A Grove of Eagles by Winston Graham – Poldark meets Elizabethan England?

Rather than painting my new figures, I have just finished reading the 640 page long Winston Graham’s The Grove of Eagles – A Novel of Elizabethan England (1963, Pan Macmillan reissue 2016)

Based on real historical events, this book follows the mixed fortunes of the Killigrew family of Arwenack and Pendennis Castle in Falmouth, Cornwall in the 1590s of the Spanish Armadas and raids on England.

Winston Graham is much better known for his 18th Century Poldark novels which were also set in Cornwall (filmed for TV in the 1970s and recently) and other books such as Marnie (later made into a Hitchcock movie). He also wrote a non fiction book about the Spanish Armada, which also arrived as a Christmas present, so he knew the background of the many historical figures who turn up in the book.

It has lots of interesting characters – pirates, witches, wenches, soldiers and sailors. The novel is split into 5 sections, which have some interesting scenarios for gaming:

  1. The Spanish Raids and burning of Mousehole, Newlyn, Penzance and Paul church in Cornwall 1595
  1. Joining up with Walter Raleigh and going to sea against the Spanish – the sea fight and breaching the city walls and street fighting during the land invasion at Cadiz – it all goes a bit C.S. Forester or Bernard Cornwall at this point.

The Cadiz street fighting and ship boarding sections give a good idea of what a visceral and bloody experience it must be facing musketeers, pikes and bill hooks in confined spaces. The casualty rate and attrition from such wounds and being captured or imprisoned is obviously quite high.

I will not give away any plot spoilers about the adventures and romances of young Cornishman Maugan Killigrew but it is an enjoyable story set within real historical events.

I was a little disappointed that there were no maps of the Cornish places or of Cadiz and the sea areas mentioned in the book. Thankfully I have the other Winston Graham Spanish Armada history book for this. You can search for the places on online or OS maps.

A short chapter at the end by Winston Graham fills in what happened after the story to the real characters and what parts are based on fact and contemporary sources.

Shhhh – Don’t tell anybody but for somebody of Cornish ancestry it is no doubt shocking to confess that I haven’t read any Poldark novels or seen the two TV adaptations, either in the 1970s when I was too young (it’s a bit mixed up in my head with The Onedin Line) or more recently.

What makes it more personally interesting to me is that I know many of the Cornish places mentioned in the book. I know a little of the family histories connected to these estates and houses and sometimes wonder what my Cornish ancestors were doing during these Armada days of Spanish Raids, as they all lived in far west part of Cornwall that was raided by the Spanish. Did they see the Spanish ships, flee the burning towns or stand ‘Muster’ in the lacklustre defence of the Cornish shores?

I look forward to reading it again soon, as when you reach the end, some of the previous events and characters are revealed in a new light.

Anyway I turned a few page corners down to go back and look at for possible gaming scenarios with my 54mm figures.

These scenarios will be useful once I have finished painting the new Chintoys Spaniards, some more cheap plastic seaside pirates as ships crews and converted some more plastic knights into a passable Cornish / English Muster, reinforced by the pikes and muskets of a Trained Band of English Civil War figures.




Blog posted by Mark Man of TIN, 2 January 2021.

11 thoughts on “A Grove of Eagles by Winston Graham – Poldark meets Elizabethan England?”

    1. Haven’t made one of those in years.
      There is a very good looking Spanish Armada book of ships and rules in the PaperBoys Peter Dennis series from Helion – however at the moment its the land raid side of the Armadas in Cornwall, Cadiz and wherever they might land that is “floating my boat”.


  1. Glad you enjoyed the novel. I look forward to seeing you use the scenario inspiration on the tabletop. I do hope I can visit Pendennis castle this year…
    I wonder if some role playing elements could be included in your close wars games reflecting characteristics such as courage, cowardice, greed etc. They would make your figures do things you didn’t want them to do but would add to the enjoyment of the game.


    1. Interesting idea, including traits such as reckless, cautious, drunkard, loot greedy, scheming, cowardly, secretly in league with the Spanish etc and add chance and event cards etc. somehow
      I might do a Tudor Cornwall post at some point as many of the houses and forts mentioned still exist, some are open to the public. Tends not to be the hovels and ordinary houses though …


      1. I think it’s worth spending a little extra sometimes for the ‘right’ figures whatever their purpose. Well, that’s an excuse I use frequently, anyway!

        Liked by 2 people

  2. You may enjoy The Pyrates by George MacDonald Fraser, a picaresque novel that is basically an excuse to cram EVERY SINGLE pirate cliche into one story.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Another Cornish-set series you might find interesting is Alexander Kent’s Bolitho naval series akin to Hornblower. Sir Richard Bolitho, the main character, lives near the church of Charles the Martyr in Falmouth.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for the tip – I know the name and will look out for these in the branch library online audio book library.
      The real Bolitho family really exists, based at Trengwainton near Penzance in Cornwall (now a National Trust Garden) – a long run of military men including the present Lord Lieutenant of Cornwall (the Queen Elizabeth II’s representative, a post alive when the Armada and the first Elizabeth was on the throne, filled with various military men like Ralegh and Godolphin. This is the Armadas end of Cornwall raided by the Spanish and where my ancestors came from. These Lord Lieutenants are the sorts of gentry families from the Cornish houses that were around for years and still are, managing their estates. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lord_Lieutenant_of_Cornwall
      The Charles the Martyr church in Falmouth still exists and open to visitors with its wooden panel thanking the people of Falmouth for holding out for his father the old King Charles.

      Cornwall the Isles of Scilly (the Scillies) and the West Country played an interesting minor part in the English Civil War. Bridges and river crossings were usually the contested points. The leafy lanes rimmed by Cornish stone hedges around the Battle of Lostwithiel were like Normandy ’44 bocage ambush country for musketeer ambush on infantry and cavalry. This will keep my ECW 54mm figures, currently awaiting their pikes and doubling up as a late Elizabethan Trained Band, nice and busy in future.

      Liked by 1 person

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