Thomas Learmonth of Ercildoune, Thomas the Rhymer as he came to be called, was one of the strangest figures in Scottish history, a small Border laird, a seer and probably Scotland's first major poet, whose prophecies are still quoted seven centuries later; and about whose life more mysteries and fantasies have accumulated than almost any other in Scotland's story.
The monarch who dubbed him True Thomas, Alexander the Third, last king of the old Celtic line of Scotland, was a good monarch by any standards, if rash. Nigel Tranter's story opens with his coming of age to rule his own country and assert himself over the powerful earls who had swayed his minority. It goes on to tell the interwoven tale of Thomas and Alexander against the background of an exciting and dire period, of significance not only for Scotland and England, but for all Christendom, with the Crusades in progress and Europe in turmoil.
It begins in the triumph of the battle of Largs and ends with the dashing of that forlornest of hopes, the death of the Maid of Norway.
Its ending set the scene for the chaos of the Wars of Independence and the deeds of Wallace and Bruce to counter the savage ambitions of Edward of England, Hammer of the Scots.
History has left inviting gaps in the recorded picture of Thomas the Rhymer, so Nigel Tranter has been able to flesh out his prophet hero attractively as a man who ran romantically off with an earl's daughter, but one more anxious to be acclaimed for his long poetic labour on 'Sir Tristrem' than as the seer whose dire if enigmatic prophecies still echo down Scottish history.
Craig Buchanan, one of our Tranter mailing list, is currently working on his PhD at Aberdeen University. His research is based on the 20th century historical novels of Scotland and Ireland and obviously Nigel's books feature strongly.
As a preamble to the letter that follows Craig writes;
" "I was part way through my undergraduate degree in Scottish Literature at the University of Stirling, and had been reading the Scottish Text Society edition of 'The Romance of Thomas the Rhymer.'
Aware that the prophecies in that volume varied greatly in stylistic terms from those employed by NT, I dropped him a line asking about source material for his novel.
I was aware of how busy he must have been, given his prodigious output, and so expected at best a brief typed reply from a secretary. Imagine my pleasure then when I received such a detailed response which I am happy to share with you."
Dear Mr Buchanan
I have your letter of the 11th, and I am glad that you have found my books of interest, and sufficiently so to purchase second - hand copies of early works.
As to TRUE THOMAS and his prophecies. It is difficult to give you a satisfactory answer to your question, for, like so much of my historical research, it has to be done by endless 'browsing' through books and records innumerable. Picking up bits and pieces here and there. However, I can give you some sources of Thomas' forecasts, these apt to be in topographical books on specific areas of the land, especially Aberdeenshire which I found to be a positive mine of his prophecies, although Border areas also give some. The Ordnance Gazetteer of Scotland, under sundry parishes is most helpful; also the Statistical Accounts Parish histories are often helpful.
For specific works there are references in The Whole Prophecie of Scotland, England etc (1603) issued by the Bannatyne Club in 1833. And in Scottish Prophecies, Early English Test Society 1870, edited by J R Lumby, from a 15th century M S. Walter Scott, of course, refers to True Thomas in various works.
I hope all this is of some use to you?
I note that you have been reading Lord in waiting. It does not have a successor. That indicator of a Trilogy was a mistake made by my publishers - which has had unnumbered readers write to ask me what and when.
Highness in Hiding came out in June. About Prince Charles Edward's period of seven months as a refugee in the Hebrides, after Culloden, extraordinary interlude. Actually this novel is to come out in an abridged edition on tape/cassette in October, along with others.
These are being produced by a friend of mine Mrs Joan Earle, who has formed a company NOVELSOUND to do this - and notable enterprise,. My books hitherto to have never been so produced.
I wish you very well in your studies at Stirling University, and hope that my books etc are of some small help.