Interview with Scots historical fiction author Marie Macpherson

Anniversary giveaway

My blog is two years’ old this month (time flies) and to celebrate, I’m giving away a copy of Marie Macpherson’s novel “The First Blast of the Trumpet.”  

Leave a comment  on what interests you about Scottish history or a question for the author on this post by Saturday, August 24, 2013 at 8:00 p.m. US Central time to be entered into a drawing to win this book.  One person will be chosen randomly using Please make sure to leave an e-mail address with your comment.  (US, Canada and UK entrants only.) 


About Marie Macpherson: Born in the historic town of Musselburgh, Scotland, Marie left the Honest Toun to study for an Honours Degree in Russian language and literature. She then went on to gain a PhD, spending a year in the former Soviet Union to carry out research on the 19th century Russian writer, Lermontov, said to be descended from the Scottish bard and seer, Thomas the Rhymer. Though she travelled widely throughout Europe, teaching languages and literature from Madrid to Moscow, she has never lost her passion for the culture and history of her homeland of Scotland. Now retired from academic life, she has more time to pursue her interest in creative writing. She won the Martha Hamilton Prize for Creative Writing from Edinburgh University and was named ‘Tyne & Esk Writer of the Year’ in 2011.

About Marie Macpherson: Born in the historic town of Musselburgh, Scotland, Marie left the Honest Toun to study for an Honours Degree in Russian language and literature. She then went on to gain a PhD, spending a year in the former Soviet Union to carry out research on the 19th century Russian writer, Lermontov, said to be descended from the Scottish bard and seer, Thomas the Rhymer.
Though she travelled widely throughout Europe, teaching languages and literature from Madrid to Moscow, she has never lost her passion for the culture and history of her homeland of Scotland.
Now retired from academic life, she has more time to pursue her interest in creative writing. She won the Martha Hamilton Prize for Creative Writing from Edinburgh University and was named ‘Tyne & Esk Writer of the Year’ in 2011.

Interview with Marie Macpherson

Marie Macpherson is the author of “The First Blast of the Trumpet,” her first novel and the first in a trilogy about Scottish Reformation preacher John Knox.  Her novel, reviewed here, is a refreshing take on Knox, an individual somewhat vilified by popular history.   She shared with me how John Knox chose her, what her researched revealed that surprised her and some of the best and worst advice she received while writing the book.

(If you aren’t familiar with John Knox, Marie narrates a wonderful documentary on YouTube, where you will also find a quick video synopsis of the novel.)

Q.  What inspired you to write “The First Blast of the Trumpet?”

A.  The louring figure of John Knox has cast a long shadow over Scottish history and culture, but I never thought I’d be inspired to write about him. The founding father of the Scottish Reformation is not exactly the obvious choice for the hero of a novel and so I’ve the spooky feeling he chose me. With his 500th birthday looming perhaps he needed someone to sound the fanfare. For I was doing research on the Treaty of Haddington (which betrothed Mary Queen of Scots to the Dauphin in 1548), when I became side-tracked by Haddington’s most famous son, who was then a galley slave and perhaps even rowed her to France. What a coincidence, I thought, and became curious to know how Knox had ended up imprisoned in the galleys. And what I found out could only be written as fiction. 

The First Blast of the Trumpet, the first of a trilogy, is a fictional account of the early, undocumented life of the Scottish Reformer, John Knox. Beginning just before Flodden in 1511 it ends in 1548 after the signing of the Treaty of Haddington that sends Mary Queen of Scots to France in a galley being rowed (possibly) by her nemesis, Knox.

The First Blast of the Trumpet, the first of a trilogy, is a fictional account of the early, undocumented life of the Scottish Reformer, John Knox. Beginning just before Flodden in 1511 it ends in 1548 after the signing of the Treaty of Haddington that sends Mary Queen of Scots to France in a galley being rowed (possibly) by her nemesis, Knox.

Q. History has not been terribly kind to John Knox, was it hard to develop his character and get beyond bias?

A.  It depends on how you regard him – superman or bogeyman. For some Knox is the champion who brought the Reformation to Scotland but in the popular imagination he’s become a caricature of himself: a cartoon Calvinist, a pulpit-thumping tyrant who hated women and banned not only Christmas but football on Sundays. Whatever his legacy, Knox will always be remembered as the author of that misogynist rant, The First Blast of the Trumpet against the Monstrous Regiment of Women, which attacked contemporary female rulers: Marie de Guise in Scotland, Mary I in England and Mary Queen of Scots in France. Yet Knox was only voicing what most men of the time believed – that it was ‘monstrous’ or ‘unnatural’ for a woman to wear the pants never the mind the crown – though rather loudly and more vehemently.

So you can imagine my surprise to find out that Knox had a genuine regard for women – an affection that was mutual. Women loved him – not the three Marys, of course – but Knox was married twice and other men’s wives left their husbands to follow him. Did he, as one chronicler, claim… use the black arts to steal men’s wives from under their noses? All this made me reconsider the character and reputation of the Calvinist Reformer. No doubt as a preacher he had great charisma and his correspondence with women – especially his mother-in-law – reveals great patience, respect and even understanding. I even think other men were jealous as one said, ‘Whenever he makes a journey he takes around with him a certain number of women whom he uses to satisfy his lusts.’ Can you imagine! This is John Knox we’re talking about!

But why was this? It struck me that there might have been a strong female influence in his upbringing. Not his mother, for she died when he was very young, so who then?

English: The statue of the Scottish church ref...

Statue of John Knox in the quadrangle of New College, Edinburgh. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A. I can’t say that Knox was my favourite character but he certainly provides an interesting psychological case study. You can probably tell that his godmother, Elisabeth Hepburn, the real-life Prioress of St Mary’s Abbey is my favourite. While searching for clues as to who might have influenced the young Knox I was excited to come across this feisty dame, forced into the wealthy convent to protect the Hepburn family interests. Prioress Elisabeth was the aunt of Patrick, 3rd Earl of Bothwell and great-aunt to his son, James the 4th Earl, who married Mary Queen of Scots.

Patrick, the Fair Earl as he was known, is a rather despicable character. He was a real traitor – in the pay of the English for most of his life and forever changing sides depending on the highest bidder. He even divorced his wife to woo the widow queen, Marie de Guise who – clever lady that she was – kept him dangling. His treachery, I’m sure, explains his son’s decision to remain true to the Hepburn motto: Keep Tryst, which means keep trust or faith. Whatever his faults, James Hepburn was loyal to Mary Queen of Scots.

Q. How long did it take you to research the novel? 

A.  It’s difficult to say exactly how long it took to research. For many years it was a labour of love – delving in the archives of the local library, unearthing scraps of information and putting together the pieces, like a giant jigsaw – until I had enough to create a story with a dark secret at the centre!

Q.  Did your research yield any surprises in terms of historical events or illuminate a character in a particular way?  

A.  I was surprised to find out how little was known about Knox’s early life and that most of the so-called facts had all been disputed. Since historians and biographers couldn’t answer satisfactorily questions that bothered me such as: Who were his parents? How did a poor orphan lad get an expensive education? – I didn’t feel so guilty about creating a fictional life for him.

Another surprise was discovering that Sir David Lindsay played a very important part in persuading Knox to become a Protestant preacher.  But the role of the playwright of Ane Satire of the Three Estates – a scathing attack on the Roman Catholic Church – is generally overlooked.

Q.  How long did it take you to write it (first draft)?  

A.  The first draft took me ages to write, gathering information and then discarding it. I lost count of the number of rewrites. All in all, it probably took five years.

Q.  What part of the novel writing process was most difficult?  Easiest? 

A.  The most difficult part was finding my novelist’s voice. That was a struggle. Coming from an academic background, I was more inclined to preach and teach and so had to drag myself away from ‘telling’ and learn to do lots more ‘showing’. But writing fiction has given me a tremendous freedom – to speculate about facts, make leaps of the imagination and, more importantly, create an inner life for my characters.

Q.  Where did you unearth all those terrific Scots phrases, some of which are not used too often these days?  

A.  Though many may struggle with the dialect I would defend my use of Scots. Especially after one of the publisher’s readers advised ditching the dialect as it might put readers off, so I did. But then, after I’d rewritten the whole novel in Standard English, it was returned with the instruction: ‘Put all the Scots words back in! It’s lost it’s magic, it’s lost its authenticity, its uniqueness.’ In other words, I had lost my voice!

I deliberately don’t use colloquialisms such as cannae, dinnae etc., but try to pepper the narrative with Scots words and phrases to give it a strong flavour. I would also advise readers to relax and go with the flow – it’s not essential to understand the exact meaning of every word – but I hope the sense can be grasped within the context.

For authentic vocabulary I sifted through Scottish literature of the 16th century (which I love) including David Lindsay’s play Ane Satire of the Three Estates, the poetry of the makars; William Dunbar, Gavin Douglas and Robert Henryson. And tales and ballads were a great resource, too.

Q.  How did you plan your outline — or did it evolve organically?  Did you use any of the writing tools, software out there?  

A.  I read as widely as possible for the historical background and because I can’t read my own handwriting I type out all the information I’ve gleaned.  Then I sift through my notes, looking out for pivotal points, inciting scenes, hinges of the narrative: life-changing events when decisions have to be made, challenges met, characters fall in love or fall out. Anything that will provide drama and conflict.

I try to visualise these pivotal points in a scene, like a film, and draft it like a screenplay, with each scene forming the basis of a chapter. To keep me on track, I have to give a title to each chapter e.g. Birth, Flodden, The Miracle. Then I fill in the gaps with dialogue, description, details.

I don’t have any fancy writing tools or software – just Word. I did investigate one or two but in the time it would take me to learn how to work it I could have written the novel.

Q.  If you had one piece of advice for new historical fiction writers with work in progress what would it be?

A.  Write every day. The brain is like a muscle and gets flabby if not exercised – even if it’s only half-an-hour. It’s amazing what can get done in that time.

Q.  What is the best and worst advice you got while writing?

A.  Stay true to yourself and don’t be waylaid by the naysayers.  Worst piece of advice – for me at any rate – was: Ditch the dialect!  But there won’t be as much Scots in the next volume as Knox spent most his time in England and Geneva and had to learn to speak like a southerner!

Q. When is the next book in the trilogy due to be released?

A.  The working title of the next book is ‘The Second Blast of the Trumpet’ and is planned for released in 2015.  It  will cover Knox’s life in exile from 1549 to 1559 when he returns to Scotland.

Some other posts on John Knox you might find interesting 

Marie MacPherson’s debut novel makes John Knox likable

FirstblastThe First Blast of the Trumpet” is the first of three novels about the life and times of Scottish Reformation preacher John Knox, brilliantly told by Marie MacPherson. The novel begins in pre-Reformation Scotland under James IV, a period of relative stability in the country in which three young girls, including Elisabeth Hepburn, the daughter of the Earl of Bothwell, are coming of age. Elisabeth’s hopes for marriage to David Lindsay are thwarted when she is commanded by her family to enter a convent. It soon becomes clear that Elisabeth is the thread that ties together a diverse cast of characters, from John Knox and Marie of Guise to Cardinal David Beaton and Mary, Queen of Scots. Elisabeth’s family and friends become divided over the need to curtail some of the excesses of the Catholic Church in Scotland.

The author deftly tackles a very complicated, emotionally charged subject and brings it to life with historical and emotional accuracy. John Knox is not, to my mind, a particularly sympathetic figure in Scotland’s history, and yet in the young Knox Marie MacPherson creates a very likeable, though flawed character. I quite liked Knox and felt keenly his struggle to keep faith with his past but follow his calling. I also enjoyed the characterizations of Elisabeth, Davie Lindsay and George Wishart; their troubles tugged at the heartstrings. There is fantastic Scots dialect throughout the book, which as a Scot I enjoyed, but others may wish to have had a glossary in the back of the book.

This review was first published by the Historical Novel Society in the Historical Novel Review August 2013.  

Mary Queen of Scots executed Chastelard 450 years ago today. Why?

Mary Stuart and Chastelard by Linton, Sir James Dromgole (1840-1916); Private Collection; ( Mary Stuart and Chastelard. Illustration for Mary Queen of Scots edited by W Shaw Sparrow (Hodder & Stoughton, c 1910).); © Look and Learn; English,  out of copyright

Mary Stuart and Chastelard by Linton, Sir James Dromgole (1840-1916); Private Collection #460699

Pierre de Bocosel de Chastelard (1529-1563) was famous for nothing until he surprised Mary, Queen of Scots in her bedchamber (twice) and she had him hanged.  It is a fascinating story to tell on this, the 450th anniversary of his execution (reported as either 20 or 22 February, 1563) at the Mercat Cross in St. Andrews.

Pierre was born about 1529 to Jeanne de Bayard and Francois Bocosel in Dauphiné, in southeastern France.  The family name had prestige, Pierre was the grandson of the famous Chevalier de Bayard known as “the knight without fear and beyond reproach” who symbolized the values of the French knighthood at the end of the Middle Ages.  He was the third of five children, at least two of whom eventually took Holy Orders and rose to run their respective religious houses.  As the middle son, he would have been expected to seek his fortune by carving out a career at court, or in the military.

Pierre chose a life at court, and became a page in the service of Constable Montmorency at the court of Henri II.   Lady Antonia Fraser recounts in Mary Queen of Scots that he was ” well-born, charming-looking, and gallant.”  He tapped into his chivalric ancestry by writing courtly love poems.  He had some talent and achieved recognition as a fringe member of the Pléaiade, a group of 16th-century French Renaissance poets whose principal members were Pierre de RonsardJoachim du Bellay and Jean-Antoine de Baïf.

His good looks and way with words may account for how a mere page fell into the orbit of Mary, Queen of Scots, and thus avoided obscurity.  Mary was in residence at the French Court from 1547 until 1561, during her betrothal and marriage to the son of Henri II, Francis and their reign as King and Queen of France.

Pierre fell in love with Mary, who is said to have encouraged his passion.  It is not clear during what time period this flirtation occurred, but most likely it was after the death of Mary’s husband in December 1560.  At any rate, Pierre was in the party escorting Mary back to Scotland in August 1561 with Montmorency’s son.

The story goes that he wrote poems to her–and she wrote back in kind. John Guy writes in his magnificent biography  The True Life of Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots that Mary responded to Chastelard’s poems in the spirit of courtly love, nothing more.

Mary may not have harbored any romantic feelings for Chastelard but her behavior gave rise to plenty of gossip.  Who says Mary’s friendship with Chastelard was anything but innocent?  Thomas Randolph, the English Ambassador to Scotland, Brantome, a notoriously unreliable French source and Mary’s nemesis, John Knox all suggest theirs was much more than a friendship.  Note that at this time Mary was busy looking for a new husband from powerful Catholic countries.  If true, why risk the stain on her honour?

In Mary, Queen of Scots and the Murder of Lord Darnley, author Alison Weir recounts Randolph’s claim “that she permitted too great a degree of familiarity with ‘so unworthy a creature and abject a varlet.'”  Weir reports that John Knox also had plenty to say about how “Chastelard was so familiar in the Queen’s cabinet that scarcely could any of the nobility have access to her.”  She “would lie upon Chastelard’s shoulder and sometimes she would privily kiss his neck.”  What? What was Mary thinking—by this time she had been back in Scotland long enough to know that what might pass without comment at the French Court would cause a stir at the Scottish Court.   But is it true? And if it is, does it mean anything than Mary was a bit foolish, a bit lonely?

Could Chastelard’s infatuation have cloaked more sinister intentions?  There is some suggestion that Chastelard was a spy for the English–in particular for Sir Francis Walsingham and Sir William Cecil–but history is inconclusive.  What we do know is that he left Scotland for some time between September 1561 and returned in the autumn of 1562 having traveled through London making noise about returning to his lady-love in Scotland.  He could have picked up an assignment.  Weir reports that after Chastelard’s death William Maitland, Mary’s Secretary of State, told the Spanish Ambassador De Quadra that Chastelard confessed to being sent by Huguenots in France to ruin Mary’s reputation and foil her marriage plans with the Spanish heir, Don Carlos.

On his return to Scotland, Mary was glad to see him.  She gave him the gift of a horse that her brother had given her (re-gifting…), and some money to buy new clothes and danced with him during New Year’s celebrations.  Still, none of these actions was out of keeping with her behavior to other favorites.

Rossend Castle, shades of former glory.  Here in February 1563 Mary, Queen of Scots found Chastelard hiding under her bed.

Rossend Castle, shades of former glory. Here in February 1563 Mary, Queen of Scots found Chastelard hiding under her bed.

If he was just an obsessed, love-sick swain, he was also unlucky.  On his return, he displayed the poor judgment, or luck, to get caught in Mary’s bedchamber not once, but twice.  The first time, he hid under Mary’s bed at Holyrood Palace but discovered during a routine security search.  Mary banished him from Scotland.   Two days later in a move of epic stupidity, he followed Mary to Fife surprised her at Rossend Castle in Burntisland (which I visited last year) and caught her in the middle of disrobing. Chastelard had a dagger and/or sword with him.  Her shouts brought her brother, James Stewart, Earl of Moray to her aid.  Mary was so rattled that her chief lady-in-waiting, Mary Fleming, slept at the foot of her bed thereafter.

Whatever Mary’s true feelings for Pierre, she did not have much choice but to hang him for the attempted assassination after refusing several pleas for a pardon. At worst, he threatened Queen Mary’s life; at best, he threatened her good name either through his stupidity or on purpose as a spy.  After a week in the dungeons at St. Andrews, Pierre was hanged at the Mercat Cross in St. Andrews on February 20, 1563.  Chastelard made a dramatic exit, reciting Ronsard’s poem “Hymn of Death” and reportedly saying “”Adieu, most lovely and cruel of princesses!” This cannot have helped Mary’s reputation with the Reformists like John Knox.

Algernon Charles Swinburne, a 19th century intellectual and author, wrote Chastelard: A Tragedy  about his relationship with Mary Stuart and one of her ladies-in-waiting, Mary Beaton.  In the story, the three are caught in a tragic triangle that ends with his execution.  I do not believe there is any historical accuracy behind the concept of the love triangle, but it is a compelling idea.

Chastelard’s relationship with Mary intrigues me.  Was he obsessed but unrequited in love?  Or was he an infatuation of Mary’s, the inappropriate predecessor to the inappropriate Darnley and Bothwell?  As a writer, the what-if’s in this story fascinate me.  I wonder what the CW’s Reign will make of this?  (I know what I’m doing with this plot line!)

Was My Field Research on the Queen and the Four Marys Just a Boondoggle?

Just a “few” guidebooks I picked up (which added 5 lbs to my suitcase weight)!

I’m back home, after an excruciatingly long flight from Scotland that involved at least eight hours of flight delays.  I was sorry we picked the day I returned to bring home our new puppy, because I was a weary mess.

The purpose of my trip was to see as many of the historical sites important to Mary, Queen of Scots and her Four Maries and kick off a fierce summer of writing with the goal of completing the first draft of my novel by the end of the year.  So how did I do?  What did I really accomplish?   And, was it even necessary in the era of Google Earth/Google Images?  Was I just on a big fat boondoggle? (What’s a boondoggle? It is when you go somewhere under the guise of doing work or business and in fact it is more party than anything else. Favorite American expression.)

Yes! I admit there was an element of boondoggle about my journey.  My parents are from Scotland (Fife) and I spent a lot of time there growing up.  Returning to see my cousins and old friends was fantastic, and I could have spent the two weeks roaming around seeing them.  As it was, I did not get to visit every relative and friend I had hoped to see.  Next time…

Could Google Earth have been a solid substitute?  I have a friend who writes romance novels and has written one set it Germany and England without ever having set foot in either country.  I thought she did a good job capturing England in the 1980s—and I was there at the time.  I’m writing about the 16th Century, which I can’t visit either.  So did being on the ground, viewing ruined castles help me write more detailed scenes?

I did a fair bit of research on Google Earth and Google Images and while it was helpful, there was nothing like being on site, or en route to a site.  I’d seen plenty of photographs of Hermitage Castle but nothing I saw prepared me for the sheer size of it tucked away in the lonely Borders.  No photograph can capture the pure joy I felt traveling through the Scottish countryside on a sunny day, or the miserable feeling I got when on a rainy day the relentless damp chilled my bones. My characters will feel that too.

As I went from place to place, photographing the ruins and researching what happened at each site, I was a little surprised at how being on the ground in castles like Loch Leven, Hermitage, Stirling gave me a greater appreciation for the chaos and strife of Queen Mary’s short, 7-year residence in Scotland during her reign.  I have known Queen Mary’s story since I was 12 and read Lady Antonia Fraser‘s biography Mary Queen of Scots (yes, I was a precocious child).  But knowing a story and feeling it are quite different.

Being on the ground here, I saw my characters a little differently, more deeply.  From the minute I hit the runway at Edinburgh airport I was more aware of the what it was like for five young women under 20 to return to their native lands and their families as almost foreigners.  They were, for all intents and purposes, French women but now expected to pick up a culture and life they had left behind 13 years earlier.  I could even liken their experiences to my own.

As I traveled to the sites and focused on what happened in the lives of Queen Mary or the Maries at each, it hit home how crisis-driven their lives became once they returned to Scotland.  I think of Queen Mary and her Maries as the “it” girls–the celebrities–of their day at the cutting edge of Renaissance culture and fashion. They caused comment wherever they went, whatever they did–and tabloid talk followed.  John Knox was like our on TMZ or News of the World. Queen Mary was a lightning rod for scandal—men fell deeply in love with her (John Gordon, Chastelard, Willie Douglas), never mind the men who wanted her crown (Darnley, Bothwell just for starters).

In that environment, I start to wonder what kept Queen Mary going?  Even after her low point, imprisoned at Loch Leven, she pulled herself together and escaped, rallied troops and went into battle.  She was no coward, no shrinking violet and neither were her Maries.  Seton was bold enough to join her at the Battle of Carberry, then body-double for Mary in her escape from Loch Leven, run with her to England, sharing her imprisonment.   Livingston likewise was at Carberry and she held onto Mary’s jewels and money even under duress from the Regent Morton as late at 1573.  Fleming and her husband held Edinburgh Castle in what can only have been diabolical conditions.

Queen Mary lurched from one crisis to the next, doing her best to manage each.  But with each crisis the stakes were raised higher and she finally lost everything.  Once Queen of France and Scotland, she spent half her life imprisoned.  And yet Queen Mary’s cause was not lost the day she fled to England–there were many, many in Scotland who remained loyal to her.  Not just Edinburgh Castle, but also Doune Castle and Dunbar held for her up until early 1570s, after she was under Elizabeth I’s eye.  Her Maries, their husbands and families all worked for her release and did not give up on it for a long time.  Queen Mary had been escaping from one sort of danger or another since her mother removed her from Linlithgow to Stirling in case she was abducted and taken to England at seven months old.  There was no reason to think once in England she would never see Scotland again.

For me, I can’t imagine writing this book without spending time in Scotland in the footsteps of my characters, seeing the worn stone steps in an ancient castle and knowing my characters helped with the wear and tear, or the fireplace where they would have sat and warmed themselves on a cold day, or following the route they took from one location to the next.

I admit I did not achieve everything I hoped to.  I could easily have spent another two weeks, or three, to really cover the ground.  And I might yet before it’s all done.  Remember, Queen Mary spent a lot of time in France…and England…Just sayin’.

In the meantime, I have journals and drafts and ideas floating in my head and a summer to get them all cohesively on paper. Carpe Diem!

Rossend, Scene of Mary, Queen of Scots Scandal with Chastelard and Falkland Palace, Her Favorite Hunting Lodge

Today I took up my itinerary with a vengeance—planning to visit Burntisland, Falkland and St. Andrews in a day and spend a couple of hours with my dad’s Aunt Lena.  It did not work out that way… But two out of three ain’t bad!

I drove to Burntisland this morning to visit Rossend Castle, where Mary, Queen of Scots stayed February 1563.  It was at Rossend where Pierre de Bocosel de Chastelard, a French messenger (some say spy) and poet, hid under Mary’s bed and surprised her.  Supposedly he was dying of love for her, but he had a knife and this was the second time he’d comprised Mary’s reputation—Mary’s detractors, especially John Knox, made mileage out of the scandal.  Mary took a hard-line and executed Chastelard at the Mercat Cross in St. Andrews.  His last words fueled the scandal:  “Adieu, most beautiful and cruel princess in the world.” Chastelard is the subject of a play by Charles Algernon Swinburne, in which he is a warrior-poet who is also Mary Stuart’s courtier and lover.   The twist? Mary Beaton also loves him.   This is all fiction of course, but it gives a writer some ideas…

Rossend Castle, shades of former glory. Here in February 1563 Mary, Queen of Scots found Chastelard hiding under her bed.

The castle was a disappointment.  The stone walls are now covered in pebble whitewash (horrors), which is more period 20thCentury than anything else.   The grounds were a mess, but then I understand it was—or is–up for sale. A postal worker happened by and I asked him about the area, and he pointed the Keeper’s house out to me (or what he believed had been), the exterior of which was a bit more of what I was expecting.

Keepers House, Rossend Castle, stone facade intact

The only other place of note personal – the castle overlooked the Burntisland Shipyard where my grandfather Donnelly worked as a plumber’s mate from about 1941-1970.

I made my way up the A921 through Kirkcaldy to Falkland, which is not all that far – about 15 miles.  But the roads are very windy here and I nearly came to blows with the Garmin SatNav!  It sent me back and forth through Kirkcaldy to the point where I was sure there was a real person behind the Garmin just messing with me.   Finally I stopped listening to the Garmin woman and made my own way to Falkland without any trouble.

Falkland Palace, East wing. The King’s and Queen’s Rooms would have been here

Falkland is a beautiful town set at the foot of the Lomond Hills–exactly where you’d expect to find a royal hunting lodge.  Falkland Palace was a favorite hunting long of the Stewart monarchs, especially James IV, James V and Queen Mary.

Keeper’s House, Falkland Palace–Mary Beaton’s Grandfather and Father would have lived here.

It was also the home of Mary Beaton’s grandfather and father, who were Keepers of the palace so it was exciting to see where young Beaton would have been born and where she would have visited her family when she was not with Queen Mary. I entered through the Keeper’s residence, long renovated by the Bute family but there was enough effort made to give several rooms at 16th Century feel, and plenty of portraits around of the Stewarts.   I could very much picture Queen Mary galloping across the fields with the Four Maries, playing tennis in the court (the oldest tennis court in the world, I’m told).   Unfortunately, I could not take any photographs inside.

Lomond Hills behind Falkland Palace, where Mary, Queen of Scots and her predecessor Stewart monarchs hunted

Headed off to St. Andrews with a quick stopover to see my dad’s aunt who was in Glenrothes at a nursing home.  But as I got in the car to leave, I noticed the right front tire was flat as a pancake, which scuppered my plans for St. Andrews and I spent the afternoon dealing with car matters—very frustrating.

Oldest tennis court in the world at Falkland