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The River Clyde

The River Clyde
The River Clyde Near Midculter in Lanarkshire

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Part One. The Play for Jonathan Crouch. Chapter IV. Several Moves by a Knight

Who is missing from this chapter? Lymond. He does not appear at all, and he is only briefly, but tantalizingly, discussed.

1. Mishap to a Queening Pawn

The chapter begins the day after Christian and Francis meet on the banks of the Lake of Menteith. Dunnett's sardonic humor in drawing the comparison between the Crawford brother is exquisite:

"Lord Culter was also taking aquatic exercise..."

We learn that Culter has been very busy leading his men to unexpected successes against the English near the border. His style could not be more different from Lymond's. Richard's leadership is remote and laconic, not words anyone would ascribe to Lymond. However, Richard's style is highly effective. He not only successfully harries the English troops under Wharton as they turn tail towards England, he also shows himself an accomplished diplomat who is remarkably effective at convincing these nineteen hundred Scots near the border either to withhold or reduce their support to the English. 

Richard may not be a flamboyant or passionate leader, but he should not be underestimated. In fact, compare Richard's successes to what Lymond has thus far done. Lymond has:

  • broken into Mungo Tennant's house and robbed him;
  • robbed his family and guests at Midculter;
  • set Midculter on fire;
  • sneaked into Annan, attacked Henry Wharton, stolen Lord Wharton's money;
  • attacked Richard and his men outside Annan.
In short, Lymond's activities are at best questionable, and all seem small and self-serving, while his older brother's are significant military and political successes against Scotland's enemy. Who's the hero here?

Certainly the answer to at least one person is Richard. Enter a new and refreshing character in the person of 13-year-old Agnes Herries. Yes, Agnes is a historical personage. I only hope she was like the Agnes Dunnett created! Agnes is wrapped up in her fantastical world of troubadours and knights in shining armor...or no armor at all. Agnes is like a 16th century female Walter Mitty. She is in love with being in love, and her very active imagination fills in the blanks and turns all the dull grays of her world into bright and vivid colors. 

Agnes, in short, is a lot of fun. She has not let the fact that she is awkward and loud and not at all pretty spoil her enjoyment of life one little bit. She "has her own resources," which she calls on at will. Her protean imagination uses whatever raw material is at hand, whether the "prosaic back" of the unsmiling Lord Culter or the twinkling eyes of Dandy Hunter. Her hero conveniently shifts with the changing scene.

Lord Culter is painstakingly oblivious to Lady Herries's girlish infatuations and daydreams. Imagine Lymond were in his place. It is inconceivable that he would not have been sharply attuned to Agnes's mood and fantasies. Surely he would have relished playing the role of knight, troubadour, and hero. Francis Crawford has many failings, but indifference and abstruseness towards women of all ages is not one of them.

The River Nith looking bucolic

I wonder if Agnes notices that the real hero of the moment may not smile but indeed has a rare dark sense of humor. It takes a remarkably prepossessing wit to say, immediately upon saving his charge from a swirling death by drowning, "My God, we need practice at that. Shall we do it again?" 

Thinking back to the chapter's epigraph, Richard embodies all the best qualities of a knight: he is wise, liberal, true, strong and full of mercy and pity...and sometimes his art, craft, and energy is worth more than strength or hardiness. Lord Culter, in short, shows he is everything Lady Herries dreams of--and everything Lymond appears not to be.

2 A Knight Wins an Exchange

After the disaster at the Nith, Lord Culter, Lady Herries, Andrew Hunter, and Culter's men end up at James Douglas's "overornate" estate instead of Hunter's "exhausted" one. The point of Richard's heroism is driven home by the fact that he single-handedly saved Agnes because his own men were upstream and Dandy had ridden on ahead (without making sure Richard and Agnes had safely crossed the river). 

Not surprisingly, the house is full of Douglases, most interestingly, the splendid George Douglas. Dandy takes this opportunity to ask George if he would be willing to exchange his prisoner, Jonathan Crouch, for one of Hunter's cousins (a "favorite" of his mother). Remember in the last chapter Tom Erskine told Dandy that George Douglas had been in Stirling but had left for Drumlanrig, so Hunter knew where to find George and seemed eager to do so. Now we know why. Dandy also seems overly eager to get his hands on Crouch and make the exchange happen.

At the end of the section, Richard Crawford's singular, droll sense of humor is again on exhibit in his response to the wily, astute George Douglas, who knows Richard has indeed heard his conversation with Hunter. George may be a half-tamed leopard, but Richard is a disciplined thoroughbred.

The following morning's breakfast finds Agnes fully recovered and eager to resume her adventure with her oblivious hero. Richard and Dandy both seem to enjoy teasing Agnes with the prospect of the papingo and the fair, but there is a strong undercurrent of danger as well. Hunter is again the one to bring up the threat Lymond poses to his brother at the papingo shoot, quite probably to gauge Richard's response: "Hot water under cold ice." Passion well disguised and hidden under the Baron Culter's "remote, laconic" exterior. 

And now, in the chapter's last scene, we are privy to a delectable conversation between three Douglases, brothers Archie and George and their brother-in-law James (who is also a Douglas). The most important disclosure is that the Douglases in general and George most particularly are playing a very, very dangerous double game. They are trying to work both the English and the Scots, giving each side just enough to keep them satisfied but not enough to disclose their duplicity. I can imagine how difficult and stressful it must have been to walk this tightrope at a time when one slip could topple one's home and one's head.

Archibald Douglas, 6th Earl of Angus
Archie, George's not-so-subtle elder brother, makes a vicious comment about Richard Crawford's effectiveness in influencing the border families. George's remark about Lymond's "intelligence system" is also telling. George Douglas no doubt has one of the best intelligence networks in the border region, so the fact that he is impressed by Lymond's is something indeed. Just as he did with Will Scott, George sees Lymond as a kindred spirit (a mercenary out for himself alone), and wants very much to use Francis Crawford's formidable talents to his own advantage. 

But George knows he is missing some important puzzle pieces. For example, as connected as George Douglas is, he does not know the back story about Lymond, Lennox, and Margaret Douglas. And does he ever want to find out! It could very well give him leverage not only with Lymond but also with members of his own family.

Thanks to George we finally learn why the English left Scotland. The Protector only had food for his troops for a month, planning, as always to rely upon the border Scots to replenish his food stores. That did not happen, first, because George Douglas made sure his family held back supplies from the English and, second, because of the effectiveness  of Lord Culter in persuading the border lairds not to help the English this time. In short, without the aid and comfort of the Scottish border landowners, the English could not sustain their offensive.


George thinks he has it all figured out: with winter coming, no military action is going to take place, so for the moment everything is frozen in place. George again displays his conniving, self-serving cynicism with his suggestion that Archie wait for really bad weather to set in and then suggest Lennox come north with his troops, knowing it won't happen. But simply suggesting the invasion will put the Douglases once again in the good graces of the English.

The chapter ends with some of George Douglas's most memorable lines, showing just how clever and devilishly witty he is. One important thing to remember: Lord Grey of Wilton now commands Berwick and is still recovering from an injury. He was injured in the mouth by a billhook (a curved blade at the end of a polearm weapon), and it has affected his speech rather profoundly. 

Questions to Ponder

  1. Why does Andrew Hunter want Crouch in particular when any English prisoner would do in exchange for his cousin?
  2. How does Hunter know George Douglas has Crouch as his prisoner? We know Dandy was in Annan (he mentions it in this chapter and the preceding one) but we do not know how he learned who was holding Crouch. 
  3. Why isn't Hunter surprised to discover Lord Culter's "hot water under cold ice"?
  4. Why is Richard determined to compete in the papingo shoot?
Favorite Line

George Douglas says Lord Grey is "...a clammy, stiff-backed old pike. The billhook, I'll bargain, came out lichened over."

Words that Describe Lymond in Several Moves by a Knight (even though he does not appear)

  • treacherous
  • duplicitous
  • slippery
  • well-informed
  • mysterious


  1. Thank you so much for this blog! I started rereading the series a while ago and now it feels as though I actually have a friend who's read it too. Very interesting perspectives too! Looking forward to your updates!

    1. Thank you! I wish I could go faster in rereading and posting updates (it's ony chapter 4 of book 1)!

  2. Ah, this is fantastic! Love the illustrations and the analysis; looking forward to reading along.

  3. Thank you! I'd almost given up on GoK….until I stumbled upon your blog!

    1. Jen, Thank you for the feedback. I have been recovering from hand surgery for the past month, but I'm going to try to start writing the blog entries again. Hang in there with Dorothy. Trust me--it will all make sense and make you very, very glad you stayed with her books.