FEW events have had such a debilitating impact on Scotland as Flodden. The debacle in 1513 reversed the process started by Bannockburn and may, along with the Reformation, have made the Unions, of 1603 and 1707, inevitable.
The narrative hangs on the search by Louise Benoit, daughter of a French mother and Leith father, for her brother, missing after the battle. The bourgeois Benoits are unusually close to power since Louise’s late, elder sister had been the mistress of James IV. That relationship impels Louise, firstly, to Patrick Paniter, statesman and guilt-ridden survivor of Flodden, and, secondly, to his acolyte, Gabriel Torrance, seemingly a young nobleman of Irish origins.
Torrance joins her on the search, in which patriotism and treachery, family loyalty and feuding and the violent aftermath of the battle constitute the historical content; the dominant themes, however, are jealousy, love, courtship, betrayal and personal retribution.
Goring has produced a well-crafted tale which drives forward with unremitting pace. In Patrick Paniter, Goring has developed a fine psychological study of an intriguing historical character. The insightful portrait of guilt and regret justify the centring of the book’s final chapter on him rather than on Louise Benoit, the tale’s seeming heroine.
Benoit’s apparently forlorn journey to the Border is less credible, the actions rather of a remarkably contemporary young woman. In 1736, 200 years after Flodden, Sir Walter Scott’s Jeanie Deans set out on her fraught journey to London to appeal for her sister’s life. Driven to that daunting undertaking by Presbyterian moral rectitude rooted in family and social circumstances, Deans’ moral dilemma was portrayed by Scott as it would have been both recognised and understood in its own historical context. Despite the surface resemblance, Louise Benoit is no 16th-century Jeanie Deans.
The book is published by Polygon (RPP £14.99)
The above review was published in Scotland on Sunday on 27 May 2013: http://www.scotsman.com/scotland-on-sunday/scotland/book-review-after-flodden-by-rosemary-goring-1-2944711