Day 363: The Captive Crown

Cover for The Stewart TrilogyAt the beginning of this novel, the third in Tranter’s Stewart Trilogy, Jamie Douglas has fled to the highlands after being declared an outlaw following the disastrous battle of Homildon. That no Scot who fought in the battle would so call him is no concern to Robert Stewart, Duke of Albany and the Governor of Scotland.

Jamie is living with his family on the estate of Alexander Stewart of Badenoch, acting Justicaire of the Highlands. Although King Robert III is still alive, he has handed over the government to his brother Robert of Albany. His young son James, heir to the throne, has been captured by the English on his way to France, where his father sent him for safety after the death of his older son, David, at the time in Robert of Albany’s custody.

Jamie, who has always believed that the Duke of Albany plotted the murder of his chief, the Earl of Douglas, also believes that David Stewart was starved to death at Albany’s order. Jamie is content to stay away from the Lowlands and serve with Alexander.

The plot of this novel is a lot more difficult to describe than that of the other two, as it covers the significant events of several years in Alexander Stewart’s life, including battling the invasions of Donald of the Isles, forming an embassy to the British to treat for the release of King James after Robert III’s death, privateering against the British, and so on. This is a fault with the novel, constrained as it is by actual historical events to seem disjointed. It is definitely the weakest of the trilogy and does not make a satisfying ending for the series.

Day 337: A Folly of Princes

Cover for The Stewart TrilogyIn the sequel to Lords of Misrule, Prince David Stewart is now a young man ready to challenge his ruthless uncle Robert Stewart for the Governorship of Scotland, under the weak rule of David’s father, Robert III. Jamie Stewart, our hero, who has always suspected Robert Stewart of having his lord, the Earl of Douglas, murdered, has declared himself David’s man.

But the Stewarts are an unruly bunch. David’s governorship is more fair and less corrupt than his uncle’s, and he puts in place reforms, but he takes no care in dealing with the proud nobles of Scotland and behaves wildly and promiscuously in his private¬† life. Although Jamie continues to support him, he is disappointed in his prince and fears that all will not be well.

While this is going on, changes in the Plantagenet monarchy in England threaten the border. At the same time, Donald of the Isles is making his own forays farther north. This northern threat gives Jamie an opportunity of renewing his acquaintance with Alexander Stewart of Badenoch.

Again, Nigel Tranter does a wonderful job of explaining the complicated politics and alliances of early 15th century Scotland, while spinning an absorbing adventure story.

Day 311: Lords of Misrule

Cover for The Stewart TrilogyNigel Tranter was a historian and a prolific historical fiction writer whose work can be uneven. During the 1950’s through 1990’s he wrote more than 60 historical novels, some of which employ dialogue and characterization only to drive the plot forward. Such is not the case, however with Lords of Misrule, the first book in his Stewart Trilogy, a novel that is fully realized.

Jamie Douglas is a young esquire to the Earl of Douglas, the most powerful man in 14th century Scotland, certainly more powerful than the King, Robert II, a sorry descendent of Robert the Bruce and doddering old man who just wants to be left alone. The King has spawned a clutch of squabbling Stewarts who are waiting to see what happens when he dies. Unfortunately, his oldest son, John, seems unsuited to power, and his second son, Robert, is ambitious and dangerous.

When Jamie’s lord is foully stabbed in the back by his own armorer during battle, Jamie fears that any of several powerful men may have had enough to gain in the subsequent power vacuum among the Douglasses to have suborned the armorer. But when Robert Stewart, acting as his father’s Governor, appoints his good friend Archie Douglas to take the position of Earl, Jamie’s suspicions point to Robert.

Jamie and some other men lie in wait outside the armorer’s home after they figure out where he is hiding, in hopes they can capture him and question him about who paid him to murder the Earl. Their plans go awry, however, ultimately sending Jamie Douglas north in pursuit of another man, to the Highland territories of the dreaded Alexander Stewart, Earl of Buchan, known as the Wolf of Badenoch.

This novel provides a fascinating glimpse into the rivalries and political in-fighting among the early Stewarts. It has an appealing protagonist, although Jamie is a bit too honest and outspoken for his own good. It also includes a romance, as Jamie is drawn to two different Stewart women while serving a third, his Earl’s widow. Having learned most of my Scottish history from the excellent historical novels of Dorothy Dunnett, I am not accustomed to thinking of Douglasses as heroes, but Jamie makes a good one.