The Scottish Warrior: Event at the Gordon Highlanders Museum in Aberdeen

Looking forward to speaking about Jacobite men as well as Jacobite women as part of a panel at the Gordon Highlanders Museum in Aberdeen next Monday, 6th November, on the subject of ‘The Scottish Warrior in Commemorations, Museums and Politics.’ This is a free event but booking is required here. 

Doors open at 5.30, when refreshments will be available and a selection of my books will be available to buy. Panel presentations start at 6.00 and end after an audience Q & A at 7.30.

#ScotWarrior2017 #jacobites #university of aberdeen #gordonhighlandersmuseum



A Scottish Nurse in the White War: The Italian Alps, 1917-1918.

In the Sunday Herald of 22nd October 2017, Angus Robertson, SNP MP and journalist, wrote a moving article on the ‘forgotten front’ of the First World War, the struggle between Italian forces and those of the soon-to-crumble Austro-Hungarian Empire. Because so much of the fighting took place in the snows of the foothills of the Alps, the Italian front became known as the White War.  

The White War by Mark Thompson

The Italian Front also inspired Ernest Hemingway’s novel, A Farewell to Arms. 

As Angus Robertson pointed out in his Sunday Herald article, 24th October 2017 marks the 100th anniversary of the start of the 12th Battle of the Isonzo, when, after more than three weeks, Austro-Hungarian troops broke through the Italian defences. The previous eleven battles had been indecisive. The fighting in the White War resulted in huge loss of life, with more than a million casualties.

Some of the wounded were nursed by Scottish volunteer Red Cross nurse, Henrietta Tayler, (1869-1951). Weeks and months after the Armistice of 1918, she was still caring for prisoners-of-war in Montecchio Maggiore, west of Venice and east of Verona. Her wartime memoir includes the dry comment: ‘Nursing prisoners in tents in the snow was somewhat of a new experience for me.’

She did her very best for them, making sure the dying were comforted and those recovering from injury and illness were nursed, washed, cared for and reassured. Hetty, as her friends and family called her, was a gifted linguist, which was just as well. Her prisoner-patients were of a variety of nationalities: Austrian, Hungarian, Bosnian, Serbian, Czech and more. She made sure to learn as many helpful words in each language as possible.

Her patients conferred and decided to call her Mutter, mother in German. That moved her to tears, especially when they told her that, as prisoners, they hadn’t expected to be treated with such care and kindness. Hetty’s comment on that was simple. A patient was a patient, whatever their nationality, ‘and weakness and misery must always appeal to one wherever found.’

As A & H Tayler, Hetty and her brother Alistair were prolific historians. Before the war, they published The Book of the Duffs, a detailed and entertaining account of the wider family to which they belonged. After the First World War, they researched and wrote numerous books and articles on Scottish history, particularly that of the Jacobite risings of 1715 and 1745.









Revisiting the Jacobites – The History Behind the History

On Thursday 12th October, from 18.30 – 20.00 (doors open 18.15), I’ll be one of a panel addressing different aspects of the 1745 Jacobite Rising at the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh. I’ll be talking about the women I wrote about in Damn’ Rebel Bitches: The Women of the ’45, Arran Johnston will be talking about the Battle of Prestonpans, about which he’s just published a book, On Gladsmuir Shall the Battle Be, and Professor Robert Dunbar will be talking about Gaelic language and culture and the suppression of those after Culloden. There will be a panel discussion and Q & A with the audience after our brief presentations. It’s sure to be a lively debate, this is such contested history. More information and how to get tickets from the NMS website.





Damn Rebel Bitches: Research Then & Now

When I did my research for Damn’ Rebel Bitches: The Women of the ’45 twenty years ago, that had to be done the hard, albeit very enjoyable way. I’ve just written an article on the subject for Historia, the online magazine of the Historical Writers’ Association, which you can read below.



Damn’ Rebel Bitches: Research Then and Now



The Battle of Prestonpans and the Gallant Colonel Gardiner

Drawn by Sir William Allan PRSA and lithographed by E. Walker. Published in 'Scotland Delineated' by John Parker Lawson, 1849 Lithograph 1849 Image size 180 x 98 mm
The Death of Colonel Gardiner at Prestonpans

Colonel James Gardiner was a Scotsman and a career soldier in the British Army. By a twist of fate, the man who travelled extensively during his military career was struck down at Prestonpans in a battle that exploded no distance from his own front door. Gardiner was quite a character. In his youth he was a rake and a philanderer and shockingly foul-mouthed, even by soldiers’ standards. There’s a reason why we still talk about someone ‘swearing like a trooper.’


After a religious experience in which he saw a vision of Christ, Gardiner changed completely. He gave up the casual sexual encounters, stopped swearing and began practising Christian charity, courtesy to people of all ranks, kindness to the poor and the soldiers under his command. He cared about animal welfare too, making sure that the regimental horses were well-treated. He was also an early advocate of the swear box, fining his officers and men for every curse he heard them utter. The money was used to provide care and comforts for soldiers who were wounded or fell ill.

He married Lady Frances Erskine, daughter of the Earl of Buchan, and they had thirteen children, only five of whom survived to become adults. You can read some of his letters to his wife at the National Archives of Scotland, at the eastern end of Edinburgh’s Princes Street. He almost invariably signed off to ‘my dearest sweetest Jewel Fany [sic]’, asking her to pass on his love to their children and his regards to all their friends.

Rallying some foot soldiers who had not turned and fled in the face of the terrifying charge of the Jacobite army, Colonel Gardiner was knocked off his horse by a Highlander swinging a scythe, sustaining further wounds as he lay on the ground. He died a few hours later.


His home at Bankton House is still there, now converted into flats. A monument to the gallant Colonel Gardiner stands between Bankton House and the railway line. It is guarded by four magnificently doleful stone lions.

BAB08 Colonel Gardiner's Monument Mourning Lion (Author)

You can read more about Colonel Gardiner and many other men involved in the 1745 Jacobite Rising in my book, Bare-arsed Banditti: The Men of the ’45. The book is widely available as a paperback and ebook, including via Amazon UK and Amazon US.

The Battle of Prestonpans was hardly over before the song taunting the Redcoat commander, Hey, Johnnie Cope, was written. It’s been sung in Scotland ever since. Here’s a link to Ceolbeg’s version:  Hey, Johnnie Cope.

There’s lots more information at Battle of Prestonpans Heritage Trust, including the latest update on the petition to preserve the site of the Battle.


Always a thrill to see my books on the shelf

It’s always a thrill to see my books on the shelves, especially when I’m in such good company as I am here at the National Trust for Scotland visitor Scotland at Culloden. I was there last week to sign copies of my Jacobite romantic suspense novel, Gathering Storm. The gift shop at Culloden has just stocked up on those.

I’m pictured here next to my Jacobite non-fiction, Damn’ Rebel Bitches: The Women of the ’45 and Bare-Arsed Banditti: The Men of the 45.

Maggie with her books at NTS Culloden
Maggie with her books at NTS Culloden

I’m honoured that my non-fiction Jacobite books sit next to John Prebble’s masterly Culloden. That was the first serious history I ever read about the Jacobites and the 1745 Rising. The first novel I ever read on the subject was DK Broster’s classic adventure, The Flight of the Heron.

Also in the picture is No Quarter Given, otherwise known as the Muster Roll. This labour of love was compiled by members of the 1745 Association and is the Bible for anyone looking for a specific name and regiment of an ancestor or person of interest who served in Bonnie Prince Charlie’s Jacobite army. For a researcher, it also offers the broader picture of who the men were, what they were to trade and where they came from.

After signing the books, we drove into Inverness and had lunch by the river. Inverness looked glorious in the summer sunshine!

Lunch alfresco in Inverness
Lunch alfresco in Inverness

Escape from the Jacobites at Doune Castle

Doune Castle near Stirling

Doune Castle near Stirling has starred in Monthy Python & the Holy Grail and the pilot episode of Games of Thrones. In Starz TV’s adaptation of Diana Gabaldon’s phenomenally successful Outlander novels, Doune plays Castle Leoch.  As itself, this mighty mediaeval Scottish castle played host to a daring escape of prisoners in January 1746. One of those men was a future signatory of the American Declaration of Independence.

The Reverend John Witherspoon was 23 years old and already a Church of Scotland minister in Beith in Ayrshire. Opposed to the Catholic Bonnie Prince Charlie and his plans to regain the British throne for the Stuarts, Witherspoon raised a militia from his congregation. He rode off at its head, ready to fight on the side of the Government and the House of Hanover. He seems to have fallen into Jacobite hands before he could get the chance.

The Battle of Falkirk in January 1746 was a victory for the Jacobites. Although they failed to build on their success, they did take some prisoners before they headed back north to the Highlands. Doune Castle near Stirling must have seemed impregnable, especially for anyone trying to break out of this imposing fortress. Its solid stone walls still soar up to the sky.

Witherspoon was a prisoner there with several of the pro-Hanoverian students of Edinburgh’s College Company, including John Home. Home later published The History of the Rebellion in Scotland in 1745, in which he describes how a group of them made up their minds to escape. The plan was a bold and risky one.

They were kept high up in the castle, just below the battlements, with a drop of over 70 feet between them and the ground below. In classic style, the young men tied together their blankets to fashion a rope.  At about one o’clock in the morning they began to lower themselves down.

It was a moonlit night but there was no guard posted at that part of the castle walls. Four made it down safely. The fifth man was taller and heavier and the rope broke under his weight, leaving a shortfall of 20-30 feet. At the cost of a painful fall, a sixth man made it down. The seventh was not so lucky. He survived the fall but died later of his injuries. His name was Neil MacVicar, son of the manse on the island of Islay.

John Witherspoon, John Home and the others got away safely. Home too became a minister and also a playwright, known for his play Douglas. Witherspoon crossed the Atlantic, helped found the University of Princeton and became one of the signatories of the Declaration of Independence.

Historic Scotland plans to re-enact the plotting by Witherspoon and his friends of the daring escape from Doune Castle in August 2015.




A Passion for Jacobites



A Passion for Jacobites

I was 10 or 11 when my father first took me to Culloden. Just east of Inverness, this is the site of the last battle fought on British soil, where Redcoats under the command of the Duke of Cumberland defeated the Jacobite army of Bonnie Prince Charlie. On Wednesday 16th April 1746, the Stuart dream of wresting the British crown and throne back from the House of Hanover died here.

I was around the same age when my Uncle Alex put DK Broster’s The Flight of the Heron into my eager hands – and that was it. My fate was sealed. The Jacobites of 1745 became my lifelong passion. I’ve read this story of the unlikely friendship between a Redcoat officer and a Highland chieftain more times than I can remember. It’s my Fahrenheit 451 book, the one I would save from the flames.

Back in the 1960s, the road to Inverness still ran through the battlefield. It’s since been covered over. Later, I was to discover from my researches that battles were often fought near roads. It made it easier to run the canons into position. We stopped in a layby near the cairn which commemorates the battle, got out and read the inscription.

The Battle of Culloden was fought on this moor 16th April 1746. The graves of the gallant Highlanders who fought for Scotland and Prince Charlie are marked by the names of their clans.


My father pointed out the grave markers, modest little stones carved with those names: Mackintosh, MacGillivray, Cameron, Stewart, Fraser and the rest. He told me about the merciless massacre of defeated and wounded Highlanders by the Redcoats and how this earned the Hanoverian king’s son the nickname of Butcher Cumberland. He told me of the terrible harrying of the glens in the aftermath of Culloden, how men, women and children suffered at the hands of the Redcoats thoughout the bloody summer of 1746.

I’ve learnt a lot more since of the complexities that swirl around the Jacobite Rising of 1745. History is never simple. Take the cairn at Culloden. It was raised by a descendant of Duncan Forbes of Culloden, a man who was an implacable opponent of Bonnie Prince Charlie but who pleaded for humane treatment of the Jacobites after the battle. I’ve written more about him here:

Duncan Forbes of Culloden