What Is So Great About 17th Century Scotland?

People sometimes wonder why I set my romance stories in the early 1600s. Is this my favorite time period? Would I like to travel back to that time?

It isn't an often-done period when it comes to historical romance. Everyone is so used to stories set in medieval times or Regency or Victorian. I just had to be different, didn't I? Yeah, I do like to be unique. But there is a specific reason I chose this time period and it has to do with kilts.

My historically set stories are Scottish and I wanted my heroes to wear the great kilt or belted plaid aka feilidh-mhor (great wrap) or a breacan-feile (tartan wrap). My research told me those were not worn until at least 1575 or perhaps slightly later. So if I accurately wanted my hero in a great kilt I couldn't put him in medieval times (although I love medieval stories.) No, I couldn't pull a Braveheart and ignore historical accuracy completely.

I have visited the wonderful Tartan Museum in Franklin, NC as part of my research. http://www.scottishtartans.org/kilt.html or http://albanach.org/kilt.html are among the best websites for researching kilts and other Highland dress. I want to quote something from the website:

"The truth of the matter is that only one document has yet been found that dates from before 1600 and without a doubt describes a belted plaid, the earliest form of the kilt. It is an Irish source, written in Gaelic. In the Life of Red Hugh O’Donnell written by Lughaidh O’Clery, we read of a group of hired mercenaries from the Scottish Hebrides, employed by O’Donnell in 1594."
"These were recognized among the Irish by the difference of their arms and clothing, their habits and language, for their exterior dress was mottled cloaks to the calf of the leg with ties and fastenings. Their girdles were over the loins outside the cloaks." ~Matthew. A. C. Newsome Scottish Tartan Museum

The girdles in this case would refer to belts and the mottled cloaks would be the plaid. A few more examples of early kilts. The red one is Lord George Murray about 1746. The second one shows two ways to wear a kilt, with the top portion used as a cape for warmth, or with the top portion secured at the shoulder. The third pic is Lord Mungo Murray, around 1680.

The below picture would be considered a small kilt, which came much later. Notice the top portion of the plaid is missing.

For the purposes of my stories, I also needed the Highland clan system to still be firmly in place, so they had to be set before 1746 and the battle of Culloden. And because of the plots of a couple of my novels, I needed a time period of relative peace between England and Scotland. So that's why I chose the reign of King James I & IV. He was king of Scotland first, then at Queen Elizabeth's death, he became king of England too.

Once I decided this time period would fit the needs of my stories, I delved into it to learn all I could about King James and his time period. But I couldn't focus on him and England completely because my stories predominantly take place in Scotland.

Some of my stories (like Devil in a Kilt) are time-travels. Would I like to time-travel back to 1621 Scotland? Hmm. That's a tough one. In one way I would like to... if I knew I could get back to modern day! I do like my modern conveniences, health and safety. There is nothing particularly romantic or appealing about the reality of the time. There were plague epidemics going on at various times, not to mention revolts, rebellions, riots, and clan feuds. One could be tortured or hanged for something minor. Hygiene at the time was abysmal, whether personal or in the streets. When I was in Edinburgh, I took a tour of Mary King's Close and the tour guide was not shy about presenting the gruesome facts of the 1600s. And since we were right there on that narrow, steep, dark (now underground) alley, it was all very easy to visualize. The furthest thing from a romantic fantasy.

I do escape into my stories and mentally travel back to 17th century Scotland, but I must put my own romantic spin on them. I'm not writing a history textbook; I'm providing fun entertainment and that means a hot man in a great kilt who bathes regularly. :)

Nicole North

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Carly Carson said...

I love stuff like this (history buff). I never knew the kilt was such a recent invention. Though I still didn't hear what a man wears under a kilt! Will no one ever tell me?


Nicole North said...

Carly, how cool that you're a history buff! Yes, I'll tell you what a man wears under his kilt. Nothing. :) That is, if he considers himself a true Scot. Some of the Scottish military regiments wear kilts and it is manditory that they NOT wear underwear, because this is the traditional way to dress. Also some pipe bands have this requirement. But for Highland Games, the athletes are allowed to wear dark shorts beneath their kilts so they won't flash everyone. Those kilts do flip up and swirl about easily. :)

Carly Carson said...

Geez, I had to come back on and say isn't that the whole point! To flash us. Whoops, I didn't say that, did I?


Carol Ericson said...

Nicole, we have to view historical settings through rose-colored glasses or we'd never enjoy romances set there! There was so much filth, disease, injustice - even the upper classes were pretty dirty. I recall when I took a tour of the Museum of Costume in Bath, we were told the long jewelled sticks the women carried were to scratch their heads beneath their powdered wigs because most of them had lice all the time. Eeeww! But we don't want to dwell on that, do we? I love Edinburgh, by the way, and we saw a few young men wearing kilts when we were there - sort of a "back to their roots" kind of thing.

Nicole North said...

Carly, LOL!! I wouldn't complain about flashing during the Games, but it is apparently supposed to be a family atmosphere. :)

Carol, absolutely about the rose-colored glasses. Sure, I might mention how stinky or filthy London or Edinburgh was at the time, but I don't dwell on it. And my main characters never stink. That just wouldn't work, especially for erotic romance. LOL! I love to write sexy bathing scenes in historicals. That way the reader knows they're clean. ;)

Carly Carson said...

Look what you started. Today my dd graduated from HS and they had 2 bagpipers lead in the procession! And where was my mind? In the gutter! Or under the kilt...definitely, somewhere where it shouldn't have been. Talk about a family atmosphere.


Nicole North said...

Congratulations to your DD! Wow I wish they'd have bagpipers around here at important events like this. So I've corrupted you and made you only think about what's under (or not under) that kilt during an important ceremony! I've achieved my goal! :) LOL

Anne Rainey said...

A sexy man in a kilt...makes my mouth water! LOL

Nicole North said...

LOL Mine too, Anne!!