Jack Stannard of the Navy Royal trilogy, Book 1
It is a dangerous time.
The religious changes enforced by the capricious old king, Henry VIII, have created fear, uncertainty and suspicion, while the king’s pride has led the country into simultaneous wars against France and Scotland. Against this backdrop, Jack Stannard, a young shipmaster, grieves for his dead wife, while hoping that the wars will provide an opportunity to distinguish himself, to provide for his motherless children Meg and Tom, and to restore the fortunes of his hometown of Dunwich. For centuries, though, the sea has eaten away at ‘England’s Atlantis’, while its rising neighbour, Southwold, plots incessantly to supplant it. Jack also has to battle the demons personified by his own father, a man with a dark and violent history, albeit now brought low by a terrible illness.
As he sails to fight the Scots, Jack is accompanied by his mentor, Thomas Ryman, erstwhile soldier and equally erstwhile friar. Together, they fight ferocious battles in Scottish waters, while also contending with insidious enemies within their own ranks. Meanwhile in London, Jack’s old schoolfriend, Will Halliday, and his master, William Gonson, the effective organiser of the king’s navy, struggle to fit out a fleet for an even greater war against France, even as Gonson is consumed by memories of the terrible, unjust fate that befell his son. Jack and Will once harboured ambitions of singing before the king as members of his elite Chapel Royal, but destiny has now set them upon very different courses, with their futures, loves, and very lives, depending on the success of King Henry’s wars.
Fresh from the campaign in Scotland, Jack Stannard sails for France and the great siege of Boulogne. There, he encounters an exotic foreigner whose words have a profound influence on him, challenging his entire view of the world and of his own future. Meanwhile, in Dunwich, Jack’s precocious nine-year-old daughter Meg has dreams and ambitions of her own, dreams and ambitions that have no place for the potential new wife who seems to be being foisted on her father. But Meg’s aspirations, and indeed her very life, are soon threatened by the sea’s relentless assault upon the ancient port.
The story culminates in the dramatic events of 1545, when the French launch a colossal invasion fleet against England. Sailing into battle against it, Jack and Ryman are hamstrung by treachery from closer to home than they could ever have expected. Events move inexorably to a shattering climax aboard the pride of Henry VIII’s navy – the great ship Mary Rose…