Since we are speaking of Robert the Bruce I would like to introduce today Nigel Tranter, a very popular Scottish author who has written, among many other books of historical fiction, a trilogy about the great Scottish king. He died in 2000, at the age of 90. He was a great admirer of Sir Walter Scott and indeed, we discovered this author in 2006, at Abbotsford where a very interesting exhibition was devoted to him in Sir Walter’s bedroom … but I will let Janice tell you more about this fascinating author…
Mairiuna in Robert the Bruce’s Heart Buried at Melrose Abbey
Hi Mairiuna. Thanks for the invite! I am pleased to write about Nigel Tranter, one of Scotland’s best-loved author and acclaimed storyteller. Indeed, we have both a number of his books.
Quite young he took interest in castles and delved into their history, which led him, at the age of 25 to publish his first book, The Fortalices and Early Mansions of Southern Scotland 1400-1650. (1935)
His wife then encouraged him to write his first novel. He wrote In our Arms our Fortune which was rejected by the publishers, but the following one, Trespass (1937) launched his career.
Since those early days, he wrote more than 130 books, including some children books, during a passionate life-long interest of his own country’s history.
Furthermore, he accomplished this noble task without the help of a computer, as he relied solely on his elderly manual typewriter!
Upon visiting in 2006 the Nigel Tranter Exhibition at Abbotsford, (which has since been relocated in one of the aisles of Athelstaneford Church, where he celebrated his marriage to May on July 11th, 1933) we discovered a wealth of fascinating insights about his writings.
I remember how thrilled the three of us were to explore the different aspects of his life and literary career throughout the exhibits.
Let’s take a closer look today at one of his most popular novel: The Bruce Trilogy.
This trilogy ( 1. The Steps To the Empty Throne, 2. The Path To The Hero King and 3. The Price of The King’s Peace ) is all about the story of Robert the Bruce, along side of William Wallace, another great hero of Scotland, fighting for his most burning desire: an independent Scotland.
Born in Glasgow on 23 November 1909, on the same day that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was chairing a public meeting in Edinburgh on Congo, and in the same year Geronimo died, he grew up to work as an accountant in the Scottish National Insurance Company.
Married to May Jean Campbell Grieve in 1933, the loving couple had two children, Frances May and Philip.
(…) In the first couple of decades of their marriage, May’s retiring nature and the presence of young children in the house, combined with Nigel’s deliberate encouragement of his outside interest in public affairs, led to a situation in which he developed a full and busy life of committees and public meetings in which May did not share, or could only share vicariously, and which regularly took him away from the house in the evenings: she occasionally took him to task about it, complaining she never saw him, but it had no very noticeable effect.
She once counted up that he was chairman of eleven different organisations, a story he is fond of recounting, with a hint of pride in his achievement.
But it must have looked somewhat different to May, sitting at home by the fire, and she must have felt at times that she had to share him with half Scotland.
When great success came to him in the 1970s after the publication of the Bruce trilogy she of course rejoiced for him, but she had no taste for the public exposure and razzmatazz that went with it, nor did she enjoy the invasion of their private life.
She was a willing accomplice when it came to composing letters to the press, but she would have preferred not to have them about the house. And she fiercely protected Quarry House as his workplace as well as her home, barring the way to the importunate.
(…) He himself approached the writing of the Bruce trilogy with some trepidation, partly on grounds of its magnitude and partly because of the sheer importance of the subject, having thrust it from him for some years.
Once started, it quickly became all-absorbing. When it was over, he wrote to a correspondent, “For the past four years, I have practically been Robert Bruce. The job is finished now and to some extent I feel quite lost.” Tranter of course writes all his heroes largely out of his own experience, posing the question “What would I have done?” where the historical material fails him, but Bruce was a move up to a new dimension.
Source: Nigel Tranter Scotland’s Storyteller, Ray Bradfield, B& W Publishing Ltd, Edinburgh 1999
SYNOPSIS – BRUCE TRILOGY
‘In a world of treachery and violence, Scotland’s most famous hero unites his people in a deadly fight for national survival. In 1296 Edward Plantagenet, King of England, was determined to bludgeon the freedom-loving Scots into submission. Despite internal clashes and his fierce love for his antagonist’s goddaughter, Robert the Bruce, both Norman lord and Celtic earl, took up the challenge of leading his people against the invaders from the South.
After a desperate struggle, Bruce rose finally to face the English at the memorable battle of Bannockburn. But far from bringing peace, his mighty victory was to herald fourteen years of infighting, savagery, heroism and treachery before the English could be brought to sit at a peace-table and to acknowledge Bruce as a sovereign king.
In this bestselling trilogy, Nigel Tranter charts these turbulent years, revealing the flowering of Bruce’s character; how, tutored and encouraged by the heroic William Wallace, he determined to continue the fight for an independent Scotland, sustained by a passionate love for his land and devotion to his people.’
The battle of Bannockburn took place on June 24th, 1314. It was a decisive battle in the first war of Scottish Independence and the Scottish victory helped to lead to the independence of Scotland being fully recognised in 1328.
We will dig more into this subject in upcoming posts, but meanwhile, be sure to get your hands on a copy of The Bruce Trilogy if you have not done so yet!
Take care and talk soon,