Sir Oliver Tressilian lives at the house of Penarrow together with his brother Lionel and his servant Nicholas. Sir Oliver is betrothed to Rosamund Godolphin, but her brother Peter, a young hothead, detests the Tressilians, as there had been a feud between their fathers, and therefore tries to drive a wedge between his sister and Sir Oliver. Peter and Rosamund's guardian, Sir John Killigrew, also has little love for the Tressilians.

One day, Peter's actions lead to Sir Oliver's dueling Sir John, whom he deems to be the source of the enmity. Sir John survives the duel but is badly wounded, and this only serves to infuriate Peter. One day, Peter insults Sir Oliver in front of a few nobles. Sir Oliver sets in a furious pursuit, but then remembers a promise to Rosamund to refrain from engaging her brother, following which he returns home. Later that evening, however, his brother Lionel stumbles in, bleeding. He has been in a duel with Peter Godolphin over a woman they both loved. Lionel killed Peter in self-defense, but there were no witnesses.

Circumstances make everyone believe Sir Oliver is the killer, and Lionel does nothing to quench that rumor. He even goes so far as to have his brother kidnapped for sale as a slave in Barbary to ensure that he never reveals the truth. The ship gets boarded by the Spanish, and Sir Oliver and his kidnapper, Captain Jasper Leigh, both become Spanish slaves.

After six months toiling as a slave at the oars of a Spanish galley and befriending a fellow slave, the Moor Yusuf-ben-Moktar, Oliver, with Yusuf and the other slaves, escapes his shackles, when the galley gets boarded by Muslim corsairs, and they join the fight with the corsairs. His fighting and the testimony of Yussuf, the nephew of Asad-ed-Din, Basha of Algiers, establishes Oliver as an honorary member of Muslim society, and Oliver eventually makes himself a name as the corsair Sakr-el-Bahr, the Hawk of the Sea. Oliver does hold onto his old ties by making a habit of buying captured English slaves and returning them via Italy.

One day Oliver captures a Spanish vessel and thereon discovers his one-time kidnapper Jasper Leigh as a slave at the oars. He gives Jasper the opportunity to join the Faith and his corsairs, the sea-hawks. Since Jasper can navigate the seas, Sakr-el-Bahr sets sail for England to get even with Lionel.

Lionel has inherited Sir Oliver's possessions, managed to befriend Sir John, and became betrothed to Rosamund, who still believes Sir Oliver murdered her brother. Sakr-el-Bahr kidnaps them both and takes them back to Algiers where, to his dismay, the Basha enforces the law that all slaves have to be auctioned fairly. The Basha is also at the slave-market, takes a fancy to Rosamund, and orders his wazeer to buy her. But since all purchases have to be paid for immediately, Sakr-el-Bahr manages to buy her instead. The Basha is furious and threatens to take her by force, but Sakr-el-Bahr manages to thwart him by marrying Rosamund. He also manages to trick his brother, whom he also bought, to tell the truth about who killed Peter Godolphin in front of Rosamund.

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The Sea Hawk

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