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    Scotland’s Storyteller Nigel Tranter Historical Epic: The Bruce Trilogy


    Scottish Borders Abbotsford Sir Walter Scott's house  Nigel Tranter exhibition author's typewriter

    Abbotsford Nigel Tranter exhibition author's typewriter © 2006 Scotiana

    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. 

    Nigel G Tranter - Trespass - 1937

    Trespass by Nigel G Tranter -Ward Lock - Ed 1941


    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! 

    Nigel Tranter at his Typewriter- Scottish Author & Storyteller

    Nigel Tranter At Work At His Typewriter- Copyright The Scotsman Publications

    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. 

    Nigel and May Tranter in the garden of Quarry House, Aberfeldy, Scotland

    Nigel and May Tranter in the garden of Quarry House, Aberfeldy, Scotland

    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. 

    Bruce Trilogy I - The Steps To the Empty Throne by Nigel Tranter 

    (…) 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 


    ‘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. 

    Nigel Tranter The Bruce Trilogy Book Covers 

    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.’ 

    Bannockburn - Battle For Liberty by John Sadler

    Bannockburn - Battle For Liberty by John Sadler

    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, 


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    2 comments to Scotland’s Storyteller Nigel Tranter Historical Epic: The Bruce Trilogy

    • Paul

      Nice little biog of an interesting man whose books I am reading, one point – the photo says ‘Quarry House in Aberfeldy, I have to say that they lived in ABERLADY, which is just south of Edinburgh!
      Also I noted in one ‘Marie and Mary ‘that it is copyright to Frances May Baker 2004, after his death – and this article confirms that she is their daughter, thanks.

    • Peter Finlay

      Quite right Paul. Not Aberfeldy but Aberlady. But please check out where Aberlady is and you won’t find it anywhere to the SOUTH of Edinburgh. It is 17 miles EAST of Edinburgh- and a few miles North as well!

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