Marice Fleming

Queens and Hogboons

In Scottish Queens 1034 – 1714 (Tuckwell Press, PBK, £20) Rosalind K. Marshall gives the first exclusive account of the sometimes forgotten female power behind the throne. Mary Stuart, St Margaret and Lady Macbeth are iconic in our history, but their significance has been obscured for one reason or another, and their early biographies have been at best sketchy until now. Their lives, whether as consorts, or rulers in their own right, are brought back into full focus in this concise, readable history which reveals, for instance, that Mary of Gueldres was the mind behind the royal redoubt at Ravenscraig. This book is a belated companion to Gordon Donalson’s Scottish Kings (1967).

Galloglas:Hebridean and West Highland Mercenary Warrior Kindreds in Mediaeval Ireland (Tuckwell Press, PBK, £16.99) may be a mouthful, but John Marsden puts into welcome context the extraordinary 300-year saga of these wild Highlanders. ‘Returning’ Scots, identified as MacCabes, MacDonnels, MacDowells, MacRorys, MacSheehys and MacSweeneys in the Irish annals, they were descended from the Gaelic-Norse aristocracy of Argyll and the Isles – two from a grandson of Somerled himself. They first come to prominence in the service of native Irish lords in Ulster and Connacht c. 1300, and were later introduced to Munster and Leinster by gaelicised Anglo-Irish earls. As a heavily armed and mailed, well-drilled infantry, wielding their long battle-axes, they were a decisive force in the Gaelic Irish fourteenth-century resurgence against English hegemony, and also resisted the Tudor reconquest 200 years later. Offering a Scottish perspective on an obscure chapter which has largely had only Irish commentary before, this work points up the peculiarly Norse character of their origins, and suggests that their battle-fury was ultimately derived from their Viking ancestry.

From Lochaber’s Bauchans to Shetland’s Wulver – via the imported American Mothman – in Not of this World (Mercat, PBK, £9.99), Maurice Fleming chronicles alphabetically the weird and wonderful bogles swarming Scotland’s supernatural. Whatever credence you lend to these tenacious traditions, you cannot but be enchanted by such Brobdignagian stuff as Hogboons, Njuggle, and It. The Northern Isles’ beasties have the strangest names, never mind their habits or predilections! The Blue Men of the Minch, who haunt the treacherous Sound of Shiant are here, as well as the confusing Shellycoat, who I had always thought peculiar to the Pier of Leith – but he also troubles both the Hermitage and Ettrick Waters of the Borders.

David Johnson’s Music and Society in Lowland Scotland in the Eighteenth Century, first published in 1972 by OUP, is the first and last word on its subject. This reprint retains the original text, but adds an annotated preface consisting of his corrections and revised opinions regarding the original material. Johnson’s thesis, that the development of eighteenth-century Scots composition was dependent on the complex dynamics occurring between the classical and folk forms, remains vital.

A Flame in the Mearns:Lewis Grassic Gibbon (Association for Scottish Literary Studies, PBK, £9.95) celebrates the centenary of the birth of its subject, J. Leslie Mitchell, as he is otherwise known. Idolised by many for Sunset Song and its Scots Quair sequels, this ‘corrective’ collection of essays broadens our perspective on Gibbon’s other works – novels, essays, poetry and polemics. His varied use of language in different contexts, prose styles, and his largely-ignored politics are confidently explored. So too is his depiction of women and also his evocation of urban settings, especially that of Grey Granite. Urban comparisons with certain recent works of the Scottish school of literary hardmen are spurious, however; it is surely no accident that these latter are ‘without history or depth.’

Copyright Neil Macara Brown 2005.