Tag Archives: Robert the Bruce

The battle that defined a nation

Picture of battle of Bannockburn

King Robert wields an axe and King Edward is ready to run

The Battle of Bannockburn, fought over two days in the summer of 1314, was when the Scots came of age, and Robert the Bruce cemented his hold on the Scottish throne, and sent Edward II’s English army packing.

The field on which the most famous of battles between England and Scotland was fought, is visible from the walls of Stirling castle. Needless to say, a museum stands on the site. Lots has been written about the events surrounding the great battle, so I’m not going to repeat it here. You’ll find an interesting potted version on Wikipedia, and if you like historical fiction I unreservedly recommend N. Gemini Sasson’s Bruce trilogy. I wrote a review of the second book, in which Bannockburn is the pivotal drama.

picture of statue of Robert the BruceAs a tourist, you can go to the museum site and gaze at the statue of Robert on his warhorse. It stands at the end of a grassy slope, with Stirling castle visible in the background. The besieged English would have watched events unfold from the castle walls.photo of Bannockburn from the castle

picture of a knight in helmet and mailThen go inside and discover the Scots didn’t actually fight in kilts and blue paint. (Braveheart wasn’t entirely accurate, no.) And let me tell you, that helmet is HEAVY.

N. Gemini Sasson – Worth Dying For

Picture of cover, Worth Dying ForN. Gemini Sasson’s new book, “Worth Dying For” is a fitting successor to the first book of her seminal series on the life of Robert the Bruce, “The Crown in the Heather”.

The book opens with a vivid, brutal, no-holds-barred account of the Battle of Bannockburn, just outside Stirling in Scotland, where King Robert and his motley army of Scots overcame the vastly superior army of King Edward the Second. Written in present tense using the voice of King Edward, the prologue is at once harrowing and terrifying as the King of England sees his invincible army swept away, leaving him in mortal danger of capture. And thus is set the scene for the rest of the book as the author leads us from Robert’s greatest defeat to this shining pinnacle of his success.

We join Robert where we left him at the end of ‘The Crown in the Heather’, bowed and battered, penniless, without an army and with very little hope after his crushing defeat at Balqhidder. If he is to succeed, he needs money and a strategy to unite the warring families of Scotland. His stoutest ally, James Douglas, has his own demons to fight. To Robert’s strategic leadership he adds his skill as a tactician. Sasson shows these two threads as the two men claw their way back to a position where they can once again tackle the Eternal Enemy – England.

Meanwhile, Longshanks, scourge of the Scots, loses his final battle and is succeeded by his petulant, self-centred son, Edward II. While the Scots scrabble to rebuild, Edward brawls with his Lords. The author draws a sensitive portrait of Edward and his love for Piers Gaveston as well as his strained relationship with his beautiful French wife, Isabella. As in ‘The Crown in the Heather’, the story is told in the first person from the points of view of these three, very different, men.

Once again, Sasson takes the reader there, to the wind-swept hills of Scotland where Robert runs for his life, to the islands of the Irish Sea, to London where Edward I, in one of his last acts of malicious cruelty, commits his outrageous act against Robert’s women. The description is vivid, the attention to detail meticulous.

This is a first class book. I look forward to reading the final chapter. Find it at Amazon and all good online book stores.

N. Gemini Sasson – The Crown in the Heather

Picture of cover The Crown in the HeatherThe autumn wind was murderous cold. Small gray clouds raced like mountain hares above a drab and muddy billowing of land. Leafless limbs clattered in complaint against the onslaught of wind.”

The wonderful use of evocative language is just one of the things that sets Gemini Sasson’s novel ‘The Crown in the Heather’ apart. The first book of a trilogy about the life of Robert the Bruce, this novel covers the years from 1290 to 1306. The author takes the reader on a journey that encompasses the length and breadth of England and Scotland and as far as Paris as it chronicles the complex politics, back-stabbing and double-dealing as men fought for the Scottish Crown. It is a dark and raw story, written of a turbulent, violent time. What impressed me most was that Sasson chose the difficult path of writing her story from the different view points of three people – all in first person. And it works. Robert the Bruce, James Douglas and Edward, crown prince of England all come across as distinct individuals, each with his own voice, each with his own motivations. The secondary characters – people like Edward’s brutal father, Edward I – known as Longshanks, Robert’s wife Elizabeth and the towering William Wallace are clearly drawn. Sasson has done her homework and the settings and the details are vivid. This is a marvellous book. I look forward to the second volume.

Available from Amazon

N. Gemini Sasson – Isabeau

Picture of cover of IsabeauGemini Sasson’s novel about Isabella, wife of England’s King Edward II and her relationship with Sir Roger Mortimer is a spell-binding work of historical fiction. Meticulously researched, beautifully written, Sasson takes the reader on a journey into the 14th Century, into the turbulent politics of England, France and Scotland.

Daughter of the King of France, Isabella is married off to Edward II at the age of thirteen – and soon discovers that as far as her husband is concerned, she is simply a brood mare for his children. He’d rather spend his time with his lover, Piers Gaveston. After Piers is killed, Hugh Despenser insinuates himself into Edward’s affections. Increasingly isolated from her husband, Isabeau (it is the pet name of her childhood) turns to Sir Roger Mortimer. History has not been kind to Queen Isabella but Sasson has treated the ‘she-wolf of France’ as a wonderfully human character.

The book is a compelling read, with beautiful locations, lovingly wrought. You can see it and taste and (sometimes unfortunately) smell it. This is just one example of Sasson’s evocative descriptions, already enjoyed in her book about Robert the Bruce, ‘The Crown in the Heather’.

‘Snow tumbled down, melting as it touched the earth. I looked out over the somber, glassy surface of the harbor to one side and then far up at the imposing castle of Dover, its stout, gray walls shouldering a joyless sky.

No boring history lesson, this. The story moves apace, switching from Mortimer’s point of view to Isabella’s over a period of eighteen years as Isabeau evolves from a frightened child-bride to a doting mother and then into something darker when her children are snatched from her. For his part, Mortimer, a hardened professional soldier, sees his honour and his birthright stolen. And then he falls in love.

We share the journey with Isabeau and Mortimer as the setting moves from Dover to London to Leeds to France to Burgundy as Robert the Bruce and his Scottish army invades England, as the Marcher Lords lay siege to the King. The characters are all three dimensional, with virtues and flaws and the details of costume and culture, as well as natural settings, are beautifully drawn.

Sasson has brought this turbulent era to life. It is a masterful piece of writing and I look forward with pleasure to reading the second instalment of Isabeau and Mortimer’s journey.

Buy the book on Amazon