Book review: Lady’s Rock, by Sue Lawrence

Based on the real life story of 16th century Scottish noblewoman Catherine Campbell, Lady’s Rock gives a fascinating insight into the murderous clan system, writes Kirsty McLuckie

Sue Lawrence’s historical novels shine a light on some of the lesser known female characters in Scottish history, and in Lady’s Rock it is the turn of Catherine Campbell, daughter of the Earl of Argyll.

Brought up in the relative sophistication and comfort of Inveraray Castle in the early 1500s, Catherine is married off to Lachlan Maclean in a move to secure peace between the clans. Shipped to Duart Castle on the Isle of Mull, her duty is to produce an heir and do the bidding of her husband.

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Lachlan and Catherine were real historical figures, as were most of the main characters in Lady’s Rock, and Lawrence never strays from the recorded facts. My advice for the majority of readers who won’t know the story is to not look it up until after you have finished – the tale is one of high drama, but all true. Lawrence’s skill is to fill in a compelling story of the lives, relationships and inner thoughts of the people involved.

Duart Castle, Isle of Mull PIC: Peter Thompson/Heritage Images/Getty ImagesDuart Castle, Isle of Mull PIC: Peter Thompson/Heritage Images/Getty Images
Duart Castle, Isle of Mull PIC: Peter Thompson/Heritage Images/Getty Images

Duart Castle is very different from the comfortable home Catherine grew up in. It is cold, the unfamiliar food consists of oily, fishy seabirds and the servants are surly and suspicious. Lachlan is hardly the man of her dreams either. He is brutish and uncultured and he leaves Catherine alone for weeks at a time to hunt wolves or visit his mistress.

Catherine’s one comfort is her frienship with a rare female musician, Lorna, who plays the clarsach at the castle and teaches Catherine about the natural world around her. Both lost their fathers at Flodden, but while the Campbell men brought back the bodies of their fighters, including the musicians, Lorna’s harpist father was left on the battlefield by Lachlan, his body: “to be pecked by corbies and eaten by the wolves.” Such dishonour means Lorna still holds a grudge.

Catherine has a child, Amie, but when Lachlan decides that they must follow the tradition of the Isles and send her away to be raised by relatives – again to bolster goodwill amongst the clans – Catherine decides to change the course of her life. She is no innocent – as well as plotting against her husband, she has already taken a lover. But when her treachery is discovered, the narrative becomes a dark tale of vengeance and the fight for survival.

Lawrence provides a map for readers to chart the action, and by following the story from the point of view of Lorna, as well as Catherine and Lachlan, she provides an insight into the deprivation and powerlessness of the lowlier members of the clans.

It is a great story, packed full of historical detail and gives a fascinating view of the murderous clan system – and the heroic tale of a woman who fought back.

Lady’s Rock, by Sue Lawrence, Saraband, £9.99.