Cup of Gold - Character Summaries

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Major Characters

Old Robert MorganAn eighteenth-century lithograph of Henry Morgan, Privateer

Old Robert, Henry's father, is a man with an adventurous mind who suffers many small defeats during the course of his life.  He is a farmer by trade and in his later years, "he imagined he understood too many things to ever do anything well" (2). Although the Morgan name is well-respected, he is not.  The conventional villagers wonder at his spectacular behavior.  He is a self-proclaimed dreamer, but does not want Henry to become an adventurer, even though he understands his son's desire to see the world.  His conversation with Merlin towards the end of the novel reveals his contempt for conventionality and for himself for compromising his dreams and never having the courage to accomplish great things.


Old Robert's mother is a seer and often practices her second-sight.  Though her family and fellow villagers are aware her prophecies are mostly guesswork, they respect her nonetheless.  She accurately prophecies Henry's success as a buccaneer prior to his departure, though none imagine the truth of her hopeful prophecy at that time.

Mother Morgan

Old Robert's wife and Henry's mother is a strong woman who relies on common sense as a weapon against her daydreaming husband.  Unlike Old Robert, she considers herself "[…] too busy with the day itself to be bothered with the foolishness of abstractions" (3).  She loves Old Robert and often battles his fancy with her sharp logic.  She is the backbone of the family and never lets her strong-minded ways slip into frivolity.  She loves her son whom she views as "only a little boy" (11).  She is deeply hurt and offended when he rebuffs her attempts to get him to stay in the village.  She dies shortly after Henry's departure.

Henry Morgan

Henry starts out as a young dreamer with an adventurous spirit.  His lofty dreams of becoming a buccaneer overtake his sensibilities and once he hears the exotic stories about the West Indies, he knows he must journey far from the safety of his home.  He dreams only of a life on the high seas and lets nothing stand in the way of his destiny.  Henry develops his strengths as a sailor and great leader, yet nothing can prepare him for his future and his undying desire to discover the truth of La Santa Roja.  Eventually his own pride, which prevents him from establishing any meaningful relationships with others, is his downfall.  He is left isolated and alone in his success and, like his father, eventually succumbs to conventionality and dies feeling defeated.

Young Elizabeth

Elizabeth, a young village girl, is Henry's secret love.  As she grows into a vibrant young woman, Elizabeth develops a profound wisdom of herself and the world.  This change frightens and embarrasses Henry.  He loves her deeply, but compromises his feelings and happiness to seek his fortune as a buccaneer.   Elizabeth is and always will be the only woman Henry really loves.  His thoughts of her infect all of his other relationships with women and it is of her he thinks upon his deathbed.


Dafyyd is a farmhand who left Wales when he was young to seek adventure on the high seas.  Years later, he returns to the village an old man and relates his experiences to Young Henry.  Though Dafyyd's adventuresome tales are quite foreboding as he describes an unquenchable thirst for the seas that have left him miserable and alone, they nonetheless fuel Henry's desire to become a buccaneer.

Old Merlin

Merlin is the village sage, a wise old man who practices music and magic.  Once a great poet, he is now an old hermit who resembles an ancient Druid priest with "clear, far-seeing eyes which watched the stars" (15).  Merlin sees a great destiny and sorrow in Henry and begs him not to leave his home.  He prophecies Henry's ultimate loneliness in his success.  Henry rejects Merlin's advice and leaves home to seek his misguided desires. 

Honest Tim of Cork

Honest Tim is the swindler who befriends Henry when he reaches the port of Cardiff.  Tim supposedly arranges passage for Henry on a merchant ship, the Bristol Girl, as a worker in the galley, but he secretly "sells" Henry into bondage as an indentured servant once the ship lands in the West Indies. 

James Flower

When the Bristol Girl arrives in the West Indies, Henry is sold into servitude to James Flower, a plantation owner on the island.  Flower desires creativity and originality because he himself lacks the power of original thought.  He is an avid reader who loves ideas but lacks the ability to assimilate his knowledge into anything useful for "[…] his learning formed no design of the whole.  He had learned without absorbing, remembered without assimilating.  His mind was a sad mass of unrelated facts and theories" (53).   He immediately takes an interest in Young Henry and invites him to serve in the house rather than the fields.  Flower bestows all his knowledge on Henry, shaping him into a sharp thinker and fearless leader.  Flower bequeaths his plantation to Henry, though Henry rejects his offer to seek fame and fortune on the high seas.


Paulette is a young, beautiful slave girl Henry buys to be his concubine.  Henry finds release from the intense passion for seafaring that burns within him while in her company.  Paulette fears Henry will eventually desert her and that she will be sent to the fields and bred with the other slaves and so she tries to deceive Henry into marriage.  He refuses her request and vehemently insists that Elizabeth, the young woman he left behind, is the only woman he will ever love.

Sir Edward Morgan

Old Robert's haughty brother, Sir Edward, is Lieutenant-Governor of Jamaica.  He is detached from the Morgan clan, whom he views as socially inferior, and is unimpressed when Henry tries to persuade him to finance him as a buccaneering partner so he can buy a ship.  Edward refuses to help his nephew and quickly dismisses him, but not before threatening to execute Henry if his buccaneering becomes a threat to Mother England.  Nonetheless, he leaves his daughter under Henry's protection upon his death.

Cousin Elizabeth

Elizabeth is the fourteen-year-old daughter of Sir Edward.  She is quiet and studies music and art during her tenure in Jamaica. She is interested in meeting her cousin, Henry, but cannot go against her father to help him.  Later, after her father's death, Elizabeth is taken to England under the care of the Moddyford family and becomes a rich socialite in London and eventually marries Henry Morgan. 


While in Port Royal, Henry meets Grippo, a true pirate.  Henry persuades Grippo to sell him the captaincy of his ship and together they become buccaneers on the high seas.  They grow wealthy together and Grippo helps Henry gain the confidence he needs to make his ambitious goals reality. 

Sea Captain Edward Mansveldt

Mansveldt is a strong buccaneer of great force and prowess whom Henry comes to greatly admire.  He and Henry mutually respect one another and eventually Henry is made Vice-Admiral on Mansveldt's ship.  They share many adventures together, sailing and pillaging all across the West Indies.  Mansveldt is later murdered by the Spanish.

La Santa Roja

La Santa Roja, also known as the Red Saint, is a mythical goddess of desire, whom many men compare to being as beautiful as the sun.  The thought of her drives men across the ocean and many feel a desire for her that is undeniable and unquenchable.  All the men of the sea tell stories about her beauty, her wisdom and the desire they have to captivate her.  Henry discovers the truth of La Santa Roja when he conquers Don Juan and captures the Cup of Gold.  La Santa Roja is really the desirable Ysobel, an honored royal from Cordova and heiress of her family's silver mines.

When in Panama, Henry finds her and is captivated by her beauty, yet she spurns him.  He realizes he cannot subdue her as he had planned because her fiery passion is stronger than his ability to dominate her. Ysobel wins over Henry's heart, but she is not impressed by him, thus striking Henry impotent and his desire for her becomes his weakness.

Coeur de Gris

Coeur de Gris is a respected sea captain whom Henry attempts to befriend to fulfill his desire for companionship.  Coeur de Gris' father is the famous privateer, Bras de Fer and his mother is a French prostitute.  Ironically his mother worries about her son falling into the clutches of an unworthy woman.  Coeur de Gris quickly becomes Henry's beloved friend and sailing partner.  He is the one person who understands Henry and the forces that drive his passion for adventure and love.  He and Henry both understand the sway and the curse of La Roja and both men are driven to find her, to plunder Panama and finally capture this woman who so many men fear and desire.

Don Juan Perez de Guzman

Governor Don Juan Perez de Guzman is the Viceroy of the province of Panama and battles Captain Henry Morgan for control of the Cup of Gold.  At first, the battle is thought to be an easy show of force as Perez's men outnumbered Morgan's pirates, but because of Morgan's intellect and cunning, Perez is forced to retreat and eventually surrender.  Steinbeck portrays the Governor as ineffectual, relying on paying for Catholic masses rather than fortifying the city and preparing his soldiers.  The city of Panama falls and much of the city and surrounding areas are burned to the ground.  At the time of the battle, Panama was believed to be one of the richest cities in the world, yet because of the "rumors" that reached the Panamanian capital, much of the wealth had been secretly smuggled out of the city before Morgan attacked.  

Cockney Jones

Jones is the crippled epileptic to which Coeur de Gris unfortunately compares Henry Morgan's humanity in a dehydrated delirium.  Jones is a pitiful character who likes to think his seizures are visits from the Holy Spirit.  Morgan accuses Jones of stealing treasure and cold bloodedly shoots him after being rebuffed by La Santa Roja in an attempt to justify his manhood to himself.

King Charles II

King Charles II was King of England, Ireland and Scotland.  His reinstatement to the throne in 1660 marked the end of republican rule in England.  He pursued a policy of tolerance and power-sharing with his people. During his reign, he substantiated new migration and trade in America, the East Indies and India.  Through the Navigation Acts, he established Britain as a strong, competitive sea power.  Charles II founded the Royal Society in 1660 and died in 1685. 

Lord and Lady Moddyford

The English royal couple cares for Henry's cousin Elizabeth after the death of her father, Sir Edward Morgan. The Moddyfords raise Elizabeth to be a strong young lady and Lady Moddyford single-handedly arranges the courtship and marriage of Elizabeth to Henry Morgan. The couple's favor with King Charles II and the English courts helps Henry become knighted, provides confidence in the court's choice of Henry as a magistrate judge, and assures Elizabeth's strong standing in the social life of London.

Setting | Character Summaries | Plot Synopsis | Reception
Cultural References | Key Terms and Concepts