"O Scotia! my dear, my native soil!
For whom my warmest wish to heaven is sent;
Long may thy hardy sons of rustic toil
Be blest with health, and peace, and sweet content"
Robbie Burns

Friday, September 17, 2010


Welcome to Fiction Friday

I have been reading romance and historical fiction for over 45 years, yep I am that old. I am not sure what the draw is to reading Scottish historicals but I like to think that it is a bit of genetic memory on my part that I want to relive the past, if in fact I am the soul of my ancestress from Scotland. There are so many books that could appear in this first Friday of books so if you don't see your favs you might in the next couple of weeks or months. I have bookshelves of favorite Scottish romances but these are the ones I try to re-read each year.

However, it goes without saying that if you are talking Scottish historical fiction then you have bow down to the grand dame--- Dorothy Dunnett and her Lymond series. Also for many romance readers, though I don't believe her books are romances in the "traditional" sense there is Diana Gabaldon, whose saga of Jamie and Claire through the mists of time in Scotland are legend. Though I can't say I have enjoyed all of the books in the series, the first and second will continue to be my all time favorites set in the Jacobite period. Gabaldonn is the "queen of time travel romance fiction".

Now I have a favorite English author whose style is to write two storylines in her book and interweave them: one a historical and one present. She often takes real personas from history and pits them against their present day counter parts. Plus in most of her books especially the Scottish ones
she always has an element or two of paranormal often Celtic in nature be it Scottish, Welsh, or Briton. The author I am talking about is Barbara Erskine . She has had a number of Scottish or northern England set books that I am sure that Scottish romance readers will love. Two of the classic ones are THE KINGDOM OF SHADOWS which includes the story of Isabel MacDuff (see last post) and THE CHILD OF THE PHOENIX which is the fictionalized account of one her own ancestors taken from family lore and history. This is one of her most sweeping books because the story unfolds in Wales, to England and then Scotland. Her heroine is the compost of two women who probably saw more of Scotland's history unfold as both a participant and an observer and all the loves along the way. This is one of those books you take on vacations so you can read it from cover to cover all 944 pages. She is probably most famous for her LADY OF HAY which is set on the English/Welsh border. She has a number of other books set in Scotland I suggest you check out her site. Here is video of her latest book called TIME'S LEGACY which is set in present day Glastonbury and
ancient Glastonbury during the time of Romans and Druids.

LADY OF THE GLEN by Jennifer Roberson
This book is one of those rare finds that has a cover that is as much a work of art as the story between the covers. If only all historicals and romance covers could be so beautiful.
This is the story of the Glen Coe Massacre told through the love of the children of bitter enemies. Our heroine is Catriona Campbell who is smitten and then loves the second son of her clan's bitter enemies the MacDonalds of Glen Coe. If you know any Scottish history you have probably heard about how the Campbells in charge of government troops were billeted with the MacDonalds at Glen Coe (1692) who showed them every bit of Highland Hospitality and yet the Campbell leader had directions from the King and his Scottish minions to kill every man woman and child of the MacDonalds. He and his troops fell upon the clan in the early hours of the a Highland winter morning with the intent to destroy the MacDonald Clan as a deterrent to other rebellious clans. Will the lover's survive?

How a romance between these two young adults from such warring families unfolds in a period of great political turmoil makes this story one worth seeking out. Roberson grabs you from page one and doesn't let go. That it is written by a master storyteller is the key but don't expect a "traditional" romance here. This is historical fiction at its best, though the romance of the young couple is at the centerpiece of the story. Well worth the find though it will probably be used as it has been out of print for a while.

THE WINTER SEA by Susanna Kearsley
Did you every read a book that made you cry because the love was so bittersweet but you could put it down despite the tears? That is that is the case of my next book THE WINTER SEA by Canadian author Susanna Kearsley ( this book is titled SOPHIE'S SECRET in some editions). From the author's page....

“History has all but forgotten the spring of 1708, when an invasion fleet of French and Scottish soldiers nearly succeeded in landing the exiled James Stewart in Scotland to reclaim his crown.

Now, Carrie McClelland hopes to turn that story into her next bestselling novel. Settling herself in the shadow of Slains Castle, she creates a heroine named for one of her own ancestors, and starts to write.

But when she discovers her novel is more fact than fiction, Carrie wonders if she might be dealing with ancestral memory...making her the only living person who can know the truth of what did happen all those years ago - a tale of love and loyalty...and ultimate betrayal.”

This is a must read but have the tissues ready you will need them.


I love stories with women from history and Ciji Ware's THE ISLAND OF THE SWANS is just one of those books. This is the fictionalized story of Jane Maxwell who when her childhood friend and lover,Thomas Fraser dies while fighting in the frontier of America, she marries the Duke of Gordon. Later as she settles into the life with her husband she finds out that Thomas didn't die but had been wounded and was living in the colonies and has recently returned home to Scotland . Now stuck with a man who she suspects might have had something to do with their quick marriage Jane is resigned to her life with him. They are the couple of the Gay Gordon fame in music. Gay not meaning happy for this couple.

And what a life, unlike her husband who would prefer to stay upon his Aberdeenshire estate, Jane, Duchess of Gordon charges to London to become one the grand dames of the London Society pitted against the likes of the Duchess of Devonshire. It is in her home where the likes of Burns and other Scottish notables are introduced to London Society as well Society is introduced to Scottish literature and music. She had a large family, mostly girls and all but one of her girls married a Duke She was often the butt of many a political cartoon about her fierce determination to see her girls marry well placed and her humble beginnings in the streets of Edinburgh riding a pig. But her life wasn't always so great. but she compensated and to tell more would spoil it for you. Get the book!!

The Starry Child by Lynn Hanna

Eight-year-old SASHA NIELSON hasn’t spoken since her father was killed. As she withdraws into a secret world of her own, her mother, RAINEY, places her in special schools and counseling, only making Sasha more distant. After a chance meeting with her neighbor, EMMA, a native of Scotland, who sees a video of Sasha before her dad died, she’s astonished to discover Sasha was speaking fluent Old Gaelic and claimed to be an exiled queen. Rainey hires MATT MACINNES, a professor of ancient Celtic languages to help. Matt becomes the only one Sasha communicates with and discovers her secret. That secret will take Sasha, Rainey, Emma and Matt on a journey to the Highlands of Scotland to discover the key to Sasha and Rainey's future and if Matt is in it. For those of you who love the paranormal or that element of Gaelic magic you will find it tenfold in this story. Lynn Hanna is an untapped author who has disappointedly disappeared from the publishing world. She has a follow- up story that is good but not quite the caliber of this unique story. Five stars for an original plot.

The BELOVED saga by Mallory Burgess tells of the family of Michel Faurer and Madeleine de Courtnay during Scotland’s war of independence.

BELOVED KNIGHT, the first in the trilogy, sets the stage for future books; set in a backdrop complete with Templar Knight betrayals and the struggles of Robert Bruce's fight for Scotland's freedom.

BELOVED HONOR next in the saga offers the story of son, Rene and his struggle to capture the feisty Cat Douglass, while struggling with a legacy his father left him and a way for Rene and Cat to secure their love and Scotland's future.

BELOVED LORD is the final book of the original trilogy and the best one.This is the story of Anne Faurer, the daughter who has her mother's beauty and her father's determination to fight for Scotland's cause. However, she loses her heart to the English Lord who now occupies her parent's home and their lives are interwoven in her race to save a brother and possibly lose the only man she could ever call her Beloved Lord with a ending the keeps your reading to the last page.

BELOVED HEARTS is a cherished ps. to the BELOVED saga. This book jumps 400 years later to the conflict of the final Jacobite rebellion and how it affects those members of the house that Faurer love built.

Can you tell I really love fictionalized stories of real heroines. Master storyteller Marsha Canham doesn't disappoint in the fictionalized story of the Jacobite Anne, Lady Moy in MIDNIGHT HONOR...

"Powerful, brave, irresistibly seductive, Angus Moy, chief of Clan Chattan, was everything Lady Anne could desire in a husband and a lover. But that was before the winds of war tore through her homeland. While Angus was pledged to fight for the English, Anne embarked on a course no ordinary woman would dare. Fiercely loyal to the Jacobite cause, she led her clan in battle-with the dangerously attractive Captain John MacGillivray at her side.” Source:

These are just some of my all time favorites and I hope that you will post some of yours in the comment section. This will be an ongoing Friday feature so if you have a book published set in Scotland help me promote it here by contacting me a

Thursday, September 16, 2010

ISABEL MacDUFF (Countess Buchan) COMYN

As promised from the last post I wanted to share with you the heroics of a Scottish woman of the medieval period. In this period it was only the girls who behaved badly who made it into the annals of history. Though it is important to remember there were no female chroniclers in this period of history whose work survived so the history if from the male pov. And our Isabel MacDuff, a daughter of Scotland was one such “naughty” girl.

Isabel was born around 1285 in Scotland to Duncan MacDuff, (7th or 9th Earl of Fife descended from the long line of mormaers of Fife) and Joan de Claire (daughter of Gilbert de Claire who later married the Joan, the sister of Edward I of England). She was the elder of the two children, her brother Duncan most historians believe that he was at least two years younger than her. Her father Duncan was a mean man and in 1288 when the children were mere toddlers he was murdered by his own clansman. Leaving her young brother Duncan now the new heir to the earldom of Fife. Because their mother was English young Duncan became award of the English court and that is where he was raised. It is not clear that Isabel was raised there because of her strong patriotic feelings for Scotland's independence.

In the late 1290’s or early 1300, Isabel married John Comyn, Earl of Buchan who was her senior by a good 30 to 40 years, not all that uncommon as marriages such as this were for political gain not girlish dreams of love. Unfortunately for Isabel though her 2nd cousin was the young Robert de Bruce (King Robert I), she was married into the wrong family. The Comyn’s were the heredity enemies of the Bruce family and add to this John Comyn was cousin to John Balliol, who was chosen to the kingship of Scotland over the Bruce claim. For Isabel, who some historians and authors believe may also have been one of Bruce’s lovers, things were made worse when Robert de Bruce stabbed to death John “Red” Comyn, her husband’s cousin, in the Kirk of Greyfrairs in Dumfries (February 1306). Bruce believed he was being betrayed by the Comyns and from here he quickly rode to Scone in Perth to capture the crown of Scotland.

Current Greyfriars in Dumfries, Galloway, Scotland

Now it is tradition that all Scottish kings be crowned at Moot hill at Scone the home of the Stone of Destiny. Unfortunately the Stone (or was it?) was removed by King Edward and taken back to England in the 1296. So it was important that some traditions of the crowning be observed. Usually the Kirk would anoint the king but Bruce’s actions at Greyfriars and the Comyn family’s connection with the current Pope made that unlikely. There was also the tradition of the MacDuff family to crown the Scottish kings but that wasn’t going to happen because young Duncan, Earl of Fife was a ward of the English court. So on March 26, 1306 Robert de Bruce was crowned at Scone.

Scone chapel with replica of Stone of Destiny

Meanwhile our heroine of the day Isabel MacDuff, married unfortunately to a loyal supporter of Edward I, decides her loyality lies with Bruce and Scotland and will represent the MacDuff family to crown her cousin king of Scotland. As luck would have it her husband John was in England at the time so she took many of his horses and rode to Scone arriving a day late. However, because so many traditional elements of the crowning were absent from the first crowning, a second crowing with Isabel representing the MacDuff family tradition solidified Bruce’s right to the kingship of Scotland. Through this action Isabel cut off herself from her Comyn family, though her own mother did remarry a Scottish noble who came out for Bruce which would later cost her mother her lands from her father Gilbert de Claire that she received as her dowry. So Isabel’s only choice was to join the group of Bruce women who included his second wife Elizabeth de Burgh (whose father was a friend and supporter of Edward I- her saving grace later on), Marjory de Bruce (Robert’s daughter from his first marriage to Isabelle, countess of Mar) and his sisters Christina (or Christian) and Mary.

Head of Bruce at St Duthac Kirk

As the fighting became intense for the Bruce army, it was imperative his women were taken to safety. Some believe he had sent them to Kildrummy Castle which was being held by his brother Nigel (Neil) and other sources believe the women headed north to gain access to the Orkney’s as the Bruce’s sister Isabel was the queen consort of the Norwegian king Eric III and the Orkney’s were part of Norway in this period. I believe the women made it to the castle being held by Nigel Bruce, but the English quickly laid siege to it, and when it looked like the tide would turn in the English favor, the Earl of Atholl helped the women to escape and they may have sought sanctuary at Girth of Tain, a twelve mile square around the shrine of St Duthac protected by the Church. However, they were betrayed and captured by Earl William de Ross who violated the santucary, whose mother was a Comyn, so we know whose side he was on. The earl of Atholl was killed as were the troops and it is said that the earl of Ross later set up endowments at the shrine so that the priests would say daily prayers for those he slain that day. What a guy!!

Berwick Castle

What happened to the women? Well Queen Elizabeth was only 17 and because of her father’s connection to Edward she was placed under house arrest in England. Marjorie, Bruce’s daughter was only 9 and Edward threatened to place her in a cage that would hang from the Tower of London, but relented (what a chump!) and she was guarded at Watton Priory. Christina, 33 and married to her second husband a Seton was sent to the Sixhills nunnery. (a side note Christina was married for third time to Sir Andrew de Moray, the son of the Scottish hero of Stirling Bridge-see post 9/11). But for two of the women, Mary and our Isabel their punishment was cruel even for mean old Edward I. Both women were put on display in England and Scotland.

"Let her be closely confined in an abode of stone and iron made in the shape of a cross, and let her be hung up out of doors in the open air at Berwick, that both in life and after her death, she may be a spectacle and eternal reproach to travellers."

These were the words of King Edward of England in regards to our Isabel MacDuff. Both Mary and Isabel were hung from cages from the side Roxburgh Castle and Berwick Castle respectively. Why Mary[i] received such a fate is unknown, but for Isabel it is clear not only did she not respect the wishes of her husband who was loyal to Kind Edward, but also she legitimized Bruce’s kingship by crowning him at Scone. Edward was clearly going to make an example of her and could get away with it in large part because she had no family able to defend or revenge her treatment. These cages were made of lattice wood and iron hinges, they were completely open to the elements, however they were given a privy for privacy, (Edward was such a humanitarian!). In Isabel’s case she was given 4 pence a month for her needs and had two women to help her, but again she was in a cage by herself open to all sorts of elements through all the seasons of Scotland.

How long were they caged? Isabel probably was in the cage from late 1306/1307 for either 3 years or 7 years depending on sources. Some believe that in 1310 Edward released her sending her to a nunnery (as he released Mary), however there are no records to support this. In 1313 surviving records show Isabel was released into the care of Henry Beaumont whose wife was the niece of her husband (he died in 1308 in England having lost all of his lands in Scotland).

“ To Edmund Hastings, keeper of the town of Berwick-on-Tweed and constable of same Order to deliver Isabel, late wife of John, Earl of Boghan (Buchan) to Henri de BelloMont (Beaumont) or William de Felyng, his attorney, to be guarded by him as the King enjoined him.” [ii]

After the Scottish victory at Bannockburn 1314 when there was a trade of prisoners the Bruce women were all returned to Scotland. Mary who suffered a hardship like Isabel married twice and only had a son, Iain who survived her. Marjorie marries Walter Stewart and dies after an early childbirth induced by a fall from a horse. Christina marries a third time and in 1333 successfully held her husband’s (de Moray) Kildrummy Castle from the English until Scottish troops could relieve her. What happens to Isabel after this point is unknown. That she was not part of the women exchanged after Bannockburn leads historians to believe that she died before this date.

“I lie in this cage in full public gaze,

and I don't give a pin for all their scorn.

for I've crowned my lover king,

such glorious days I've seen.

give me the chance I'd do it all again.

“Isabel” by Steeleye Span (click to hear song)

Isabel MacDuff, Countess of Buchan was a true Scottish patriot who suffered for the Scottish cause unlike many men of her ilk in that period.

[i] Mary was released in 1310 source: Calendar of Close Rolls 1307-1313 pg 105

[ii] Calendar of Close Rolls 1307-1313 pg 209

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

BERWICK-ON-TWEED: A Town With Identity Issues

In 2008 ITV in the UK ran an unofficial poll for the people of Berwick-on-Tweed to determine if they were in favor of becoming part of Scotland or remaining part of England. An odd question to those of us in the US, but for the 12,000 people of Berwick (2001 censes) it was a question worth pondering. With the new Scottish parliament only 2 and half hours away vs. Westminster (London) 6 hours away who would hear their voices more clearly? Plus the Barnett Formula (formula to distribute taxes as per devolution) has allowed for Scotland to distribute its share of taxes as per their Parliament’s control over issues like education (Scottish college students don’t pay upfront tuition in Scottish colleges) and free care for their elderly; issues that those across the border to the south envy. Though some find the Barnett Formula favors Scotland- personally as I see it the formula actually favors London, which gets approximately £8500 per person vs. Scotland’s £8150 per person. London has a population of 2 million more people than all of Scotland combined and it seems the further north one goes from London the per capita spending decreases. Maybe the real problem lies in redistributing the money from London to even spending/services elsewhere in England not with how much Scotland gets?

However despite this vote, 60% for Scotland (a vote of 1157 vs. 775) for England) Berwick (pronounced bear-ick) has remained under English control despite never ‘officially” becoming part of England. In 1482 as per the Treaty of Perpetual Peace between Scottish King James IV (the only good Stewart King) and English King Henry VII declared Berwick to be “of the kingdom of England but not in it”. Until 1746 it was a self-governing county/town until the “Berwick and Wales” act that stated the term England also included Wales and Berwick. However, Berwick (called Berwick South by the Scots so as not to confuse it with North Berwick in Scotland) has not always been part of England. Between the years 1147-1482 the town of Berwick has bounced back and forth from English to Scottish possession at least 13 times.

Berwick Guildhall

Historically the area was home to a Briton tribe who spoke a Brythonic form of Gaelic (often referred to as Old Welsh). This tribe merged with another Briton tribe to form what is now called Northumberland. But during this period Northumberland included the Scottish Lothians along the Firth of Fourth as well as northern England. Berwick, or Lothian as it was called, first became part of the kingdom of Scotland when the Scots under Malcolm II (grandfather to Duncan I and Macbeth and probably Thorfinn as well) defeated the Northumberians in 1018 at the Battle of Carham. During the reign of King David I in 1124, he named Berwick one of the first royal burghs where he encouraged merchants from the Continent to set up shop in Scotland. This coupled with the minting of Scotland’s first coins at Berwick among other Davidian improvements; Berwich became a very wealthy and important port for Scotland and its trade with the Continent exporting wool, grain and salmon.

Coldstream at Tweed

The Scots held it until the reign of William I, when the English captured him in 1174 at the Battle of Alnwick. He was ransomed and part of that ransom payment was the town of Berwick given to the English. However, in 1187 when Richard the Lionhearted wanted to go on crusade and needed funds he sold back Berwick to the Scots for 10,000 merks and to sweeten the deal Richard also released Wm’s and Scotland’s fealty to the English crown (which would be an ongoing bone of contention with the two countries). Scotland was able to hold the Berwick for the most part despite it being later burned by King John of England.

Elizabeth I's ramparts at Berwick

King Edward I of England helped (?) the Scottish kingdom by naming John Balliol as rightful claimant to the Scottish crown. However. it took John a while to figure out that Edward had assumed he (and Scotland) were expected to pay fealty to the English crown. King John acting as the Scottish king signed a treaty with France their “Auld Alliance” England’s enemy and refused to send Scottish troops to help the English fight the French. This enraged Edward and though he had taken the Scots regalia and the more important the Stone of Destiny on which all Scottish kings were crowned this was not enough. He returned to Scotland to teach the Scots a lesson. Unfortunately that lesson was the destruction of Berwick where 8000-15000 inhabitants were killed at the hands of English troops: women, children and old men were not given quarter. A future post will deal with Edward's unique form of cruelty at Berwick Castle.

Lone marker for the Battle of Halidan Hill 1333

From that point on Berwick once a wealthy port was now a fortified garrison the English held and after the defeat of the Scots at Battle of Dunbar, Berwick was the site of the signing of the Ragman’s roll where 2000 Scottish nobles swore fealty to Edward. However, in 1318 the Scots reclaimed Berwick and held it until after the Battle of Halidan Hill in 1333 a siege to relieve Berwick during the second Scottish war of independence but were soundly defeated by King Edward III. The English held Berwick off and on during the next 130 years through times of minority kings and trouble within. But in 1462 the Scots retook Berwick until the arrival of the Duke of Glouster, (future King Richard III) who captured it back in 1482. The Treaty of Perpetual Peace in 1502/3 made Berwick English property once and for all, if not part of England itself. During the reign of Elizabeth I there was much rebuilding of the ramparts and the fortification of the walled town of Berwick with the latest technology to reflect the new weapon manpower. It is though she spent in excess of £100,000 to fortify the town against the possibility of attack from Scotland who had alliances with Catholic France. Those ramparts remain today in much of the town of Berwick. An interesting note in the modern era during the reign of Victoria, she declared war against Russia signing the declaration as Queen of “Great Britain, Berwick on Tweed and Ireland” but when the peace treaty was signed “Berwick on Tweed” was omitted making Berwick technically still at war with Russia.

After the TV poll a local newspaper the Berwick Advertiser found 78% asked preferred to go with Scotland. Yet, despite their long history of being one nation’s property or the other’s who did the people of Berwick think they were? At the time in 2008 researchers found that when asked 25% thought of themselves as Scots and 25% English with an overwhelming number replying “Berwickers”. And this is probably reflective of the fact that on the Border many people believe themselves Borderers first then English or Scots. Not unlike many a Scotsman or Englishman who sees himself first as a Scot or English and then British.

Come back in a few days to learn about King Edward and the kind of cruelty he perpetuated at Berwick Castle during the war of Scottish Independence.