Bonnie Dundee by Rosemary Sutcliff

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It must be nearly 30 years since I last read this book. Oh dear, I’m very old! I wanted to re-read it in preparation for a visit later this year to the battlefield of Killiecrankie, where “Bonnie Dundee” was killed in 1689, and Blair Castle, the crucially important stronghold which both the Jacobites and the government forces wanted control of.

The book is narrated by a fictional character, Hugh Herriott, who is living in exile in the Netherlands, having fled Scotland after the collapse of the Jacobite rising, and having earlier served under John Graham of Claverhouse, Viscount Dundee. It covers a complicated period in Scottish history – the so-called “Killing Times”, when Claverhouse was involved in suppressing the Covenanters, who wanted a Presbyterian rather than an Episcopalian system of church organisation, in SW Scotland in the later years of Charles II’s reign and then Charles II’s reign, and the Jacobite rising which he led in Scotland in 1689. He’s got a mixed reputation in Scotland – “Bloody Claverhouse” but also a Jacobite hero. He hasn’t got much of a reputation at all in England, really – the Covenanter uprisings seem to’ve been regarded as more of a nuisance than anything else, and the rising of 1689 doesn’t have any of the “romance” attached to it that the Fifteen and the Forty-Five have, and tends to be overlooked compared to the events in Ireland the following year.

It’s made clear from the start that the book is intended to be sympathetic to Dundee, but really Dundee is only ever in the background. It’s Hugh who’s the main character, and the book’s about him – Dundee’s main role in it is as the man whom Hugh hero-worships and is prepared to follow anywhere. I’m not sure that that was the idea, but it’s an excellent book – a “young adult” book, but it works for adults too – all the same. There aren’t enough historical novels for children and “young adults”, and without Rosemary Sutcliff there’d be even fewer!

I am very excited about the prospect of seeing Killiecrankie and Blair Castle :-). I’ve never been to the Highlands before.

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