Of immediate concern was evidence that one or more members of the queens government that sat as a council of war was a traitor.
Anxious to assist the Portuguese queen against her many enemies, England and France combined to send Luke Tremayne to assess the situation.
|Product dimensions:||5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.65(d)|
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
Returning home from his mission in North Africa, Luke and the Cromwell put into Lisbon, now a major supply base for the English Mediterranean and Atlantic fleets. Soon after they had docked, the ship's navigator, Capt. Ralph Croft, announced that the English consul to Portugal had come aboard with an urgent message for Major General Tremayne.
The envoy introduced himself. "I am Thomas Maynard. My instructions are to give you this sealed letter and to invite you to have dinner with me this evening, where a representative of Queen Luisa will give you details of a special mission."
"Am I not to continue to England with the Cromwell?" asked an apprehensive Luke.
"All will be made clear in this letter."
It was. The personal directive from Cromwell was clear.
After a request from Queen Luisa — conveyed to me through the French ambassador, with Cardinal Mazarin, the French chief minister's support — you are seconded to the Portuguese court to assist the queen as part of her alliance with France and England. You will act overtly in your role as a soldier sent to assess how many troops England should commit to the defense of Portugal. Your real mission will be conveyed to you by the queen soon after your arrival. Maynard knows your cover story but is to be kept ignorant of anything that the Portuguese crown reveals to you. He will second one of the Portuguese speaking officers attached to the consulate as your equerry, interpreter, and deputy.
As Luke watched the consul's coach disappear into the city, he was glad that the dockside was filled with heavily armed Portuguese troops. They formed a barrier between the Cromwell and a growing group of local agitators, who were methodically tossing rocks in the direction of the English vessel.
Later that day, the coach, with a large escort of Portuguese cavalry, returned to collect Luke. He arrived at the consul's residence at the appointed time and was concerned to note another large deployment of soldiers surrounding the consul's home. He remarked on the widespread need for Portuguese protection and received a disturbing explanation from Maynard.
"General, the public hate the English. Although the government has signed a treaty seeking our help in return for trading concessions, the populace, lied to by the Inquisition, sees us as heretics who should be driven from the land. Last week, I survived an assassination attempt. Our sailors, who are protecting Portuguese trade from the Dutch and preserving the local economy, can no longer come ashore without armed guards. The locals set upon them, and several have been killed. The troops out the front are a mixture of the Portuguese royal guard and our own men, who do not wear any distinguishing clothes. If the mob knew they were English, it would just provoke further outrage."
"Why troops from the royal guard?" asked Luke.
"Put bluntly, as you will discover, the only person in Portugal whom the English can trust and who has sent some of her best men to protect us is the queen. In fact, her representative has already arrived and awaits you through that door. After you have finished your discussion, please join the rest of us in the banqueting hall."
Luke entered the antechamber to be greeted by a petite woman in her mid-thirties with dark brown hair and surprisingly bright blue eyes. Her facial appearance was immediately familiar. Luke wracked his brain trying to remember where they had met. The woman held out her hand, which he formally kissed. She beckoned him to join her on a lavishly cushioned bench, where she addressed him in perfect English — with a slight accent that Luke immediately placed as French.
"General, I am Micaela da Costa, Countess of Cacella, senior lady-in-waiting and confidante to the queen. Welcome to Portugal. Her Majesty wishes to thank you for coming. I am to outline your covert mission.
"Before you do so, I am sure we have met before — but I cannot place where," admitted Luke.
The countess smiled. "No, we have never met, but I do resemble people whom you know. Before I married the count, I was a member of the French court as Michele St. Michel and am a cousin of the Marquess des Anges, whose honor, estates, and life you saved during your time in France five years ago. At that time, my cousin and the chief minister of France, Cardinal Mazarin, were both full of your praises. I look a lot like the St. Michel women you met at my cousin's chateau. It was my memory of your efforts on his behalf then that led to your invitation here."
"I can blame you for delaying my return to England," Luke half-joked.
"Yes. When the queen expressed concern that she could trust very few of her military officers, I suggested that she invite a French, English or Spanish hating-Italian general to assist her. On reflection, I suggested you, whom I believed would have both French and English support. Her Majesty wrote to Cardinal Mazarin to use his influence with the Lord Protector of England to send you here to carry out a special mission for the queen."
"And what is this special mission?"
"The queen is besieged on all sides. The Spaniards threaten invasion along three key areas of the frontier. The Dutch patrol the seas off our shore, waiting to capture the country's lifeblood — the sugar fleet from the West Indies. The nobility is divided, with probably a third of them preferring the return of Spanish Habsburg rule to that of an independent Portugal The populace is violently opposed to the government seeking French and especially English Protestant help. The pope refuses to recognize our Portuguese bishops. Even within her family, there are dangers. Some extreme nationalist nobles, suspicious of the queen's Spanish birth, want King Afonso, a mentally and physically weak child, to replace his mother as regent with one of their own ambitious leaders."
"Countess, even if I were the most powerful and influential man in Europe, I could not solve any of the problems you list."
"Don't worry, Tremayne, we do not expect the impossible. Your mission is simple. The queen's immediate problem is the unknown number of leading soldiers and nobles who openly support her, but are secretly on the Spanish payroll. This problem goes to the highest level. Part of the queen's council meets as a council of war. Recently, the generals devised a plan to attack a Spanish border town that had poor defenses and had no idea that our forces were in their area. When we made our supposed surprise attack, the town was heavily fortified with troops that outnumbered ours three to one. We suffered massive losses. Someone on the council had forewarned the Spaniards."
"So how can I help on this issue?"
"You have been seconded to the council of war. Your role, as far as its members are concerned, is to assess the Portuguese military situation to recommend to your government how many English troops could be sent to assist us. Your real task is to uncover the Spanish agent or agents within the council and military high command."
"Even this limited mission seems overwhelming," replied Luke.
"To make it easier for you, the next meeting of the council of war will convene near the Spanish border in the mountainous midwest of the country, in the castle of my husband's cousin, Paolo da Costa, Marquess of Estrela. There is a chance, if heavy rains continue or if there is an early snowfall, that you may be isolated there for some time, which will help your investigation."
"Another Da Costa! This does appear to be a family affair."
"More so than you think. The queen has placed at your disposal the head of her military intelligence, my husband's younger brother, Col. Alvaro da Costa. He speaks English and Dutch and will act as your interpreter. Your move to Castle Estrela needs to be kept a secret until you are well out of Lisbon. Colonel da Costa will be here at the consul's residence in the morning, and you will depart in disguise and on horseback for the frontier. You and your deputy, Captain Frost, who will be provided by Maynard, will have to dispense with your red jackets. It immediately identifies you as the hated English, which can send a mob into an uncontrollable frenzy."
"My lady, let us move into the reception," said Luke, assuming the briefing had ended.
"One last piece of advice — no one, including the Marquess of Estrela, must know this real reason for your visit. If it was ever revealed, it could seriously weaken the queen's position. None of the royal councillors or any of the generals must ever know. The truth is limited to the queen, myself, and Colonel da Costa. You will remain popular with the generals if they think you are here to provide them with English troops. Cromwell's army has a very high reputation."
Luke and the countess entered the banqueting hall and were soon partaking in the feast that the consul Maynard had provided. During the meal, the countess quietly slipped away.
Two hours later, as Luke was about to return to the Cromwell, Maynard drew him aside. "Tremayne, I understand from the gossip that you are here to pave the way for the arrival of English troops to assist the Portuguese military. Do not agree. The Portuguese army is not united. Each general, even each colonel, does his own thing. They are a rabble. Portuguese garrisons surrender easily to the Spaniards and vice versa. Let the French provide the military assistance needed. We should concentrate on what we can do well and to our advantage — protect the Portuguese merchant fleet and our own trade against the Dutch and the Spaniards. Let our navy alone contribute to Portuguese independence."
"Thank you, Consul. I shall consider your advice. Can you send me clothing to disguise my appearance — and horses? I am to leave Lisbon first thing in the morning."
"Yes. I am also ordered to make available to you one of my Portuguese-speaking officers to act as equerry, but more importantly to be your translator and interpreter. I strongly suggest that you conceal this officer's ability to speak Portuguese as long as you can. I would not trust the government's official interpreter to always translate correctly. Keep this officer's ability secret, and he will prove to be a great asset."
"You do not trust the current administration?"
"It speaks with too many voices."
"When do I meet this officer?"
Maynard spoke to a servant, who left the room and returned with a tall, well-built, light-brown-haired young man.
"Capt. Peter Frost reporting for duty, sir," stated the newcomer as he saluted Luke.
"Relax, Captain. Are you ready to return to the Cromwell with me now and then depart for the hinterland in the morning?"
"Yes, sir! I am delighted to serve under you, General, but also to renew my acquaintance with Miles Oxenbridge before he sails on to England. Three years ago, we were both lieutenants of the troops aboard General Blake's flagship on his first adventure into the Mediterranean."
Maynard cut the introductions short. "Return to your ship now in my coach and under escort. The authorities have already increased the cordon of troops dockside. The locals may attempt to board your vessel. I will send with you the clothing you need to leave Lisbon safely."
Luke experienced the strength of anti-English feeling as the coach made its way back to the docks. Several missiles hit the vehicle despite the Portuguese cavalry and its aggressive action against the mob. Troopers rode straight at the gathering groups of would-be assailants who lined the road, scattering them with dramatic swings of their swords. Others had their horses rise on their hind legs and attack the mob with their front feet.
Miles greeted Luke as he disembarked from the coach, both just avoiding a barrage of well-aimed missiles. He was delighted to see his former comrade, Peter Frost, and muttered, "Ungrateful swine! Don't the Portuguese realize we English are protecting them from invasion and the devastation that such an event brings to everybody?"
"Are they motivated by a genuine hatred of us, nurtured by the Inquisition, or are they a paid mob recruited by the deep purses of pro-Spanish nobility?" asked Luke to no one in particular.
"A bit of both. The populace finds it hard to accept that a strong Catholic nation has to stoop so low as to plead with extreme Protestant heretics for assistance, especially as the Protestant Dutch continue to threaten Portuguese survival by attacking their lifeblood, the sugar fleet from Brazil," answered Peter.
"Did you discover the details of your mission from the mysterious agent of the queen?" asked the curious Miles.
"Yes, from a beautiful French noblewoman whose relatives I knew quite well. I have to be ready to leave for midwestern Portugal at eight in the morning. I am to attend the council of war and meet most of the Portuguese generals in an isolated castle in the mountains. We are to be accompanied by the head of their military intelligence, a Col. Alvaro da Costa. He is my official interpreter. Peter, you will conceal your ability to speak and understand Portuguese. We may not be able to trust this Da Costa."
Captain Croft joined them and indicated that he would feel safer if he moved the ship out into the harbor. "Despite the efforts of the Portuguese troops, missiles are still hitting the ship. If any of them is an explosive device, it could do considerable damage. I don't need to raise sail. The current tide should allow us to drift into a safer position."
Luke agreed but cautioned, "We will also be well away from the Portuguese protective net, and our opponents might endeavor to approach our new position by boat. Miles, your men must keep watch throughout the night."
Luke had little sleep. He was awakened from time to time by musket fire from the English watch as it kept at a distance hostile boats attempting to approach the Cromwell. Early the next morning, Luke bid his companions of the North African adventure farewell, especially the sailors Ralph Croft and John Neville and his military deputy, Miles Oxenbridge. They would sail for England on the next high tide.
At eight, Luke and Peter, his new deputy, prepared to board the ship's longboat and be taken ashore.
Ralph stopped them. "Wait until your coach and, hopefully, an effective escort arrives. There is a large unfriendly crowd gathered near the dock. The constant fire by the Portuguese troops suggest that it is considered dangerous. I have been watching through the telescope. The demonstrators are being urged on by two priests."
Half an hour passed, and the promised coach did not arrive. The noise from the growing mob increased, and one could make out many abusive anti-English phrases. Around nine o'clock, the beat of a drum was heard, which became louder by the minute. The crowd also heard it. The Portuguese protecting the English ship took advantage of it and fired above the heads of the mob. Within minutes, a full company of infantry wearing the queen's own livery joined the dockside guards, augmented soon afterward by a large troop of heavy cavalry. One of the horsemen dismounted and waved toward the Cromwell.
Ralph put down his telescope. "It's Maynard. He is indicating that it is safe for you to leave."
Maynard was apologetic. "Sorry, Tremayne. Our plans had to be changed. My coach was vandalized overnight, and when I became aware of the size of the anti-English mob gathering between my residence and here, I sent a message to the queen, who responded by sending me part of the household guard to disperse the rioters. Colonel da Costa has sent a troop of his own men to escort you directly from here to the Three Crosses, a taberna several miles out of town, where he will meet you."
A young officer cantered toward them, leading three horses, two already saddled and a third ready to carry their meagre belongings. Luke and Peter mounted their new steeds, and the former thanked Maynard for his assistance.
The consul was blunt. "Frankly, I do not know why the protector wants to help this Papist-infected country. I would not waste a single English soldier defending them against Spain. I cannot see how the queen can withstand the widespread opposition to her rule. The Spanish Habsburgs will be back in power within the year. Persuade the Portuguese to make peace with Spain!"
Luke, well aware of the mercantile bias of the English consuls throughout southern Europe, commented, "But you are still happy that the navy risks life and limb to defend Portuguese shipping?"
"Of course. In defending Portuguese shipping, you are assisting English trade. It is in England's economic and political interests to defend Portugal at sea — but not on land. Our merchants in the Netherlands desperately want peace with Spain, as do we here."
Excerpted from "A Queen Besieged"
Copyright © 2018 Geoff Quaife.
Excerpted by permission of Trafford Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.