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A revelatory new history of the seventeenth-century world through the life of one of the greatest Englishmen who ever lived.


'A thrilling account' The Times
'As heroic as Digby himself, Moshenska has defied the tyranny of genre and made his own absorbing account' Observer
'A master storyteller. Full of exquisite details, but with the grandest themes... this is a gripping adventure story' Zia Haider Rahman
'A brilliant account of one of the seventeenth century's most dashing lives' Ruth Scurr

'Gripping and extraordinary' Ann Wroe
On the 16th of August 1628, five battle-scarred English ships sailed into the harbour of the Greek island of Milos. Dropping anchor, the 25-year-old captain banqueted with the local lord before sitting down to write an account of his journey – an account that would transform him entirely.

Sir Kenelm Digby was one of the most remarkable Englishmen who ever lived: a trusted advisor to the King, but the sworn enemy of the all-powerful Duke of Buckingham; a pioneering philosopher and scientist, but committed to the occult arts of alchemy and astrology; a friend not only of Ben Jonson, Thomas Hobbes and van Dyck, but even Oliver Cromwell. He was also widely known as the ‘son of a traytor and husband of a whore’: a man who witnessed his father’s gruesome execution for high treason as a Gunpowder Plotter, and the lover of the most celebrated beauty of the age, Venetia Stanley.

In an attempt to clear his name, and on a quest for personal glory, Digby assembled a fleet and set sail for the Mediterranean: a world of pirate cities and ancient ruins where people, ideas and exotic goods moved freely between languages and nations. His journey – encompassing fevers, mutiny, piracy, daring rescues and heroic sea battles – is a great and terribly overlooked adventure, and a prism through which to view England, and all of Europe, during one of the most pivotal periods in its history.

A Stain in the Blood is the story of an extraordinary life, and of a journey that helped to shape a nation. It is a revelatory first work of non-fiction by one of the brightest young writers and thinkers of today.


Joe Moshenska's wonderful book is an act of restoration. He mixes impressive scholarship with narrative flair to bring the young Digby back to vivid life. A thrilling account... sparkling… fascinating.

Michael Prodger, The Times

Combining the rigour and precision of the academic with the skills of a master storyteller, in this remarkable tale of one man, the author brings to life an important period of British and Mediterranean history. Full of exquisite details, but with the grandest themes – it has heroic love, it has religion and science, art and literature, power and politics – this is a gripping adventure story.

Zia Haider Rahman, author of In The Light of What We Know

Romance and adventure, piracy and alchemy – Kenelm Digby blazed through one of the most remarkable lives of the seventeenth century. With his engaging blend of scholarship and storytelling, Joe Moshenska takes us on the eye-opening tale of an extraordinary man's daring quest for fame, fortune, and knowledge on the treacherous seas of the Mediterranean.

Faramerz Dabhoiwala, author of The Origins of Sex

Gripping and extraordinary.

Ann Wroe

A brilliant account of one of the seventeenth century's most dashing lives.

Ruth Scurr, author of John Aubrey: My Own Life

A rich sense of the way Digby thought of himself … the historical facts are extraordinary enough to make the whole story well worth telling.

Noel Malcolm, Daily Telegraph

With its deep historical knowledge and eye for glittering detail, A Stain in the Blood resurrects an extraordinary adventure from the archive. In this gripping, artful take on the genre, Joe Moshenska’s biography draws a vivid portrait of this successor to Raleigh or Drake and his fascinating travels. Freighted with riches on every page, it will compel experts and general readers alike.

Sarah Howe, author of Loop of Jade

Joe Moshenska's superb new book gives a captivating account of how one of the most enigmatic figures of the English Renaissance cooked up his own life story. Kenelm Digby – the restless cosmopolitan polymath – knew that to wipe away the sin of his treacherous father he would have to fashion his life as a hero of romance, and A Stain in the Blood gives us the fascinating tale of how he made that new life out of a wild array of books and places. The author and subject are perfectly paired, making the reader witness to one playful and erudite mind looking into another.

Edward Wilson-Lee, author of Shakespeare in Swahililand

Sir Kenhelm Digby’s ridiculously eventful life, most of it spent negotiating a world of dangerous political and religious differences, is a distant mirror for our age, as compellingly rendered in Joe Moshenska’s new book.

Joyce E. Chaplin, author of Round About the Earth

Sir Kenhelm Digby’s ridiculously eventful life, most of it spent negotiating a world of dangerous political and religious differences, is a distant mirror for our age, as compellingly rendered in Joe Moshenska’s new book.

Joyce E. Chaplin, author of Round About the Earth

There can be no doubt that Moshenska is an erudite and engaging biographer of an individual who demonstrated these very qualities in abundance. Digby deserved to be rescued from relative obscurity and Moshenska is to commended for doing so with such verve.

Times Literary Supplement

Hugely enjoyable …[Sir Kenelm Digby was] one of the 17th-century’s most remarkable Englishmen … As he brings to vivid life the young man’s quest for fame, fortune and new experiences, Moshenska combines erudition and deft storytelling to great effect.

The Sunday Times

A vividly imagined portrait of Digby… A Stain in the Blood is a history full of enticing fictions… as heroic as Digby himself, Moshenska has defied the tyranny of genre, and made his own absorbing narrative.

Robert McCrum, Observer

Joe Moshenska’s splendid book – the first full-length study of Kenelm Digby for sixty years – teems with picaresque stories … Moshenska’s research is transparent and extensive. He has immersed himself in Kenelm’s writings, uncovered new letters and scrutinized the language to produce a fascinating and innovative study of early modern self-fashioning.

Times Literary Supplement

Successfully brings back to life a forgotten self-made man who was at the same time braggadocio and philosopher, and who seemed to live so many lives. Readers curious to learn more can only await the second half of the story.

The Economist

[A] well researched, novelistic biography.

Sunday Telegraph

Achieves a stained glass window vividity in its portrayal of Jacobean England and of Digby himself.

Sunday Times, S Magazine

Joe Moshenska’s wonderful and sparkling biography pays [Sir Kenelm Digby] fitting tribute.

The Oldie

[Digby’s] story has been a long time finding a narrator, but this book has been worth waiting for.

Astene: Assoc. for the Study of Travel in Egypt and the Near East

Reads like a thrilling historical novel but amazingly happens to be nonfiction.

Mark Haddon

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Formats & editions

  • Paperback


    March 15, 2017

    Windmill Books

    576 pages

    RRP $24.99

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  • EBook


    May 5, 2016

    Cornerstone Digital

    576 pages

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