54 pages 1 hour read

Rafael Sabatini

Captain Blood: His Odyssey

Fiction | Novel | Adult | Published in 1922

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Summary and Study Guide


Captain Blood: His Odyssey is a work of historical fiction by Rafael Sabatini, published in 1922. Sabatini was a British Italian writer who produced fiction, history, and drama. Set during the 1680s, the narrative relates Peter Blood’s journey from country doctor in England to enslaved convict in Barbados to pirate captain in the Spanish Main to British naval hero. The novel is a seafaring adventure about a swashbuckling trickster whose humanity and chivalry help him survive, win his freedom, and decide his destiny, which is to live with the woman he loves. The popular novel inspired a film adaptation in 1924 and another in 1935; the second launched actors Errol Flynn and Olivia de Havilland to stardom.

This study guide uses the Penguin Classics edition from 2003.

Content Warning: The source material contains racist language and representations, ethnic and religious prejudices, and depictions of or references to violence (sexual assault, slavery, battle, and murder).

Plot Summary

The third-person omniscient narrator begins by describing Peter Blood, an Irish doctor who was a soldier before settling in England’s West Country 11 years ago. It is now the summer of 1685. The Duke of Monmouth and his supporters are contesting the right of the duke’s uncle, King James II, to hold the throne. Although he thinks the endeavor is foolish, Blood is summoned by a man named Jeremy Pitt to help Lord Gildoy, a rebel leader wounded in battle. As Blood tends to the injured gentleman in the home of a man named Baynes, Loyalist Captain Hobart and several soldiers enter looking for rebels. Hobart arrests Gildoy, Pitt, Blood, and Baynes, but Gildoy doesn’t survive.

Blood, Pitt, and Baynes stand trial before the Lord Chief Justice, Baron Jeffreys of Wem—a real historical figure. Blood eloquently defends himself, but Lord Jeffreys distrusts him, and the intimidated jury follows Jeffreys’s advice and pronounces the defendants guilty of treason, for which the sentence is death. King James’s avarice saves the men from the gallows. He orders them to be sent to the Caribbean, where planters can buy them as enslaved people. Conditions on the ship cause many men to die, including Baynes, but Blood persuades the captain to allow him to treat the sick, and his efforts prove successful.

The ship reaches Bridgetown, Barbados, where a wealthy planter, Colonel Bishop, purchases several men, including Pitt. Bishop’s niece, Arabella, notices Blood, thinks he’s not like the other convicts, and recommends her uncle buy him because she wants to save him from a more barbarous enslaver. Blood’s enslavement becomes relatively easy because Bishop makes more money using Blood as a doctor than forcing him to work in the fields. Blood falls in love with Arabella.

One day, a Spanish ship bombards the town with cannon fire. It’s Cinco Llagas, captained by Don Diego de Espinosa y Valdez. Taking advantage of the commotion to escape slavery, Blood and other convicts, including Pitt, seize the Cinco Llagas and incapacitate Don Diego and his officers. Blood, now Captain Blood, takes Bishop hostage to ensure the governor won’t order an attack on the ship as it leaves. Once the ship is safely out of range, he orders Bishop to jump overboard and swim back to Barbados.

Not knowing how to navigate, Blood proposes Don Diego sail the ship to Curaçao in exchange for his life and the return of Cinco Llagas. Don Diego agrees but secretly sails the ship to Hispaniola, where his brother (Admiral Don Miguel) is anchored. Blood threatens Don Diego’s life to coerce his son, Don Esteban, to trick the admiral. Don Esteban introduces Blood to his uncle as a Spanish gentleman whom Don Diego rescued from Barbados. Blood speaks Castilian and plays his part convincingly. Back on Cinco Llagas, Blood admits to Don Esteban that Don Diego died of natural causes before they met Don Miguel. He kept this a secret to ensure the safety of his crew and himself. Don Esteban swears revenge. Blood refuses to kill him, even though it’s a risk to let him go. They unloaded the Spanish prisoners onto a boat. Then Captain Blood and his crew, who are fugitives without means to support themselves, sail for Tortuga, a safe haven for buccaneers.

Tortuga’s Governor, M. d’Ogeron, supports Blood’s choice to become a pirate. Blood renames the Spanish ship Arabella after Arabella Bishop and endeavors to be a humane pirate worthy of her approval, even though he doesn’t expect to see her again. Blood disguises his chivalrous principles behind the persona of an arrogant pirate to great effect. In one incident, a French captain of buccaneers, Levasseur, proposes he and Blood join forces. Blood reluctantly agrees. Levasseur is romantically pursuing M. d’Ogeron’s daughter, Madeleine, but the father disapproves so much that he orders his son to take her to Europe. Levasseur intercepts their ship and claims Madeleine. His brutality on full display, the lady becomes horrified. Levasseur tries to keep his hostages secret from Blood, but Blood catches him terrorizing the d’Ogerons. Blood discusses the hostages in financial terms with the typical callousness of a pirate, but only because he wishes to save them. His logic and generous payment for Madeleine win over Levasseur’s crew yet enrage Levasseur. Blood kills Levasseur in a duel, retains a partnership with the French buccaneers, and earns the gratitude of the d’Ogeron family.

Later, Don Miguel traps Blood’s fleet at Maracaybo. Blood outmaneuvers him twice: the first time, he orchestrates a surprise attack that weakens Don Miguel’s forces and wins treasure, but the buccaneers must retreat. The second time, Blood’s crew tricks Don Miguel into believing they plan a land attack, which distracts the admiral long enough for Blood’s fleet to escape. The French pirates, having lost faith in Blood after the first attack, left his fleet and thus forfeited their share of the treasure. Don Miguel’s rage compels him to hunt for Arabella.

England’s Secretary of State is aware that buccaneers pose a hindrance to peace with Spain and England’s colonial interests. He engages his cousin, Lord Julian Wade, to commission Blood to rid the Caribbean of buccaneers in exchange for clemency. During the voyage, Lord Julian becomes friends with Arabella Bishop, who is going to Jamaica, where her uncle is now deputy-general. Lord Julian relates a skewed version of the Levasseur affair in which Blood killed Levasseur to win Madeleine. Arabella’s compassion for Blood sours into disappointment. Don Miguel attacks the ship transporting Lord Julian and Arabella and takes the passengers hostage. The next day, the Arabella engages with Don Miguel’s fleet and routs them. Captain Blood lets the humiliated Don Miguel leave his sinking ship on a small boat, which frustrates Lord Julian, but Blood doesn’t care because he sees Arabella. She informs him that she wouldn’t include a thief and pirate among her acquaintances.

Lord Julian offers Blood the commission, which Blood flatly refuses because he blames King James for his misfortunes. Blood, ever chivalrous, intends to take the prisoners to Jamaica, although going so near Colonel Bishop’s territory is risky. When the Arabella nears Port Royal, the entire English fleet sails toward it. Blood takes responsibility for having endangered his men and accepts the commission to protect them. Captain Blood’s time in Port Royal is short and unpleasant, mostly due to Bishop’s animosity and Arabella’s evasion. He confronts Arabella for being unjust, and she accuses him of murdering Levasseur. He abruptly leaves. Colonel Bishop finds a pretext to arrest Blood, so he takes Bishop hostage a second time to ensure the Arabella can leave Port Royal unhindered. Blood could take Lord Julian hostage too, but he tells him that doing so would ruin Arabella’s happiness since he believes she loves him. After Blood leaves Port Royal and sends Bishop back in a small boat, Lord Julian tells Arabella what Blood told him. Arabella is contrite for misjudging Blood, and she informs Lord Julian that Blood was wrong about her feelings. Lord Julian deduces she loves Blood, whereupon jealousy causes him to join Bishop’s hunt for him. Bishop takes the English fleet to Tortuga, where he expects to find Blood.

Blood and his men accept a commission from King Louis of France, but he discovers his superior, M. le Baron de Rivarol, is more interested in robbing wealthy Spanish settlements than defending his king’s interests. After raiding Cartagena, Rivarol absconds with the treasure he owes the hired buccaneers. During Blood’s chase after Rivarol, he encounters the wreck of an English ship and its survivors, two of whom are Lord Willoughby, governor-general of the West Indies, and Admiral van der Kuylen, commander of the West Indian fleet. Rivarol’s fleet attacked their ship. They tell Blood about the Glorious Revolution and England’s new monarchs. Blood is no longer an outlaw. He suspects Rivarol knows the momentous news and its implications, not least of which is a war between England and France. Since Colonel Bishop left Port Royal defenseless, Blood volunteers his two ships to defend it from the attack he expects from Rivarol.

Captain Blood and his men prevail in a sea battle at Port Royal, but victory costs many lives and sinks the Arabella. Lord Willoughby offers Blood the deputy-general post, which the former pirate accepts. Arabella and Blood express their feelings for each other. Bishop and Lord Julian return to Jamaica where Bishop is arrested for abandoning his post and abusing his power. The new deputy governor will determine Bishop’s sentence. Blood greets Bishop in the office that once was his.