in casualties: three or four of those on the frigate were fatally wounded and others hurt. The engagement came to an end when Drake's men saw another vessel approaching and chased after it, leaving the Spaniards in the frigate free to cut their cable in panic, drift toward a mangrove swamp and wade ashore in fear for their lives.

Drake's men later returned to the frigate, plundered and trashed it.* Then they left the Spanish a message:

Captain and crew of this frigate:
    We are surprised that you ran from us in that fashion and later refused to come to talk with us ... knowing ... that we do ill to none under our flag of truce, but only wished to speak with you.
     And since you will not come courteously to talk with us, without evil or damage, you will find your frigate spoiled by your own fault. And to any who courteously may come to talk with us, we will do no harm, under our flag. And who does not come, his be the blame...
    Done by the English, who are well disposed if there be no cause to the contrary; if there be cause, we will be devils rather than men.'**

This was Drake making his tactics plain - he would be feared, and he would be obeyed. So long as the Spaniards complied with his demands then they would have nothing to worry about (that was fair, wasn't it?!), but if they resisted then he would be ruthless. So he was. He went on to raid the main Spanish warehouse along the Chagres river and capture many barks, some of them with rich cargoes, as well as a frigate bearing dispatches for Philip II which were promptly thrown into the sea.

Soon Drake had spread alarm all along the north coast of Panama as far as Cartagena. 'This town... is in the greatest danger,' came a plea from Nombre de Dios to the Spanish crown. It was true. The next year Drake attacked - and if you'd like to know more about what he did then why not read Mistress of the Sea? You'll find the story told there...

* From the depositions of Doña Juana de Estrada and Luis de Soto taken at Nombre de Dios, 1 March 1571, translated by Irene Wright in Documents Concerning English Voyages to the Spanish Main 1569-1580, published by the Hakluyt Society 1932

** From a document sent by Cristóbal de Salinas, factor, to King Philip II of Spain, recorded as a 'letter of certain English corsairs... to this city of Nombre de Dios', February, 1571, from Documents Concerning English Voyages (ibid)



Jenny's Banquet Guests

Now for those with whom I'd love to be seated at HNSLondon12:

Francis Drake - the Hero
So he can tell me himself about his quest for vengeance - what really motivated it and whether he ever felt that he wholly achieved it.


 Elizabeth I - the Queen
I would just love to hear her speak - and relish for myself the wit and beauty of her conversation. What did she think of her brave adventurers? Would she have liked to join them? Did she ever suppose that her Virginia would become the America we know now?


Hernando Cortés - the Conqueror
The ultimate conquistador - the man who probably found more wealth and riches than any other, and was the first to see so much: the Aztec empire and the fabulous city of Tenochtitlan - the man who almost single handedly took over Mexico and then discovered Baja California. He was brutal and ruthless as were most of the early European explorer-colonizers, but he had a way with words too. His letters to Charles V reporting on the discovery and conquest of Mexico are wonderfully vivid.

La Malinche - the Helpmeet
The woman named Marina by Cortes, taken by him as his mistress, who was the key to his success. She was amazingly intelligent and resourceful, soon picked up the Spanish tongue, and could speak both the Nahuatl of the Aztecs and the language of the Mayans, thus enabling Cortes to communicate with both peoples. I hope she would pick up English quickly too and help me to speak to her lover.


 Thomas Harriot - the Polymath
Pioneer explorer of Virginia whose vision for the founding of an English colony in America was to set the ideal that Raleigh backed and John White tried to implement. He was a man of extraordinary ability whose genius has probably never been fully recognised. He learnt the Algonkian tongue and taught English to Manteo, one of the first native American Indians to be brought back to England. He was also a navigator, brilliant mathematician and astronomer - I would love to ask him about America as he first saw it.


Pocahontas - the Saviour
The woman who probably did more than any other to help the English become established in America, who famously saved the life of the explorer John Smith when she just a girl by shielding his head with her body when he was about to be executed, and who then married an Englishman, of her own free will after being captured and held to ransom. By this man, John Rolfe, she had a son, and her descendants still live on in the US - so it is said. The images we have of her are so contradictory and her short life so bound up in myth that I would take delight in finding out what she was truly like and her views of the English then and now.


 Gore Vidal - the Writer
If there's one author whose ability has always seemed to me to be superhuman then it's Gore Vidal. This is the man who had a profound influence on me through my growing up and whose Julian was probably the first adult work of historical fiction I adored. He was also, in his prime, astonishingly drop dead gorgeously handsome. His sexual tastes always seemed to me to give zest to his allure. I would love to meet him as he was as a young man, sparking with creative energy and with his life ahead of him.


Rembrandt van Rijn - the Artist
The greatest of the artists whose paintings have moved me to tears. Some of his later self portraits just go straight to the heart. What can I say? I would like to give him a sheet of paper, a pen and some ink, then sit and talk because I know he would not be able to resist making a few marks...


Carel Fabritius - the Inspiration
The artist with whom my writing began. I would like to say: 'Thank you'.



1 comment:

  1. I enjoyed reading your feature, Jenny. I agree with you about your dinner guest, young Gore Vidal. Gorgeous indeed. His '...sexual tastes....' giving '..zest to his allure...' Whatever do you mean? LOL If he comes to dinner, can I come too? Seriously though, an excellent guest list. If you're inviting Cortes and La Malinche, perhaps you ought also to invite Moctezuma. But sparks might fly. :)

    I hope the book is doing well.

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