The King’s Commission continues the story of Lewrie’s first term of service in the Royal Navy. It begins in January 1782 and takes Lewrie’s career through September 1783. In this novel we see more of Lewrie’s development into a skilled naval officer and a gradual maturing of his character.
The novel opens with the Battle of St. Kitts.
Major spoilers follow.
Lewrie distinguishes himself in a single ship action after the Battle of St. Kitts between HMS Desperate and the superior French frigate Capricieuse. Desperate takes the Capricieuse but at the cost of Lewrie’s friend Midshipman David Avery as well as some of the survivors of his Yorktown adventure.
As a result of the success, Commander Treghues, who has been won over by Lewrie’s performance, is promoted into Capriecieuse and made post captain. Railsford is raised to command Desperate in the rank of commander. Unfortunately for Lewrie, Railsford is replaced at first lieutenant by the now recovered Lieutenant James Kenyon (The King’s Coat) who vows to break Lewrie and have him dismissed from the service.
Before Desperate puts to sea which will give Kenyon the opportunity to have his revenge, Lewrie is offered the opportunity to sit for the examination for promotion to lieutenant. He passes the examination handily and is one of the few passed selected for immediate promotion. He is sent aboard, due to clerical error, the 12-gun brig HMS Shrike under an aging and passive Lieutenant Lilycrop.
Lilycrop is about 60 years old, he’s been in the Royal Navy for over fifty years and he has an extreme fondness for cats. He is a superlative seaman and leader but he has little interest in using his ship to fight a war. Lewrie gets off to a rough start with Lilycrop because of his lack of experience in shiphandling but Lilycrop sets about to train and develop Lewrie both as a seaman and an officer.
Shrike is transferred from Leeward Islands to Jamaica. There Lewrie renews the acquaintance of the Beauman family and resumes his courtship of Lucy Beauman. Unfortunately, he also take the time to renew his acquaintance with an older, married woman, Betty Hillwood. Hillwood tries to blackmail Lewrie but this intrigue finds Lewrie in his element and he escapes with his skin though his hopes for marriage to Lucy Beauman and access to the Beauman fortune are forever dashed.
Because of Lewrie’s suggestion, Shrike is given the task of raiding Spanish coastal commerce near Cuba. Once Lilycrop gets a taste of action, acclaim, and prize money his experience and seamanship leads to Shrike developing a reputation as a fighting ship. In the coastal raids, Lewrie gets his first close look at slavery when they take a coaster with a cargo of slaves as a prize and through talking with West Indians serving in Shrike.
The success of Shrike as a raider brings it to the attention senior officers who determine it is the ideal vessel to be employed on a clandestine mission to arm Muscogee and Seminole Indians in Florida as a counterweight to Spanish successes in Florida and the newly independent American colonies.
Lewrie leads a small expedition of soldiers from one of Jamaica’s garrison regiments, sailors to escort two diplomats and a quantity of gifts to a meeting of Indian chiefs. At the meeting Lewrie become enamored of a 15 year old Cherokee slave named Rabbit. She becomes pregnant and Lewrie is forced into a temporary marriage.
On the way back to the ship the expedition is attacked by a large party of Spanish infantry and hostile Indians. In the ensuing fight, Lewrie is bayonetted in the leg.
As Shrike heads home it falls in with a small squadron commanded by Horatio Nelson and becomes invovled in the attempt to force the surrender of French troops on Grand Turk Island. In the ensuing fiasco, Lilycrop is severely wounded and loses part of a leg. In the meantime, Lewrie favorably impresses Nelson when instead of asking for command of Shrike he, instead, tries to ensure Lilycrop will have future employment instead of being invalided out of the Navy.
When Admiral Hood sends another officer on board to assume command, an unfortunate incident incapacitates that officer. As the war is winding down, Hood leaves Lewrie in command of Shrike as well as informing him that he can regard Hood as a patron. We later learn (The King’s Privateer) that the war ends three weeks later and Lewrie is ordered home to pay off Shrike.
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