30 June 2010

What Surprised Me: Scotland is a Different Country

By Blythe Gifford

Even those of us who study history regularly have our blind spots. Scotland was one of mine. Until I started researching for HIS BORDER BRIDE, I thought that Scotland was the Highlands and then the Lowlands, where people were pretty much like the English except sort of not. I knew something about the Borders, that no-man's buffer between England and Scotland, because it was the home of my hero from IN The MASTER'S BED, so I thought in choosing that setting, I wouldn't have much new to learn...

Surprise! Scotland really IS a different country. And for a lifelong Anglophile, it was a huge switch of worldview.

I didn't know what I didn't know until I got into the story and had to learn the "back story," if you will, of a whole country. And much of what I had to learn was what I had to UN-learn. In my time and place, whiskey, tartan, and clans did not exist.

However during this period, and for several hundred years to follow, Scotland was more closely allied with France than with England. Even such important Scots as the first Earl of Douglas were fostered in France and fought on the French side at Poitiers, where they and their French allies were soundly defeated. (I ended up using this fact as a plot point.) The Franco-Scots "auld alliance" made a difference in the Scottish court, culture, law, and politics and these differences ultimately influenced my story.

So my prejudiced views of Scotland were upended and I learned a lot. (But not enough that I wasn't surprised all over again when I started to research the setting of my next book. But that's a story for another day.)


librarypat said...

I think when we are familiar with the current history of a country we forget that it most likely did not get to its current state or status in a straight line. There has been little love between England and Scotland over the years. I knew they aligned themselves with the French a time or two, but didn't realize they were this closely linked.
Interesting post.

Jody said...

If you really want to read some interesting history on the anglo/scottish border you should read the Calender of the Border Papers a document that spans from 1560 up to 1602 at the union of the crowns. Though it is most documents from the English side it provides one with a real sense of the Border culture that was steeped in reiving. And few know that from 1250 to 1603 the Anglo/Scottish Borders had their own laws separate of the two nations because both sides resorted to unique ways to survive thanks to their monarchs who used the area for a staging ground for attacking each other often leaving the people to survive a sorched earth policy.

Alison said...

Well, I live there so yes, I know just how wrong people's ideas of Scotland can be! The Calendar of Border Papers is really a collection of documents, rather than one document, and if you can face reading it you'll find it and whole lot more printed sources at www.british-history.ac.uk. (Search for 'Border Papers'.)

Blythe Gifford said...

Thanks for the comments. And thanks to Jody for always taking pity on my woeful ignorance and setting me straight. HIS BORDER BRIDE was set in the 14th century, so I haven't tackled the Calendar of the Border Papers yet, though I was aware of the Lords of the Marches and the Border laws. Will check out the references.