This is the story of three friends, of a sort, who left Scotland for London in April 1603, if not to make their fortunes, certainly in the hope of much enhancing them. And of one rather notable enemy left behind. The fact that one of the friends was the King; one a somewhat reluctant duke; andthe third a goldsmith and money lender, added to the piquancy of the situation but did not alter the basic relationship of the three Scots on the make. And since the enemy left behind was that Machiavelli of politics, the handsomest man in Europe, the ineffable Master of Gray, no very smooth passage was to be expected, or achieved.
James the Sixth and First was one of the oddest kings Christendom has ever thrown up: and after the ageing Elizabeth's latterly strait-laced and formal regime, Shaughling Jamie's impact on London was cataclysmic, traumatic. England, indeed, was never the same again.
Yet a case could be made out that James Stewart was the best Monarch England ever had - though not Scotland. And he certainly would never have got his head chopped off, as did both his mother and his son, Mary and Charles. If he was scarcely regal, noble or heroic, he was shrewd, peace loving, learned and indestructible. In an age when lives tended to be short and dramatic, he reigned for fifty eight years, survived plots innumerable, and never went to war.
Kings seldom can have real friends, however many their favourites and courtiers. James's friends were his far-out cousin Ludovick, Duke of Lennox, and George Heriot, master goldsmith, jeweller and usurer of Edinburgh - Jingling Geordie, a quiet, able and determined tradesman, who knew his place, and could put others in the theirs, including his curious monarch. Yet Heriot became one of the richest men in two kingdoms, and founded one of the great schools of all time. These three friends saw Elizabethan England as their oyster, and had considerable amusement, enlightenment and danger in the opening of it.
This is the first of Nigel Tranter's large historical novels to be set mainly in London. Walter Raleigh, Will Shakespeare, Ben Johnson, Guy Fawkes, Inigo Jones, the Cecils, the Howards are here with a host of other renowned characters of the mint-new United Kingdom, in as vigorous, colourful and exciting a tapestry as the author has ever sought to weave; with, dominating all, the ludicrous, unwashed, shambling but so very human figure of the Wisest Fool in Christendom.