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The Fate of a Crown

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Written by  L. Frank Baum
(as "Schuyler Staunton")
Illustrator  Glen C. Sheffer
Published  1905
Publisher  Reilly & Britton

The Fate of a Crown is a 1905 adventure melodrama written by L. Frank Baum. It was Baum's first novel for an adult readership. The book was released under the pseudonym "Schuyler Staunton." Baum arrived at that name by adding one letter to the name of his late maternal uncle, Schuyler Stanton.

The novel was serialized in The Philadelphia North American in 1905, under the alternative title The Emperor's Spy, prior to its book publication.


Robert Harcliffe, a recent college graduate, works for his Uncle Nelson in the family's mercantile business in New Orleans. Nelson Harcliffe receives a letter from an old client in Brazil, Dom Miguel de Pintra, who is a wealthy man who has retired from business to devote himself to politics — specifically to the republican cause that hopes to end the Brazilian Empire. Dom Miguel has written to request a secretary; Robert, eager for adventure, takes the job.

Robert's attitude is devil-may-care at first, yet he quickly learns that he has entered into a dangerous enterprise. He cleverly evades a murderous spy on the voyage down to Rio de Janeiro; but as soon as he reaches the city he is arrested by the police. In the carriage taking him to the police station, the lieutenant in charge is murdered by his own sergeant, who is a republican sympathizer. The sergeant and other sympathizers guide Harcliffe to Dom Miguel's plantation in Matto Grosso state.

There, Harcliffe becomes a devoted admirer of de Pintra and a republican sympathizer himself. (Baum presents this as an American's natural preference, over the archaic, authoritarian, European imperial system.) Robert also learns that the circle around Dom Miguel is fraught with uncertainty. The man's daughter Izabel is cold and hostile, while his ward Lesba is an ardent republican and a beauty with whom Harcliffe soon falls in love. Lesba's brother appears to be a republican too — yet he serves as the Emperor's Minister of Police. Harcliffe wrestles with the question of who can be trusted, and who is playing a "double game."

The mystery aspects of the plot center on a massive steel vault, impregnated with nitro glycerin, that is hidden in a sub-basement of de Pintra's mansion. It holds the treasury and the incriminating records of the republican movement; it opens with an exotic key, a specially-cut emerald in Dom Miguel's ring. The ring is stolen, which leads Harcliffe on a challenging and puzzling chase.

As the revolution starts, Dom Miguel, Harcliffe, and other supporters are captured and face a firing squad, only to be rescued (some of them at least) at the last minute, by Lesba and a troop of rebels. When the rebellion succeeds, Harcliffe marries Lesba and becomes the director of commerce in the new regime. The couple raise their children in a cosmopolitan style, spending the southern-hemisphere summer in New Orleans and the rest of the year in Brazil.


Baum employed real figures of contemporary history and current event in his book — Manuel Deodoro da Fonseca, Floriano Peixoto, and even Emperor Pedro II.

The book was successful enough to justify a follow-up effort: a second Schuyler Staunton novel, Daughters of Destiny, was issued in 1906.

The Fate of a Crown was reprinted in a paperback edition in 2008.

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