Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Pirates in your face! Helen Hollick guest post

Helen Hollick, author
 I am honored to present to my readers a guest article by historical fiction author Helen Hollick. She’s a prolific writer in the history/historical fiction genre I enjoy most, and I’ve come to enjoy her acquaintance with Facebook and email exchanges. I have her Harold the King/I Am the Chosen King book on Kindle for PC and am fascinated by her portrayal of that ancestor.

Hollick’s Sea Witch Voyages series of books is being republished by SilverWood Books, and I was excited to discover another tie to my (and your, if you found Spotswood in a search) ancestors. She’s written pirate novels that features our pirate-stalking ancestor, Governor Alexander Spotswood of Virginia, as one of her characters. I’ll let Helen explain from here. See my further note at the end of her article and discover an opportunity to win a book from Helen. 

Bring It Close: pirates in your face!
by Helen Hollick

 Hello. I’m probably more well known in the US for my serious historical fiction novels – The Pendragon’s Banner Trilogy, Forever Queen, and I am the Chosen King (titled A Hollow Crown and Harold the King here in the UK). Indeed I was most thrilled a few weeks ago to discover that Forever Queen had made it into the USA Today Bestseller list.

I also write a series of historical adventure fantasy – the Sea Witch Voyages. I describe these as a typical sailor’s yarn, a blend of Sharpe, Hornblower, James Bond and Indiana Jones – with a dash of Jack Sparrow!

They are meant as light-hearted entertainment (fun for me to write and for readers to enjoy). I suppose they are more supernatural than fantasy, for although the female lead, Tiola Oldstaff (pronounced Te-ola Oldstaff) is a white witch, I think of her Craft more as the Force in Star Wars, not Harry Potter wizardry. My main character, Captain Jesamiah Acorne, is a charmer of a rogue. Handsome, brave, bold, quick to laugh, formidable when angry; one for the ladies – a pirate! In the first three Voyages – Sea Witch, Pirate Code and Bring It Close, he finds himself in all sorts of scrapes, from almost being killed by his jealous half brother, to spying  on the Spanish and having a desperate run-in with Edward Teach – Blackbeard himself. Trouble follows Jesamiah like a ship’s wake! I’m writing a fourth in the series, Ripples in the Sand.

Lt Col Alexander Spotswood
It was very interesting hearing from Christy – and being invited onto this Blog - because she is a ninth-generation direct descendent of Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Spotswood, who was Governor of Virginia from 1710-1722.

The Governor’s father, Dr. Robert Spotswood, was surgeon to the British military post in Tangiers, Morocco; his grandfather, Sir Robert Spotswood, a Privy Councillor to King Charles I, was executed by Cromwell’s Parliamentarians during the English Civil War. Governor Spotswood’s great-grandfather John Spottiswoode was the Archbishop of Scotland and Chancellor to King Charles I, and is buried in Westminster Abbey. [See Westminster Abbey’s page on John Spottiswoode: http://www.westminster-abbey.org/our-history/people/john-spottiswood.] Alexander Spotswood not only had his own illustrious lineage, but his wife’s goes back to Norman and Scottish royalty and nobility.

Spotsylvania County, Virginia, is named after the Governor (“sylvan” being Latin for “wood”), and anyone who has visited Colonial Williamsburg will know that he was responsible for the building of the stunning Governor’s Palace.

Alexander Spotswood was an exciting and adventurous person by the sound of it: leading an expedition to the Blue Ridge Mountains (the first Colonials to travel so far inland) negotiating peace with the Iroquois Indians, and introducing a standard consistency for the quality of exported tobacco – which led to Virginia tobacco being the best in the world.

As far as my novels are concerned, Governor Spotswood was also responsible for the capture and execution of Edward Teach – the notorious pirate, Blackbeard.

Pirates were a menace to the entire Caribbean, Carolina and Virginia. Around 1715-1722, there were probably several thousand pirates lurking in the Atlantic and Caribbean, intent on taking a Prize (or two, or three, or four…) A ‘Prize’ was literally anything of value that the pirates could easily lay their hands on and sell for a profit, or use for themselves. Normally it was the cargo they were after – tobacco, rum, molasses, timber – gold and silver of course. They were not especially good sailors, and took poor care of their ships – why bother with the hard work of keeping a vessel “ship-shape” when it was far easier to capture another and take that instead?

Few pirates actually had piles of treasure packed into chests – and sadly there seems to be no evidence that they actually buried it! Most pirates made straight for the nearest port, Nassau, Tortuga, Port Royal, and spent their ill-gotten gains on rum and women.

Blackbeard was a particular menace, a thoroughly nasty piece of work. He blockaded Charleston  Harbour and held the Governor’s young son to ransom until he got what he wanted. Gold? Jewels? No – medical supplies, particularly very expensive mercury.

Blackbeard's head posted: Photo: http://shoutaboutcarolina.com/index.php/2010/08/most-famous-pirates-ships-legends-historic-photos/
 Why mercury? Well it was thought of as a cure for a disease that pirates (indeed most sailors) were riddled with: syphilis. Blackbeard was probably suffering from this sexually transmitted disease – all the more awful, then, to learn that later that year (1718) he decided to “settle down” in North Carolina at Bath Town and marry the daughter of a wealthy merchant. Only his idea of ‘settling’ was to outwardly make it seem that he was an honest man, while secretly plundering every merchant ship that hailed within site of the Ocracoke and Pamlico River, claiming the cargo for himself and splitting the profits with the Governor of North Carolina. And the girl he married, Mary Ormond? She was his fourteenth wife, was sixteen years of age, and on their wedding night he forced her to prostitute herself with his crew. Gang rape, we would call it now. 

Colonial Williamsburg capitol
Williamsburg gaol
Blackbeard being a menace to the Chesapeake and threatening the stability of the Virginia Tobacco Trade, Governor Spotswood decided to put an end to the foul Edward Teach. Technically, he was outside his jurisdiction, for North Carolina was not his domain, but he hired the use of two Royal Navy sloops and under the command of Lt. Maynard, sent them off to finish Blackbeard once and for all. We know the outcome of the desperate fight in the shallows of the Ocracoke because Maynard kept a meticulous logbook – and the records of the trials of the captured crew remain in Williamsburg to this day. Blackbeard was killed in the fight – although it took a lot to finish him off, while the captured crew were tried in the Capitol Building Court Room in Williamsburg and hanged.

So what has all this to do with my books?

Well, Bring It Close, the Third Voyage centres around those historical facts. Arrested for piracy after an indiscretion with an old flame, Jesamiah is held prisoner in Williamsburg’s gaol. After his trial he is coerced into helping Spotswood make an end of Blackbeard – which suits Jesamiah because he, too, is keen to be rid of the man, who has threatened to kill him. Another worry – Jesamiah’s beloved Tiola is in Bath Town, where Blackbeard resides.

Governor's Palace by Alexander Spotswood
I have visited Williamsburg twice to research the facts behind the story – every bit of each scene set there is accurate, well apart from the involvement of Jesamiah! I investigated the gaol, the court room, the palace – and the route Jesamiah was taken on from Gaol to Palace.

By entwining the real facts of history with an imaginary story of Jesamiah’s adventures – and blending in the supernatural storyline of the ghost of Jesamiah’s father and Tiola’s knowledge that Blackbeard has sold his soul to the devil, the result is, I hope, a cracking good adventure story.

And who is to say that it was not Jesamiah who planned that attack on Blackbeard? You will not find his name in Maynard’s logbook, but then, Jesamiah made it quite plain that he did not want to be mentioned…

That’s why I love writing this sort of fiction – who knows what is true, and what isn’t?

You are welcome to visit my websitejoin me on Facebook, or come aboard the Sea Witch page .
Thank you so much, Helen. What fun to discover details about what made our ancestors tick—and what made them ticked-off (could it be, um, pirates??). I hope our blog readers will take this opportunity to discover your books and enjoy the adventures of fiction—and the real-life people who went before us. To find and purchase Helen Hollick’s books or e-books, visit her website, www.helenhollick.net. 

Now, about that book giveaway contest: Helen is running a competition for fans of her Sea Witch Facebook page to win a copy of one of her books  (all new “likes” welcome), but I have been told where this particular treasure trove of the competition page is located! If you decide to enter, Good Luck! Here it is: http://helen-myguests.blogspot.com/p/competition-page.html.
Please note the expiration date of the contest, though this article will stay up far longer.


  1. Thank you Christy - although I wrote the piece above, it was a while ago, so I enjoyed reading it again.
    I think part of the attraction for reading historical fiction (or historical adventure as the Sea Witch Voyages are) is that we can go and see the real places, thus making the story truly come alive.
    I love Colonial Williamsburg - if you enjoy history and have never been there, put it on your "to visit" list!

  2. Maryanne A. HighleyJuly 5, 2011 at 8:17 AM

    A truly remarkable page...Thanks, Christy, for an absorbing read.

  3. A fabulous post thank you.



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