The Encyclopedia of Fantastic Victoriana

by Jess Nevins

The Devil's Diamond; Or, the Fortunes of Richard of the Raven's Crest (1876)

copyright © Jess Nevins 2022

The Devil’s Diamond; Or, the Fortunes of Richard of the Raven’s Crest first appeared in The Boy’s Standard. The author of The Devil’s Diamond is unknown.

The Devil’s Diamond begins with Richard Plantagenet, an English soldier and a Catholic, on a ship with Francisco Pizarro. Pizarro is sailing to Peru, intending to conquer the Inca, and Richard is a member of the attack force. But Richard has misgivings about the justice of the venture, feeling that it is done out of greed rather than out of regard for the state of the Inca’s souls. Richard makes the mistake of voicing his doubts to Vincent de Valverde, Pizarro’s chaplain, and de Valverde immediately accuses Richard of being a heathen. Richard is scornful of de Valverde for being a Spaniard and points out the superiority of the English to the Spanish, but Richard also stresses that he has pledged, as a good Catholic, to help the Church on this expedition. Later, during a meeting in which Pizarro and his advisors are plotting the betrayal and overthrow of Atahualpa, the Inca ruler, Richard and his friend Hubert, a forty-year-old veteran soldier, object to Pizarro’s plan, finding it dishonorable. The disagreement leads to an argument and threats, and when Hernando de Soto insults Richard’s Englishness Richard throws his glove in de Soto’s face. Pizarro is forced to remind Richard that everyone on the ship, Richard included, had agreed to neither quarrel nor fight with anyone else onboard. Richard responds that “to one of my race an insult is as hard to bear as a blow.”1 When the ship lands at San Mateo Bay Richard and Hubert quit the expedition. De Valverde, relieved that he is no longer constrained from acting against the Englishmen, attempts to kill Richard and Hubert by poisoning their wine. But before Richard and Hubert can drink the wine a luminous hand appears in their tent, its forefinger raised above their glasses of wine. They correctly interpret this to mean that the wine is poisoned, and Richard immediately suspects de Valverde. The glowing hand then writes lines of fire, telling Richard to flee from Pizarro and instead go to honor and wealth in the west, but to beware of the “Demon Tempter.” Reinforcing the point is a glowing hand in the sky, which points the way for Richard and Hubert. They leave the camp and follow the hand, pursued by Pizarro’s men. In the mountains an abyss suddenly opens beneath Richard and swallows him up. Richard finds himself in an underground cavern. He explores and discovers an ancient temple in the cavern. Rimac, a priest, approaches Richard and tells him that he is now in the Temple of the Sun God and that his coming was prophesied years ago. A Fiery Hand had appeared and foretold the downfall of the Inca, which only a figure matching Richard’s description can prevent. Rimac has been waiting many years for Richard’s arrival, and taught himself English so that Richard could understand him. Rimac brings Richard to Atahualpa, whose “mild angelic beauty”2 and peaceful personality positively impresses Richard. Atahualpa, talking to Richard through Rimac, expresses his joy at Richard’s arrival and accepts him as a champion of the Inca. Atahualpa also gives Richard a jeweled bracelet so that other Inca will know that Richard fights for them. Richard is then sent in search of a special diamond, “the lost jewel of the imperial crown—a diamond which hath not its equal in the whole world, neither for beauty nor for the mystic qualities it possesses.”3 It had been one of the prizes of the Inca, but two brothers quarreled over it, and one killed the other. The diamond became accursed by the evil spirit of murder, and then the god “Manco Copac” took the stone away from the Inca until Richard should retrieve it.

Meanwhile, Hubert believes that Richard has been killed by the Spanish and attempts to avenge Richard by attacking Pizarro’s men. Hubert kills several but is eventually captured. Pizarro suspects that Richard may have allied with Atahualpa, the brother and enemy of Pizarro’s ally Huáscar. Richard explores the caverns of the Temple of the Sun God and finds the diamond. Unfortunately, it is in the possession of a demon, who looks only half-human and has a Mephistophelean mien. The Demon tells Richard that it is his destiny to hold the jewel, which the Demon has had to guard for “many a weary century.” The Demon gives Richard the gem, but warns him,

So long as you hold it let your thoughts be pure, your actions just, and no man shall prevail against you¼but beware of this—when you and Pizarro meet in deadly conflict, face to face, and sword to sword, be sure that you have the diamond with you; one sparkle of that will avail you more than if you possessed the strength and skill of a hundred trained warriors.4 

The Demon tells Richard that it is God’s will that Richard bear the diamond. The Demon then vanishes. A slave arrives to take Richard to see Atahaulpa, but when the slave sees the diamond he grabs it and swallows it. He immediately explodes in flame and is instantly reduced to ashes. Rimac tells Richard that “Such or worse will be the fate of all who design to injure thee. Such also will be thy own if thou usest the power it giveth thee for aught but the cause of right and truth.”5 Rimac leads Richard to the city of Cuzco and Atahualpa’s troops who cheer for Richard and acclaim him their “chosen commander.”

After extensive searching Pizarro can’t locate Richard and instead sets off to meet with Huáscar. Rimac takes Richard to an inner chamber of the Temple of the Sun God. The chamber is filled with a dim, misty light, in which Richard sees visions of Pizarro and Hubert, who is to be subjected to the auto-da-fé. Richard wants to save Hubert, but to save Hubert Atahaulpa’s troops will have to attack the Spanish army, and the Inca soldiers are not ready for that; they possess no tactical sophistication and are accustomed to simply charging the enemy. Richard reorganizes the Inca army, but before he can lead them to Hubert’s rescue an earthquake strikes Cuzco, almost completely destroying the city and killing much of the army. During and after the earthquake Richard saves many of the Inca women and children from falling stones. De Valverde, who the story reveals is a member of the Inquisition, decides to put Hubert to the Question. But before Hubert can be set on fire lightning strikes from the heavens, first to prevent the soldiers from killing Hubert, then to prevent Pizarro from doing it himself. Hubert escapes from the Spanish and while trekking through the mountains is found by a group of Inca who are led by Hubert’s old friend William of Wyckham. William had been one of Columbus’ soldiers, but he had been left behind by Columbus and had spent so much time among the Inca that his personality changed. William became a good person and was eventually elected by the tribe of Inca to be their leader. William explains that the Inca language lacks the capability for guile and deceit, and because William became so used to speaking and thinking in Inca he forgot how to lie and deceive. He even forgot about his past:

An hour ago I was even as the simple people surrounding me, and regarded the coming of Pizarro with almost as much curiosity and wonder. You have awakened in me, Hubert, all that I thought dead, and I am once again an Englishman!6 

Hubert and William set off to join Atahualpa’s forces. Richard and Atahualpa are attacked by traitors in the pay of Huáscar, but Richard fights them off. That night Atahualpa’s army leaves Cuzco to attack Huáscar’s army, but soon after they are gone Huáscar’s army attacks Cuzco, kills all of Atahualpa’s men, and captures Richard, Rimac, and Atahualpa. Richard is taken to the city of Caxamalca and is forced to fight for his life in an arena. Hubert and William of Wyckham arrive in Caxamalca with the intention of rescuing Richard and Atahualpa. Hubert is recognized by Pizarro and is captured, but William succeeds in bribing Hernando del Soto to allow Richard to escape. Hubert is again on the verge of being burned alive when Richard arrives and rescues him. Pizarro, who took possession of the Diamond from Richard, is shown the Fiery Hand, and when Pizarro tries to slash at it he is thrown backwards. The Hand retrieves the Diamond and then disappears. It reappears in front of Richard and returns the Diamond to him. Pizarro and his troops eventually track down Richard and corner him, but Richard uses the powers of the Diamond to protect himself from Pizarro’s men. Richard challenges to Pizarro to a duel, which Pizarro reluctantly agrees to. Richard defeats Pizarro and spares his life on the condition that Pizarro immediately leave Peru and that he give Richard his authority over the Spanish in Peru. Pizarro agrees to this, but the other Spanish are unhappy with this arrangement and set a trap for Richard in the mountains. The trap, an avalanche, does not kill Richard but leaves him comatose. Hubert rescues Richard while William sneaks into Caxamalca to spy on the Spanish. William is discovered and led into an ambush, and before he dies he succeeds in killing Valverde. Hubert takes Richard back to Europe. When Richard recovers he attempts to return to the New World, but supernaturally-caused disasters always prevent him from doing so, and at length he gives up and joins the court of the Spanish Empire in Madrid. Richard is widely disliked by the Spanish nobles, but the Diamond always protects him from poisoners and assassins. Eventually Hubert and Richard tire of Spain and return to England.

The Devil’s Diamond is a Boy’s Own approach to the Spanish conquest of the Inca Empire. The generalities of the conquest are correct, but the historical details are sacrificed for dramatic purposes, and the author makes a mess of the geographical details--The Devil’s Diamond reads as if the author never looked at a map of Peru. The author did at least manage to include some correct information about Inca history, culture, and religion. But The Devil’s Diamond is simplistic and even juvenile. Its English jingoism and anti-Catholic, anti-Spanish message are clearly and repeatedly made. The novel provides only the slightest enjoyment for the modern reader, although its illustrations, in the style of Gustave Doré, lack his brilliance but still make for enjoyable viewing.

However, the novel has several notable elements. Richard’s Catholicism was extremely unusual for a story paper serial of the 1870s. Positive portrayals of Catholics were out of the ordinary in English literature of the time, and Catholic protagonists in story papers were vanishingly rare.

In the multi-voiced religious culture of Victorian Britain, anti-Catholic mockery was a popular activity for politicians, historians and sages as well as churchmen...the rhetoric of religious prejudice performed a vital cultural role in the antebellum period, providing oppositional images against which an emergent Protestant middle-class identity could be asserted...Protestant national, political and religious self-definition was a dynamic, fluid process, dependent on the flexible familiarity of anti-Catholic discourse.7 

While there were certainly Catholic writers during the Victorian era who wrote Catholic characters–more so after the anti-Catholic laws were repealed than before, naturally–they represent a small minority of the Victorian writers as a whole. This was especially true of Victorian popular literature, which is why the Catholicism of Richard is so unusual.

The interaction of the white men and the Incas is a version of the racist fantasy, seen in works as various as James Fenimore Cooper’s The Last of the Mohicans and Karl May’s Old Shatterhand novels (see: Winnetou), in which a white hero, in a native culture, demonstrates that he is the natives’ superior as a warrior and as a man. The natives acknowledge this and give the white hero a leadership role. This type of paternalistic racism often appeared in story papers (see: Crusoe Jack, the King of the Thousand Islands), but The Devil’s Diamond may be the only one in which this plot device is justified by God Himself.

The presence of the supernatural in The Devil’s Diamond is also unusual. While penny dreadfuls and story papers influenced by the Gothic often made use of fantastika, few story papers dealing with historical events did, and none as blatantly as in The Devil’s Diamond. However, if we assume that the author of The Devil’s Diamond was Catholic–a safe assumption, considering how unusual it was to have a non-Catholic writer portray a Catholic in a positive fashion (but see Denounced)–the use of God to approve of Richard’s actions becomes not fantastika but a miracle:

Protestants have their own providential narrative forms, their own appropriations of Biblical tropes and language, their own protocols for describing how God works in the world; even when Protestants rule things out of realist bounds, as in the case of mystic visions and miracles, they let them in through the back door via psychologization (see, for example, the dream visions in Alton Locke and Tom Brown's Schooldays), or allow them to run free in the Gothic.

What Victorian Catholic novelists tend to do, then, is unwrite genres: the novel appears to be one thing, then turns inside out and becomes an entirely different kind of text. E. H. Dering, whom I have derided at some length, is nevertheless doing precisely that. He takes the sensation novel and transforms its shocking events (child swapping! murder! bigamy! wills! etc.) into moments at which divine grace becomes momentarily visible when human beings attempt to thwart it. Similarly, to use my favorite example, Laetitia Selwyn Oliver's Father Placid appears to be a Gothic, but when Catholics "read" it, it becomes a miracle tale.8 

Lastly, The Devil’s Diamond is unusually emphatic in its repeated statements of the Black Legend (see: The Yellow Peril):

“Ay, Francisco Pizarro,” he muttered half aloud, “thou art indeed a fool, if thou thinkest that thy overbearing Spanish pride can daunt one of my race. I have heard of the infamous cruelties which Pizarro’s predecessor, Cortes, inflicted upon helpless women and children. Let me but see a sign that he intends to tread the same bloody path, and he shall find that he has no mean enemy to deal with in Richard of the Raven’s Crest.”9 

Although English hostility toward the Spanish and toward Catholicism was traditional in the story papers, rarely is the sentiment expressed as strongly or as openly as in The Devil’s Diamond.

One can’t recommend The Devil’s Diamond as a reading experience, but it can be of great use to academics writing about various trends in nineteenth-century literature.

Recommended Edition

Print: The Devil’s Diamond; Or, the Fortunes of Richard of the Raven’s Crest. London: Hogarth House, 1885.

1 The Devil’s Diamond, or the Fortunes of Richard of the Raven’s Crest (London: Hogarth House, 1885), 11.

2 The Devil’s Diamond, 27.

3 The Devil’s Diamond, 29.

4 The Devil’s Diamond, 39.

5 The Devil’s Diamond, 44.

6 The Devil’s Diamond, 53.

7 Moran, Catholic Sensationalism, 2.

8 Miriam Burstein, “Victorian Catholic Fiction as a ‘Minor’ Literature,” The Little Professor, accessed Jan. 24, 2019,

9 The Devil’s Diamond, 16.