Memoirs of a Cavalier Summary
by Daniel Defoe

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Memoirs of a Cavalier Summary

(Masterpieces of British Fiction)

The Cavalier, son of a landed gentleman in the county of Salop, was born, according to his own report, in 1608. As a child, he was taught by good tutors; as a young man, he was sent to Oxford University, where he spent three years deciding that he was not interested either in continuing academic life or entering one of the professions—law, the Church, or medicine. His father hoped the young man, who was his favorite son, would settle down near his home. He even agreed to settle an estate worth two thousand pounds per year upon the young man; but the Cavalier, much as he loved his father and appreciated the offer, decided, with his father’s permission, to travel on the Continent.

In 1630, the Cavalier crossed the Channel and began his adventures in life. Fielding, a college friend, went with him. Because of his martial bearing, the friend had been nicknamed the “Captain,” and the name stuck to him. After some minor adventures on the road, the Cavalier and his friend arrived in Paris. Their stay was cut short when the Cavalier killed a man in a sword fight and the two friends left the city hurriedly to escape the authorities. They journeyed to Italy and traveled there for some time, returning later to France to observe how Cardinal Richelieu was administering that country for his king. Again the two Englishmen found themselves in trouble from which they were extricated by the Queen Mother, who gave them a pass that enabled them to travel on to see the fighting between the French forces and those of the Duke of Savoy. Unimpressed in Italy by the antiquities of Rome and by the Italian people, who seemed much degenerated from their Roman ancestors, the Cavalier and his friend traveled northward into central Europe, arriving in Vienna in 1631 and then going on into Bavaria. In Germany, they had a chance to see the fighting between the Protestant Germans, led by the Elector-Duke of Saxony, and the Catholic forces headed by Emperor Ferdinand. One of the dreadful experiences the two Englishmen had was to observe the end of the siege of Magdeburg. The fall of that city was marked by terrible looting, rape, and murder; the city itself was almost completely destroyed and the population reduced to a mere handful from an original population of more than 25,000 souls.

After the fall of Magdeburg to the Catholic forces, the Cavalier and Fielding journeyed on until they encountered the invading army of Gustavus Adolphus, King of Sweden, who had joined the Protestant Germans against Emperor Ferdinand. The Cavalier was quite impressed with the Swedish army and the person of the Swedish King, to whom he was introduced by Colonel Hepburn, a friend of the Cavalier’s father who had taken service in the Swedish army. Fielding joined the Swedish forces, as did the Cavalier after a time, serving first as a gentleman volunteer and later as a commissioned officer. The Cavalier distinguished himself many times in the Swedish service. His father raised a regiment of cavalry and, with the consent of the English king, sent it to Gustavus Adolphus, who made the Cavalier its colonel. In addition to his service as a commander, the Cavalier also became a special attendant to the King and sometimes his emissary. Captured by the Imperial forces shortly before the Battle of Lutzen in which Gustavus Adolphus lost his life, the Cavalier was allowed to continue his travels after he had given his parole.

In 1635, the Cavalier found himself in Holland, where he observed the Dutch army under its famous commander, Prince Maurice, opposing the forces of Spain. Later in the same year, the Cavalier returned to England, where he rested for some months until he was called from his inactivity by Charles I, who asked the Cavalier to enter his service in the campaign against the Scots. Serving as a gentleman volunteer rather than as a commissioned officer, he found the campaigns against the Scots little to his liking; there was little real action, only minor skirmishes,...

(The entire section is 1,173 words.)