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First Chapters: La Isla Blanca

By Jack Tindale

Welcome to the latest in our series of first chapters showcasing our books. Today, we have La Isla Blanca, by Jack Tindale

The Spanish Armada is today regarded with faint embarrassment. In Spain, it is often limited to a little more than a footnote about a somewhat foolhardy endeavour, whilst in Britain, its defeat has gone from being a sign of divine salvation to a serious threat saved by a combination of luck and weather. Had it been successful, there is little doubt that it would have posed a genuine threat to Elizabeth I – with the ill-prepared English army having little chance of success against a vast Spanish force from the south and the prospect of a Catholic uprising in the North. The Armada’s success may well have nipped England’s fledgling superpower status in the bud.


But what if things fell somewhere in between?


In La Isla Blanca, Jack Tindale considers the cultural, economic and political consequences of a foreign occupation of the Isle of Wight and the effects of a humbled England and a strengthened Spain.


Any similarities to Gibraltar are, of course, entirely coincidental.

Part One - The Armada


(Taken from ‘The Journal of Álvaro de Bazán, 1st Marquis of Santa Cruz’ cited in “Spain in the Era of Felipe II” by Gerardo Smyth-Dorrien, Arkham, 2003)


February 1st, 1588


Arose from bed - still feverish and sweating profusely - to receive an Emissary from His Majesty. The herald, a young man of some twenty-three summers, did then present his credentials to me and requested my attendance at Court as soon as my humours returned. I did question him most ardently at this point, believing myself to still be out of favour (a matter of affairs that I currently felt to be responsible for much of my current precarious physical condition.)


The Emissary assured me of my present position within the court having recovered somewhat, and that His Majesty did accept his haste in accusing me of wilful inaction during the events at Cadiz the previous spring, wherein I had been chastised to such an extent as to cause me to be laid low with pleuritis. Upon hearing the summons, I did call for Don Hernandez, who hath given me a new concoction of his own devising. At sundown, I thus return’d to bed, much rested.


[...]


April 4th, 1588


To La Coruña, and to make a fuller inspection of the flotilla currently in anchorage there - much enlarged by the recent addition of the fleet recently arrived from New Grenada. I did say as much to Don Alonso - who seems little angered by his reassignment to as Command-in-Chief of the Demarcation Forces - indeed, his good humour did carry us both well through into the evening, though I took ill around nine, and left for my quarters to recuperate ahead of the Pope’s Blessing.


[...]


May 21st, 1588


Provisions for embarkation continue to be so garnered, including those additional ones so required to accommodate the forces currently assembling at Gravelines - some one-hundred-and-fifty hundred score in total, a host that I have ever confidence of being able to strike the English asunder. Following Vespers, a late message from the Court arrived, detailing the irrevocable end to negotiations between His Majesty and The Queen of the English. I did inspect the São Martinho and marvell upon the odyssey awaiting - the die cast, our Great Armada must sail!


[...]


July 18th, 1588


At twilight, the coast of England was duly sighted by the lead vessel - the promontory known as ‘The Lizard’ - upon hearing the news, I did request that the Great Crescent of the fleet be scattered somewhat, so as to impede the risk of fire-ships causing havoc. My caution did thus play out as the night drew in, as our easternmost flank did report flames approaching the horizon. Although much a-feared, the men did later note the flames to be those of beacons upon the mainland - no doubt warning of our arrival to The Queen’s Court in London. I chose to do little to beguile our intentions, our course being expected, and our vast size being impossible to avoid.


July 19th, 1588


Awoke to cannonfire! Having taken advantage of favourable winds upon the weather-gage, the English Fleet did harry the external ships of the Great Crescent - our current arrangement being unsuited to defence of our supply vessels. Upon the order, our central formation did close in, limiting the damage from the attackers. Ill-tempered manoeuvres within the Squadron of Castile forced the abandonment of La Asunción - yet little directed damage had been taken - I did order a pursuit of the flankers back towards the English coast by three Galleass’.


[...]


July 22nd, 1588


The English Fleet having escaped entrapment within the confines of the harbour of Plymouth - I proposed a division of the fleet, whereupon I found myself in furious discussions with the rest of the Council. Medina Sidonia, obstinate to the last, refused to countenance such a proposal, whilst the representatives from the army did argue the risks associated with leaving the Army of Flanders away from provisioning. I did argue against this enfeebled stance, but found myself unable to argue the merits of the case prior to the arrival of the English fleet.


The skirmish proved far more damaging than the first - with six vessels being entangled or destroyed, with the English barely scoured. Bitterness did overwhelm me, and I confined myself to my quarters for the remainder of the day. Later discussions with the Council did absolve me of blame, whereupon the decision was made to make haste for the Dutch coast by the Squadrons of Biscay and Castile under Medina Sidonia’s command. The remainder - under my sole command - did make for the English fleet at Portland.


[...]


July 24th, 1588


A victory, of sorts, was had today!


Engagement with the English within the so-called Solent brought with it the destruction of six enemy vessels, much to the astonishment of The Queen’s forces encamped before us. I did cheer most heartily with the rest of the men when the lead Galleon did become entrapped upon the sandbanks, and it proved for fine target practice, with the gasps of the sailors proving succour to mine ears after a week of frustration. Passage between the ‘Isle of White’ and the mainland currently belongs to the fleet, and may thus make for a fine strategic settlement upon the arrival of the forces from Gravelines.


The Dragon’s beard has been singed!


[...]


July 27th, 1588


Disaster of a most heinous degree did emerge at Noon - whereupon news reached mine ears regarding the abject failure of Medina Sidonia to allow for the Embarkation of but one of the Army of Flanders. The flyboats of the Republic - akin to vermin around carrion - hath prevented all forces from being able to board their troopships.


Am I to be so continuously harassed by incompetence, fools, and Dutchmen?


The cause of landing upon the English mainline is clearly moot - and the wretched Whore Queen of that miserable island hath clearly made a pact with demons.


My reputation clearly hath only a vain hope of salvage - a prize, however minor, must be claimed.


D*mn, d*mn, d*mn!


[...]


July 30th, 1588


The landing on the ‘Isle of White’ proceeded with ease, the populace already much terrorised by our arrival and the garrison there largely removed to the mainland.

Don Alonso did prove his worth, capturing the garrison at the New Port with ease and raising our standard high above the parapets.


I did disembark at slack water - relishing the land beneath my feet at long last.

At sundown, the English did thrown six fireships at the fleet, but to little effect - panic’d, most clearly.


[...]


August 2nd, 1588


Still air and stifling temperatures have lain many men low with fever, and raiding parties from the interior harass all those who leave the walls of the garrison. An annoyance, but nothing compared to the rage that The King shall doubtless be feeling.


My disgrace, once again, approaches - perhaps that was the intention.


Storm clouds did approach and I bade the fleet shelter within the confines of the bay.


[...]


August 5th, 1588


An emissary from The Harlot Queen did arrive - requesting parley.


My patience worn out, I did acquiesce to the request, only to find my counterpart being The Lord Burghley. His attitude, whilst arrogant, did hint at a graver situation upon the English than I hath been led to believe. I questioned him further, with the news that unrest by the Loyal Co-Religionists in the North of his realm having resulted in much confusion of his Queen’s forces.


I did thus request that the Armada be allowed for free passage of the French Ocean, with a remainder of two score ships to remain at the ‘Isle of Wight’ and the guarantor of all men currently settled therein.


Consideration was clearly given - to which the men were greatly cheered by the apparent secession of the island.


[...]


5th November, 1588


Settlement between the English and the Crown was finally so reached today in the presence of mine Lord and Master - the blessed Medina Sidonia, Duke of Isla Blanca.

Oh! So fortunate am I to be allowed to but gaze upon the munificence of The Great And Noble Duke Of All England And The Fishes And Mammalian Animals Of The Seven Seas!

News from England does hint at a near end to the unrest plaguing The Whore Queen - though the Galician settlers clearly hath not been so affected by that - the miserable cold and wet of this wretched place being clearly suited to them!


I hath little else to say upon this point, only that God is to be praised for ridding me of any future for further adventuring in the turbulent waters of Biscay.


‘La Isla Blanca’ is clearly an extension of the Crown now - and the Crown is welcome to it!



(The story continues...)

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Jack Tindale is the author of La Isla Blanca, The Limpid Stream, T'Yorkshire Assembly, and co-author of Agent Lavender, President Ashdown is Retiring, and Shuffling The Deck. He is the Chief Illustrator for Sea Lion Press.