In Amy Jarecki’s The Highland Earl, John Erskine and Evelyn Pierrepont are on opposite sides of the first Jacobite uprising. They’re also husband and wife. In this essay, Jarecki shares how the life of John Erskine, Earl of Mar, inspired her action-packed and emotionally complex new historical romance.
One of my favorite things about writing Scottish romance is weaving historical fact into my books. My editor dubbed my latest release as Mr. and Mrs. Smith meets Outlander, and though the comparison made me laugh, she was pretty close to the truth.
I always like to base my characters on real-life people, and the first Jacobite uprising has a particularly fascinating cast. This was a tumultuous time period in which England was mercilessly squeezing Scotland for taxes, Queen Anne had an almost psychotic fear of popery (Catholics) and nearly half the Kingdom of Great Britain believed in the succession of James Francis Edward Stuart, the son of England’s deposed King James II. These “traitors” were ostracized as Jacobites, from the Latin form of “James.”
In The Highland Earl, I chose John Erskine, the Earl of Mar, as my hero. He was a Scot who served in Queen Anne’s cabinet, holding many positions, including Secretary of State, for Scotland. It’s hard to imagine how difficult it must have been to balance his duty to England with his loyalty to his homeland. He signed a number of controversial documents, his hand forced on some, to keep his beloved country from bankruptcy. Because he had to walk that delicate balance, he was highly criticized by the public and dubbed “Bobbin John.”
Historians have little information about Lady Frances Pierrepont, the woman I chose as the inspiration for my heroine, Evelyn. We know that she was the daughter of the Duke of Kingston-upon-Hull and that her dowry was sizable enough to release Mar from his debts. Sometimes the most fun you have as a writer is getting to fill in the details, so I made my Evelyn a spy sympathetic to the Jacobite cause—something that would put her in direct opposition to her husband, who served Queen Anne. Let the spy games begin. . . .
Inside Alloa Tower: portraits of John Erskine, Earl of Mar, with his son, Thomas, and of Frances (the inspiration for my character Evelyn), Countess of Mar.
During my research, I was fortunate enough to visit the ancestral home of the Earl of Mar, Alloa Tower. There I met with a historian with whom I spoke for hours and learned things about John Erskine I never would have found in a book. His life was tumultuous, and after the period in which The Highland Earl takes place, he became the Stuart prince’s general and led the Jacobites into the Battle of Sherriffmuir. He was also a brilliant architect and engineer. He designed and built an extensive manor onto Alloa Tower (pictured below), but it unfortunately burned down. However, in the picture you can see marks where the manor was added. He also designed and built a canal from his mine to the Firth of Forth to more easily transport his coal. It is fascinating to uncover these tidbits of historical fact and weave them into my stories.
Alloa Tower, side
Alloa Tower, front
I hope you’ll join me on this adventure where fact meets fiction and where lies and deceit nearly ruin a love that will grow to transcend time.