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 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.