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Jacket illustration by Val Biro


Nigel Tranter
Published by Hodder and Stoughton, 1980,
ISBN 0 340 24622 7
The action of this book is set Circa 1100 to Circa 1153

The text of this synopsis is from the bookjacket.

Here he is the story of a man who changed his country, Scotland, probably more than any other who ever lived, and made a large impact on England and Wales into the bargain. Macbeth advanced Scotland's unification, Bruce and Wallace saved its independence, Knox helped to change its religion, James the Sixth brought it into it double-harness with England. But David the First, son of Malcolm Canmore and St Margaret, took a backwards looking, patriarchal, strife-ridden country and pushed and dragged it into the forefront of the advancing nations of Christendom, against all odds, setting it upon the road which it was to follow, however waveringly, for centuries - to some extent right up to the present day.

He did it all but single-handed - although his mother had started the process; and not with the big stick, the sword and armed might, but by patient persuasion, example, dedication and sheer character - no little achievement with folk as difficult and divisive as the Scots.

Though a man of peace, David mac Malcolm's whole life was a battle, not with cold steel - although he could use that too - but against blind prejudice, corruption, tragedy, disappointment, hatred, and his own baser nature.

Half Celt, half Saxon, this man was brought up an exile from his own country, more or less a hostage at the courts of William Rufus and Henry the First of England. There he watched the decay of the harsh, ruthless but efficient Norman machine of conquest and government which the Conqueror had built up and his sons could not control. And he learned his lessons from it. In England he perceived where kingship all too easily turned into tyranny.

There he saw the uses and misuses of power. There he learnt what it was to be mocked, spurned, used and rejected. It might be said that the Conqueror's unworthy sons in fact unconsciously forged the fine steel which was to shape the new Scotland.

And there too David met the woman who won his heart and in doing so provided what he lacked and needed for his life's battle, Matilda de St Liz, married to a Norman earl.

Few visitors to Scotland can remain unaware of her magnificent abbeys, so much at variance with tales of her early poverty - Melrose, Kelso, Jedburgh, Dryburgh, Holyrood and the rest. To inquire, and be told that they were all built by one man, David the First, might cause, if not utter disbelief, certainly a wholly misleading impression of the character concerned.

For here was no pious, sanctimonious, monkish scholar but a practical, hard-headed, determined but friendly man with a mighty task to perform - and those abbey's helped him to do it.

If Bruce was a hero-king, so was his ancestor David, and for a significantly longer period of years. Nigel Tranter's remarkable novel puts David the First in his rightful place in the forefront of Scottish history.