The first book in my new series, Scottish Brides, has just been published and I've found researching Regency Scotland so interesting. I thought I would share a few of my favourite pieces of research.
Scotland in the Regency period is a fascinating era in which
to set a historical romance. Long gone are the days of medieval warfare against
the English. By the early 19th
century even the Jacobite
uprisings, culminating in the Battle of Culloden of 1745, were sliding into the
mists of time.
In the mid 18th century the Highland soldier had
been feared and mistrusted, seen as a bloodthirsty rebel who should not be
allowed to carry arms. Within 60 years this view had completely changed. During
the Napoleonic Wars the Highland regiments of the British Army undertook some
of the most courageous and fierce fighting of the campaigns, drawing on that
legendary Scottish bravery, loyalty and unquenchable valour that had driven
them forward through their tempestuous history. By 1815 there were 48 000
Highlanders in the British Army and 20 Highland regiments. They were the pride
of the army.
The old bonds that had tied the Highland chieftains to their
clans were under pressure long before the’45. From as early as the 17th
century many of the estates were falling into debt. A search for profit started
to take precedence over traditional responsibilities. When government
improvement schemes and a growing demand for Highland produce led to a booming
economy, some chiefs were determined to keep all the profits for themselves and
increased their rents, in some cases by 500%. As a result many families left the
Highlands to seek out a better life elsewhere.
In the first book of my new Scottish Brides series, the Lady
and the Laird, the hero Robert Methven is determined to reverse this process of neglect,
exploitation and emigration. Although the links of clan and chief might have
been weakened by economic hardship, the loyal ties that bound family and kin
could still be strong. Robert is a new breed of highland laird, a self-made
man. Like many of his countrymen, Robert left Scotland to travel and trade in
Canada, carving out a career as an explorer and making a fortune in the timber
industry. Life for the Scots adventurers in Canada was incredibly dangerous but
explorers such as Alexander Mackenzie and Simon Fraser became both rich and
famous for their daring exploits. It was men such as these, whose portraits I
saw in the Scottish Portrait Gallery in Edinburgh, who inspired my hero.
The ties of responsibility and kinship call Robert home when
he inherits his ancestral estates. On Golden Isle,
the land he holds in the far
North of Scotland, he finds a community at war. I drew heavily on the history
of the Shetland Islands for the book. French privateers were frequently seen in
the waters to the west of the Shetlands and warning beacons would be lit in a
chain across the islands when an enemy ship was sighted. Sometimes the pirates
would raid the estates or threaten the lairds with the destruction of their
lands if they did not give them supplies. In addition the British Navy was not
above taking any man it could lay hands on into service via the violent press
gangs. Sometimes the press gangs took boys as young as 14 into the Navy and
left their families defenceless and destitute. It took a strong laird to keep
his people together and protect them against the combined threat of enemies
from overseas and the clearing of the land at home.
The lairds of the Northern and Western Isles had as much
Viking blood as Highland blood, which is a pretty stirring combination. It
embodies all the rugged individualism and determination that we look for in our
heroes of Scottish romance. And although this is a time when claymores had gone
out of fashion, your laird (and indeed his lady) would still be accessorised
with a very handsome basket-hilted sword. Sword blades were often imported from
Spain and Germany. Scottish sword smiths then added the hilts. The dirk was
another essential for the well-armed highlander.
Speaking of accessories, highland dress, tartan, the plaid
or kilt, had been one of the things that separated the Highlander from the
“civilised” Lowlander. It was outlawed after Culloden and was not made legal
again until 1782. Fortunately, by the end of the 18th century the
Highlands were starting to be seen as wild and romantic rather than merely dangerous. In 1815 the Highland
Society of London decided to collect tartans and identify them with the
particular clans and tartan became an extremely fashionable fabric.
The visit of King George IV to Edinburgh in 1822 did much to
increase Scotland’s popularity. It was the first visit by a reigning British
monarch since 1650 and was orchestrated by Sir Walter Scott. Scott was
determined that it would be a celebration of all things Scottish. He invited
the clan chiefs to Edinburgh and specified that they should have an escort of
Highlanders. The spectacle delighted the King and so the clan system with its
tartan overtones was regenerated, at least in the popular imagination.
Finally a word about marriage… If you lived in Scotland,
there was no need to run away to Gretna Green to wed, of course. Two major differences
in the law between Scotland and England were that in Scotland the age of
consent for marriage without the approval of a parent or guardian was 16 not 21
and there was no requirement for the reading of banns. It was thus a lot
quicker and easier to marry in Scotland, which Robert and Lucy take full
advantage of in the wedding of the Lady and the Laird. The US edition is on sale now and the UK one is out next month!
Labels: clans, Edinburgh, Fair Isle, highlands, Nicola Cornick, Northern Isles, Scotland, Scottish romance, tartans, The Lady and the Laird, Western isles