1793: Fresh from the first engagement of a new war with Revolutionary France, Lord Charles Wormwood, though he has no real idea why, is hailed as a hero. An honest man would not accept the accolade – an honest man, to Wormwood, would thus be a fool!
Basking in his new found fame, the only sensible thing to do is milk it, which brings him into the sphere of Sir Andrew Braeburn, the most upright admiral in King George's Navy. It also makes him deeply attractive to the man’s daughter Kate, convinced she is both a beauty and a wit, when she is neither.
But Kate has her own qualities - rampant nymphomania combined with a quite ruthless addiction to getting her own way. She also has a parent who can see only good in her and will act to advance the career of the man his daughter has set her heart on marrying.
But first, Midshipman Wormwood, son of the rascally Earl of Moidart, must pass the examination for lieutenant, one set up by his Uncle Harry Hamilton, with the questions and answers provided in advance.
Which would have been fine if the officers set to test him where those who arranged to attend and help him cheat. Not so, a certain Captain Horatio Nelson has stepped in to take the place of another who is sick and he's not in on the arrangement.
Added to this Charles Wormwood is, thanks to the nocturnal attention of Kate Braeburn, exhausted. How can a man as ignorant of the sea, as well as technicalities of sailing a warships, pass such a test? Divine intervention?
Reconnected with the officers of HMS Childers, over-consumption of their execrable wine, plus that pest of a hero-worshipper, Midshipman Pettigrew, leads him into danger. He must help press sailors into the King's Navy, a risky business, which could end in disaster and it does. Serious misfortune is only avoided by a classic Wormwood solution.
Throughout, he will be advised and abuse the person he has chosen as his new servant, the grubby ex-pickpocket Kissock.