“Great naval action and deep historical detail in the vein of O’Brian and Forester.” Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
In Dewey Lambdin's Kings and Emperors, Captain Alan Lewrie, Royal Navy, is still in Gibraltar, his raids along the coast of southern Spain shot to a halt. He is reduced to commanding a clutch of harbor defense gunboats in the bay while his ship, HMS Sapphire, slowly grounds herself on a reef of beef bones! Until Napoleon Bonaparte’s invasion of Portugal and his march into Spain change everything, freeing Sapphire to roam against the king’s enemies once more!
As kings are overthrown and popular uprisings break out across Spain, Lewrie’s right back in the action, ferrying weapons to arm Spanish patriots, scouting the impregnable fort of Ceuta, escorting the advance units of British expeditionary armies to aid the Spanish, and even going ashore to witness the first battles between Sir Arthur Wellesley, later the Duke of Wellington, and Napoleon’s best marshals, as the long Peninsular War that broke Imperial France begins to unfold.
From Cádiz to La Coruña, Lewrie and Sapphire will be there as history explodes!
About the Author
Dewey Lambdin is the author of over twenty Alan Lewrie novels, which begin with The King’s Coat and span the years of the American Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars. A member of the U.S. Naval Institute and a Friend of the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, England, he spends his free time working and sailing on a rather tatty old sloop. He makes his home in Nashville, Tennessee.
Read an Excerpt
Kings and Emperors
An Alan Lewrie Naval Adventure
By Dewey Lambdin
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2015 Dewey Lambdin
All rights reserved.
Who do I have t'kill t'get out o' this assignment? Captain Alan Lewrie had to ask himself as he beheld his little flotilla of miniature warships close alongside his ship, the 50-gunned two-decker Fourth Rate HMS Sapphire, which was firmly anchored by bow and stern off Gibraltar's Old Mole, and, if fresh orders didn't come immediately, that was where Sapphire would remain 'til she put herself aground on a reef of discarded beef and pig bones! Christ on a crutch! he added after a much-put-upon sigh of frustration.
"They look very smart, sir," Lieutenant Geoffrey Westcott, the First Officer, commented.
"They look like turd barges in Purgatory," Lewrie snarled back.
"Well ... well-armed turd barges, sir," Westcott amended. His wry smile of amusement was well-hidden from his superior, for he knew how much Lewrie detested the duty. In point of fact, Westcott detested the duty, too, and, like his Captain, would rather be back out at sea, ravaging the coasts of Spanish Andalusia, as they had done the previous year.
There were eight of the "turd barges," six of the original rowing boats that Sapphire had used to land troops and explosives to make their raids, and an additional two fresh from the Gibraltar dockyards made to the same pattern. They were thirty-six feet long and almost ten feet in beam, and too heavy to be hoisted aboard the hired transport which had borne the soldiers; they'd been towed astern to and from raids.
Now they were converted to gunboats and given official numbers, each armed with a 12-pounder cannon in the bow and a 12-pounder carronade on a pivot mount in the stern, copied by the dockyard superintendent, Captain Middleton, from a design he'd seen done by a home-based dockyard Commissioner Hamilton.
The bastard's promised even more o' the bloody things! Lewrie further fumed to himself; A dozen, two dozen, and more! The bastard!
When they'd been just landing craft, each one required a crew of nine; eight oarsmen and a Cox'n to steer, and usually with a Midshipman aboard to boot. Now, though, Captain Middleton had out-done himself, adding two more oars for more speed (since the guns made the damned things even slower), and each boat needed at least six hands to operate the long gun and at least five to man each carronade, which took so many men from Sapphire's complement that if attacked whilst at anchor by enemy gunboats, she would have only half her upper-deck gun crews aboard for her own defence!
And, it was not as if those spanking-new eight gunboats would amount to much, since the Spanish already possessed un-told dozens of gunboats just cross the bay at Algeciras, and in the mouths of the Palmones and Guadarranque Rivers, some of them big beasts mounting many, and heavier, guns, and based on the war galleys which had dominated the Mediterranean for centuries. If they ever felt like it, the Dons could sally out and swat Lewrie's boats away like flies, then swarm his ship and board her, and it would be up to the cannon on Gibraltar's sprawling fortresses to save him. If the Army felt like it, that is!
"Well, let's get on with it," Lewrie grumbled. "Hoist signals for Harcourt and Elmes to begin, if ye please, Mister Westcott."
"Aye, sir," Westcott said, turning to the men of the After-Guard on the poop deck to strike the single flag hoist, the sign to Execute.
"Look at 'em," Lewrie groused, "all those eager, bright-shinin' faces, just strainin' at the leash t'get going ... hah!"
The ship's Second Officer, Lieutenant Harcourt, and her Third Officer, Lieutenant Elmes, shouted orders, and the gunboats got under way, separating into two groups of four, with sailors heaving hard on their oars to get the heavy boats going, and Cox'ns at the tillers calling out the stroke. Lewrie could hear an enthusiastic cry arise, but that would most-likely be from one of the youngest of Sapphire's Midshipmen, who didn't know any better.
Yay, we're goin' somewhere! Lewrie scoffed to himself;Ain't it just devilish-grand?
It must here be pointed out that Captain Alan Lewrie, before he had become Sir Alan Lewrie, Bart., had been press-ganged into the Navy by his own father when he was seventeen, in the middle of the American Revolution (to collect an inheritance on Lewrie's mother's side that would save the old rogue from debtors' prison whilst Alan was away and all un-knowing), and that Midshipman Alan Lewrie had never been a gladsome sailor! Or quite that young, either, to be perfectly honest!
Lewrie fetched his day-glass and mounted to the poop deck to observe the first morning's evolutions. The awnings were rigged over the deck against the Mediterranean sun and the rare rain, even if it was getting on for late November of 1807. Near the head of the larboard ladderway, his collapsible wood-and-canvas deck chair sat most invitingly, but, after a moment's longing look, Lewrie steeled himself to stand and look somewhat the Proper Sea Captain. The ship's mascot, Bisquit the dog, had been loafing aft on the flag lockers, but came trotting up for pets. After a proper greeting, and ruffling of his fur, Bisquit hopped into the chair himself, tongue lolling as if he knew he was getting away with something.
"Bloody idle ... usurper," Lewrie muttered to the dog, smiling even so, then raised his telescope to watch the gunboats manoeuvre.
With wig-wagged hand-held flags, Harcourt and Elmes directed their sections of gunboats into line-ahead, headed out as if to row towards Algeciras and challenge the Spanish, then wheeled them into two separate groups in line-abreast ... very raggedly, Lewrie thought, even if it was the sailors' first try, but he willed himself to be patient.
The next evolution that he and his officers had discussed would be a bit harder. The 12-pounder guns in the boats' bows were fixed on wheeled carriages, and the whole boat must be slewed about to aim them. Harcourt and Elmes would order their boats to wheel about in their own lengths as if they had fired and would retire to re-load. One bank of oars must stroke ahead whilst the opposite bank of oarsmen must either back-water, or jab their oar blades into the sea for brakes.
The little flags wagged again.
Though the gunboats were over two hundred yards off by then, Lewrie could distinctly hear Lt. Harcourt swearing a blue streak as some of those braking oars snapped like twigs. To make matters even worse, two boats in Lt. Elmes's group had their tillers put hard over in the wrong direction, causing all four of his boats to collide. The helmsmen in that group out-shouted Lt. Harcourt, each blaming the other for the accidents. Lewrie could make out "Tom-noddy!" and "Hen-headed lubber!" and "Cack-handed idjit, ye geed when ye shoulda hawed!" Even more oars were damaged as they'd scraped down each other's sides.
"Lord, sir!" Lt. Westcott said, astonished.
"Show 'em the Recall hoist, Mister Westcott," Lewrie ordered in sad amusement, shaking his head and slowly collapsing the tubes of his telescope, "before the Spanish spot 'em and laugh themselves t'death. This looks like it's goin' t'be a damned long day."
* * *
Fully armed and manned, the boats were just too heavy for the normal oars used in ships' boats to get them going from a dead stop, to back-water and shift their aim quickly, or bring them to a quick stop; they'd snap every time, leap out of the thole pins that held them, and slam oarsmen hard in their chests.
"Send ashore to the dockyards, Mister Westcott, and my compliments to Captain Middleton," Lewrie decided, "but, what we need on the boats are cut-down sweeps. Bigger oar blades, with thicker, stronger shafts, and perhaps even thicker and stronger sets of thole pins. If he can pad the loom ends so they don't cripple my sailors every time they brake or back-water, we'd all very much appreciate that, too."
The sailors in question, now back aboard for a more detailed explanation of their duties, had a good, appreciative laugh, but the First Officer had to scowl, and a scowl on Lt. Westcott's harsh face was formidable. "Sweeps, sir? I can't recall the last time I've seen even the smallest warship fitted with sweeps, and row-ports. He might not have a one on hand."
"Exactly, Mister Westcott," Lewrie replied with a sly, cherubic grin. "And until he does whip some up, our gunboats are useless."
"Oh, I see, sir!" Westcott grinned back, tumbling to it. "I shall go over to the yards myself, sir, with your permission."
"I couldn't deprive you of the experience, sir," Lewrie told him with a wink and a nod. "Now, lads," he said louder, turning to his sailors, "let's gather round the base of the main mast and we'll go over what should have happened this morning, hey?"
He put a bold and confident face on for their benefit, even as he thought that the whole endeavour was thankless, pointless, useless, hopeless. ... Christ, you can coin a whole slew o' new words to describe this shitten mess! Somebody, anybody, get me back out to sea!CHAPTER 2
Lieutenant Westcott had come back aboard an hour or two later that day with the cheering news that Captain Middleton didn't have any sweeps in store to be cut down. Equally cheering was Westcott's description of Middleton's reaction, how he had all but slapped his forehead, stomped round the wood yard in anger at himself for over-estimating the strength of the usual ash oars and under-estimating how the added weight made his fancy new gunboats so slow and unwieldy. It had been a joy to watch, Lewrie was assured!
Less cheering was the information that, once Captain Middleton had gotten over his "How could I have been so stupid?" and his groans and gargles of Mea Culpa, he had assured Westcott that the Gibraltar dockyard had a goodly lot of ash planks in stock, and that he could have enough sweeps fashioned to try out on at least half of the gunboats by the end of the week, and that his artificers would have the rowlocks strengthened on all the existing boats, and strengthen them on the four more under construction, as well!
"Don't s'pose we could sneak over and set a huge fire in the yards," Lewrie had glumly suggested at that news.
"That might not go down well, sir," Westcott had cautioned him. "Sabotage, treason ... all sorts of court-martial charges."
"Unless we could blame it on the Spanish," Lewrie pointed out. "The authorities ashore have foreign agents on their brains, and Spanish or French spies under every bed. General Dalrymple's sure that a mutiny plot has been in the works for most of this year. Ah well ... we probably would be caught in the act."
Long ago, Lewrie and two schoolboy chums had been caught in the act after setting fire to the governor's coachhouse at Harrow, and sent down, expelled, and denied the grounds forever.
* * *
"You'll be dining ashore tonight, sir?" Lewrie's cabin steward, Pettus, asked as Lewrie primped himself at his wash-hand stand. He asked with a straight face and a non-committal tone, since everyone knew by now where Lewrie might be, and with whom when ashore.
"Thought I might, Pettus," Lewrie said, striving for "casual" himself as he dried and put away his razor after a touch-up on his morning shave. "Pass word to Yeovill that he's to prepare something for you, Jessop, and my clerk, Mister Faulkes, but not for me, but I will be back aboard for breakfast."
"Aye, sir," Pettus replied, casting a quick grin at the teen-aged cabin servant, Jessop, who, out of Lewrie's sight, also grinned impishly and made a hole of his left hand, poking a right finger into it.
Lewrie wetted his toothbrush in a cup of fresh water, ran it over a tin of flavoured pumice toothpowder, and began to scrub at his teeth. Once done, he put a hand to his mouth to catch his breath to sample its freshness. He would be dining with his "kept woman," the lovely and intriguing Portuguese, Maddalena Covilha, and wanted very much to please. In a side pocket of his uniform coat he had a tin of London-made cinnamon pastilles for both of them, before and after supper.
In the other side pocket there were three freshly-cleaned sheep-gut cundums, also London-made. Though he did not plan to make the evening an "All Night In" at the lodgings he'd taken for her, it was always best to be prepared for surprises.
Surprises, well; here came one of the furry kind, for his cat, Chalky, sprang to the top of the wash-hand stand and found a precarious perch on one corner, then ambled along the narrow front lip with the skill of a circus rope walker, brushing his mostly white fur on Lewrie's recently sponged waist-coat, butting and stroking his head and his cheeks in affection, or in mischief; with Chalky it was hard to tell.
"Aye, and I love you, too, puss," Lewrie said, giving Chalky a few long strokes from nose to tail as the cat turned about and pressed himself to Lewrie the other way, marking his master as his property. He also stuck his nose in the cup of water and had a swipe at the toothbrush.
"Just keep my coat out of his reach 'til I'm ready to put it on, my lad," Lewrie told Pettus.
"Never a fear of that, sir," Pettus promised, "we always hang it from an overhead beam hook ... though, there is so much stray hair in the air, you're sure to catch a few."
"As I well know, by now, aye!" Lewrie happily replied, taking a last brush of his hair. "Well, shove me in it, and I'll be off."
* * *
Oh, Christ ... him! Lewrie thought with a groan as he espied Mr. Thomas Mountjoy at the top of the landing stage of the Old Mole as his boat ghosted up to it; What the Devil's he doin' here, and what sort of shit is he lookin' for me t'do for him, now? We weren't to see each other 'til the end of the week!
Thomas Mountjoy was really a nice younger gentleman, a clever and diligent fellow who ostensibly ran a minor firm's office at Gibraltar, the Falmouth Import & Export Company, Ltd. He was the epitome of a second or third son of some Squirearchy family, sent abroad and into Trade, with a hope that he might make something of himself. Mountjoy was brown-haired and brown-eyed, and nothing remarkable at first impression, sobrely dressed, no flash at all.
What Thomas Mountjoy was, was the senior agent of the Foreign Office's Secret Branch station at Gibraltar, who ran spies into Cádiz to keep an eye on the French and Spanish ships that had been blockaded there since the epic Battle of Cape Trafalgar two years earlier, kept in touch with an host of paid, or patriotic, Spanish informers along the Andalusian coast; into Seville, the regional capital; and even in Madrid.
It had been Mountjoy who arranged for the hire of the transport ship that had carried Lewrie's borrowed soldiers to carry out his raids in the Summer, and he who amassed the information about, and sketches of, the targets they'd raided. It was Mountjoy who had been sent to Gibraltar by his mentors, the coldly calculating old cut-throat, Zachariah Twigg, who'd been Lewrie's bane since the early 1780s 'tween the wars, roping him into one neck-or-nothing affair after the other, and the cool James Peel ... "'tis Peel, James Peel" ... who was just as scary.
Lewrie hadn't seen Mountjoy's dangerous side, yet, but he was mortal-certain that, with teachers like those, the man had one, and before this active commission in command of Sapphire was done, there always was a good chance that he'd ask, or order, Lewrie to perform some "damn-fool" mission. Secret Branch had their hooks in him and they'd never let him off; it was only a matter of time!
What was really disturbing about such a mild-looking man as Mountjoy was that, once, he had told Lewrie that a part of his mission here at Gibraltar was to find a way to turn Spain, which had been at war with Great Britain since late 1804, to abandon its alliance with Napoleonic France and switch sides!
Excerpted from Kings and Emperors by Dewey Lambdin. Copyright © 2015 Dewey Lambdin. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
As long as Dewey Lambdin generates stories about Alan Lewrie, I'll read them. Recently, my brother and I re-read the entire series (worthwhile: doing so juxtaposes the cast of characters in a timely manner.) If you're expecting more arcana about 19th century British politics, excellent details about ship handling, and intrigue with a sprinkling of sex, all superimposed on battle scenes, read this book. I could have written this exact review of the other twenty books in the series!
As in all his books, this one is well written and holds one's attention well. I was pleased that Lewrie runs across his youngest son but I would like to hear updates on all three of his known sons. Over all an great series. I have all 21 books.
I used to love the series, but it has gotten 'old', 'tired', and 'slow'.