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Posted April 19, 2007
THE FAIR MAID OF PERTH, or ST. VALENTINE'S DAY is an historical novel set in 1396. Its complex actions are staged both in the city of Perth, up and down Scotland's longest river, the Tay, and in Scotland's Southern Highlands. *** Real historical events which took place over six or seven years are compressed by Sir Walter Scott into as many weeks. All is not well in the young Royal House of Stewart. Robert III, grandson of King Robert the Bruce, reigns and is in residence in Perth. He is crippled, ruling ineptly with kindness over a brutal nation. He has two sons. In time and after captivity in England, his younger son will become King James I of Scotland. *** Meanwhile Robert III's older son David, Duke of Rothsay, is an angry young man, forced by politics into an unloving marriage with Marjorie, daughter of Earl Archibald ('The Black') Douglas. David's uncle Robert conspires with the Prince's Master of Horse, Sir John Ramorny, to imprison and poison Prince David with an eye to Robert's or Robert's heirs' succeeding to the throne. They employ the services of apothecary Henbane Dwining and a brutal henchman of Ramorny named Bothron. The cabal murders the Prince at Falkland Castle. *** Meanwhile, two Highland clans settle a hundred years of feuding in a combat of thirty versus thirty at the 'North Inch' of Perth in the presence of the King and Court. To fill a vacancy in the ranks of the ultimate winners a 'Crooked-leg Smith' steps in. *** This provides the general historical setting for the fiction. ** The ultimately losing Highland Clan had long ago sent its future chief called Conachar as apprentice to Simon Glover in Perth. Simon makes elegant gloves and is father of the most beautiful woman Perth has ever known, Catharine Glover. She is wooed simultaneously by Conachar, Henry Smith, the bow-legged smith and armorer, and by Prince David. Before dawn on Valentine's day, the Prince and Sir John Ramorny lead a party to kidnap Catharine Glover. Henry Smith surprises them and strikes off the hand of Sir John, jeweled glove and all. *** And the story is off an running. *** Conachar, young, weak, awkward and unwillingly a coward, tries unsuccessfully to stab Smith to death. He then returns to the Highlands where he becomes chief of the clan which will ultimately lose all it has in the Palm Sunday melee of the North Inch before the King. Catharine will marry Henry Smith, slowly turning him away from his violent ways. In the process she learns that 'men rarely advance in civilisation of refinement beyond the ideas of their own age' (Ch. 36). *** In the iron age of Scotland it better for the Fair Maid to wed a brave fighter like Smith than a high-ranking peace- loving leader like Conachar. *** The novel is full of tensions: Scots versus English, Lowlanders against Highlanders, laymen against clergy, guildsmen (focus is on glovers, smiths, bonnet-makers and others) versus nobles and nobles versus the king. *** Lovers of peace (the King, Conachar, Catharine Glover and a charismatic Carthusian monk, Father Clement Blair) are in a distinct minority. Sir Walter Scott blames for this national violence a still powerful Chivalry, a potent mixture of glorification of both combat to settle disputes, courtly exaltation of women and the songs of minstrels. Scott also includes a saucy visitor from France, the minstrel Louise and her little dog. The Prince's flirtation with Louise sets in motion events leading to his murder. *** Walter Scott invented the historical novel. And of his 27 novels THE FAIR MAID OF PERTH is one of his five or six finest. This is must reading for lovers of Scotland and of high adventure. -OOO-Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.