The Grove of Eagles

Written by Winston Graham
Review by Tracey Warr

Following the fortunes of a bastard son of the Killigrew family in Cornwall, Winston Graham recounts an epic tale of war between Elizabeth I’s England and Philip II’s Spain. Maugan Killigrew’s father is responsible for the defence of the Penryn area from sea invasion; however, the family are debt-ridden and have a history of illicit buccaneering. The reader travels with Maugan through a Spanish raid on Penzance, the English reprisal against Cadiz and the failed Spanish Armada in 1597. He spends time in a gruesome Spanish prison, works for Sir Walter Raleigh, weaves his way in and out of the misfortunes and escapades of his extended family and other members of the Cornish gentry, doggedly pursues a love affair with Sue Farnaby.

The highly detailed account of Maugan’s adventures veers between quotidian existence in the family home to audiences with the English Queen and the Spanish King. Instead of court intrigues, marriages and love affairs, here is a Tudor novel presenting the Earl of Essex and Raleigh in virile military action. Graham takes us into the mindset of these venturing Elizabethan sea explorers, and effectively represents the conflict from both Spanish and English perspectives.

The descriptions of sea-battles and sailing with the fleets are extraordinarily evocative. Maugan’s relationships with Sue and the servant girl Meg are deftly handled, as is his gradual loss of innocence and idealism. Graham wrote 32 novels, including the Poldark series. This reissue of a 1963 novel is superior historical fiction writing.