Nigel Tranter, |
The Bruce Trilogy
originally published as
The Steps to the Empty Throne
The Path of the Hero King
(Hodder, 1970) &
The Price of the Kings Peace
There are many great writers in the field of historical fiction. But there are few storytellers. Storytellers are so much more than a writer. In the Gaelic, they are called seanchaidh and they were the keepers of stories, lore and history of the Clans, the historian, the recorder. When the seanchaidh wove his tales of magick, auld gods or warrior-kings of Scotland, he was not recanting something created from his mind; he was passing on oral heritage that was handed down through the ages. Nigel Tranter was a seanchaidh, and he is sadly missed. Yes, he was a highly successful writer, but he was so much more, and in the tradition of old, he wove many tales of Ancient Scotland as few historians could.
And The Bruce Trilogy is Tranter at his best (a wee bit redundant since Tranter was always at his best). Tranter created the three books of the trilogy to bring forth the tale of Robert Earl of Carrick, who went on to become Robert the King, but he does not just tells the story, he brings Bruce alive for you to meet and understand. He was a young man caught at the centre of Scotland's struggles. It was a separate country from England, having its own kings since the dawn of time, but Edward Plantagenet, called Edward Longshanks because of his great height and long legs, was determined to unite all of Britain. Two men stood in his way: William Wallace and Robert Bruce. Wallace (see Tranter's The Wallace) was a shooting star that lit the conscious mind, giving cry to a national identity Scotland often lacked, since clan ties and oaths were generally put before homage to the king. Wallace created the spark, in common man and noble alike, that Scotland was a country and would never bow down to the English king. By his very nature as a commoner, Wallace drew Edward's wrath as no noble ever would, so Wallace's pivotal roll in Scotland's struggle to remain free was cut short.
It then fell to Bruce, a man in his 20s, to save Scotland. He not only had to fight his family's intended role for him and Edward's attempt to bend and control him while at the English court, but ultimately two-thirds of his own country due the mighty Clan Comyn's determination to put one of their own on the throne. You feel for Bruce, his loss of his family, the imprisonment of his wife, sister and daughter, and the jealousy of his brother, and maybe you will understand him more as a man after reading this exceptional trilogy, which presents the power and force behind the man as only Tranter could deliver.
This is a complex history, since Bruce often was seen as serving himself more than Scotland; he declared homage to Edward on four occasions. But you learn why Bruce bought his time, played both ends against the middle, and succeeded where Wallace failed. Tranter opens a door into Scotland's past, and permits you to walk with the Bruce, not as a historical figure or king, but as a man with faults, fears and all.
This is a magick that transcends being a writer, even a very good writer. This is a tale told with wonder, passion and awe by the fireside. If you have never read Tranter, I cannot image a better introduction to Scotland's seanchaidh. Once you read him, you will hungrily devour the rest of his works.