A TALE OF TWO STORIES (AND TWO BATTLES)
by Lecia Cornwall
I love Scottish history. My husband was born in Paisley, near Glasgow, and my children (now adults) are passionate about their heritage. My son wears his Kennedy tartan kilt proudly, and family legend says that deep, deep, deep in the past, Robert the Bruce may have been a distant ancestor. Fun to think that might be true!
My own roots are English and Ukrainian, but Scots or not, the Highlands have always been a place of magic, mystery and romance for me. The landscape, the clan system, the traditions, the battles, the language, the music, the legends, and even the whisky (especially the whisky) … all add up to a fascinating culture filled with wonderful stories for a writer to build upon, and for a reader to fall in love with.
Kim, my gracious host at SOS Aloha, asked me to write a blog post about the anniversary of the Scottish Battle of Bannockburn, which took place 700 years ago, on June 24 1314. But there’s another battle in ONCE UPON A HIGHLAND AUTUMN.
In fact, ONCE UPON A HIGHLAND AUTUMN is a tale within a tale. It’s the story of Mairi’s curse, born of the tragedies that followed the Battle of Culloden. And it’s the story of Kit and Megan, who must find a way to end that curse some seventy years later. But let’s start with the battles.
Uh oh—I can sense your eyes glazing over, and you’re dreading the idea that a romance writer is about to tell you about two Scottish battles. Come with me, dear reader, and I’ll tell you why these battles have captured my imagination, and are worth hearing about. One was a beginning, a victory, the other a sad ending, and a great loss—like the stories in ONCE UPON A HIGHLAND AUTUMN.
I must tell you that I am not a historian—I’m a storyteller. I see stories within the facts, and the opportunity to create fictional characters against the backdrop of historical events. I read and research voraciously, and I love that part of the process almost as much as I love writing stories. I do my very best to ensure the facts included in my books are accurate, but the story and the characters are made up.
When I think about the battles of Bannockburn and Culloden, in my mind one battle marked the start of an independent Scotland, and the other marked the end of the same (if you are a professional Scottish historian, I’m sure you’ll write to me if I’m wrong in this opinion).
Now for my 30-second history lesson:
The Battle of Bannockburn in 1314 was a great victory for the Scots, and a turning point in the Scottish Wars of Independence that led to Scottish sovereignty. The Scots defeated an English force nearly twice the size of their own, and won English respect at last, though full independence took another ten years to achieve.
The Battle of Culloden took place on April 16, 1746. Did you know it was the very last land battle fought on British soil? The aftermath was so brutal, so shameful, that to this day the English regiments who fought there do not include Culloden among the battle honors listed on their regimental colors. The battle ended the Jacobite rebellions, which began when the Stuart Kings of England and Scotland were deposed and replaced. Bonnie Prince Charlie Stuart came to Scotland, his ancestral homeland, to raise an army on behalf of his father, in hopes of reclaiming the throne. It was a romantic adventure, complete with a handsome prince, an army of heroic Scots, and a stirring patriotic cause. They almost won.
At Culloden Moor, in less than an hour, the government forces smashed the Jacobites. Prince Charlie rode away, took ship for France, and never returned. For the Highland clans, it was the beginning of the end of their way of life. After the battle, government troops enforced the Pacification of the Highlands, destroying the rebellious clans by wholesale killing, burning, and looting. Highlanders were murdered, arrested, transported, executed, or left to rot in prison. Under new laws, passed in London, wearing of the plaid was forbidden, as was the speaking of Gaelic, and the playing of bagpipes.
There now, the history lesson is over. For the very keen among you, there’s a list of some of my favorite historical resources below.
I visited Culloden in 2009, and I have never been to a sadder, more somber place. There’s a legend that says birds will not sing as they fly over the battlefield, and although I can’t remember whether I saw birds there, I do remember the incredible silence.
In ONCE UPON A HIGHLAND AUTUMN, I created Connor MacIntosh, a Highland laird in 1746 who is determined to remain neutral and keep his clan out of the fighting. Connor meets an English army officer a few weeks before Culloden when his wife’s young brother invades the English camp on a dare. When the lad slips away to Culloden Moor to watch the battle, Connor goes to rescue him. The English officer saves the lad, but Connor disappears, leaving his young wife to wait and wonder. Alone and afraid, Mairi MacIntosh lays a curse upon the ones who have taken her husband, driven her family into the hills, and burned her home: Glen Dorian shall suffer no one to live within its walls again until true love—the only force strong enough to withstand such adversity—returns there.
The second story—the romance—begins seventy years later, when Kit Rossington discovers a letter in an old trunk in England that draws him to Scotland to solve Mairi’s mystery. In Scotland, he meets Megan McNabb, a lass bent on finding the ending to Mairi’s story for an entirely different reason. But the curse is strong, and the pretense of a handfasting of convenience will not satisfy Glen Dorian’s restless spirits. Love, and only love, will do the trick.
I must admit I love this story—it’s one of my favorites, out of the nine books I’ve written to date. I hope you enjoy it as well—and if you’re a Scottish historian, forgive me for taking liberties. I do so with the greatest love and respect for Scottish culture.
I love hearing from readers! Please leave a comment below for a chance to win a copy of the previous book in the series, ONCE UPON A HIGHLAND SUMMER, or drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.
A few of my favorite Scottish history resources:
Culloden, book by John Prebble
A History of Scotland by Neil Oliver (book or BBC DVD)
Battlefield Britain (The Battle of Culloden) BBC TV, with Peter and Dan Snow
White Rose Rebel a novel by Janet Paisley, about the real-life Jacobite heroine Colonel Anne MacIntosh
Mahalo, Lecia, for sharing Scottish history with us. I am verry fond of Alba. To enter Lecia's giveaway,
1. Leave a comment about Scotland - what intrigues you about Alba?
2. Comments are open through Saturday, June 21, 10 pm in Baltimore.
3. I'll post the winner on Saturday, June 22.
Kim in Baltimore
Aloha Spirit in Charm City