A little Scots love

This is the sad little cover of a little known Jennifer Roberson historical fiction novel published in 1996 by Kensington entitled Lady of the Glen: A Novel of Scotland. Don't look too close, especially at the man's tweezed, lady-like eyebrows. It's just downright creepy. Really. (You're looking close at the eyebrows right now, aren't you?).

Not to mention the romance-genre feel to it, wouldn't you agree?

Yet the back cover of this lovingly tattered book found at a used bookstore assured A Reader's Respite that the novel was in fact a historical fiction novel.

Well, for 99-cents it was worth a looksy. To be honest, we almost gave up on this one around page 150. It just wasn't hooking us. But that was before we *knew* that

  1. the pace was about to pick up at lightening speed, and
  2. the entire book is based upon an actual event and almost all the characters in the book actually existed

Once we figured all of this out, we were glued to the novel till the very last page.

What's it all about, you ask?

The novel is a fictional recounting of the Massacre of Glencoe which occured in Glen Coe, Scotland on February 13, 1692. If you're not familiar with this particular travesty that occurred during the so-called Glorious Revolution, read on:

Scotland in the late 17th-century was a mess. The Highlander clans up in the rugged north mountains of Scotland tended to support the Scottish King James VII, who was also King James II of England until he found himself ousted and ran away to France to live in exile there.

Lowlander Scots from the south tended to support the new English king, William of Orange and his wife, Mary.

King William III and his wife Queen Mary II (who was also the daughter of James VII...convoluted, eh?)

The sporadic violence in the Scottish Highlands in support of bringing back James VII were known as the famous Jacobite Uprisings. (These uprisings by the Highlanders would continue, in some form or another until April of 1746 when the Battle of Culloden would destroy the Highland Clans forever...but that's another story.)

In 1691, King William and Queen Mary offered the Highlanders a pardon from all past Jacobite uprisings if they would just come in and sign an oath of allegiance to William by December 31, 1691. They were threatened with violent repercussions if they didn't sign the allegiance.

Most of the Highlanders were loathe to sign this because they had previously given their allegiance to old James, currently hiding away like a coward in France. So they sent word to him explaining their predicament and asking to be released from their pledge to him. James hemmed and hawed for quite some time before finally releasing the Highlanders from their pledge in mid-December, a mere two weeks from the deadline.

James VII of Scotland (aka James II of England), the old dithering fool

Meanwhile, back in the Scottish Highlands at a group of settlements known as Glen Coe, home to many of the McDonald Clan, Chieftain Alastair Maclain and his two sons decided discretion was the better part of valor in this case and signing the oath to William and Mary was the smarter course of action. On December 31 - the deadline - Maclain hoofed it down to Fort William and asked to take the oath.

Much to Maclain's surprise, the British commander of Fort William, Colonel Hill, told him that he couldn't take the oath there at Fort William, but instead had to travel to Inverary to make the oath there. Colonel Hill, a man with Scottish sympathies by all counts, gave Maclain a letter of protection to take with him and also a letter to the Sheriff of Argyll down in Inverary beseeching the man to accept Maclain's oath since he had made it to Fort William in the allotted time.

A winter blizzard and British army detainment along the way delayed Maclain's arrival to Inverary by another three days and when he finally made it there, the Sheriff of Argyll made him wait yet an additional three days before even seeing him. Finally, he reluctantly accepted Maclain's oath. Disaster narrowly averted. Or so Maclain thought.

A painting of Glen Coe

Maclain returned home to Glen Coe and all seemed well. When a regiment of 120 soldiers commanded by Robert Campbell (of the rival clan Campbell) arrived towards the end of January that year, Highlander hospitality demanded that the MacDonalds offer them the hospitality of Glen Coe.

After all, what did they have to fear of troops? They had signed the oath....right?

For two weeks the soldiers enjoyed the hospitality of Clan MacDonald. But unbeknownst to the MacDonalds, an order had been passed down to Captain Campbell to massacre the lot of them, ostensibly to use them as an example of those loathe to swear allegiance to William and Mary.

Here is a copy of the actual orders:

You are hereby ordered to fall upon the rebels, the McDonalds of Glenco, and put all to the sword under seventy. You are to have a special care that the old Fox and his sons doe upon no account escape your hands, you are to secure all the avenues that no man escape. This you are to putt in execution at fyve of the clock precisely; and by that time, or very shortly after it, I'll strive to be att you with a stronger party: if I doe not come to you att fyve, you are not to tarry for me, but to fall on. This is by the Kings speciall command, for the good & safety of the Country, that these miscreants be cutt off root and branch. See that this be putt in execution without feud or favour, else you may expect to be dealt with as one not true to King nor Government, nor a man fitt to carry Commissione in the Kings service. Expecting you will not faill in the fulfilling hereof, as you love your selfe, I subscribe these with my hand att Balicholis Feb: 12, 1692

To Capt. Robert Campbell Signed, R. Duncanson
of Glenlyon

All in all 38 men, including the clan chief Maclain, were slain by the soldiers staying with them in the wee hours of February 13, 1692. The soldiers then burned Glen Coe to the ground and at least forty women and children then died of exposure.

So how does this all tie in to Roberson's novel, The Lady of the Glen? The story revolves around Robert Campbell's daughter, Catriona, who falls in love with Maclain's second son, Alastair Og MacDonald. The long-standing feud between their respective clans is a near-insurmountable hurdle for them.

Cat is an endearing character, with just enough flaws for the reader to love her. And Alasdair? A Reader's Respite admits to being more than just a little in love with this man (just don't look at the book cover whilst reading this).

The plot is faithful to the history, although if you don't have the background knowledge provided above, it is more than a little confusing. A Reader's Respite didn't have the benefit of this foreknowledge and we suspect that is why we struggled through the first half of the book. But if you have a basic understanding of the massacre, the novel is brings to life some of the most interesting personalities of Jacobite Scotland.

It should be noted that all characters in the novel, with the exception of Cat, were actual participants in the Glen Coe massacre. And Alasdair MacDonald really was married to a Cambell woman -- not Robert Cambell's daughter, but his niece Mary. Aside from that, the author is true to history and a great deal of research has gone into this novel.

Interestingly, the novel was recently re-released with the following new cover:

Ugh. This one's worse that the creepy eyebrow cover, in our esteemed opinion.

Are there any Scottish history fans out there? If you are, A Reader's Respite has a lovingly tattered copy of the original novel up for grabs. Leave us a comment and on January 25th, we'll draw a random winner!

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