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The Golden Antilles

By Tim Severin

Colorfully, and with a wonderful verisimilitude, The Golden Antilles re-creates the exploits of the English and the Scots who risked their fortunes and their lives in wild attempts to establish for themselves a place in the Caribbean sun, a foothold in the golden lands claimed by the mighty Spanish empire.

Here is the drama of Sir Walter Ralegh’s two daring and deluded expeditions to the banks of the Orinoco: the first of them inspired by Ralegh’s determination to regain the favor withdrawn by Queen Elizabeth after his injudicious marriage, the second-two decades later-undertaken after his release from the Tower of London, aging and worn by his imprisonment yet still possessed of a foolhardy courage and the old dream of regaining his privileged place at court, in pursuit of which he embarked on a search for the fabled “golden mountaine.”

Thomas Gage, the renegade priest-adventurer, is vividly brought to life-the first Englishman to travel widely in the Spanish colonies. He was “a natural born buffoon with an unerring ability to bungle everything he turned his hand to.” Nevertheless, his seductive accounts of the wonders of the Golden Antilles brought visions of sudden riches to his contemporaries-and perhaps influenced the otherwise cautious and methodical Protector Cromwell to mount his “Western Design”: a curious episode of misadventure.

The buccaneer surgeon Lionel Wafer-he lived happily among the Cuna on the Isthmus of Panama-is the link to the final drama in this chain of illusion and adventure. His reports so tantalized the already-mesmerized Scots that, as if in perfect ignorance of previous English expeditions, they drained their national resources outfitting and sending forth a doomed colony to Darien.

The Golden Antilles is a saga of men propelled by overwhelming ambition and under the spell of blinding fantasies of gold and glory. It is popular history at its enthralling best.

Acclaimed adventure writer and explorer Tim Severin was born in 1940 and educated at Tonbridge School and Oxford University. He has made a career of retracing the storied journeys of mythical and historical figures in replica vessels. These experiences have been turned into a body of captivating and illuminating books, including The Brendan VoyageTracking Marco Polo and In Search of Genghis Khan. He has received numerous awards for exploration and geographic history, including the Founder’s Medal of England’s Royal Geographic Society and the Livingstone Medal of the Royal Scottish Geographical Society. When not travelling, he lives in County Cork, Ireland.

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