(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Jack Wilton is a page serving in the army of King Henry VIII of England when his adventures begin. While the English troops are encamped near Turwin in France, Jack pretends that he has overheard the king and his council planning to do away with a certain sutler, or civilian provisioner, and he convinces the sutler that he ought to give away all of his supplies to the soldiers and then throw himself on the king’s mercy. Completely fooled, the sutler does just that. The king, enjoying the prank, gives the sutler a pension and forgives Jack.

Shortly after this escapade, Jack befriends a captain who forces Jack to help him get rich by throwing dice. Jack tires of his subservience to the captain and persuades the officer that the best means of getting ahead in the army is to turn spy and seek out information valuable to the king. The gullible captain enters the French lines and is discovered by the French and almost killed before he is hustled back to the English camp.

The campaign over, Jack finds himself back in England once more. When the peacetime duties of a page begin to pall, he leaves the king’s household and turns soldier of fortune. After crossing the English Channel to find a means of making a livelihood, he reaches the French king too late to enter that monarch’s service against the Swiss. He travels on to Münster, Germany, where he finds John Leiden leading the Baptists against the duke of Saxony. He observes a notorious massacre in which the Baptists are annihilated because they refuse to carry the weapons of war into battle.

After the battle, Jack meets the earl of Surrey, who is on the Continent at the time. Surrey was acquainted with Jack at King Henry’s court and is glad to see him again. He confides to Jack his love for Geraldine, a lovely Florentine woman. Surrey proposes that Jack travel with him to Italy to find her. Since Jack has no other immediate plans, he readily consents to accompany the earl.

Jack and Surrey proceed southward into Italy. As they travel, Surrey proposes to Jack that they exchange identities for a time, so that the nobleman can behave in a less seemly fashion. Pleased at the prospect of being an earl, even temporarily, Jack agrees.

Upon their arrival in Venice, the two are taken up by a courtesan named Tabitha, who tries to kill the man she thinks is the earl of Surrey, using the true earl as her accomplice. Surrey and Jack turn the tables on her, however, and cause her and her pander to be executed for attempting to conspire against a life. In the process, however, Jack unknowingly comes into possession of some counterfeit coins. When they use the money, Jack and the earl...

(The entire section is 1095 words.)