As with innumerable other references and throwaway lines in REH’s stories, there are hints in the Solomon Kane saga that cry for further examination. His relationship with the Taferal family of Devon is one of them. Old Hildred Taferal, his evil kinsman Sir John, and the innocent Marylin Taferal, trepanned to the depths of Africa, were all of some importance in Solomon Kane’s life. He was fond of Sir (or Lord) Hildred, had evidently been decently treated by the old man in former years, and had been the instrument of the vile Sir John’s demise. All these matters are mentioned in REH’s story, “The Moon of Skulls”, but not treated in detail.
“Taferal” or a variant of it, is a name that recurs in a number of REH yarns, from the sixteenth century to the twentieth. “The Children of the Night”, for instance. One of the men gathered in Conrad’s study is named Taverel. The female pirate Helen Tavrel in “The Isle of Pirate’s Doom” is a Taverel with one letter missing. I suspect there were two main branches of the family, one in Devon, one in Cornwall.
The sixteenth-century Devon Taferals (who with the free-and-easy eccentric spelling of the time variously rendered their surname Taferal, Tafarel and Taffryl) are of most interest here. They were closely associated with the Kanes, the family that produced the grim Puritan adventurer Solomon Kane. The “little Devon town” to which he was native may well have been Salcombe, a fishing village about twenty miles east of Plymouth, which was home to the Hawkins family. Devon was also the home county of Francis Drake, Solomon Kane’s contemporary.
Hildred, John and Marylin are the Taferals most strikingly mentioned. Kane refers in passing to brothers (plural) of Marylin’s, though their number and names are not specified. Solomon Kane knew Marylin when she was a tiny child, and was clearly fond of her, so he must have had an association of some sort with the Taferals.
Hildred is the oldest still living. Kane calls him both “Lord Hildred Taferal” and “old Sir Hildred” in “Moon of Skulls”. In fact, to be “Lord Hildred Taferal” in England, he would have to be the younger son of a duke or marquis. That seems pretty high in the peerage for a person on familiar terms with a commoner – lesser gentry at most – like Solomon Kane. Solomon had even taken Hildred’s baby cousin on his knee! He also knows Hildred well enough to be aware that in his old age he has gout, and blasphemes a lot. It’s more significant still that Hildred, and Marylin’s brothers, trust him with a lone quest to find and restore her.
Besides, Kane also refers to Hildred as “Sir Hildred”, so there is a discrepancy here. I’d resolve it by supposing that Hildred had been a knight in his younger days, and was later created a baron. Then he would be “Hildred, Lord Taferal” not “Lord Hildred Taferal.” This is probably a slight slip of REH’s. As for Kane, he doubtless refers to the old man as both a “sir” and a “lord” to Marylin, in almost the same breath, because he isn’t paying much attention to niceties of title in the hellish city of Negari. He’s in a desperate, urgent situation (when wasn’t he?).
I’d assume that the Taferals were a gentry family, not noble, at the time Hildred was born. They had a manor house near Kingsbridge – a few miles north of “the little Devon town”, probably Salcombe on the coast that bred the Kanes. Salcombe is a fishing port known for the natural beauty of its setting, but as the sixteenth century began it lacked other distinctions. The much larger town of Plymouth, home of the Hawkins and Drake families, lay along the coast twenty miles to the west.
Hildred, and Solomon Kane’s grandfather – I like to think the latter’s name was Reuben – were born in the same year, 1502. Reuben was an ordinary, unlettered fisher lad. He knew boats and the sea, and not much else at first, while Hildred received the usual sort of gentry education, including training in arms. The two had hot blood and a reckless, scapegrace streak in common.
The Protestant faith was fairly new then, and Henry VIII’s break with the Church of Rome caused much horror. The nobles and gentry of Devon turned their religious coats at Henry’s command, while the commoners for the most part stayed Romish. The Kanes were an exception; they became Protestants, and staunch, stubborn ones, though they would not have qualified as “Puritans” in the early 1500s; the word wasn’t even in general use then. English Puritanism, strictly speaking, was founded shortly after Elizabeth I came to the throne in 1558.
Both boys were more interested in adventure and hell-raising than in religion. Hildred enjoyed slumming among the smugglers and pirates whose ships often docked at Salcombe, and, to quote The Wind in the Willows, “simply messing about in boats”. Reuben dreamed of blooded horses and swords. The two met while young and took to each other. Hildred taught Reuben the principles of fencing. (His own instructor was an Italian fencer who had fled Milan for reasons he didn’t talk about.) He and Reuben practiced together with sticks before they were ten, and Reuben showed promise. Hildred took the rapiers from the house when they were older and practiced with Reuben with the genuine blades.
(Henry VIII had come to the throne, aged eighteen, when both these boys were seven.)
Reuben Kane’s father might have given his first-born that name because he knew the quotation from Genesis 49: “You are my first-born, my might, the first sign of my strength, excelling in honor, excelling in power.”
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