Captain Blood and History

Sunday, December 5, AD 2010

I love history.  To me it is endlessly fascinating, the never ending chronicle of the triumphs and tragedies of mankind, filled with adventure, courage, cowardice, wisdom, folly and all those elements that make great novels.  I therefore find it  distressing that so many people think history is dull and are indifferent or even hostile to it.  Distressing but understandable.  Too many historians seem to write with the unstated desire to make their subject matter as dull and dreary as they can manage.  A useful corrective to this are good historical novels, which can often awake  in readers a love of history.  One of the great practioners of the craft was Rafael Sabatini.

Writing at the end of the Nineteenth and the first half of the Twentieth, Sabatini wrote with color and verve and his historical novels, the best known of which is Captain Blood, were historically accurate as well as being vastly entertaining. Children can often come to love history if it is demonstrated to them that it does not have to be dull, and a great historical novel can help accomplish this.

The late George MacDonald Fraser, a good historian and a fine novelist, testifies to this fact:

“[Sabatini] awoke me to history, and showed me that it was no dry collection of dates and diets and dynasties, but the most exciting adventure of all. For that, I and millions like me are forever in his debt.”

8 Responses to Captain Blood and History

  • Thank you!

    Hooray for Captain Blood!

    And here’s a (gesture) for Lord Jeffries!

  • To me, many historical writers seem to be feverishly working to make “their subject matter as dull and dreary as they can manage”, most of the rest are revising history to support their current world views.

    For Catholics interesting in the “world war” fought in the 16th century between the protestants and Catholics a fine history would be Garrett Mattingly’s The Armada. In one volume he gives a comprehensive overview of that entire campaign from all the various angles and sides.

  • Captain Blood is indeed an excellent work, and Sabatini at his best rivals Scott quite easily, to my mind. Thanks for the post.

  • Thank you gentlemen. Even before I became an attorney, my favorite part of Captain Blood was the courtroom back and forth between Peter Blood and Chief Justice Lord Jefferies. Alas I cannot find the whole brilliant sequence on line, but here is the ending:

  • One of the great things about Sabatini is that a great deal of his work (including three of his four most famous novels: Captain Blood, The Sea Hawk and Scaramouche) are all in the public domain (see Project Gutenberg or So, if you can read them for free on any device that supports ebooks like the Kindle or a Smartphone.

    I will say that one problem I had with Captain Blood though is that it is at least somewhat anti-Catholic. Its a fun read, but the villains are all Catholic (or Catholic sympathizers) and the heros are all Protestant.


  • A point Bill, although ironically Peter Blood is Catholic, at least when it suits him to be.