Hornblower:The Duchess and Devil

Duchess&DevildvdHornblower: The Duchess and The Devil
A&E, 1999
93 minutes

This episode is based on Hornblower and Duchess and The Devil in CS Forester’s Midshipman Hormblower.

Hornblower is taking a captured French ship back to England with Duchess of Wharfedale aboard when Spanish ships appear and he is taken captive. While Midshipman Hunter plots escape, Hornblower helps Midshipman Kennedy recover from neglect. A failed escape attempt by Hunter puts Hornblower in solitary confinement. Later his heroism in saving Spanish sailors gains liberty for himself and his men.

Approximate date: Sometime after August 1, 1796. No exact date given in book or television series.

Acting Lieutenant Horatio Hornblower captures the small French ship Le Reve and returns to Gibraltar. There he is informed he will take the ship back to England. Before that he must attend a important dinner with Sir Hew Dalrymple, the governor of Gibraltar. There he meets her grace, the Duchess of Wharfedale, who is of common birth unlike most ladies married to men with aristocratic titles. She was in Italy when the French arrived and made her way to Gibraltar. It turns out that Hornblower will be taking her back to England on his ship.

During the journey the find themselves not only in fog but surrounded by Spanish ships. They try a ruse by raising the French flag and even putting on French clothing. However the ruse is detected and Hornblower surrenders rather than risk the lives of the crew in a senseless battle with overwhelming odds against them. The Duchess decides to conceal the admiralty dispatches since the Spanish will not search her. After surrendering, they are taken to a nearby prison. The Duchess is also interned nearby awaiting transport out.

In the cell, Hornblower finds Midshipman Kennedy, whose longboat was set adrift by Simpson in The Duel. He looks bad and Hornblower tries to help him. Midshipman Hunter wants to escape but Hornblower orders him to wait until they can all go. But they gather intelligence in the meantime as to how many guards there are and other things. The Duchess is allowed by the commandant to visit Hornblower and walks with her while on parole. Hunter becomes suspicious that Hornblower is not interested in escaping anymore and starts plotting. Kennedy’s health worsens due to Hunter denying him food forcing Hornblower to ask for help. This is done and the Duchess helps out. Kennedy, in delirium, recognizes her and she is forced to admit she is not really the Duchess of Wharfedale but the actress Kitty Cobham. Hornblower is shocked since she is carrying important documents for his government.

Meanwhile a visiting French colonel, while having dinner with Don Masseredo, the Duchess and Hornblower, also recognizes her but does not unmask her in front of the commandant. Instead the Duchess decides to spend a romantic evening with the colonel. Hornblower is nervous but fortunately turns out okay in the end. Not long afterwards, she leaves but convinces the commandant to allow him to learn Spanish using the book Don Quixote and a lexicon. Meanwhile Hunter has decided to make his escape plans and convinces a number of them to join him. Matthews and Styles do not join in but Oldroyd does.

When the escape occurs, Hunter and his group make it out to the main area before being stopped. Hunter is shot but Hornblower pleads for their lives. The commandant wants to know who the plotters were not believing for a second that Hornblower would ever of approve of such an escape plan. Hornblower takes full responsibility and is put in the pit, a cell that does not allow a man to either lie down or stand up. Hunter, who was shot (and wants to die) has to watch from his cell Hornblower taking responsibility for his actions.

Not long after Hornblower is released, he sees a ship being chased by Indefatigable and strikes the nearby reef. The water is treacherous and a storm is raging. Giving parole for both himself and his men, he sets out to save the crew of the ship. The Duchess turns out to be aboard. Midshipman Hunter decides to swim away because of the guilt he has over what happened during the escape. They are rescued by Indefatigable and welcomed aboard. Pellew is not happy that the Duchess had the admiralty documents but also says Hornblower is no longer an acting lieutenant and has been promoted to Lieutenant Hornblower. Pellew asks Hornblower’s crew if they will honor the parole he made to the Spanish. They do and they all return (except the Duchess of course) to shore. Sometime later Hornblower is informed that the First Minister of Spain, in recognition of the heroism to rescue Spanish lives, that he and his men are to be set free. The commandant wonders if they recognize they are letting loose a man who will be a thorn in their sides. Hornblower smiles and tells the commandant he will endeavor to prove them right.

Deviations from book
*Hornblower does attend the dinner but not with Captain Pellew as his ship had not yet returned.
*The ship is captured but they did not attempt raising French colors or wear French uniforms. Hornblower tried evading in the fog but the Spanish frigates closed in and fired when the fog thinned out.
*The duchess admits she is Kitty Cobham aboard ship and does hide the admiralty documents. Also the maid she had is deleted for the television presentation.
*Midshipman Kennedy was not in the cell as in the book he was never cast adrift.
*There is no subplot involving Midshipman Hunter nor an attempted escape.
*His promotion to lieutenant occurs while imprisoned. The commandant informs him of the promotion and puts him in officers quarters and half pay.
*Kitty Cobham/Duchess of Wharfedale is not seen after after the ship is captured. She sends Hornblower a letter that the documents were delivered and wishes all is well with him.
*In the book he was imprisoned for two years but the dramatization makes it likely it was a six months or perhaps just short of a full year.

Of all the adaptations from Midshipman Hornblower, this is my favorite. It takes the story and actually makes it better. The essential story is Hornblower captures a small French ship and is captured taking it back to England with the Duchess of Wharfedale aboard. She secretes important naval documents and ends up home in Britain while Hornblower is imprisoned in Spain. He is only released after he and his crew save Spanish sailors whose ship crashed on the reef nearby. So the writers had to come up with a way to make the story much better and interesting to fill 90 minutes or so of television.

The character of Midshipman Hunter was expanded greatly as a contrast between two junior officers. Hunter was the older midshipman that saw a younger man rise fast and having to take orders from him. While others considered Hornblower lucky, Hunter downplayed or questioned his methods like how he took Le Reve. Hornblower and his men had taken captive the shore party and dressed in their clothes so they could approach the ship and take it by surprise. But Hunter said, in front of Matthews and Styles, that the prize money might be denied if they knew about the ruse Hornblower used. He also thought him less aggressive in wanting to fight the French or in his desire to escape. Hunter further alienated himself with Hornblower through his dismissive attitude to Kennedy and his disobeying orders in the doomed escape attempt.

Bringing back Kennedy was odd though. His character is in some of the early stories but not much beyond that. We last saw him in The Duel where after an epileptic fit he had to be left in a long boat during a raid. Simpson cast his boat adrift and he floated into French hands. The only way he could be in Spain was that he escaped and headed there since it was an ally at that time. Alas probably by the time he made it, Spain was on France’s side and he was imprisoned. At any rate he was in bad shape and likely would have died without Hornblower’s help. Hunter was willing to let him die rather than bring him along.

Kitty Cobham/Duchess of Wharfedale was a clever character. She decided to impersonate the duchess so that she would not be ill-treated And she pulled it off both in the book and the televised drama. In the book, she told Hornblower before the Spanish came aboard Le Reve. While the men and officers would be searched, a duchess would not. Of course it came at a risk. If they ever suspected she was not a duchess, she would be arrested. And of course if they found the documents on her, she probably would be accused of being a spy and executed. In the book she was sent back to England and delivered the documents. The movie greatly expands her character by having her interned nearby while waiting transport to England (via Portugal) so she visits with Hornblower. Later she helps the very sick Kennedy recover. Unfortunately that is when he recognizes her as the actress. And much later the visiting French officer recognizes her as well but does not unmask her to Don Masseredo, commandant of the prison. She spends a night of romance with him which makes Hornblower uneasy. Yet as in the book she is loyal to both Hornblower and England.

Don Masseredo was never identified as such in the book, just the commandant of Ferrol prison who seemed pleasant enough. He did not speak English much and used an Irishman to do that for him (many Irish found jobs working or living in Spain during this period). Don Masseredo comes across as a gentleman but he is a Spanish army officer not to be trifled with either. The duchess uses all her skills with him to allow Hornblower parole and to bring fresh fruit (which Hunter despises and smashes them up). Another touch not in the book is after she left asking him to have Hornblower learn Spanish reading Don Quixote with a lexicon. Certainly the educated Hornblower would have known about the book as English translations had been around for a while. And it is considered one of the best Spanish books in all history and helping spread modern Spanish as well.

One of the nicer touches I liked was Hornblower’s promotion to lieutenant. In the book, the commandant informs of his promotion upon receiving notification from the British during a cartel. A cartel during this period was when enemies exchanged information and or prisoners usually by an agreement (informal or formal). It was much more satisfying to have Pellew deliver him the news when he was aboard Indefatigable. And Pellew did it with flair. When the duchess commended Acting Lieutenant Hornblower’s bravery, Pellew says:

I’m afraid he is no longer my acting lieutenant! As a result of exemplary gallantry in the fire ship attack on Gibraltar, an opinion shared by three captains no less. Captains who would not normally even agree on the color of the orange. His promotion was confirmed in last dispatches. He is now commissioned Lieutenant Hornblower.

An enjoyable episode to watch and the best of the Midshipman Hornblower adaptations.

Historical Notes

Sir Hew Dalrymple, 1st Baronet, by John Jackson, 1831 Image: Public Domain
Sir Hew Dalrymple, 1st Baronet, by John Jackson, 1831
Image: Public Domain

*Sir Hew Dalrymple was a real person. He was not governor of Gibraltar during the French Revolutionary Wars but was Acting Governor from November 1806-August 1808. However his actions in Portugal as Commander of the Portuguese Expedition in 1808 resulted in his being recalled for an official inquiry and to never hold field command again. With the French forces under General Junot defeated and on the run being pursued by General Arthur Wellesley(later Lord Wellington), he was ordered to cease by Dalrymple. Dalrymple negotiated the infamous Convention of Sintra which allowed all the French forces in Portugal (29,900) to be evacuated back to France courtesy of the British Royal Navy. Worse they were allowed to bring personal articles and weapons as well. The Portuguese were outraged by the deal which allowed them to take items stolen from Portugal. It was seen as a disgrace back in London. While the inquiry acquitted all concerned, Dalrymple was eventually promoted (due to seniority) to full general and then quietly retired. He was formally denounced by the government. He then was made governor of Blackness Castle from 1811 to his death in 1830. In short, sent to the rear where he could due the least damage and put in charge of an ancient fortress used as a military prison during the Napoleonic Wars and not much else after that.

*There is no title of nobility for Wharfedale. In fact Wharfedale is one of the Yorkshire Dales in the upper valley of the River Wharfe.

*Prize money was awarded when a navies in time of war seized merchant or military ships of the nation at war with. The British Royal Navy developed a series of rules about how it was to be done and was formalized in the Cruisers and Convoys Act of 1708. For merchant ships that were seized, the sale of cargo and ship would be the prize money to be divided up. Military ships (supply, dispatch and warships) were almost always purchased by the crown providing they were in good shape. Which is why, even with cannons that could sink ships at great distance, they would close in and take if they could. All ships that sighted the enemy craft that was captured were eligible for prize money. Money was allocated in eighths with the ships captain getting the most (which could make him very wealthy), along with admirals who ordered the orders, all the officers and crew got a share as well. Share money for the ordinary seamen could equal several years of pay. Privateers could seize enemy ships if they had a Letter of Marque granting that power but they also had to play by rules as well if they were to be paid. Those days are long gone and prize money is no longer awarded to naval officers who take enemy ships. They can be taken to a prize court and sold but the government gets the money now.