Introduction: Set in 18th century India and in Spain’s most eastern colony, the Philippines and tells the story of a young English lad, Christopher Courtney, who stows away on an East India Merchant ship bound for Madras. It is at the time when huge fortunes are being won and lost by the British and the French in India as they battle over the vast riches of the emerging continent. The autonomous East India Company, based in Madras, is headed by the influential Governor, George Pigot, who is immediately impressed by the young stowaway and takes him under his wing. With Pigot’s patronage, Courtney makes a swift rise through the ranks of the East India Company and, encouraged by the Governor, becomes engaged to the his favourite niece, Henrietta. 

Pigot sends Courtney to the Philippines to make trade agreements with the local Sultan Azim-ud-din of Sulu for diamonds and pearls, to set up a factory in the Islands and to wrest control of the lucrative spice trade in the East Indies then dominated by the Dutch. Whilst there, Courtney orchestrates the battle for Manila between the Spanish colonists and the combined forces of the British and East Company fleets. It is won by the British, due solely to Courtney’s invaluable knowledge of the Islands, his intelligence about the weaknesses of the Spanish Army and the alliances he has forged with Azim-ud-din and his brother Muizz-ud-din. 


But if Courtney is to achieve his mission in the Philippines and bring wealth and power to both the East India Company and himself, he must keep to his end of the agreement with Azim-ud-din by marrying the Sultan’s beautiful daughter, Princess Diwata. Courtney is, thus, torn between his love for Henrietta and his passion for Diwata, between the gratitude he feels for his mentor, Governor Pigot, and the respect he feels for his new ally, the Sultan. And he must choose between his celebrated life in Madras and his perilous life in Sulu.




MY WEDDING DAY - October 25th 1761


As I draw back the heavy brocade drapes from my window, the blinding rays of the dawn sun infuse the oak-paneled room. Shielding my eyes against the glare I look out over the gardens. Corporal Comshaw’s wife, Aruna, is busy cutting the scented gardenia blossoms ready for Henrietta’s wedding bouquet. For today is the day I have long been waiting for. It is the day of my wedding to Henrietta. And yet, I am not longing for it. I dread it. As the hour approaches to speak my vows to her in front of the English congregation, my heart pounds with foreboding.


I gaze wistfully at the huge banyan tree dominating the courtyard. I recall the moment two years ago when, under its ancient branches, I had proposed to her. At that moment I had thought there was nothing else in life I wanted so much than for her to accept. 


And, as always, when my thoughts turn to my sweet Henny, discomforting images suffuse my mind. Images I have tried so hard, over the past months, to repress. They now seem to be so much a part of me that I fear I will never be free of them. When I think of Henny, instead of seeing her wide blue eyes, her dimpled cheeks, her full lips and her auburn curls, all I can see is the upturned face of Diwata, her appealing dark eyes welling with tears as I take my leave of her. I see her pleading expression and her trembling lips silently mouthing the Q’ran. I feel the fragile touch of her hand as she caresses my cheek. I see her uncle, the Sultan Muizz-ud-din, his normally haughty demeanour relaxed, as he places his arm protectively around his niece.

“Datu Courtney is our brother, dear niece, for now and forever,” he whispers loudly in her ear, while directing his dark penetrating gaze at me. 


“He has assured me, on his honour, and by the blood he has shed for your most illustrious father, that he will return with a great many soldiers to free your most noble father, our great Sultan, from the detested Spanish and then he will fulfill his promise and marry you.” 


Oh, sweet Diwata. You must trust me. I will return. But how will I tell you I belong to another?


I can no longer bear these thoughts and try to force my mind back to Henrietta and our wedding day. Dear Henny, whose love I so longed for, whose love I so gratefully received and whose love I so cherished during my years of solitary travels. How can I ever admit to her that now this most precious love can, in no way, match the overwhelming feelings I have for Diwata. 


I tune my ears for familiar sounds. I can hear the soft footsteps of the housemaid on the landing as she sweeps the wide mahogany floor planks outside my door. I hear the raised voices of the cooks below shouting their orders to the bustling kitchen maids as they hurry to put the finishing touches to the wedding feast. I hear the comforting sound of the huge iron bells of St Mary’s ringing out over the walls of Fort St. George from its crumbling bell tower. And, below me, the combined sounds of the East India Company and Sepoy marching bands echo across the grand courtyard as they hastily rehearse Bach’s wedding march. 


There is a knock at the door. Comshaw turns the handle quietly not wanting to disturb me.


“Enter, Corporal,” I say, “I am up already.”


The toothless old man shuffles in, carrying my carefully-pressed dark blue and gold Company uniform. Carefully he lays it out on the bed.


“Morning, Sir!” he grins, revealing naked gums, “I am trusting you slept well?”


I realize this faithful old officer is the only person of my acquaintance, other than Captain Brereton and Quarter-Gunner Monson, who shares my secret. I shake my head sadly. Comshaw nods sympathetically. He knows instinctively what I mean. He has seen that I am a man caught between two very different lives. My more settled life in the Philippines among the Sulu tribe I have come to respect and, even, love and my occasional life in Madras, among a haughty British elite whose wealth exceeds their intelligence and whose arrogant ways I can no longer tolerate. 


And today I am supposed to marry into this elite and live by their formalities, their standards and their rules. Taking Henrietta as my bride I will be expected to speak and act a certain way, a way that is now totally alien to me. Comshaw knows all this. I have spoken to him extensively about it for I have learned to value his simple native wisdom, an instinctive wisdom I am sorely lacking.


Comshaw picks up the dress shirt and approaches me.


“If you don’t mind my saying, Sir,” he smiles, trying to humour me, “but in Punjab we have a proverb.” He pauses.


“Well, what is it?” I enquire.


Comshaw, embarrassed, lowers his eyes. He coughs.


“Well, Sir, it is this. The more mates a monkey has, the happier his soul and the more he feels like a king!”


I smile.


“I’m sorry if I offend you, Sir!” Comshaw murmurs as he proceeds to dress me, “but I am only trying to raise your melancholy spirit.” 


He pulls the dress shirt over my arms, intent on covering the scars on my left arm and below my breast, scars that Henrietta has not yet seen, does not yet know about and on this very night will require an explanation.


“What am I to do, Corporal?” I ask. 


Without waiting for an answer, I add, “Time was when this marriage was all I wanted, all I aspired to, all I thought I required to make me happy. Now I am almost dreading this union for I know it will only make Lady Henrietta unhappy. What should I do?”


The old soldier thinks for a moment while fastening the buttons. 


“Well, Sahib,” he begins. 


Comshaw always referred to me as Sahib when he was about to deliver some advice. 


“In my humble opinion, you will have to speak to his Lordship without delay.”


“His Lordship, yes,” I repeat despondently. 


His Lordship who had treated me like a son from the start. His Lordship who had plucked me from the obscurity of the Company mail-room and taught me the ways of the business. His Lordship who had instilled in me the yearning for knowledge, who had ignited my ambition, excited my desire for adventure and fueled the seeds of my success. His Lordship who had encouraged my romance with his favourite niece and who had picked this very auspicious day, the first anniversary of His Majesty George III’s accession to the throne, as the day I would recite my vows to her and make her my wife.


“Tell me, Comshaw, how will I do it? It will break his heart. What will I say?” 


I dreaded the moment that I now knew was inevitable. Would George Pigot, the man I looked upon as my father, ever forgive me?


“You must remember, Sahib, it was his Lordship who sent you to Sulu. It was his Lordship who encouraged you to befriend the Sultan. And it was his Lordship who asked you to make trade deals on behalf of the Company, whatever the personal cost to yourself.”


Comshaw was right, of course. What he did not know was that “his Lordship” had also voiced his misgivings on the eve of my departure, tried to discourage me from going by warning me of the “savage ways of the Suluans” and the price I might have to pay for failure. It was not “his Lordship” but me who desperately wanted to succeed at all costs. It was me who had chosen to live among the Suluans to gain their trust. And it was me who decided the cost I would be required to pay for my success was to wed the Sultan’s daughter. 


Diwata’s innocent pleading face once more appears before my eyes.


I shake my head to rid myself of the image. Comshaw holds up the high-waisted trousers and I step into them. He bends down to fasten them then stands back to admire me.


“Should I send for his Lordship, Sir?” he enquires..


Reluctantly I nod. 

“Please do so, Corporal. Tell him it’s most urgent!”


The old Indian withdraws, silently closing the door behind him. I sigh, stroll over to the bed, pick up the tight-fitting jacket and slip it on. As I fasten the shiny gold buttons I think about what I am going to say. But how can I say anything without deeply wounding him and Henrietta? Will he lose his temper and damn me to hell? Will he strip me of my post of Deputy Secretary of the Madras Council and send me back to England in disgrace? Will he cease to be my father and mentor? All these questions and more flood my mind. I hardly notice the knock at the door.


“His Lordship will come as soon as he is dressed,” Comshaw announces. “Will that be all, Sir? The groom needs my help to steady the horses as he harnesses them to the carriages.”


“Yes, yes, Comshaw, you may go now,” I reply, walking back to the window. I suck in the sultry humid air, hoping to gain some fortitude for the meeting that was to come. If I could survive my first encounter with Alim-ud-din, I reassure myself, I can certainly survive this.


A little while later I hear the Governor’s heavy footsteps approaching my door.


“Christopher? You wanted to see me?” he asks.


“Yes, Sir, come in, please!” I walk towards the door to greet him. He embraces me warmly and then, as Comshaw had done, stands back to admire the rare sight of his “adopted” son wearing the full dress uniform of the Honorable East India Company, the Company he so proudly represents.


“Well, Christopher, I must say you should wear that more often! A darn sight better than those Sulu garments you insist on wearing!” 


Pigot laughs aloud. 


“My son, the tribesman!” He inspects me closer. 


“Glad you decided to hide the scars and the tattoos, old boy! They could have scared dear Henrietta away!”


He places a paternal arm around my shoulder and leads me back to the window. He points to the frenzied activity below. Gardeners, grooms, carriage drivers, soldiers, Sepoys, band members and women in brightly-hued saris are putting the finishing touches to the bridal route. 


Hundreds of elephants, adorned in elaborate head-dresses and gold-threaded blankets, form a line from my house to the Church. Camels, with decorative harnesses and garlands of flowers around their necks flank the bridal route on either side.  And horses with shining silver bridles, gaily-coloured flags and gaudy ostrich feather plumes, their nostrils flaring, their hooves clattering on the granite courtyard, prance nervously as their grooms hold them tightly, whispering calming words in their ears. And, at the far end of the line, wedding guests, in splendidly decorated carriages, are beginning to line up outside the Church.


“That’s all in your honour,” Pigot says proudly. 


“Not since the glorious welcome of Robert Clive has Fort St. George seen the likes of this.” 


He turns to me, smiling. 


“So what did you want to tell me, young man?”


I take a deep breath. There was no going back now. 


“Before I discuss this urgent matter with you, Sir, I want you to know I am and always will be grateful for your friendship and trust. And you must believe me that I always worked for the good of the Company, for what I thought was best. And I will always continue to do so.”


George Pigot looks at me. 


“This sounds ominous, Christopher. Are you thinking of leaving us? Of taking Henrietta back to England? Because, I assure you, all of us on the Council value your industrious efforts on our behalf. We have faith in you and we want you to continue.”


I smile.


“It’s not that, Sir. It’s….” I take a deep breath.


“It’s about the arrangement I made with Alim-ud-din.”


Maybe the old man anticipated what I was going to say next. He nods thoughtfully.


I continue. 


“As I explained to you and to the Council, the arrangement was secured in exchange for trade deals with Sulu, Borneo, Sabah and Palawan. It was in exchange for..”


The Governor interrupts me. 

“The factory, yes. And the support of the Suluans when we launch our attack on Manila and on the two galleons you say are due to arrive there next year.” 


He hesitates, laying a hand firmly on my shoulder. 


“Was there part of the arrangement you didn’t inform the Council about, Christopher?”


There was no turning back now. The Governor could sense I was hiding something from him.


“Remember, Christopher, I know you like a son.” 


He looks me straight in the eye. 


“Since your arrival back here last month I noticed you were more reticent, more unwilling to share your personal thoughts with me. What is it you are withholding from me?”


I blurt it out. 


“Sir, the Sultan offered me his daughter, the Princess Diwata, in marriage as part of the agreement.”


I pause, watching the Governor’s expression for any hint of reaction. But it seems for the moment the blood had been drained from his face. It is obvious he had not expected this.


“And his brother, Muizz-ud-din, is holding me to the contract.” I continue. 


“I feel I cannot jeopardize everything I have worked for, all the Company’s future successes, by failing to honor the contract I agreed to with him.”


Pigot sighs loudly. 


“For the Company, for our God and for the King, of course!” 


He speaks softly, staring straight ahead. Then, turning to me, he continued.


 “I was the one who taught you that, wasn’t I, Christopher? And you have excelled in your duties, far beyond our greatest hopes.”


He shakes his head.


“Robert Clive alone restored the Company’s territories and pride. But you, Christopher Courtney, you alone have restored its fortunes.” 


He shakes his head ruefully. 


“How could I not possibly have imagined there would be a high personal price to pay for that?” 


He pulls me towards him and places his hand in mine.


“What shall I do?” I ask, surprised by his calm acceptance of the situation.


Pigot walks to the large mahogany chair and sits down. He remains silent for a while as I watch his face searching for a clue. Drumming his fingers lightly on the desk, he eventually speaks slowly, without looking at me.


“You must go through with the wedding to Henny.” He pauses. 


“You must not breathe a word about this to her, ever.” He briefly looks at me. 

“Then you must return, full haste, to Sulu to conclude the trade treaties and to prepare for the invasion of Manila.” 


He draws a long deep breath before continuing. 


“And then,” he hesitates, a lump visibly forming in his throat, “you can never return to Madras or to Henny – ever again. Is that understood?”


I nod sadly, realizing in that very moment, something I had not known before - that the old man’s allegiance to the East India Company far exceeded even his love for his favourite niece.


“Whatever your victories on our behalf, our combined victories, you will never be able to return here for your hero’s welcome.” Pigot again glances briefly in my direction. 


“But do not concern yourself, Christopher. I will personally see to it that you and your Suluan brothers will get your share of the rewards.”


He smiles and adds,”Despite Admiral Cornish’s disapproval!” 


He takes a deep breath. I can see he is hurting.


“But you will remain forever among your Sulu friends.”


I note he pronounced the word “brothers” with some little distaste.


“And Henrietta?” I ask. “What will become of her? What will you tell her?”


“I will think of something,” Pigot draws a deep breath, removes a clean linen handkerchief from his breast pocket and wipes his eyes. “It will break her heart - and mine too. But I have every intention of returning to England soon. I will take her with me. She will live with me in Norfolk. She will be well looked after. And, hopefully, in time, she will forget you and find another husband.”


He reaches out and grabs my arm, bending me towards him. 


“But I will never forget you, Christopher. You are the son I never had. You will always remain that, no matter the personal rift and the distance between us.”


He wipes his eyes again and then methodically folds the handkerchief and returns it to his breast pocket.


“And, please,” his despairing eyes pierce my own, “please, from time to time send word to me how you are. Promise?” He looks up at me.


I nod. “I promise I will not forget, Sir!” I reply. And I mean it. 


Slowly, the Governor rises from the chair. Hand on sword he draws himself up to his full height.


“And now, my son, we have a wedding to attend!” He turns sharply around and, head held high, he strides purposefully towards the door.


“See you in Church,” he says as, without looking back, he turns the walnut handle. “And don’t be late!”


I walk over to the night table and pick up the Bible. I turn the yellowing pages hoping to find a verse or a psalm that might offer some comfort. But increasingly I had found over my years in Sulu the Bible no longer held any meaning for me. Its words, once a powerful source of solace, wisdom and hope now offered me nothing but confusion. I throw it down in disgust. As I do so, I catch a reflection of myself in the mirror. Who am I? What had I become? I am going to marry a beautiful woman, a woman who has complete faith in me, who has given me her love and I am about to betray her. A week after our wedding I will be leaving her, never to see her again. 


I would now have to draw on all my strength, all my sincerity to persuade Henny, just as I had recently had to convince the gentle Diwata before I left Sulu, that I would only be away a short while before returning to her. And I would need to be so credible that she would believe me.


I pick up my sword and place it carefully in its scabbard at my side. I grab my plumed hat and white gloves and stride out of the room. 


Outside the sun is almost directly overhead. Apart from the persistent ringing of the church bells, all else is silent. The constant chattering among the locals has momentarily ceased. The band has moved on to line the ceremonial route from the Governor’s mansion, where Henrietta has been residing, to the Church.


Comshaw waits holding the lead horses of my open landau. He salutes me as I approach. Ears pricked, eyes wide, the six chestnut stallions start stomping their hooves, eager to move on. The coachman, Captain Reynolds, resplendent in British cavalry uniform, holds the reins firmly, calming the horses by a constant reassuring whistle. I acknowledge him with a nod.


“To St Mary’s!” I say, “Make haste! Or. I fear we may be late!”





Caroline Kennedy has worn many hats in her life – radio producer, journalist, author, theatre director, actor, humanitarian aid worker, mother, grandmother and intrepid traveler. Her number one best-selling book, How the English Establishment Framed Stephen Ward, was turned into a musical by Andrew Lloyd-Weber. She currently lives in Los Angeles and is divorced from Filipino National Artist, Ben Cabrera (BenCab) with whom she has three children, Elisar, Mayumi and Jasmine. Their son, Elisar, died of cancer in July 2020.