Being English, I am more familiar with the history of England, but I do also read a lot of fiction set in Scotland. On this page, I am listing all of the novels I have reviewed on my blog which deal with the subject of Scottish history – both before and after the Act of Union of 1707. As always, if you have more books to recommend, please leave your suggestions in the comments.
Also included in: Inspired by Shakespeare
Dunnett’s only standalone historical novel is based around the idea that Macbeth, the historical King of Alba (Scotland), and Thorfinn, Earl of Orkney, were one and the same. King Hereafter is the result of a huge amount of research and although there are some references to Shakespeare’s Macbeth this is not a retelling of the play. As with all of Dunnett’s novels the writing is excellent and I can’t recommend this book highly enough!
I can’t recommend these books highly enough either! A strong Scottish theme runs throughout the series, although not all of the books are set in Scotland. Here is what I said about these six wonderful novels when I read them back in 2012: “For anyone who has yet to read these books, I can promise you that although they’re not the easiest of reads, it’s definitely worth making the effort and getting to know Francis Crawford of Lymond, one of the most complex, charismatic, fascinating characters you’re ever likely to meet in literature. Working through the six books of the Lymond Chronicles has been one of the greatest experiences in my lifetime of reading.”
This is a beautifully written novel based on the Border ballad, Fair Helen of Kirkconnel Lea. Set in the Borders in the 16th century, Greig offers his own interpretation of the ballad, retelling some of its events and expanding on it to include other aspects of Scottish history and Border folklore.
Another excellent book by Andrew Greig, written as a fictional account of the life of a real historical figure, William Fowler, a Scottish makar, or poet. Again set in 16th century Scotland, it vividly portrays the eventful early years of James VI’s reign, student life at St Andrews University and William’s love for a fishwife called Rose Nicolson.
This is the story of Margaret Tudor, the elder sister of Henry VIII. Not only a princess of England, Margaret also becomes a queen at the age of thirteen when she marries King James IV of Scotland. In this novel, we see how Margaret is made to choose between the country of her birth and her adopted country and must decide where her allegiances lie. A fairly light read – and I did have a few problems with it – but it’s a good introduction to Margaret’s life.
The Battle of Flodden in 1513 was the largest and bloodiest battle fought between England and Scotland. This book is a fictional account of the battle and its aftermath told from the perspective of Louise Brenier, a young woman whose brother went missing during the battle. As Louise searches for her brother, she crosses paths with Gabriel Torrance, a nobleman from the court of King James, and Adam Crozier, leader of one of the Border clans – and must decide which of them to trust.
This sequel to After Flodden takes us into the lawless border lands of Scotland and England, where Thomas Dacre, Warden General, presides over the feuding border families…among them our old friends, the Croziers. I enjoyed both books, but this is my favourite of the two.
The third in a trilogy set in 16th century Scotland and France and based on the history of a clan feud known as the Ayrshire Vendetta. I hadn’t read the first two books, but didn’t have any problems following what was happening in this one.
Set in the Western Isles in the 12th century, this beautifully written novel tells the story of Somerled, a chieftain’s son who rises to become a powerful leader, a warrior and, eventually, ‘Lord of the Isles’. Written from the perspectives of Somerled himself and the two women who love him, this is a fascinating and poignant novel.
A dual-timeline story in which a wooden carving of a Russian firebird provides the link between past and present. I expected this to be a book set in Russia, but I was surprised to find that the focus is on Scottish history, particularly the Jacobites, and that a large portion of the novel is actually set in Scotland.
In 1809 Captain John Lacroix returns from the Peninsular War and sets off for Scotland – first to Glasgow, then to the Hebrides, in search of some peace and redemption, only to find that he has been accused of a terrible war crime. Although the sense of place was not as strong as I would have liked, I enjoyed this beautifully written novel.
Robert the Bruce trilogy by Robyn Young
These three novels – Insurrection, Renegade and Kingdom – tell the story of Robert the Bruce, 14th century King of Scots, taking us from Robert’s childhood through to the Battle of Bannockburn and its aftermath. I found this an exciting and well-written trilogy – and I was pleased that a subplot involving hidden relics and ancient prophecies never becomes too dominant!
Also published as Witch Light and The Highland Witch, this is a beautiful, moving story about a young girl accused of witchcraft and the part she played in one of the most tragic moments in Scotland’s history – the Glencoe Massacre of 1692. The writing style is unusual and it took me a while to get used to it, but I’m glad I persevered because this really is a lovely book.
This novel is written from the perspective of Mary Seton, one of the ‘Four Marys’ who were the ladies of Mary, Queen of Scots. I didn’t learn as much about Seton as I’d hoped and can’t really say that I loved this book, but it is still an interesting read.
An older novel from 1933 which feels quite dated but is still an interesting look at the life of Mary, Queen of Scots. It’s as much the story of her half-brother, the Earl of Moray, as it is of Mary herself. Enjoyable enough, but not a must-read.
This classic novel published in 1809 tells the story of the Scottish hero William Wallace. It’s a long book and I felt that the characters lacked depth, but I found it an entertaining read overall and very similar to the work of Sir Walter Scott (his first novel wouldn’t be published until several years later).
Presented as a collection of authentic historical documents, this is actually a work of fiction and tells the story of Roderick Macrae, on trial for committing a brutal triple murder in the Scottish Highlands in 1869. This is a wonderful historical crime novel which leaves us with a lot of unanswered questions regarding truth and reliability.
One of my favourite historical fiction series! Start with the first book, Outlander (or Cross Stitch, as it was originally titled here in the UK) and immerse yourself in the adventures of time-travelling World War II nurse, Claire Randall, and Jamie Fraser, the 18th century Scot with whom she falls in love. There are eight books in the series so far, but be aware that after the third book the focus switches from Scotland to America.
Set in Scotland in the 19th century, this is the weird and wonderful story of Bessy Buckley, a young woman from Ireland who takes up a new position as maid at the estate of Castle Haivers. Bessy is puzzled by the bizarre tasks her new mistress orders her to perform and when she discovers that a previous maid died under suspicious circumstances, she realises that things at Castle Haivers are not quite as they seem. Bessy has a unique narrative style and it was a pleasure to get to know her!
My favourite of the two Jane Harris books, this one is set in Victorian Glasgow and follows the story of Harriet Baxter, who becomes a friend of the artist Ned Gillespie during a trip to Scotland to visit the International Exhibition. This is an excellent novel with some stunning plot twists and, like Bessy in The Observations, Harriet has a strong and memorable narrative voice.
I really enjoyed this novel in which a young woman travels from London to the Isle of Skye to research the stories and folklore of the area. It’s an atmospheric and eerie novel – highly recommended!
No list of Scottish historical fiction would be complete without at least one title by Sir Walter Scott! This one tells the story of Jeanie Deans, a young woman who walks all the way to London to obtain a royal pardon for her sister who had been wrongly charged with infanticide. The large amount of archaic Scots dialect and the long passages on religion and politics made this a challenging read, but one that I enjoyed.
My second Scott novel on this list is a great one. Set mainly in Scotland but also in northern England, our two protagonists become entangled in a (fictional) third Jacobite Rising. Worth reading just for the excellent ghost story Wandering Willie’s Tale!
This biography of one of Scotland’s most famous monarchs is a fascinating and very readable book. Mary does not come across very well, particularly in comparison to her fellow queen south of the border, Elizabeth I, but the book claims ‘neither to blacken her character by portraying her as a murderess of husbands, nor to sanctify her as the lonely champion of her faith, but to recount the circumstances which formed her character and to explain the events which determined her fate’.
This book looks at the myths and legends surrounding the death of King James IV of Scotland, who was killed at the Battle of Flodden in 1513. Some of them seem very plausible while others take us into the realm of the supernatural. It’s a fascinating subject, but I found the book itself poorly structured and repetitive.