What The Lutenist Saw…

I’m delighted to announce that a short companion story to Fire and Sword has just been released on Amazon as an e-book.  Called The Lay of the Lost Minstrel, it takes a look at some of the turbulent events of the novel through one of its supporting characters, William Haislet.

William is a fictional creation, but like all of my supporting characters, I tried to root him firmly in fact.  He is the hypothetical father of a real-life musician named ‘John Haislet,’ who served the Sempill family during the later years of John, 1st Lord’s tenure of the title, before going on to remain in the service of John’s successor, William, 2nd Lord Sempill.

John Haislet doesn’t feature much in the historical record.  In fact, as far as I’m aware, he’s only mentioned twice.  The first time was in 1504, when he was noted as Lord Sempill’s harper, who played to King James IV during his tour of the Westland and who received a small cash gratuity from the king as a reward for his excellent performace.

The second time he merits a place in the historical record is decades later in the 1520s, when he is listed as ‘John Haislit, menstrale’ amongst an army of 586 men who were charged for the ‘treasonable slaughter’  of an unfortunate Dutchman named Cornelius de Mathetama, at the Tolbooth in Edinburgh during a sitting of the Scots Parliament on the 17th of July, 1526.

The incident is reminiscent of the ‘Cleanse the Causeway’ disagreement which unfolded 6 years previously.  The latter was rooted in the rivalries between the Regents Moray and Arran, and it resulted in the death, during the fighting, of John Montgomerie, the eldest son and heir of Hugh, 2nd Lord Montgomerie (by then elevated to 1st Earl of Eglinton).

The political background to ‘Cleanse the Causeway’ and its aftershocks (and I think we can consider the murder of Cornelius de Mathetama to constitute such an aftershock) is worthy of a novel in its own right, and it’s something which – hopefully! – I will get around to writing some time.  But although confrontations like this must have caused serious havoc both within Edinburgh itself and further afield, on the plus side it generated a document which is priceless to the historian, in that it lists every single one of these 586 men, often linked them to landholdings and also (as in the case of John Haislet) to the trades through which they earned a living.

It was certainly invaluable to me in that it gave me a means of peopling ‘my’ landscape with a host of individuals who could be based on fact, rather than having to be plucked literally out of thin air. The information contained in this document was undoubtedly what inspired me to invent William Haislet, who, like his ‘son’ John, is more than just a musician.  He serves the household in other capacities, and from time to time, this involves military service.

Anyway, John Haislet gets a mention in The Lay of the Lost Minstrel, which was great fun to write as far as I was concerned, because before I embarked upon the tale, I knew next to nothing about William.  I knew he was English by birth and that he’d come to Scotland almost two decades previously, where he settled at Ellestoun and never got around to leaving, but that was about it.  But, as is invariably the case, there was a lot more to him than meets the eye, and I soon found out more about where he came from and why he gets along so well with Hugh Montgomerie…

If you’re interested in finding out more, then why not click the link below (if you’re in the UK)


Or, if you’re in the US, you can click on this one:-


And, of course, I must apologise to the father of the historical novel in Scotland, Sir Walter Scott, whose classic poem The Lay of The Last Minstrel inspired the title….



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