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The River Clyde

The River Clyde
The River Clyde Near Midculter in Lanarkshire

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Part Two. The Play for Gideon Somerville. Chapter III. French Defense

A French Defense in chess is an opening move with "a reputation for solidity and resilience, though it can result in a somewhat cramped game for Black in the early stages."

Who, in this game of kings, is Black and who is White?

1. Touching and Moving (December 1547)

"Several moves" occur in apparently random sequence in the two weeks following the cattle raid, implying the sequence might not be random and the events might not be unrelated:
  • Christian eludes Tom Erskine and goes to Bogle House in Stirling for Christmas.
  • The Buccleuch household, including a very pregnant Janet, also make for Stirling.
  • The Culters, sans Richard, go to Ballaggan to visit Lady Hunter.
The last event we see first as we are again treated to an interview with "naughty" old lady Hunter. She may be a cranky invalid absorbed in diagnosing and treating her own maladies, but she is perceptive, immediately detecting Mariotta's "condition." Mariotta takes Sybilla's advice to heart at first and keeps her mouth shut. When Sybilla responds to Lady Hunter's crude comment about the baby putting two people between Lymond and the family fortune--"I can't say I ever considered the matter in a racial light"--she is using the word "racial" in the 16th century meaning of the word as relating to family lineage. In other words, Sybilla is telling naughty old Lady Hunter that she has not given a thought to the implications the baby will have for who inherits what in the Crawford family. This is almost certainly untrue, but Sybilla would never air the family linen.

Sybilla gives as good as she gets, immediately changing the subject to Andrew Hunter's lack of a wife and to Catherine Hunter's stinky dog. It is Lady Hunter's attack on her son that drives Sybilla's words of warning right out of Mariotta's head and she speaks up in defense of Dandy. Her comments elicit a nasty retort from Lady Hunter about Richard's good fortune, and Sybilla is quick to reply with her own biting quip that it's a good thing she and Agnes Herries are also rich and beautiful or they would be highly insulted by these remarks. Of course, Agnes is only rich, not beautiful, so Sybilla's riposte is a defense of the girl, who, you might have noticed, is silent for the first time. She is bored, no doubt, but also more than a little intimidated. And, perhaps, she has learned the virtue and value of silent observation from Sybilla and Christian.

Lady Hunter's "Recipe" Book
Sybilla deftly steers the conversation to an area of Lady Hunter's liking: herself and her ailments and her cures. Sybilla is working very hard to keep Lady Hunter talking until Andrew comes home, but so far we do not know why. I love the fact that old lady Hunter gets Mariotta entangled in a discussion of the state of Midculter's linen while Sybilla is locating the "recipe" book: it is a nice allusion to "airing dirty laundry," something no one at Midculter is inclined to do. 

By the time Dandy Hunter arrives, it is too late for the Crawford party to return to Midculter and, after dinner, Mariotta finds a way to speak to him alone. From their conversation we learn that Dandy knew about the baby before Richard. So Mariotta continues to confide in a man not her husband, not only about the presents, which continue to arrive, but also about something as intimate as her pregnancy. There is no way to gloss over this: Mariotta's behavior is simply unacceptable and, if discovered, sure to drive a bigger wedge between her and Richard. Badly done, Mariotta. Badly done.

Andrew Hunter is no fool. He warns Mariotta that Richard will be furious if he finds out she has confided in someone outside the family, especially an attractive, unmarried young man. Then Mariotta betrays something else about herself when she starts talking about Lymond. She remarks on his appearance as she plays with the pearl necklace she believes is a gift from Lymond (just as she giggled when she earlier thought of him). She is still under Lymond's spell, and Dandy knows it.

Mariotta is setting herself up for a bad fall: she is infatuated with Richard's younger brother and sharing confidences with another handsome young man to whom she is attracted. At least she has the sense to see that, if she does tell Richard about the gifts, he might come out on the short end of whatever confrontation occurs as a result of this revelation. She does not seem to have a very high opinion of Richard's ability to defend himself.

Possibly the most important disclosure in this section comes from Dandy Hunter when he lays out the treasonous act and other crimes of which Lymond is accused: 
  • as a spy for the English he betrayed the Scots before the battle of Solway Moss (November 1542), allegedly contributing to the catastrophic Scottish loss
  • the English whisked him away to London and Calais (on the coast of France but under English control) when his perfidy was discovered
  • the French caught him, but Lord Lennox arranged to have him freed
  • he worked for Lennox and Wharton (on the English side and against the Scots) until they discovered he was cheating them
  • he escaped and became a mercenary (on the continent) until his recent return to Scotland
Wow...Lymond has been very busy these past five years!

We still do not know why Sybilla wanted to stay at Ballaggan until Dandy arrived.

2. A Queen's Knight Fails Signally to Adjust (December 23-25, 1547)

Christian, alone at Bogle House with a letter, sitting among her thoughts "like a tiger among peahens" (great!), must have been going slowly mad waiting for someone to return and open that letter, which she thinks and hopes has further intelligence from her mystery man. Of course it does, wrapped around Maxwell's letter to Agnes in such a way as to arouse no suspicion and yet be transparent to Christian. Christian deduces from the occult message and the fact that Johnnie Bullo is now avoiding her that her part in Lymond's plans is done. He seems well on his way to finding the man he seeks.

Agnes reads the letter aloud when both Christian and Sybilla are in the room (Sybilla inquires about the identity of "Jack"). Recall that the fortune told to Agnes by Johnnie Bullo at the fair following the papingo shoot was that she would meet a thin man named Jack with a romantic smile (Pt 2, Ch I, Sec 1). It is now clear this was all part of Lymond's plan: he had Johnnie plant the idea of "Jack" (John) Maxwell in the mind of Agnes, a thirteen-year-old romantic; he wrote the love letters with hidden messages; he arranged Maxwell's triumph with the cattle raid against Lennox to gain Marie of Guise's favor; and now he is sending Maxwell to meet Agnes to seal the deal.

On Christmas Eve of all days, Richard takes the glove from the papingo shoot, leaves Bogle House very early without telling anyone, and goes to try to trace Lymond using the glove. Merry Christmas, Mariotta. Richard does seem a bit obtuse about his wife.

In fairness to Richard, his original intent was to pick up his mother's miniature from Patey Liddell, ask about the gold on the glove, and get home before Mariotta misses him. But once he learns who bought the gold from Patey, Richard does not give a second thought to riding to Perth, a nasty ride of thirty-three miles in the snow, all the while knowing Mariotta rightly expects him to attend her at her very first Christmas at Court. This is truly a foolish errand: no one knows where Richard is and he has left no word about when to expect him. Nothing short of obsession would drive a man to ride over thirty miles of rough ground in the snow on Christmas Eve to talk to a glover and maybe learn who ordered the glove. Badly done, Richard. Badly done.

All that being said, I love this section because Richard gets fully fleshed out for the first time. We learn a great deal about him. He is a very determined man who knows how to handle people and get his way while gaining their respect, trust, and friendship. He is not above making a deal with the old scoundrel Malcolm Waugh and even finds humor in the whole situation (there is "unwilling amusement in the grey eyes" and he laughs aloud despite all the discomfort and trouble of the day). It is obvious that Richard is enjoying himself when he finally tracks down Jamie Waugh and throws him into the river to sober him up.

The true measure of Richard, however, is apparent in his reaction to Lymond's little joke. His brother has made a fool of him, but he keeps his composure on display and his "bitter self-mockery" well hidden. Nonetheless, he is "only human" and, beneath his calm veneer there is deep anger at Lymond's trickery, irritation at his own credulity, and disappointment in not finding any useful intelligence through tracing the glove.

Richard is in no frame of mind to return to Stirling for the Christmas Eve court festivities. Unfortunately for him, his plan of sleeping off the ale and returning to Stirling early on Christmas morning runs afoul of an English raid. Richard Crawford spends most of Christmas Day fighting the English, so his quick morning jaunt to Patey Liddell's shop turns into a long two days of discomfort, humiliation, and combat. Merry Christmas, Richard!
Aside: The verse favored by Jamie Waugh is an anachronism. It is from Hardyknute, thought to be a very old ballad when in fact it was discovered to have been written and published in the early 18th century.   
In its own way, Sybilla's Christmas Day is as uncomfortable as Richard's. She finds out from Patey that Richard has gone to Perth in search of the glover. As discomfited as she is about this fact, Sybilla still has the presence of mind to notice the pale yellow gold Patey is using and the likelihood it was mined on Crawford land, meaning it is subject to a tax and legally intended only for the Mint. In short, this is illegally obtained gold. Sybilla is putting Patey on notice about the gold and Patey lets Sybilla know that he will continue to be a friend and help to the Crawfords, so their battle of wits is a draw. Sybilla leaves Patey with the warning not to let anyone else know he is the one who gave Richard the information about where to find the glover or there will be hell to pay.

We observe the wildly Gallic Christmas Day festivities, so beautifully described by Dunnett, from Sybilla's point of view as she watches her "flock," in particular Agnes Herries, who has been improving under the careful tutelage of Sybilla and Christian and from the beneficial effects of Maxwell's love letters. "Jack" Maxwell finally makes his appearance before the dazzled gaze of Agnes as Sybilla watches with grandmotherly concern and excitement.

Tom Erskine finally catches up with Christian. What does he want to talk to her about?

Agnes Disappears up the
Turnpike Stair Followed by "Jack"
This is the first time Agnes has ever seen Maxwell, and the impression he makes is perfect. Too perfect. This has to be a scene planned by Lymond, from the comment about Abbey Craig speaking to Dumyat (a reference to the difference in their heights), and Maxwell gracefully lifting little Agnes off her feet, to the rose in the snow from his home at Threave Castle. Maxwell even refers to himself as "Jack" to complete the seduction. Agnes's heart is completely his. And there is the exquisite irony of her comment to Maxwell--"I think you are as handsome as your letters"--because we know who wrote them (someone who is more handsome than his letters).

Richard and Three Women

The "bloodhound" finally makes it back to Stirling, dirty and tired and disgusted mainly with himself and his fool's errand. This is how Mariotta finds him and the exchange does not go well. Richard makes his first mistake by not telling his wife about the trip to find the glover, instead using the battle with the English as his excuse for being absent. When pressed, Richard tells the truth about the wild-goose chase. Mariotta reasonably suggests he might have told her where he was going and perhaps even talked it over first. Richard's second mistake, and it's a doozy, is his response to this suggestion: "Oh?...Who with?" Oh, Richard, really? He fully deserves Mariotta's uncharacteristically biting response. Both of them have a lot of learning to do if this marriage is going to survive.

Richard's next interview is with the Queen Dowager, who listens to his account of the battle, asks some pointed questions, and chastises him for leaving Mariotta unattended at the Christmas Court. His absence has been noted.

Then he is waylaid by yet another woman, this time Janet Beaton, who again has surreptitiously garnered news for Richard. Richard, ever the upright fellow, stops her from sharing the contents of Wat's letter because he knows it is a betrayal. However, the "serene" Lady Buccleuch thinks she knows what is best for her husband, so Richard learns of the planned rendevouz in February.

Why does Janet tell Richard about Wat's upcoming meeting with Will? Janet wants to protect all things Buccleuch, and she will do pretty much anything to further that end. She knows Richard wants Lymond, preferably dead, which suits her just fine because, as she pointed out earlier, that is the best thing for Will's future. With Lymond out of the way, Will no longer has a mentor to follow and it will be easier to spin a tale of how Buccleuch's heir was a trusting innocent mislead by an outlaw and scoundrel.

Finally, Janet proves her mettle yet again when she tells Richard she will let Buccleuch know that she was the source of Richard's information. It will do Wat Scott good to have an old-fashioned row with the missus rather than "mincing away" with his son's contradictory and convoluted moralizing.

3. Another Royal Lady Enters the Game

Warkworth Castle
The Lord Protector, facing trouble in England, needs a success in Scotland and has a plan for such: 1. destroy the uncooperative House of Buccleuch; 2. destroy the wavering House of Douglas; 3. burn Scotland "up to the eyebrows"; and 4. capture the little queen and raise her in England as the future bride of King Edward VI.

Lord Grey of Wilton (late of the Humiliation at Hume), is still running the show on the border and has gathered the Lords Wardens to lay out the plan. Into this stew comes Gideon Somerville, who finds himself in a decidedly unsavory spot because of Grey's command that he give George Douglas's letter to the mysterious outlaw Gideon now knows to be Crawford of Lymond. Gideon relates the details of his encounter with Lymond and includes every detail except the single most important one: Lymond's identity. Gideon wants to extricate himself from this intrigue as quickly as possible.

Grey has many competing problems, not the least of which is Lord Lennox's ego. Lennox, married to Henry VIII's niece Margaret, has to be given a prominent command but, as Wharton so aptly if crudely puts it, Lennox is "an interfering fool." The trick will be to give Lennox a command that looks and sounds impressive but in which he can do no damage.

Almost on cue enters none other than Lennox's wife, Margaret Douglas, the Countess of Lennox. Who is she?
  • Her father is Archibald Douglas, 6th Earl of Angus (Scottish).
  • Her uncle was Henry VIII of England.
  • Her mother was Margaret Tudor, Henry VIII's elder sister, who was also widow of James IV of Scotland.
  • Her husband is Matthew Stewart, 4th Earl of Lennox. Lennox spent most of his early life in France and returned to Scotland with the promise of marriage to the Queen Dowager (Mary of Guise), which did not happen. He deserted the Scottish cause and threw his lot in with the English, after which Henry VIII gave him his niece Margaret Douglas's hand in marriage. 
  • George Douglas, brother of Archibald, is another uncle.
  • She is 32 years old.
Margaret is the "Pearl of Pearls" Lymond alludes to in Pt 1, Ch I, someone he knows well and, it seems, recalls without fondness. She is a force to be reckoned with as we soon see: "Lennox might be a bad tactician, but his wife was not."

The situation into which she walks is this: Grey is friends with her uncle George Douglas and has made private pledges of immunity to him, but those promises are endangered by the fact the Douglases have been playing both sides, English and Scottish, in this dangerous game. Wharton is fed up with the Douglases and wants them punished now. The weather is mitigating against all three English armies invading at once, so the plan is for Grey's men to attack Buccleuch while Wharton goes after the Douglases. The plan to march to Haddington south of Edinburgh must be deferred until the weather improves.

Margaret, however, offers them a new plan, bold, practical, and formidable. What that plan is we are not as yet privy to, but it must be a good one if these bold, practical, and formidable men are willing to go along with it.

John Maxwell reports to Lymond of his initial success with Agnes Herries. It is interesting that Lymond is the one who told Maxwell that Agnes will make an excellent wife. How does Lymond know this? From his mother and Christian, of course, who have been delicately grooming Agnes, who has wit and native intelligence enough to overcome the awkwardness of her tender years.

But now Lymond has a much more difficult and painful bargain for Maxwell: attack Wharton and win the favor of the Queen Dowager, but at the price of his hostages in the hands of the English. Maxwell does not like this plan at all, but he does not say he is against it. As Lymond points out, the safety and perhaps the survival of Scotland hangs on what Maxwell does or does not do to stop Wharton. Lymond also tells John that he has other means of passing messages and no longer needs his love letters to Agnes. What are those means? As of yet, we do not know.

And now for the passing bit of news that brings the figurative roof down around Francis Crawford: "a niece by marriage." This is all Lymond needs to hear to set his antennae trembling. Will Scott sees the momentary change of expression in the usually inscrutable face: it is there, and then it is gone like the brush of a butterfly wing against a cheek. But it tells Will that something very dire and very dear has reached the Master's ears. Margaret's plan is to try to gather the Douglases and unite them into a force for the English against Scotland.

Margaret is heading to Drumlanrig. Drumlanrig is where Richard Crawford and Agnes Herries ended up after their tumble into the Nith and where Richard overheard the discussion between George Douglas and Andrew Hunter about the prisoner exchange involving Jonathan Crouch.

Drumlanrig is the home of James Douglas, who is John Maxwell's uncle and George Douglas's brother-in-law. Remember: Margaret's father is Archibald Douglas (the Earl of Angus), who is also John Maxwell's brother-in-law because he is married to Maxwell's sister, making Margaret Douglas John Maxwell's "niece by marriage." Confused yet? The point to remember is that Margaret is a Douglas by birth and John Maxwell is closely connected to the Douglases by marriage. This is why Lymond's "courting" of Maxwell is both so important and so dangerous. John Maxwell is involved in a very risky gamble.

Before he leaves, Maxwell lets Lymond know with a subtlety worthy of Francis Crawford that he appreciates his facility with Latin in the letters but his use of French is almost over the top and over the line...but not quite. Maxwell rewards Lymond with a rare smile and Lymond rewards Will Scott with "his old age," i.e., a hostage to replace him:
My brilliant devil, my imitation queen; my past, my future, my hope of heaven and my knowledge of hell...Margaret, Countess of Lennox.
  1. Why is Christian Stewart avoiding Tom Erskine? 
  2. Why does Sybilla want to remain at Ballaggan until Andrew Hunter comes home?
  3. Is Christian disappointed or relieved (or both) that her role in Lymond's cause now appears to be over?
  4. Why would Mariotta and perhaps Sybilla be surprised to hear that Richard can hold his liquor like a fisherman?
  5. What does Margaret Douglas want?
  6. Would Lymond have used Will as his hostage had Margaret Douglas not become "available"?
Favorite Line
But this time, something new filled the blue eyes; and Scott, sitting forgotten, saw it, and his breathing stopped.
Words that Describe Lymond in French Defense
  • ruthless
  • driven
  • conniving
  • callous
  • surprised
  • exhilarated


  1. Replies
    1. Thank you, pagali! I love the way Dunnett weaves the story of John Maxwell and Agnes Herries into GoK. I should have mentioned that Agnes and "Jack" went on to have 11 children, all of whom lived to adulthood. What a romance and marriage. It seems our little Agnes had quite the life, as did Maxwell, which is exactly what I would expect given the character as imagined by Dunnett.