Coffee Pot Blog Tour: Marie Macpherson / The Last Blast of the Trumpet
About Marie Macpherson:
Scottish writer Marie Macpherson grew up in Musselburgh on the site of the Battle of Pinkie and within sight of Fa’side Castle where tales and legends haunted her imagination. She left the Honest Toun to study Russian at Strathclyde University and spent a year in the former Soviet Union to research her PhD thesis on the 19th century Russian writer Mikhail Lermontov, said to be descended from the Scottish poet and seer, Thomas the Rhymer. Though travelled widely, teaching languages and literature from Madrid to Moscow, she has never lost her enthusiasm for the rich history and culture of her native Scotland.
Writing historical fiction combines her academic’s love of research with a passion for storytelling. Exploring the personal relationships and often hidden motivations of historical characters drives her curiosity.
The Knox Trilogy is a fictional biography of the fiery reformer, John Knox, set during the 16th century Scottish Reformation. Prizes and awards include the Martha Hamilton Prize for Creative Writing from Edinburgh University and Writer of the Year 2011 awarded by Tyne & Esk Writers. She is a member of the Historical Writers’ Association (HWA), the Historical Novel Society (HNS) and the Society of Authors (SoA).
Connect with Marie:
Conflict, Chaos and Corruption in Reformation Scotland.
He wants to reform Scotland, but his enemies will stop at nothing to prevent him.
Scotland 1559: Fiery reformer John Knox returns to a Scotland on the brink of civil war. Victorious, he feels confident of his place leading the reform until the charismatic young widow, Mary Queen of Scots returns to claim her throne. She challenges his position and initiates a ferocious battle of wills as they strive to win the hearts and minds of the Scots. But the treachery and jealousy that surrounds them both as they make critical choices in their public and private lives has dangerous consequences that neither of them can imagine.
In this final instalment of the trilogy of the fiery reformer John Knox, Macpherson tells the story of a man and a queen at one of the most critical phases of Scottish history.
Praise for The Last Blast of the Trumpet
‘Macpherson has done for Knox what Hilary Mantel did for Cromwell.’ Scottish Field
‘This richly realized portrait of a complex man in extraordinary times is historical fiction at its finest.’Linda Porter, author of Crown of Thistles; Katherine the Queen, Royal Renegades; Mistresses: Sex and Scandal at the Court of Charles II
‘Marie Macpherson has once again given us a cavalcade of flesh and blood characters living the early days of the Scottish Reformation in a complex tale told with economy and wit.’S.G. MacLean, author of The Seeker Series and Alexander Seaton mysteries
JMR- Hello Marie and welcome to the Book’s Delight. We are happy to host you on your Coffee Pot Book Blog Tour! Tell us where you live? What do you do for fun and what does the perfect day look like?
MP- Thanks for inviting me, Jean. I grew up in the historic burgh of Musselburgh, about 6 miles from the Scottish capital, Edinburgh, where I was surrounded by history and drank in all the stories and legends from the past. After years of moving around from Madrid to Moscow, I’ve settled in a small idyllic village in East Lothian, near Haddington, birthplace of John Knox.
BL-Before Lockdown–for fun I liked to tap dance, do Tai Chi meet up with friends and family. Now it’s reading, writing, researching and watching films – in splendid isolation. My perfect day would include being interviewed on national tv about my blockbusting, best-selling novels for which I’ve won several awards and having a celebratory dinner with my husband. (I can dream, can’t I?) Now after his death a few months ago, my perfect day is simply getting through to bedtime without too much grief and stress and worrying about the weird times we’re living through.
JMR- You have an interesting background in academia. Tell us about it.
MP-Languages were my strong point at school but seeing the film, Dr Zhivago, prompted me to study Russian language and literature at university. While researching my PhD on the 19th century Russian writer, Lermontov, said to be descended from the Scottish bard, Thomas the Rhymer, I spent a year in the Soviet Union–which was an eye-opener. I then travelled around Europe teaching languages and literature before settling back in Scotland.
After taking early retirement from academia, I became fascinated by the rich history of my home county, East Lothian, in particular the 16th century Reformation. Living amongst all the major sites of conflict and interest–bloody battlefields, haunted castles, ruined abbeys–motivated me to find out more about the secrets they held. I think I’ve found my perfect niche. Writing historical fiction combines my academic’s love of research with a passion for storytelling.
JMR- John Knox is likely more well known in his native Scotland than other places around the globe. My limited impression of him is a long-bearded man haranguing a Queen about religious dogma, other readers may know little to nothing about him. What is it about this man that inspired you to write a trilogy about his life?
MP- Growing up in Scotland, it was difficult not to be haunted by the louring presence of Knox who shaped our religion, culture and psyche. For me the fire and brimstone preacher was a bogeyman, the devil incarnate who harassed Mary, Queen of Scots and her mother to death with his tongue-lashing diatribes. For others he was God’s messenger who drove the corrupt Roman Catholic Church out of Scotland and not only established a purer faith, Protestantism, but proposed plans for a more just society. There’s no doubt he was a man of strong convictions, driven by a belief that God had chosen him as His messenger to spread the gospel. Nevertheless, by writing the infamous tract The First Blast of the Trumpet against the Monstrous Regiment of women he blotted his copybook. Although he was voicing a belief shared by his contemporaries that women were by nature frail, weak-willed creatures who were unfit to rule, his call to execute anointed queens set him apart from his brothers. It could be argued that all men who keep women in thrall, treating them as minors in law without any legal rights, are misogynists. Since no one is two dimensional I was interested to get beyond the caricature of the pantomime villain who has been reviled as a misogynist and zealot and become an embarrassment to his countrymen.
JMR- How much license did you take to flesh out his life and make him a relatable and likable character?
MP- Since Knox was notoriously tight-lipped about the first 30 years of life before he was ‘born again’ under the influence of the preacher and martyr, George Wishart, I had to search for clues about his early years and found some surprising connections with the Hepburn family, the Earls of Bothwell the largest landowners in East Lothian. In his long History of the Reformation, a subjective account of the struggle, Knox puts himself firmly at the centre of the action. His bravery is in no doubt. He took up a two-handed sword to defend his mentor, George Wishart, who was then martyred at the stake. Knox was later arrested and after survived 19 back-breaking months toiling as galley slave he fought during the War of the Reformation. Though victorious in making Protestantism the official religion he then had to contend with the double-dealing Lords of the Congregation who shifted their allegiance from him to Mary, Queen of Scots.
However, Knox’s History only shows his public face and I was curious to know more about the man behind the myth, what shaped his character and beliefs.
What was surprising to me was his relationship with women. Far from being a misogynist, Knox loved women and they in turn loved him back. He married twice – both times to very young brides, thought that was not so unusual in those days–and had a flock of female admirers who hung on his every word. His letters to his mother-in-law, Elizabeth Bowes, reveal a more tender side and his correspondence with Anna Locke an educated woman who translated Calvin’s sermons, shows he respected her opinions and listened to her advice. In his famous interviews with Mary, Queen of Scots, the minister treats the monarch as an equal-–much to her consternation.
JMR- Tell us about your trilogy. (feel free to expound as much as you like) Can your books be read as ‘stand alones’ or do they need to be read as a series to understand the plot?
I think it would be possible to read The Last Blast of the Trumpet without having read the other two and be able to follow the main story. That would probably raise questions that could be answered by reading the other two, especially in relation to the sub-plot.
The First Blast opens on Hallowe’en 1511 at Hailes Castle. The young Elisabeth Hepburn, who longs to marry her lover, is being forced to become a nun at St Mary’s Abbey. Her fate is strongly entwined with that of Knox and, as his godmother, the prioress proves to be an influential figure in his life. As the narrative unfolds, we follow Knox from his humble beginnings, to his education at St Andrews University, rife with reformist ideas and his years serving as a Roman Catholic priest. The First Blast ends with the signing of the Treaty of Haddington which betrothed the 5-year-old Mary Queen of Scots to the Dauphin of France. She sails off in a galley, rowed by the imprisoned galley slave, John Knox.
The Second Blast of the Trumpet begins in 1559 with Knox’s release from a 19- month sentence in the galleys from which he wasn’t expected to survive. His experience has fired him up with a mission to strike at the roots of papistry in Scotland. However, exiled from his own land, he is welcomed in Protestant England where he becomes chaplain to the young king, Edward VI in London. With Edward’s untimely death and the accession of the Catholic Mary Tudor, Knox is forced to flee her fires of persecution.
In Geneva, he meets the leading reformer Calvin and also makes dangerous enemies among the English exiles whose liturgy he challenges. Meanwhile in Scotland, his godmother, Prioress Elisabeth Hepburn, is helping the regent Mary of Guise, to stem the rising tide of reform and keep the throne for Mary Queen of Scots.
When the Protestant Queen Elizabeth succeeds the throne Knox, who has married and sired two sons, hopes to return with his family and resume his mission in England. However, while the charismatic preacher may have attracted a flock of female admirers, his polemical tract, The First Blast of the Trumpet against the Monstrous Regiment of Women, has antagonised Queen Elizabeth.
The Last Blast of the Trumpet begins in 1559 when Knox returns to a Scotland on the brink of civil war. With the death of Catholic Regent Mary of Guise, the victorious Knox is confident of his place leading the reform until the charismatic young widow, Mary Queen of Scots returns to claim her throne. She challenges his position and initiates a ferocious battle of wills as they strive to win the hearts and minds of the Scots. But the treachery and jealousy that surrounds them both as they make critical choices in their public and private lives has dangerous consequences that neither of them can imagine.
JMR- What will you be working on next?
MP- There are several ideas whizzing round my brain and I’m waiting on one of them to settle. I’m undecided about whether to move forward into 17th century Scotland or flit across to Russia.
JMR- Who is your favorite historical female and why?
MP- There are several women who have defied social convention and changed the rules but I’ll give a shout-out for my namesake Marie de Guise, aka Mary of Guise-Lorraine, the French mother of Mary Queen of Scots, who is a most under-rated historical character. For twenty years the regent kept hold of a very shoogly throne for her daughter. Astute and politically-savvy –she turned down Henry VIII’s offer of marriage– she managed the Scottish double-dealing lords with a skilful hand, tolerating their Protestant faith and keeping them in check. Unfortunately, her premature death in 1560 meant that she wasn’t able to pass on these qualities to Mary who was being brought up as a pampered princess at the French court.
JMR- If Mary Queen of Scots had prevailed and kept her head and her crown, do you think we would see a different Scotland today or would it have only put off the inevitable?
The nail in Mary’s coffin, so to speak, was her refusal to relinquish her right to the English crown. As a Roman Catholic, she considered Anne Boleyn’s daughter, Elizabeth Tudor, to be illegitimate and an illegal occupant of the English throne which rightfully belonged to her. William Cecil, Elizabeth’s chief adviser who was determined to keep England a Protestant country, vowed to rid his mistress of this continual Catholic threat and plotted Mary’s downfall from the minute she landed in Scotland. Since many of her nobles led by her half-brother and ambitious rival, Lord James Stewart, were in the pay of the English government, Mary had no chance. Her disastrous marriage to Darnley, orchestrated by Elizabeth, followed by his murder and her remarriage to Bothwell marked Mary as a scarlet woman, an adulteress and murderess, which justified her downfall in the eyes of her enemies.
JMR- What question were you hoping I’d ask but didn’t?
The question that was thrown at me at a talk: did Mary Queen of Scots have an affair with Knox? Then I brushed it off as nonsense but now I’ve had time to think about it. Reading between the lines, I suspect there was a strong chemistry between these two charismatic characters. Not only that, I’m convinced that despite himself, Knox was deeply attracted to the Catholic Jezebel. What a union that would have been!
Many thanks for your interesting questions, Jean. I’ve enjoyed answering them.
JMR- Marie, thank you for being here with the Books Delight a wonderful interview. We've really enjoyed it. Readers, I know you're going to want to check of Marie's books. I've included a US Amazon link below (click the Amazon button) as well as a link to Amazon UK and Barnes and Noble.
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