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.)