A Noble Cunning

Written by Patricia Bernstein
Review by Fiona Alison

When Jacobite leaders Mar, Winton, and Derwentwater arrive at the Glentaggart home, Bethan knows immediately that her husband, Gavin, a staunch Catholic, will rally to the cause.

As evidenced by an early scene of violence by Covenanters, Bernstein not only pulls us into the Glentaggarts’ world, but makes sure we are fully on board with Gavin’s decision to fight. When he is arrested during the aftermath of the 1715 Uprising, and sent to the Tower, Bethan travels to London through perilous winter storms, determined to beg for clemency and free her husband.

When Queen Anne died in 1714, many eligible heirs to the English throne were passed over for the Protestant Hanoverian, George. England and Scotland became hotbeds of dissent and religious oppression. This is a fictionalised story of one Catholic family whose loyalty to James II and his progeny leads to persecution and vengefulness. The story is based on a complex plan, conjured in real life by Winifred Maxwell, Countess of Nithsdale, to free her Jacobite husband from the Tower, using a group of women enacting an elaborate charade.

Everything Culloden intrigues me, and there is little fiction about the trouble which gave rise to that epic tragedy. But nothing happens in a vacuum. Bernstein’s novel is packed with period detail about the Jacobites, religious controversy, the Hanoverian court, and bizarre, eyebrow-raising etiquette and costume. A Noble Cunning is a riveting read using daring, bravery, commitment, honor, and a generous portion of faith and ingenuity. In short, it’s got everything a historical adventure needs. And romance? I wonder what could be more romantic than riding hell-bent for London to save your husband from the jaws of death. A gripping story, all the more so because someone once loved enough to attempt it! Hard to put this one down.