Michele's Reviews > Lady of the Glen: A Novel of 17th-Century Scotland and the Massacre of Glencoe

Lady of the Glen by Jennifer Roberson
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Jan 04, 2010

really liked it
bookshelves: fiction, historical-fiction, scotland
Read in January, 2010

This novel is a fictional recounting of the Massacre of Glencoe which occured in Glen Coe, Scotland on February 13, 1692. If you're not familiar with this particular travesty that occurred during the so-called Glorious Revolution, read on:

Scotland in the late 17th-century was a mess. The Highlander clans up in the rugged north mountains of Scotland tended to support the Scottish King James VII, who was also King James II of England until he found himself ousted and ran away to France to live in exile there.

Lowlander Scots from the south tended to support the new English king, William of Orange and his wife, Mary.

The sporadic violence in the Scottish Highlands in support of bringing back James VII were known as the famous Jacobite Uprisings. (These uprisings by the Highlanders would continue, in some form or another until April of 1746 when the Battle of Culloden would destroy the Highland Clans forever...but that's another story.)

In 1691, King William and Queen Mary offered the Highlanders a pardon from all past Jacobite uprisings if they would just come in and sign an oath of allegiance to William by December 31, 1691. They were threatened with violent repercussions if they didn't sign the allegiance.

Most of the Highlanders were loathe to sign this because they had previously given their allegiance to old James, currently hiding away like a coward in France. So they sent word to him explaining their predicament and asking to be released from their pledge to him. James hemmed and hawed for quite some time before finally releasing the Highlanders from their pledge in mid-December, a mere two weeks from the deadline.

Meanwhile, back in the Scottish Highlands at a group of settlements known as Glen Coe, home to many of the McDonald Clan, Chieftain Alastair Maclain and his two sons decided discretion was the better part of valor in this case and signing the oath to William and Mary was the smarter course of action. On December 31 - the deadline - Maclain hoofed it down to Fort William and asked to take the oath.

Much to Maclain's surprise, the British commander of Fort William, Colonel Hill, told him that he couldn't take the oath there at Fort William, but instead had to travel to Inverary to make the oath there. Colonel Hill, a man with Scottish sympathies by all counts, gave Maclain a letter of protection to take with him and also a letter to the Sheriff of Argyll down in Inverary beseeching the man to accept Maclain's oath since he had made it to Fort William in the allotted time.

A winter blizzard and British army detainment along the way delayed Maclain's arrival to Inverary by another three days and when he finally made it there, the Sheriff of Argyll made him wait yet an additional three days before even seeing him. Finally, he reluctantly accepted Maclain's oath. Disaster narrowly averted. Or so Maclain thought.

Maclain returned home to Glen Coe and all seemed well. When a regiment of 120 soldiers commanded by Robert Campbell (of the rival clan Campbell) arrived towards the end of January that year, Highlander hospitality demanded that the MacDonalds offer them the hospitality of Glen Coe.

After all, what did they have to fear of troops? They had signed the oath....right?

For two weeks the soldiers enjoyed the hospitality of Clan MacDonald. But unbeknownst to the MacDonalds, an order had been passed down to Captain Campbell to massacre the lot of them, ostensibly to use them as an example of those loathe to swear allegiance to William and Mary.


All in all 38 men, including the clan chief Maclain, were slain by the soldiers staying with them in the wee hours of February 13, 1692. The soldiers then burned Glen Coe to the ground and at least forty women and children then died of exposure.


So how does this all tie in to Roberson's novel, The Lady of the Glen? The story revolves around Robert Campbell's daughter, Catriona, who falls in love with Maclain's second son, Alastair Og MacDonald. The long-standing feud between their respective clans is a near-insurmountable hurdle for them.

Cat is an endearing character, with just enough flaws for the reader to love her. And Alasdair? I admit to being more than just a little in love with this man (just don't look at the book cover whilst reading this).

The plot is faithful to the history, although if you don't have the background knowledge provided above, it is more than a little confusing. I didn't have the benefit of this foreknowledge and I suspect that is why we struggled through the first half of the book. But if you have a basic understanding of the massacre, the novel is brings to life some of the most interesting personalities of Jacobite Scotland.

It should be noted that all characters in the novel, with the exception of Cat, were actual participants in the Glen Coe massacre. And Alasdair MacDonald really was married to a Cambell woman -- not Robert Cambell's daughter, but his niece Mary. Aside from that, the author is true to history and a great deal of research has gone into this novel.
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message 1: by Sara (new)

Sara I'm getting ready to read this book and I just want to say thanks for the informative background!


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