Lymond Chronicles

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The Lymond Chronicles are a series of six novels, written by Dorothy Dunnett, which were first published between 1961 and 1975. The series is set in mid-sixteenth-century Europe and the Mediterranean and tells the story of a young Scottish nobleman, Francis Crawford of Lymond, from 1547 through 1558.

Overview[edit]

Francis Crawford of Lymond[edit]

Over the course of the six volumes, readers follow the life and career of the charismatic Francis Crawford of Lymond, the younger son of the Crawfords of Culter, members of the landed aristocracy of the Scottish Lowlands. Brought up according to the Renaissance ideal of an educated autodidact, he is a polyglot, knowledgeable in literature, philosophy, mathematics and the sciences, a practitioner of all the martial arts, a spell-binding musician, a talented thespian, and a master strategist with a genius for imaginative tactics.

An intensely private man but with a very public persona, he is a non-conformist who is suspicious of causes, political or religious. He is driven by his demanding personal code of behaviour and responsibility regardless of whether he meets society's expectations or rules. Though a cosmopolitan military leader, diplomat or spy, he has an abiding feeling for his home country of Scotland. Despite his reluctance to relinquish his cherished independence and align himself permanently with any nation's ruler, Lymond's professional reputation increasingly makes him a sought-after ally, or a foe to be avoided, by many of the crowned heads of Europe. Still, it is only for goals he believes in strongly that he will deploy his glittering and commanding persona, quicksilver mind, talent for dissembling what he thinks or feels, and rapier tongue; and once he dedicates himself to a goal, his will is implacable.

In his personal life, Lymond has an unusual ability to inspire intense loyalty and even love in those who are attracted to him. But the Crawford family's history begins to produce more and more tensions, and these conflicts are exacerbated by the weakness, shared by Lymond with most of his family, of immense pride and a stubborn refusal to explain the reasons for their actions.

As a whole, the Lymond Chronicles are an odyssey: the story of how an arrogant, brilliant, but troubled individualist, though increasingly successful professionally, becomes alienated and isolated as a result of searing experiences in battles with forces he can't control, as well as with himself; and how he ultimately becomes reconciled with his country, his family and friends, and himself.

History in the Lymond Chronicles[edit]

Dunnett paints on a large historical canvas, with fine details based on meticulous research in hundreds of primary and secondary sources. In addition to a compelling cast of original characters, the novels feature a large number of historical figures, often in important roles.

The historical setting, which provides many plot elements and prominent characters for the novels, is the incessant jockeying for position through treaties, alliances of convenience, political marriages, wars, and even piracy, among the English Tudors, the Holy Roman Empire of the Habsburgs, the French Valois, the Ottoman Empire of Suleiman the Magnificent, and their respective secular and religious allies, including the Stewarts of Scotland, the Knights of St. John, the corsairs of North Africa, and even Tsar Ivan the Terrible of Russia. Each of the six books has several theatres of action with the exception of the first, The Game of Kings, which takes place almost exclusively in the Scottish Lowlands and the Borders with England.

The novels examine the high politics and culture of each court and its nobility as monarchies centralized their power; the intensifying controversies over the Reformation; implications of the Age of Discovery for political and economic power and knowledge; and the blurred boundaries between faith and reason in religion, esoterica such as alchemy and astrology, and science. In addition, the large number of women in positions of political power during this period—as rulers in their own name, as regents, as strong wives or mistresses of kings, or as heirs to thrones—offers fascinating female historical characters for the exploration of women's roles.

The series and The House of Niccolò[edit]

The six books together are a single story and are best read in chronological order to appreciate both plot and characters. However, each of the first two books can be read as a self-contained novel. The endings of the third and fifth novels have no real resolution; they are quasi-cliffhangers that lead directly to the story taken up in the next book.

The six parts of the Lymond Chronicles are part of what Dunnett viewed as a larger fourteen-volume work, which includes the eight novels of The House of Niccolò series. The House of Niccolò, which was written after the Lymond Chronicles, tells the tale of Lymond's ancestors in the previous century and includes allusions to events in the Lymond Chronicles. Dunnett recommended readers begin with the Lymond Chronicles and then read The House of Niccolò[citation needed]. As with the Lymond Chronicles, the The House of Niccolò features a number of historical persons, many as important characters. Both the historical and fictional characters are, however, taken from a wider variety of occupations and social classes than in the Lymond Chronicles. There are significant differences in narrative approach and writing style between the series, reflecting in part the very different personal journey taken by the central character in each.

The six novels in the series are as follows:

  1. The Game of Kings (1961)
  2. Queens' Play (1964)
  3. The Disorderly Knights (1966)
  4. Pawn in Frankincense (1969)
  5. The Ringed Castle (1971)
  6. Checkmate (1975)

The Game of Kings (1961)[edit]

Living mostly by his wits and his sword-arm in 16th-century Scotland, Francis Crawford of Lymond is a charismatic figure: polyglot scholar, soldier, musician, master of disguises, nobleman—and accused outlaw. After five years exile, Lymond has recently returned to Scotland, in defiance of Scottish charges against him for treason on behalf of the English and murder. He has assembled a private band of mercenaries and ruffians who follow his ruthless, despotic leadership. The reader only gradually learns that Lymond has returned with a single goal: to prove his innocence and restore his name, he must find the man who framed him and condemned him to two years as a French galley slave before he managed to escape.

The novel is constructed as a clockwork mystery: an intricate web of many moving parts, punctuated by set pieces of adventure, high comedy, or intense drama. The suspense is as to whether Lymond will prove himself innocent, die in the attempt, or be captured and hanged. The mystery is "who is Lymond?" Dunnett reveals only gradually, with tantalizing hints and small details, Lymond's motives and his true relationships with the other characters. Lymond leaves no one indifferent to him: some of the key characters—such as Richard Crawford, third Baron Culter and Lymond's older brother, and Margaret Douglas, Countess of Lennox—are one-time friends or intimates who become his mortal enemies. Betrayals and double-crosses, both potential and actual, abound. The pieces of the mystery only fit together late in the story as revelations at a trial.

As an established part of the minor landed aristocracy, the Crawfords cannot avoid becoming entangled in the complex politics between England and Scotland, the Anglo-Scottish wars and Scotland's alliance with France, or in the conflicts among the residents of the Borders region between the two kingdoms.

A number of historical persons appear in the novel, many as important and well-developed characters. They include members of the Scott clan -- Sir Walter Scott of Buccleuch, his wife, Janet Beaton, and his son William Scott of Kincurd, who becomes Lymond's second-in-command in his band of outlaws; Mary of Guise, the Queen Dowager of Scotland and her young daughter, Mary, Queen of Scots; and members of the Douglas family—including Archibald Douglas, 6th Earl of Angus, his brother Sir George Douglas, his daughter Margaret Douglas, Countess of Lennox (niece of Henry VIII who was the brother of Margaret's mother Margaret Tudor, widow of James IV, and mother of James V), and Margaret's husband Matthew Stewart, 4th Earl of Lennox, a potential claimant to the Scottish throne in case of the death of the young Mary, Queen of Scots. The English military leaders responsible for prosecuting the war of The Rough Wooing, Sir William Grey and Lord Thomas Wharton, also have prominent, and often comedic, roles.

Main fictional characters[edit]

  • Francis Crawford of Lymond, Master of Culter
  • Sybilla Crawford, Dowager Baroness Culter
  • Richard Crawford, Third Baron Culter
  • Mariotta Crawford, Baroness Culter
  • Christian Stewart
  • Jonathan Crouch
  • Gideon Somerville
  • Kate Somerville
  • Philippa Somerville
  • Samual Palmer

Main historical characters[edit]

Main locations[edit]

Queens' Play (1964)[edit]

Having cleared his name in Scotland, Lymond takes on an unlikely alias in order to infiltrate the French Court and protect the young Mary, Queen of Scots from her would-be assassins, but in the whirl and rush of Europe's most decadent and reckless Court, he finds it increasingly difficult to remember where play-acting ends and self-destructive excess begins.

Main fictional characters[edit]

  • Francis Crawford of Lymond, Master of Culter
  • Sybilla Crawford, Dowager Baroness Culter
  • Richard Crawford, Third Baron Culter
  • Phelim O'Liam Roe, Irish leader
  • Oonagh O'Dwyer, Mistress of Cormac O'Connor
  • Archie Abernethy, Elephant Keeper

Main historical characters[edit]

Main locations[edit]

The Disorderly Knights (1966)[edit]

His reputation freshly restored after his actions in France, Lymond travels to the Isle of Malta, home to the Crusading Order of Knights Hospitaller of St John, just before the Ottoman Turks lay it under siege. There he becomes embroiled in a contest of wits with a man who may or may not be a living saint, and discovers a secret that will transform that intellectual contest into a visceral struggle for his native Scotland.

Main fictional characters[edit]

  • Francis Crawford of Lymond
  • Jerott Blyth, Childhood friend of Francis Crawford, French Merchant and Knight of St John
  • Sir Graham Reid Malett, Knight Grand Cross of the Order of St John
  • Joleta Reid Malett, Sir Graham's younger sister
  • Randy Bell, Alec Guthrie, Adam Blacklock - men of the company of St Mary's
  • Oonagh O'Dwyer
  • Kate Somerville, England landower and friend of the Crawfords
  • Philippa Somerville, Daughter of Kate Somerville

Main historical characters[edit]

Main locations[edit]

Pawn in Frankincense (1969)[edit]

Lymond embarks upon a hunt for the child who may or may not be his, crossing Europe and North Africa following the trail of clues his malevolent adversary has laid for him. Reaching the glittering court of the Ottoman sultan Suleiman the Magnificent, Lymond must summon all of his courage and willpower to win freedom for himself, his child and his companions.

Main fictional characters[edit]

  • Francis Crawford of Lymond
  • Jerott Blyth, childhood friend of Francis Crawford, French Merchant and Knight of St John
  • Jubrael Pasha, officer at the court of Suleiman the Magnificent
  • Joleta Reid Malett, Sir Graham's younger sister
  • The Dame de Doubtance, caster of horoscopes, from France
  • Georges Gaultier, her associate
  • Marthe, his niece
  • Philippa Somerville, Daughter of Kate Somerville
  • Mikal, a pilgrim of Love
  • Guzel (Kiaya Khatun), mistress of the Harem of Dragut Rais
  • Onophrion Zitwitz, master of Lymond's household
  • Salablanca, Moor

Main historical characters[edit]

  • Leone Strozzi, of Florence, Prior of Capua in the Order of the Knights Hospitaller of St. John
  • Salah Rais, Viceroy of Algiers
  • Aga Morat, Turkish Governor of Tripoli
  • Gabriel de Luetz, Baron et Seigneur d'Aramon et de Valabregues, French Ambassador to Turkey
  • Roxelana Sultan (Khourrem), wife of Suleiman the Magnificent
  • Suleiman the Magnificent, Sultan of Turkey and Lord of the Ottoman Empire
  • Jean Chesnau, French Chargé d'Affaires at Constantinople

Main locations[edit]

The Ringed Castle (1971)[edit]

Lymond arrives at the semi-barbaric court of the Russian Tsar Ivan, known as the Terrible, and begins the immensely difficult task of transforming this backward and alien country into a modern state. But circumstances - and the finger of destiny - may not intend for Lymond to end his days as the Voivode of all Russia, and he must return to his homeland one last time. There to face the family he has rejected, and the woman who calls herself his wife.

Main fictional characters[edit]

  • Francis Crawford of Lymond
  • Richard Crawford, 3rd Baron of Culter, Lymond's older brother
  • Sybilla Crawford, Dowager Lady Culter, Lymond's mother
  • Danny Hislop, Alec Guthrie, Adam Blacklock, Fergie Hoddim, Lancelot Plummer, Ludovic d'Harcourt - men of the company of St Mary's
  • Kate Somerville, England landower and friend of the Crawfords
  • Philippa Somerville, Daughter of Kate Somerville
  • Guzel, kingmaker

Main historical characters[edit]

Main locations[edit]

Checkmate (1975)[edit]

Checkmate takes place in 1557, and Francis Crawford of Lymond and Sevigny is once again in France, leading an army against England. But even as the Scots adventurer succeeds brilliantly on the battlefield, his haunted past becomes a subject of intense interest to forces on both sides. Meanwhile, Mary Queen of Scots prepares to marry the French Dauphine.

Reading aids[edit]

"The Dorothy Dunnett Companion" (1994, ISBN 978-0-7181-3775-5) and "The Dorothy Dunnett Companion II" (2002, ISBN 978-0-7181-4546-0), by Elspeth Morrison. Dorothy Dunnett helped in the compiling, and wrote some of the entries for these books, which provide background information to historical characters and events featured in the Lymond Chronicles and The House of Niccolò, as well as explanations of classical allusions and literary and other quotations used in the two series, notes to sources of these citations, and many maps. The second volume also contains a bibliography of many of the hundreds of primary and secondary sources Dunnett used in her historical research.

"Ultimate Guide to Dorothy Dunnett's The GAME of KINGS" by Laura Caine Ramsey, J.D. (2013, www.LymondGuides.com) An illustrated encyclopaedic resource of translations, and historical, literary, mythological, musical, and poetic references in the order in which they appear.