This is the latest in my Nigel Tranter re-reading project. Lords of Misrule is the aptly named first book in a trilogy about the early Stewart kings of Scotland. When most people think of the Stewarts, they tend to recognise JamesVI (I of England) or maybe the later Jacobite rebellions. However, the Stewarts came to the throne in Scotland during the 14th Century.
Robert II was King of Scots from 1371 to his death in 1390. The son of Walter Stewart, 6th High Steward of Scotland, and Marjorie, daughter of King Robert the Bruce, he was the first monarch of the House of Stewart. Tranter portrays him as a mere shadow of his illustrious namesake, The Bruce, admittedly in his later period. This is the traditional view of his reign, although modern historians show a kingdom that had become wealthier and more stable, particularly during the first decade of his rule.
Tranter uses one of his common ploys to tell the story. He picks a small-part player as the narrator; in this case, it is Sir James Douglas, the illegitimate eldest son of the Lord of Dalkeith, an important Douglas lord. The Douglas family were Scotland's most potent military force during this period.
After some preliminaries, the story starts with the Battle of Otterburn (5 August 1388), a reasonably rare Scots victory in this period over the English led by Henry Percy (Hotspur). Percy outnumbered the Scots three to one, but he rashly engaged before all his forces arrived and was captured himself. The Earl of Douglas, commanding the Scots army, was killed in the battle, treacherously stabbed in Tranter's telling. Leading Sir James on a mission to find the power behind the culprit.
Robert, Earl of Fife, the King's second living son, plays a significant role as governor for the ailing King Robert. Again, modern historians would disagree with Tranter's take, but he makes a good villain for this story. We should never forget this is historical fiction.
The other fascinating character is Alexander Stewart, Earl of Buchan, called the Wolf of Badenoch. He was the third living son of the King and ruled most of northern Scotland semi-independently. He is probably most famous for burning Elgin in a dispute with the Bishop. Of course, monks wrote the chronicles, so he doesn't fare well in the history books! The story features his Highland castles when Sir James goes up north. They remain today well worth a visit. Lochindorb was his main stronghold, although my personal favourite is Loch an Eilein Castle in Rothiemurchus. Not far from Aviemore, there is a fine walk around the loch to view the castle on its island.
|The "Wolf's Lair": Lochindorb Castle in Badenoch.
Putting aside the historical take, the book is a typical Tranter read. There is less military action than many, with more focus on internal politics and a bit of medieval detective work. Still, a good read.