Jerott Blyth – dashing hero or dumb idealist

This is a transcript of the talk I gave to the April 2014 Dorothy Dunnett Society weekend. It’s a partner to the earlier talk on Marthe but was somewhat different in tone. For one thing it was longer, and I felt it needed more humour to lighten it up a bit. Secondly it followed two serious (though as it turned out excellent) talks in the morning, so again I felt there would be some need for a little light relief. Many people had expressed a liking for more quotations from the books so I included more of those and they needed the balance of the images in the second and fourth quarter to avoid becoming too much. Lastly there was no equivalent of the single word revelation which finished the Marthe talk. I hope I managed to find the right balance and gave Jerott his due place in the story, and that this version gives some of the feeling of the live talk.


In my talk on Marthe two years ago I finished with this line

Perhaps the real tragic character of the series is Jerott, but that is another story.

That was meant as a bit of a tease and a way of ending the talk, but even then I had some ideas of a followup if that talk was well received. As it happened I had dinner with Ann and Kathy not long afterwards. Kathy was looking for speakers and she asked me if I would do another talk, and when I suggested her beloved Jerott she was positively ecstatic.

One Word describing Jerott

Before that talk I asked the audience to give me a single word describing Marthe. There were some rather …interesting… answers. Now I can’t offer you another one-word revelation of the type I gave that day, but I thought it would be interesting, given the conflicting feelings that her husband also generates, to see what today’s audience would come up with for him.

Let’s see what we have. Four terms appeared more than once

loyal (3)
insecure (2)
insensitive (2)
who? (2)

The rest are in alphabetical order:

absolutist disillusioned magnificent and rude tenor
accommodating dogmatic mystery man tortured
angst emotional twat naive tragic
bemused gorgeous needy trustworthy
bewildered gorgeous and bewildered out-grown vacillating
brooding handsome overshadowed waste of space
complicated idealistic pillock well-meaning
conflicted immature robbed wooden-headed
deluded ineffectual sad
delusional inflexible sad & misunderstood
desirable intense self-delusional
determined lacking in empathy sentimental
devotee longsuffering solid
disappointed lovable tenacious

Quite a varied selection! Well, as expected some of you adore him and would happily run off with him, and some of you want to beat him over the head for being thick. Probably there’s a few who want to do both! Some of you just feel sorry for him.

He does tend to polarise opinion doesn’t he?

Jerott Blyth is one of Dorothy’s most interesting creations and the source of considerable and sometimes heated argument. He plays a vital part in the story, but in some ways he’s also a tool used by the writer in order to allow us to get insights into our other principal characters. Today I’m going to discuss various aspects of his character.

What does he look like?

Let’s look at how Dorothy describes him – we’ll start with how he’s first introduced to us in Disorderly Knights

“…the stranger was unnoticed by the handful of knights kneeling with Blyth, and Blyth himself, his handsome black head bent, his only ornament the gold ring belonging to the dead girl he was to have married, looked distant and unlike the intelligent, talented and spectacularly wild young gentleman he had been.”

Intelligent – Talented – Wild

“It was nine years since their last meeting; and they had been boys in Scotland then, though old enough to fight side by side for their country. Of the two, Lymond, as he probably knew, had changed most since then. Nevertheless it was for only seconds that Jerott Blyth, Chevalier of the Order of St. John, stood, short, vivid, vital, and stared at the self-possessed stranger before him.” Then he said slowly, “Francis Crawford!” And darting forward, seized those cool, relaxed hands.

Short – Vivid – Vital

We see a passionate young man, with a history of being headstrong. Losing his father and possibly thrust prematurely into the position as head of his family – we never get any suggestion of an older brother – and then cruelly robbed of his wife-to-be. Presumably finding himself unable to settle to life in Nantes he joins the Order of St John. Seeking direction, but finding that the leaders he seeks are often weak and corrupt. He is full of contrasts – we hear him rail against the rule of the Order by de Homedes while at the same time holding to the idea that the Order is all that is holding back the Turkish empire.

“It’s a question,” said Jerott Blyth angrily, “of whether she will be kind to him. We’re a seedy, spiritless fraternity, as will be clear. A weak Grand Master and his clique may do with us as he wants. The best of us have been lost already through the Order’s mistakes, or through being dragged into Imperial wars under pressure, or because we’ve marched off home to our Commanderies, and de Homedes has had neither the guts nor the money to summon us back. And yet, believe me … there are great noblemen and great seamen among us still, serving their turn in the Hospital and ready to fight the Turk with their bare hands in between. We are the bulwark of Christendom. If we go, do you think the poor, ailing Emperor and his turkey-cock Doria and a scattering of ill-organized ships can take our place? The Sacred Law of Islam would span the known world.”

He was shaking.

So we see already that Jerott is a man of extremes but a man who is firmly on the side of right. We see hints of an experience of and therefore a desire for, a level of absolutism. For a black and white take on the world. Good and evil clearly defined.

He clearly finds in Gabriel something of the (apparent) integrity that he’s failed to find elsewhere. And of course Gabriel plays on that for a long time as he does with many others. But it seems he’s also immediately attracted to something he remembers in Lymond.

These lines:

“But he wanted to find, and give nostalgic credence to the attraction he remembered as a boy in Scotland, before the years in France and his joining the Order: before Elizabeth’s death.”

“Jerott had wondered now and then what the instant affinity had been that he had felt, nine years ago at Solway Moss, and whether, a man now instead of a boy, he would find it a childhood illusion.”

From the moment that he hurled himself, in a blaze of anger, on to Malta with his two hundred unfortunate shepherd boys, through all that followed, Jerott Blyth spent a good deal of time, out of curiosity, at Lymond’s side.

In this way we have the template set up for Jerott’s trials and decisions over the next two books. He will be torn between beliefs and between a pair of opponents who are everything in subtlety and in shades of grey that Jerott is not. One will manipulate him and one will fail to explain to him. His intuition will be sorely tested. But he does have intuition, as Dorothy is careful to tell us.

At one point Gabriel tries to ingratiate himself with Lymond

“I wish . . . you did not need to mock,” he said, and rested his fingertips briefly, as once before, on Lymond’s arm. “For of all men, my God could love you; and I, too.”

At the brief council of war held when the wall was almost completed, no trace of this encounter was visible to the naked eye, or even to Jerott Blyth’s lively intuition.

Jerott’s Attitudes and Moods

We’ve discovered early on that Jerott can be somewhat … moody, and sometimes hot tempered.

“That for the Order!” shouted Jerott Blyth, hurling the ripped shreds of his robe of St. John to the floor; and the circle of French knights about him, stirring, – murmured and looked at one another, and at Gabriel.

This is memorably reinforced at the beginning of Pawn in Frankincense, where, just in case we’ve forgotten, we get this superb description:

With Jerott Blyth, innkeepers never shirked the proper discharge of their duties. To the doggedness of his Scottish birth, his long residence in France and his profession of arms had lent a particular fluency. He was black-haired, and prepossessing and rude: a masterful combination.

If you weren’t already hooked before, you would be after that!

And this in the following chapter when he meets the Dame de Doubtance:

No one had ever been able to call Jerott Blyth a submissive young man. Violent in love, in hatred and in all his enthusiasms, he heard those words in a rising passion of outraged disbelief.

But we also know that he is extremely loyal. Loyal to the Order for a long time and loyal to his god, while his faith lasts.

Jerott stopped. “You tried on Malta to get Gabriel to revolt. He told you why he wouldn’t, and I’m telling you the same. It would be open revolt against the Order. It ‘would mean the end of us. I’ve taken an oath to obey. I’ll do everything humanly possible to change this policy of suicide, but if they won’t agree, I’ve no option but to obey. Don’t you understand?” He pushed the thick hair out of his eyes and glared, his sight thick with tiredness, at the bland, importunate face. “You follow the common laws of warfare, Crawford. Our service is to Christ”

And he’s loyal to his commander – whoever that is at the time.

Is Jerott an Everyman?

I’ve seen Jerott described as an Everyman, others have described him as an unreliable narrator. There may be elements of that but the character is far too developed for him to be just either of those things. Yes we see a lot of the story through his eyes, and he doesn’t always see clearly, but as we’ll see he sees more than many do, particularly once Gabriel is unmasked.

My feeling is that Jerott, as a character, is there to give Lymond a reliable balanced perspective, to keep him grounded and avoid him being lost in a sea of complex intrigue. I’ll return to that later.

Appearance – Jerott the Gorgeous

I suspect this is the bit that some of you have been hoping for and waiting for…

The men in the audience should maybe nip out for a drink for 10 minutes at this point 😉

Just as everyone has their own idea of Lymond’s looks, so everyone has their own thoughts on Jerott. So lets look at just how Dorothy describes his appearance.

We’ve already had Short, Vivid and Vital.

We also get:

Broader than Lymond and strongly made.

Beautifully built and hard as iron, Blyth’s compact body hit the sea side by side with Lymond’s;

From Kate’s point of view:

At the gatehouse Brother Jerott, with his curling raven hair and hawk nose over a beautiful Florentine cuirass, wasted no time.”Crawford of Lymond: is he here?”
Her sharp brown eyes sought and searched the brown face of this beautiful young man who had been kind to Philippa during that sickening episode of the old woman in the ditch

When he goes to Midculter with Philippa to tell of Joleta’s death:

Jerott Blyth took his stance by the windows, his thick, Indian-black hair flung back out of his eyes, his beaked, flaring nose jutting into the air,

On an earlier visit we have this:

“Jerott!” said Sybilla, and clutching with her two small hands as much of his worn leather chest as she could reach, hauled down his head for an embrace. She smelt marvellous. “All the most beautiful men become priests,” she said. “It’s an ecumenical law or something. I can’t imagine how they keep up the breed.

Even after 2 years marriage to Marthe and too much wine he’s described as follows when he meets his old colleagues just after a nervous reunion with Lymond.

This man Jerott,’ said Danny Hislop accusingly. ‘You said he was middle-aged.’ Jerott turned.
‘I didn’t,’ said Adam Blacklock indignantly. ‘I said he was stinking rich and cut his old allies dead in the street. I did not say he was middle-aged.’
Vivid, black-haired and muscular, with passions far from middle-aged lodged between the flat belly and lean hips on which he had just been insulted, Jerott Blyth looked at the two men and, for the first time, his face lost its apprehension.


Short – Vivid – Vital
Black-haired, and prepossessing and rude
Broader than Lymond and strongly made
Curling raven hair and hawk nose
The brown face of this beautiful young man
His thick, Indian-black hair flung back out of his eyes, his beaked, flaring nose jutting into the air
Vivid, black-haired and muscular

Do you get the feeling that Dorothy quite likes this character and wants us to think he’s pretty good looking!

So how would all this translate into some of the film stars or models around now? Here’s some possible candidates to play him in the great casting game:

Ralph Fiennes

Ralph Fiennes
Not bad. The hair would need to be blackened but otherwise reasonably handsome

Adrian Paul
Adrian Paul
That moustache would have to go but he’s got the black hair.

Aneurin Barnard

Aneurin Barnard
A young actor with great promise for the part – three shots of him in quite suitable costume.

Aneurin Barnard

Aneurin Barnard

Could this be the face of Jerott?

Alain Delon
Alain Delon
For those who were around in the 60s you may have good memories of this French heart-throb. Perhaps not quite dark and broody enough.

Personally I’m not so sure about the next guy but Kathy would never forgive me if I leave him out, so here we are:
Oliver Reed
Oliver Reed

The young Oliver is certainly handsome

But somehow I don’t see Jerott in this shirt!
Oliver Reed

I loved the caption on the website where I found this second one.

“Oliver Reed: One of the few men who could wear a shirt like this and still look like a hard bastard”


If you prefer the leaner look then how about
Ben Barnes

Would Jerott have a six-pack? – of course!
Bruno Santos

Slightly older and more rugged

Richard Armitage
maybe not beautiful enough but certainly does the moody bit pretty well

Rufus Sewell
has a number of fans amongst readers.

And finally, since I can see you’re all getting tired of looking at handsome young men, here is one I have no name for:
Unknown candidate
If you know his name then do let me know and I’ll add it here.

He’d probably be my own choice, as he seems to have a little of everything, but I’ll leave the ladies to make the final judgement!

Jerott the Sensitive – Awareness, compassion and sensitivity

Is sensitive a word you associate with Jerott? Probably not. And yet…

It’s Jerott who first meets Marthe and tries to prevent her from meeting Lymond. His sense of danger warning him that this girl who looks so like Francis must be trouble.

Then when he is the first to find the body of Oonagh in Dragut’s garden we see how much care he takes for his friend:

He had expected it, Jerott realized. He had braced himself hard against death, and for the reality he was quite unprepared. Jerott spoke, his voice steady. “She is more than dead Francis. If I thought you would do it I would beg you to go without seeing her.

and shortly after, when Lymond has seen the horrible straw-packed nightmare, Jerott offers to do whatever needs to be done with Oonagh’s body. If that isn’t compassion and selfless friendship then what is?

His pity and compassion for children is evident through much of the search in North Africa and for Khaireddin in particular when he strikes out on his own to find the child at the silkworm farmers house.

When he’s not saving his life it is Jerott who finds Francis in his extremes of fatigue or dispair and recognises what is wrong – in the pouring rain of the courtyard after Francis’ clash with Marthe when she tries to thrust him and Philippa together, and after the wild horseback ride in despair after the reminder of the men in the river it’s Jerott who realises that it is for want of Philippa that Lymond suffers his worst torments.

But of course he lacks some things – an appreciation for music for instance. It struck me while researching this talk that maybe there is something of the character of Gelis in Jerott, or rather the other way round. Just as there is the triangle of Nicholas, Gelis and Kathi, so we could construct two triangles of Lymond, Philippa and Jerott, or Lymond Jerott and Marthe.

Intelligence, and Occasional Lack of It

When he can use his brain analytically on a concrete problem Jerott is undoubtedly an intelligent man. And, he’s perfectly capable of changing his mind and realising that he’s missed or misinterpreted something.

To assemble these things faultlessly, and from a distance, meant some very high-power organizing indeed. It also meant a long purse – a startlingly long purse, even for a man with two homes and a comte of unknown resources abroad. Jerott Blyth at about this point turned a conjecturing look on Francis Crawford of Lymond riding easily at his side and wondered what else he had overlooked during these hot August weeks on Malta and Tripoli.

When he finally sees hard evidence of Gabriel’s wickedness he reassesses quickly. At Midculter:

“We understand now,” said Jerott Blyth bitterly, and turning faced her, his clasped knuckles, in a childish gesture, pressed on his lips. “I have been a thick fool.”
“I know. But there’s such a comfort in numbers, don’t you think,” said Sybilla, without really thinking.

He has his own resources for information too.

Jerott knew this. He also knew, from sources in Scotland, a little more than Lymond would expect about Georges Gaultier’s permanent house-guest.

When Lymond and Marthe rescue Jerott from the governor’s prison he’s in desperate condition – poisoned by cyanide gas and burnt from the fire. Yet he thinks clearly enough to follow the plan to get him released. (Lymond’s attitude to him is warm and concerned. Marthe too takes good care of him for the next period. ) During the interview with the Governor he is quick-witted and convincing despite being in considerable pain. He even deals with seeing Marthe in her magnificence as Maria. Moreover after they learn of the Peppercorn he has the presence of mind to invoke Leonne Strozzi’s name as the child’s father. This is not the thinking of some dullard – Jerott is a highly intelligent man.

It is Jerott who finds the Cisterns and deals efficiently with Marthe and Gaultier in doing so, after she rejects his request to go to Philippa’s aid.

It’s really that occasion on the ride to Dunbarton where he messes up, and of course we all remember it and it colours our other judgements and makes us think that he lacks intelligence. When he assumes that Francis likes being a soldier and gets the diatribe where Lymond tells him all the things he misses – finishing up with music, and he just doesn’t get it.

But that’s a fairly isolated case despite Lymond occasionally calling him an ass when he doesn’t quite live up to the master’s level.

Jerott the Soldier

As a soldier he is extremely talented and efficient. We hear him described by as good a judge of quality as Alec Guthrie who says this to Adam when talking about Lymond:

Why take Gabriel at all? He had to, my minikin fiddler with chalks; he had to, or he would have lost all his best men including Jerott Blyth who one day is going to be nearly as good as himself.

His grasp of strategy and his personal fighting skills are seen again and again.

Jerott Blyth himself was a thoroughly competent commander. The list he put before de Vallier of the work done and still to be done, the assessment of man power and stamina, the list of the weak to be rested and the strong to be conserved, was the result of long training, high skill, and a love of his work that lessened, he knew, the love he should pour upon his Maker.

When he returns to soldiering and stops drinking he soon regains his former abilities. Here we see his capacity for hard work and his military efficiency. And we see him compared to Danny who had replaced him in Russia and we’ve seen to be a fine soldier.

For a week, Danny was out every night, sometimes with a company of Germans; sometimes with Swiss. Jerott was allotted longer expeditions: at one point he worked out of Amiens with de Lansac for almost two days, and got back to Compiegne with a graze from a hackbut ball that killed his horse under him. He was thankful to find that Lymond was off with a party of German pioneers, doing something inexplicable with a couple of carts spread with tarpaulins.

Jerott had his scratch dressed, slept for six hours, woke, ate and discovered that Lymond had returned and left again for Peronne in the interval, leaving fresh instructions for himself and Danny. A quarrel about precedence had broken out among the German officers and he marched in and settled it, meeting Danny on his way out to collect a new gelding. He had not lost the ‘knack of command, he was pleased to discover.

Danny, who looked hollow-eyed, said, ‘Have you heard? He’s made the wells of Le Catelet undrinkable. Originality at any price. The Swiss, in their Swiss way, say he knows how to take Dame Fortune by the hair. The Germans, in their German way, say if he wants to lead them again, he will have to bloody well increase their stipend. You know he had all the grain fields laid waste but kept the vines standing to gripe all the Spaniards? The rotten bastard. If I were St Michael I’d disown him.’

Jerott, who was saddling his horse, did not bother to look up at the limpid eyes and teased sandy hair, waning from the baby-pink brow. He was beginning to get the measure of Danny. He said, ‘Where are you going?’
‘To take some culverin this side of Noyon, and then fall into bed for a lengthy four-minute sleep. I wish I’d stayed in Lyon. I wager Archie wishes he’d stayed in Lyon.’

Jerott mounted. ‘We all get out of condition at times,’ he said; and moved off at a brisk gait to where his troop of soldiers was waiting. Danny, gazing after him critically, was aware of a twinge of approval. He hoped that nothing about him revealed it.

Jerott the Drinker

It is with alcohol that we see Jerott’s real achilles heel. Firstly we see that he’s inherited one of Scotland’s less admirable traits – the drinking culture. Ironically he initially thinks he’s better at handling it than Francis is.

Blacklock, raising his brows, looked down at his long hands. But Jerott Blyth, a glint in his black eyes, watched Lymond. Last year in France, he well knew from the gossip at home, Francis Crawford had nearly wrecked his career and succeeded in poisoning himself with unbridled drinking. In Malta he had been moderate. Here in Scotland he had stopped drinking completely; taking no risks, it seemed clear, of being led into excess. It roused in Jerott, who had perfect self-discipline, an emotion of purest contempt.

However, even drunk, Jerott can handle the military and political implications of what Lymond is doing, it’s when personal matters come up that he loses track. In this passage the conversation moves to Philippa’s and Marthe’s separate attempts to keep Lymond in France rather than go back to Russia. Their conversation, loaded with undercurrents, baffles him.

Lymond paid no attention. He relinquished the edge of the table and moved gently forward until he stood over Philippa, his hands clasping one another behind his straight back. He said, ‘I hit you once, on the jaw. Do you remember?’

‘Yes,’ said Philippa. She added, ‘You hit me another time, on the arm.’

‘Oh? I had forgotten that,’ said Francis Crawford. ‘Why?’

‘It happens all the time,’ Philippa said courteously. ‘I was where someone didn’t want me. If they place the sun in my right hand and the moon in my left and ask me to give up my mission, I will not give it up until the truth prevails or I myself perish in the attempt. Are you going to strike me?’

‘I am considering it,’ said Lymond. ‘Jerott is now convinced I am corrupting you. Fortunately I know, if Jerott does not, when you are speaking from conviction and when you are being deliberately and spitefully obstreperous. You have never made any arrangements outside marriage and you have no intention of making any, even if I felt constrained to break my agreement and start back to Moscow tomorrow.’ He lifted his eyes to Jerott. ‘The Somervilles,’ he said tartly, ‘are adept at sheer, bloody, domineering interference.’

Jerott sat down. He said, ‘I don’t understand’; and then, after a moment,
‘Christ, Francis. Have you got into the Marechale’s bedroom already?’

The real problem of course is with Marthe. She is everything he wants and everything he can’t handle. When he can’t communicate or when she responds with wounding and sarcastic remarks he despairs and turns to drink, which just draws more of the same. It is his misfortune that his two weakness – emotional inexperience and alcohol combine so disastrously.

Eventually it is only Lymond who can pull him together and give him the purpose he needs but even then a meeting with Marthe can see him relapse.

Danny Hislop, irritated and envious, had made a few attempts through the keyhole to bring him to his senses, aided latterly by Adam Blacklock, newly returned from his duties in Lyon. Neither of them was present when Lymond kicked the door down, although the roar of the preceding musket shot brought them to their feet. What happened after that was mainly inaudible but Archie, questioned afterwards, conjectured that Mr Blyth had lifted his hand to his lordship, and Mr Crawford had knocked him down and kept on knocking him down until Mr Blyth was so beside himself with rage that he was nearly sober. Then Mr Crawford had thrown a bucket of water over him and told him to sit down while he told him a few things the Order forgot to mention.

Jerott the Passionate

Given his age when Elizabeth dies it seems likely that she was his first love, and we don’t hear of any others prior to his joining the Order, at which point he takes vows of chastity. He’s described as being “violent in love” but we must conclude that this is a more general description of his wider passions.

Once he leaves the Order and returns to Scotland he’s free to allow his feelings freer rein but he’s certainly not indiscriminate, nor is he always misled by beauty:

The meeting between Lymond and Tom Erskine’s widow took place in private. Jerott, who had no interest in Lady Jenny Fleming, however pretty and however famous as the King of France’s second-string mistress, set about getting the wagons loaded and the oxen hitched.

However when he sees someone he really likes he is captivated. For instance when he sees Joleta for the first time:

A small, choked sound came unawares from Jerott Blyth’s throat. Lymond’s arm brought him up short. “Control yourself, Brother. A peach, I agree, but a dangerous peach. Let me deal with it first.” And removing his hand, he melted into the night. Jerott took a step forward, and then a step backwards; and then stayed where he was, a handful of thorn in one fist. He was shaking a little, as one did when the cathedral doors opened and kneeling, one felt the bearers brush by in incense, and saw the still, loving smile of the saint.

His eyes were wet. And, God in heaven, his right hand was covered in blood. Pulling himself together, Jerott Blyth released the thornbush, jerked down his leather jacket, drew his sword, and took a professional step forward again.

Shortly afterwards he takes her, fainted, to Midculter:

When, under the direction of a stalwart Venetian madam to whom he took an instant dislike, Jerott placed his childish burden tenderly on her bed, Joleta was still unconscious. Her skin was so fine, he saw, that the veins ran like Sicilian marble over her temples and jaw. From her thinly framed nose to her invisible eyebrows, her sparely moulded pink mouth, her prodigious golden lashes, there was nothing coarse about her; and her hair, blown lightly on the lawn of her pillow, was insubstantial as new-loomed silk.

However when Joleta fights with Lymond he bursts in and tries to play the chivalrous rescuer but is baffled by the reaction:

Jerott had not heard. He was staring, like a man in a nightmare, at the vanishing figure of his dream.

It’s not just women that bring out his passionate side either. Once he is committed to the search for Gabriel he becomes equally passionate to the point of forgetting to think things through:

‘We are surely agreed,’ he said, ‘that Graham Reid Malett must be found, and when found, must be killed. He’s evil; he’s dangerous. He’ll never forgive us for what we did to him in Scotland. He will certainly kill you if he can. . . .You know what else he can do. I demand,’ said Jerott staunchly, ‘to take my share in the execution. I am staying. And if you think you can make Philippa go back to England, good luck to you. It’s more than Guthrie or I managed to do.’

At least on occasions he’s aware of his failings, and vehement that he will not repeat them – as when he speaks to the Dame:

Then Jerott Blyth said, ‘Then you must put on record that once I loved a girl and wished to make her my wife; and once I loved a man and wished to make him my leader. I shall never do either again.’

… Yeah, Right.

But of course with Marthe he is on totally uncharted ground. The most experienced and emotionally mature of men would find her a difficult proposition.

Jerott and Marthe

Marthe is Jerott’s delight and his greatest trial – the source of all his frustration and confusion.

Not surprisingly he’s attracted to her almost from the beginning. After she helps save his life by masquerading as Maria he starts to recognise his growing love when they are imprisoned in Guzel’s home.

But his confusion over that love, clashing with Marthe’s unhappiness, both in general and at Guzel suggesting him as a possible husband, mixed with his revulsion at any suggestion of homosexuality, either in his own feelings or in Lymond’s actions with the Aga, leave him ill-equipped to handle or understand the clash between Lymond and Marthe when Lymond finishes by kissing her. He longs for the straightforwardness of fighting and the chain of command. But how many others would have fared any better?

And as an aside – in his anger he gets it. The magnificent display on the horses and the escape through the back of the Aga’s tent. And here in action again, we find him at his best.

Jerott, well fed, well rested, fully recovered from his fever, was a natural horseman, with the horseman’s broad shoulders and strong, capable hands. The beautiful little Arabian mare between his knees answered him like a polo pony: horse and man might have been one.

After the escape, when the party split up and he and Marthe separate from Lymond, they are thrown closer together.

Jerott had come to terms now with the fact that one man could make him feel and act like a rhinoceros in a cloud of mosquitoes. Marthe had not perhaps quite the purely detached ability to hurt which Lymond exercised with such care. But with Marthe in every other way it was far, far worse. The eyes, the mouth, the brain, the body through which she expressed her indifference and her contempt were those of a woman he wanted. A woman high, cool, remote as a cloud forest, trailing mosses and bright birds and orchids; a woman with a body like moonlight seen through a pearl curtain. A woman whom he had not touched since, her sardonic blue eyes studying him, she had said, ‘You only want me because…’

It would be bad enough if it was just indifference, but it’s not. Marthe is also in some turmoil. She distrusts men in general and the male world that she sees no place within. Her only source of something resembling love up to now has been Guzel, but Guzel has other fish to fry and has told her to consider Jerott as a possible suitor. She is in the throes of a battle in her own mind whether she can accept that suggestion or reject it utterly. She’s involved with Gaultier in a scheme to make money, something she needs to be able to claim a place in society, but she hates him. She’s also conflicted about Lymond and what he represents. So of course her anger and internal conflict find an easy target in Jerott. Something he is as yet entirely unaware of and ill-equipped to understand.

But still there are flashes of wonderful potential to inspire him:

And at his side throughout, there was Marthe . . . quick-witted and intuitive, articulate and thoughtful. He had loved her for her beauty and for an excellence with which he was already familiar. That day, engrossed together in the fate of the child, he met her mind to mind and fell in love with her, with every grain of his spirit and cell of his body; with the essential finality of death.

Once in Istanbul she and Gaultier work to find the lost treasures and when Jerott asks her to visit the Seraglio to take a message to Philippa she refuses. And his anger boils over.

He took the flat of his hand across her face then: the hard, soldier’s hand, which made an impact like the sound of the breaking of sticks, and left her fine skin staring livid; and then colouring fast with bruised blood. ‘I hope,’ said Jerott, breathing softly and hard, ‘that you never meet those who will judge what you have done. How would you recognize love? Or compassion? Francis at least has learned that. You avaricious little slut… do I call in the Janissary; or will you do as I say ?’

Her face was unflinching as a tablet of stone. ‘I shall do it,’ she said. ‘Since I must, to be free of you. Go then and find you a whoremonger. What use to you – any of you – is a mind and a soul, when all you need is a body?’

There was a silence. ‘You didn’t ask,’ said Jerott at length. ‘But I would have forgone even the body for the sake of the mind. And I would have claimed neither body nor mind, had I discovered a soul.’

After the chess game and the flight to Volos they are reunited in their attempt to save Lymond and Marthe’s success in leading Francis through the worst of the pain brings his admiration. Marthe herself accepts that men can in fact be as moral and kind and honourable as women “…you are a man and you have explained all men to me.” and finally she accepts Jerott’s love.

In Checkmate however things have turned for the worse. Jerott puts her on a pedestal and tries to provide for her instead of working with her to advance her knowledge and interests so she can earn her own independent place in society. Clearly the communication essential to marriage breaks down and in despair he turns to his one big weakness, drink.

As he once did with Lymond, he distrusts her motives, and despite advice from Francis he fails to understand her, returning to soldiering, and eventually leaves her when he believes, wrongly, that she has forced Phillippa away.

Jerott the Brave

We see plenty of examples of his bravery, often in extreme circumstances:

He works with Lymond to prevent the fuse reaching the gunpowder in the arsenal; courting almost certain death.

At the last door even Jerott hesitated. The lit match must now be so near the powder that a breath would dispatch it. ‘ The opening of this door in his hand was his entrance card, at twenty-five, to heaven or hell. The bolts were drawn. He remembered to pray for the first time, briefly and even with shame, and drew the door open.

He goes into battle at Zuara with a broken wrist, loosely strapped. The pain of that must be enormous.

He then rescues Lymond from the bottom of the sea with that same handicap, and pulls him to safety one-handed.

He tries to rescue Kedi and Khaireddin at the house of the silkworms and fights for his life in the fumes.

Unlike Francis Crawford, whose game with life was a strange and rootless affair played with the intellect, Jerott had a passionate instinct to live. It was a happy circumstance also that his nervous and bronchial systems were roughly as frail as a bison’s.

He rescues Lymond from the river Authie after the floating mill is crashed into the bridge.

As we’ve heard, he is nicked by a musket ball which kills his horse and shrugs it off as if it were nothing.

If bravery is the mark of a hero then this man has it in spades.

Jerott and Lymond

Lymond’s opinion of him and feelings towards him

Lymond usually hides his feelings and doesn’t bestow compliments easily so we should take notice when he does.

From the council of war at Boghall:

But for Adam, who hid her for me, the whole sordid business would have been exposed there and then, and to Jerott, Gabriel’s adoring disciple: poor bloody Jerott, torn in two. . . . He was to be Gabriel’s Baptist and oust me before he came, did you realize that? Luckily Jerott is an intelligent man as well as an honest one, and it didn’t happen. One of the things I have promised myself is to get Jerott out of this safely.”

At the end of Disorderly Knights:

“They ask more than anyone can give,” said Lymond, his manner suddenly altered, and got up. “Is this true? You see beyond Gabriel’s shadow to the ideal of the Order? And beyond mine to … what I mean to do, rather than what I do?” He smiled, though not with his eyes, and coming forward, stood with Jerott in the doorway. “You will find your place, Jerott. Good luck. And God speed you to France.”

He did not touch the departing man, nor did his eyes have in them any of Gabriel’s lucent candour; but Lymond’s voice was as Jerott had rarely heard it, pared of all mockery, and a little of the warmth he was suppressing, despite his effort, showed through.

And for some reason, this brought Jerott’s whole mechanism for speech, emotion and deed to a shuddering halt. He stood, his stomach turning within him, and heard Lymond add, his voice cool once more, “How unimpeachably shifty it sounds. What a fate for the tongues of the world, that after Gabriel all that is true and simple and scrupulous should sound like primaeval ooze.”

It was then that Jerott took heed at last of the knot in his belly and the ache in his throat, and announced, regardless of every plan he had made, “I should like to stay. May I?”

“Oh, God, Jerott,” said Francis Crawford, and the blood rose, revealingly, in his colourless face. “Yes . . . but . . . oh, Christ I’m glad; but if you touch my back once again you’ll have to see the whole bloody thing through yourself.”

In Pawn in Frankincense:

There was a furious pause. Then Lymond’s voice, the chill gone, said, ‘Don’t be an ass, Jerott? You know I can’t do without you.’

It was an obvious answer. But it was also something Jerott had never had from Lymond before: an apology and an appeal both at once.

‘You put up with a lot, you know. More than you should. More than other people can be expected to do. … I find I need a sheet anchor against Gabriel. However much I try – don’t let me turn you against me.’

That, to me, is perhaps the key passage of the whole series about their relationship. Lymond trusts Jerott’s loyalty and friendship but he also values his moral judgement. He know that his own world is one of lying and deceit, politics and deals, and that it is easy to lose sight of the core values that he seeks to live by amongst all that – particularly in his battle with Gabriel where impossible choices may have to be made, and eventually are. Jerott’s straightforward approach gives Lymond a perspective that he could so easily lose otherwise.

In Checkmate Jerott almost gets a hug! – after the initially unrecognised Philippa kisses him:

‘You’ve certainly frightenened him silly,’ said Lymond. ‘If you open your fingers, he’ll drop like an egg to the paving.’ He came forward, and as Philippa retreated, took Jerott lightly by the shoulders. ‘You will have to suffer the same from me,’ he said. ‘It is a forfeit we exact from all bridegrooms.’

It had never happened before. Jerott received the swift, insubstantial embrace and then found that Lymond, stepping back, was looking at him with amiable satisfaction.

After seeing Khaireddin for the first time, seeing Lymond taking opium, and having a knife thrown at him, he is initially appalled but adapts quickly and positively. And receives what for Lymond is effusive gratitude, and then almost uniquely, an explanation.

For a moment Lymond thought, studying him. Then he said, ‘I think you should try to put that out of your mind. You will see me taking it quite often. So long as I do take it you will not, I think, notice much difference. I am not using it to escape my responsibilities, if that was what mainly exercised you. But I should be indebted if you would keep what you know of it meantime to yourself. It will, I suppose, be all too obvious one day, but there is work to do first. Archie is here, and will help.’

‘What can I do?’ Jerott said.

Lymond changed his position, with care, and clasped his hands round his knees. ‘Do you mean that?’ he asked.

‘Of course. You don’t suppose you can do it on your own?’ said Jerott. ‘What can I do?’

Lymond grinned. ‘When the clay for thee was kneaded, as they say,’ he remarked, ‘they forgot to put in common sense.
You may sit there while they bring something to drink. Then you may listen.’

There’s one controversy about Jerott that I haven’t mentioned yet. The accusation that he is physically attracted to Francis and only married Marthe because he couldn’t have him. Having poured over every word written about Jerott I can find no sign of it other than Marthe’s own accusation when they are prisoners of Guzel. I don’t give that any real credence because at the time Marthe is herself very conflicted, hates all men, is bitter that Guzel is casting her off, and is directing barbs at the man who Guzel has suggested as a possible suitor. It plays on Jerott’s mind but only I think because he is horrified at the thought, as he was horrified that Lymond could indulge in homosexual activity with the Aga Morat, even when there was no other choice but death.

Jerott compared to Other Heroes

So we come back to the question – Is Jerott a hero? Well the only way to know is to compare him to some other heroes.

So is Jerott a hero compared to…


Conan the Barbarian
as played by Arnie.
Jerott would run rings round Conan at anything apart from arm-wrestling. Way more intelligent, better soldier, equal bravery and endurance.


Sly Stallone.
Pretty much the same. In fact Jerott probably has the edge in emotionally intelligence there!


Martin Riggs
Mel Gibson from Lethal Weapon – emotionally wrecked by the loss of his wife. Good close combat fighter. Brave and withstands pain. All pretty equal there.

Humphrey Bogart
Pretty much any character played by Bogie from Sam Spade to Rick in Casablanca. Doesn’t let his feelings out, plays the tough guy but has a heart of gold underneath.

Jason Bourne
Another one that’s a bit screwed up, but is Jerott any less skilled, resourceful, athletic, adaptable? I’d say he comes out of that comparison at least equal.

The Man with No Name
might have the edge in coolness under pressure but other than that he’s mostly just a very good gunfighter. Jerott wins that one for me.

Harry Calahan
Clint Eastwood’s other major character is stubborn and black-and-white in his view of good and evil so pretty similar there. Jerott’s character is much more rounded and developed.

We’ve been gradually raising the bar but now we come to perhaps the two ultimate heroes:

Robin Hood
as played by Errol Flynn

There was only one actor for Robin…
Well, actually maybe there were two

Difficult comparison since Robin is the leader and is really a rather one-dimensional character. Better archer of course, but I’d give Jerott the edge in hand to hand combat. Pretty equal on bravery and athleticism, and loyalty. Military strategy again is pretty equal. Robin’s women are rather less complex so he has it easier there.
But the fact that we can even discuss them together shows, I think, the merits of our man.

Even the “spy to end all spies”, who of course inspired Dorothy, who knew Ian Fleming, to write the “hero to end all heroes”.

James Bond
played by the inimitable Sean Connery

Incidentally some of the younger members of the audience may prefer this version


James Bond – who could be described as another emotional cripple who lost his wife. (Anyone detecting a pattern here?) Once again there’s little to choose between them for bravery or any of the other heroic abilities. Jerott would drink him under the table, though he probably wouldn’t touch Vodka Martini! Only on political complexity and success with the ladies would James have the upper hand. But often he survives by gadgets – Jerott survives by his own wits and skill.

Notice that none of these heroes are perfect, far from it. They all have major character flaws and weaknesses so there is no reason for us to expect Jerott to be perfect. He has his drinking issues – hardly unique in hero land – and he doesn’t understand women, well that’s not exactly unique either in hero land or in real life!

So what we’re seeing is that there’s only one hero that really outranks Jerott…

…and that’s the one in the same books, his dearest friend, that hero to end all heroes.

In a large number of areas Lymond and Jerott are very closely matched. Like James Bond it is Lymond’s ability to understand and pre-empt the political intrigue, the shifting sands of diplomacy and the many shades of grey that exist in the world of rulers and international politics that really sets him apart.

In any other set of books Jerott would be the hero – he’d vanquish the villain and get the girl. His only failing is that he’s outshined by the brightest star in literary fiction.

And of course it is partly Jerott’s hand that frees Francis and Philippa to be together, but at a terrible cost. Had he not held back Richard’s horse might they have stopped Austin from firing the shots that kill Marthe? He’ll live with that for the rest of his life.

Jerott is selflessly doing what all heroes do – putting others first. But in an unusual way. Having seen the nature and depth of Lymond’s despair, and regretting that by saving his life at the Authie he’s forced him to return to it, he is willing to let him go, as Philippa was. How horribly tragic that it costs him Marthe’s life.

Really there is no one word to sum up Jerott’s complex character but the closest has to be that one – Tragic.

I find it a pity, though inevitable, that Jerott is rather discarded at the end of Checkmate but of course the focus is by then firmly on Francis and Philippa and nothing can be allowed to detract from that glorious reconciliation and the revelation of the marriage lines.

Dorothy said that she couldn’t write anything more about Lymond because the gap in the history into which she placed him was closing. We know she went on to write King Hereafter about Macbeth and then returned to the Semples and the Crawfords by an unexpected method. Maybe, if things had been different, I wonder if she might instead have written the ongoing story of her other hero – Jerott.

Our own Simon Hedges thinks that he maybe goes back to Malta, as is hinted at in the end, and dies in the fighting there, and that’s quite possible. But I really hope not. After all he was coming to Scotland having apparently lost Marthe anyway, so why change now? Scotland needs good men, and once before he was going to leave Lymond and changed his mind at the last minute.

I want Jerott to find his own place in the world and find that happiness that Marthe’s death has denied him. The Dame’s pronouncement should not “debar him from love”.

Real heroes deserve more than to ride into the sunset alone, and I have no doubt at all – Jerott is a real hero.


DDS Edinburgh Weekend 2014

The 5th-7th April saw the Annual Dorothy Dunnett Society AGM Weekend. Slightly earlier than usual, the weather in the week preceding it was dreadful with sea mist and rain, but fortunately it dried up just in time.

Friday evening was our now usual dinner at the Sheraton Hotel where everyone gathered together – many old friends but also a number of new ones. As usual there were a number of overseas visitors amongst the delegates, from France, Germany and Canada and this time there was even one who’d made the trip from India! Dedication indeed. Unfortunately one of the German members, old friend Heike Meyer, had a nightmare journey due to the Lufthansa strike and didn’t arrive until Saturday afternoon.

Saturday morning at the Royal Overseas League had a Richard III theme to it with two talks. One was on the discovery of Richard’s bones under a car park in Leicester and was given by Philippa Langley who was instrumental in getting the search taken and the archaeological dig funded and completed. The second was on the science of Craniofacial Identification by Prof Caroline Wilkinson from Dundee University. They were amongst the most interesting and best presented talks we’ve had and were much enjoyed by everyone.

For the post-lunch slot it was my turn, and I followed up my talk on Marthe a couple of years ago with one on Jerott Blyth. I’ll be posting an adaptation of it here shortly. Later in the afternoon we had a talk from Natalie Lussey – the winner of this years Dunnett History Prize who discussed her winning essay on Artisans, Printers and Traders in Renaissance Venice.

The AGM followed and then in the evening we had the usual Gala Dinner, finishing with the 2nd year of our new tradition of members giving four readings from Dorothy’s work.

Sunday’s bus trip was this year to Dundee, where a number of options were available including a tour of the Verdant Works Jute museum. Captain Scott’s ship Discovery, and the McManus Gallery and Museum. If the much-improved weather in Edinburgh was any guide they will have had a good sunny day for the various excursions.

Safe journey home to everyone and we look forward to seeing you all again.


Dorothy Dunnett interview video

Some of you will know that there is a video of an interview that Dorothy gave to Jenny Brown for Scottish Television’s Off the Page series, which has been available on Youtube for a while. However it wasn’t set to permit embedding. While checking something on the video I noticed that this restriction has now been lifted so here it is where more fans will find it. When I rebuild the main site I’ll move it there but for now this will be its address.

Marthe – Tragic Pawn or a Lost Soul Redeemed

The following article is basically the text of a talk I gave at the April 2012 Dorothy Dunnett Society Weekend. It has been some time in preparation – the original version was written about four years earlier but various reasons prevented it from being published or presented at the time and I saved it until now as I always felt it would be better given as a talk first.

Before the talk I asked the attendees to give me their ideas for a single word to describe Marthe. Rather as I expected the majority were not positive. I hope I gave them enough reason to reconsider their positions on a character I’ve always had a lot of sympathy for, and I hope the same will apply to the readers here, and that there will be some discussion on the points I raise, whether here or on the various discussion groups.  I enjoyed researching it and, as with the talk I gave on Dorothy in the Carnegie Library in Dunfermline, I enjoyed being able to speak aloud her characters’ words and phrases and her delightful descriptions, and I hope I did them justice.

Introduction and review of the audience suggestions

Good morning everyone. The full title of this talk is Marthe – Tragic Pawn or a Lost Soul Redeemed, and I hope it’ll encourage you to think about this crucial character in the Lymond Chronicles and perhaps reassess your impressions if you agree with my ideas.

I asked you all beforehand to give me a single word describing Marthe – let’s have a look at some of them.

Chippy (3)
Tragic (3)
Bitch (2)
Complicated (2)
Bitter/embittered (2)
Ruthless, Ill-fated, Indecipherable, Tiresome, Untrustworthy, Transgressive, Conflicting, Calculating, Intriguing, Closed, Alter-ego, Obsessive, Misunderstood, Disappointed, Needle, and finally Lucky. (I believe the last one was a reference to her having married Jerott!)

Clearly I have my work cut out here!

I have a single word which Dorothy used to describe Marthe, and I believe it gives us a unique insight into her actions and her decisions before the end of Checkmate.

What that word is I’ll come back to later but it was enough to encourage me to search for more textual evidence for my gut feelings about the ideas behind Marthe and the ultimate impression that she is meant to make on us.

Marthe is probably one of the most confusing and enigmatic characters in the Lymond Chronicles. From reading letters and internet posts (and the suggestions you’ve just given me) I would say that the majority of readers either dislike her or are at best ambivalent about her. Some may even regard her as a mere plot device.

However I always had an instinctive liking for Marthe – after all she’s blond and gorgeous and we men need a romantic fantasy object as well! Why should you girls have all the fun with sexy characters like Lymond and Jerott?

I’ve come to rely on my instincts because, right from the beginning, I felt lucky, felt an affinity with Dorothy’s writing, felt I was on the same wavelength, understood at least part of the psychology of the way she wrote, the values she discussed and the connections she made. Of course that may be simple self-delusion – we all like to think we understand more than we do when faced with genius! But maybe that apparent affinity was why I didn’t have the problems that some had with the first 100 pages of Game of Kings, though of course being Scottish did help!

To me there was never any danger of Lymond not turning out to be a hero – Will Scott’s early view felt very much that of a young man being shocked and manipulated by someone who had seen far more of life than he had, while by the time of the encounter with Christian Stewart and his recovery from amnesia there was no doubt in my mind that Lymond was on the side of the angels.

But I digress; like Dorothy herself I get carried away when talking about Lymond, we were talking about Marthe.

Marthe’s character

So let’s take a look at her character as it’s presented to us.

She’s had a pretty loveless upbringing with no father or mother to guide and protect her, possibly been abused by Gaultier – there is a suspicion that he is worse than just a miserly old moan, and she seems to be merely a pawn in a far larger plot being conducted by her grandmother the Dame de Doubtance. Imagine having her as a grandmother!

When we meet Marthe in Pawn in Frankincense she casts a rather aloof and somewhat bitter figure:

  • bitter about being uncared for
  • at being cut off from the sort of advantages that Lymond (and even more, Richard) has as a member of a noble family
  • about being a powerless woman in a man’s world

We find that she has resorted to looking for love with Guzel – surely a desperate choice of partner whatever you think of Kiaya Khatun. She’s worldly wise and for a long time despises Jerott for being naive and idealistic, and for lacking in political and personal insight.

She’s embraced a Muslim religion that seems to offer her a status that Christianity denies her. We see her being cold and cynical, see her leading poor Jerott into situations he isn’t remotely emotionally equipped to handle. Later, in Checkmate, we even see her stabbing Danny after rejecting Sybilla’s attempts at reconciliation.

Doesn’t sound much of a character reference does it?

And yet there is much there to like. She is certainly highly intelligent and learned, skilled in the antiques trade which requires a broad understanding of many subjects, and of course, as the virtual twin of Francis, she’s beautiful. Ok we know from Gabriel that beauty isn’t always to be trusted – a lesson that will be reinforced with Simon in House of Niccolo – but there is never the feeling with Marthe that it’s being used as a disguise; she’s a very upfront character.

Let’s look at a few descriptions of her:

The first time Philippa sets eyes on her:

‘The face of a Delia Robbia angel, set in gleaming hair, golden as Jupiter’s shower.’

Later when Lymond tries to stop her from sailing with him:

‘Looking into that angelic, fair face Philippa saw the authority she had missed before: the small lines round the mouth; the winged curve of spirit on either side of the fine planes of the nose: the faint, single line between the arched brows.’

There is a scene below decks with Philippa after the latter has been shown the galley and Marthe tells her that Lymond was once a galley slave. Marthe smiles, and from Philippa’s perspective she’s described as having an enchanting smile. Not beautiful, not confident, enchanting. Had a man been quoted using that description it might conceivably be interpreted in a negative way, but surely not from the point of view of Kate’s sensible daughter. Indeed it’s notable that these first three descriptions we have are all from Philippa’s point of view.

The next one is from Lymond’s viewpoint:

‘He did not need to turn to know how she looked. Mantled in the satin of her gilt unbound hair, with the wide severe brow, the white skin, the borrowed skirts and the pearls she had, unaccountably, produced, each one as big as a hazelnut, she was a vision to make all the arquebuses droop and the crossbowmen slacken and sweat.’

And this from Jerott’s eyes:

‘A woman high, cool,remote as a cloud forest, trailing mosses and bright birds and orchids; a woman with a body like moonlight seen through a pearl curtain.’

And even in the midst of an argument he thinks this:

‘And in spite of all that, he remained obsessed with her: with the long veiling lashes round the intense blue of her eyes; the high polished brow over which her hair fell, cream and ochre and lemon and chrome in the sun; and the colour of the sun on her cheekbones and the thin bridge of her nose. The slimness of her arms … the long, slender bones of her foot. Her voice; her wit; her laugh when she was entertained.’

Isn’t that a wonderful collection of descriptions, and no negative connotations such as we see with Gabriel or Simon.

Certainly she has issues of self worth and seems engaged in a battle with the world, particularly the male world, but another positive aspect of Marthe which we are shown is her ability to learn from her mistaken beliefs. When she becomes trapped in the seraglio and later complains to Philippa that no-one had come to rescue her, she is astonished when Philippa tells her that she would have risked her life in a rescue attempt; but she takes it on board. Here’s the passage:

‘Yes. For Kuzum,’ said Philippa. She hesitated, guessing. ‘People help one another. Wouldn’t… Mr Blyth perhaps do the equivalent for you?’

Marthe laughed, without amusement, deep in her long throat.

‘Mr Blyth put me here. Mr Crawford and I owe each other nothing. My uncle I hate and you I do not know. No one, as far as I see, has endeavoured to engineer my escape.’

‘I think . . . that was only because they didn’t know you were a prisoner,’ said Philippa. She was rather pale. She said, in a small voice, ‘I would do it for you.’

The colour left Marthe’s face too, in patches; then flooded in, deep rose over her brow and cheeks and slim neck. She stood up. ‘Because I look like my brother ?’ she said.

Philippa’s dark brows had met in a straight line; her brown eyes opaque with a new self-control fighting with a faint and horrified understanding. After a while she said simply, ‘No. Because I know what it is to need help.’

For a moment longer Marthe studied her; and Philippa rather bleakly wondered what amused rejoinder, what cutting remark she had called on herself. But Marthe in the end said merely, ‘Then when I need help, I shall have to call on you, shan’t I?’ in a voice whose coolness and impatience did not ring entirely true. There was a silence, and then Philippa said awkwardly, ‘I didn’t know. … Is Mr Crawford your brother?’

The blue eyes this time were both cool and amused. ‘If he knew, he might prefer you to put it differently,’ said Marthe. ‘I am his bastard sister. We have the same failings. Didn’t you guess?’

We know that she has a genuine appreciation for fine objects and for antiquity from her swim in the sea when she finds a marble figure of Cupid. We feel robbed of further insight into her character when Jerott spoils the moment. She appreciates and is knowledgeable about poetry, and crucially uses it to help Lymond through the worst of his cold turkey at Volos. And we discover her sense of humour and fun in the glorious episode at Mehedia where she plays the part of Donna Marie Mascarenhas in an echo of Lymond’s own impersonation of Don Luis from Game of Kings. Surely two of the most exuberantly uninhibited examples of Dorothy’s own sense of humour. There is that lovely moment of discovery when Lymond remarks that she enjoys this, and she replies simply “of course”. And there is this glorious piece of deadpan comedy:

‘My father,’ said Marthe. ‘unhappily, was not a fastidious man. I have several of Senor Maldonado’s brothers as well in the household. They also suffer from fits.’

‘Of the same kind?’ said the captain, gazing.

‘Approximately,’ said Marthe coolly. ‘They scream, struggle, and try to throw off all my clothes.’


I mentioned Volos a moment ago and it’s a very important section in my view – it gives us some remarkable insights. Curiously I don’t see it discussed very often – it seems that the fatal chess game absorbs so much of readers’ emotions that they almost forget about the last section of the book from the escape onwards.

At Volos Francis is at the lowest possible point and his survival is in severe doubt. In excruciating pain he throws Jerott out of his sick room and threatens to kill Marthe if she enters, and he attempts to blank out the pain by concentrating on poetry. Unexpectedly Marthe joins him and leads him through the poems and the pain. We see that it costs her but also that she learns from it, and that they connect. Here is the most telling passage:

‘. . . You see,’ said Marthe. ‘I am not here to mock. I have worn out my revenge. You have guided me into a world which has been closed to me all my life. You have shown me that what I hold by, you hold by and more. You have shown me strength I do not possess, and humanity I thought belonged only to women. You are a man, and you have explained all men to me. . . .’

The next day they talk again:

Staring down at his spent face on the pillow, Marthe’s expression was wry. ‘The wife who calls you Mr Crawford,’ she said. ‘The child you don’t even know.’ And as he didn’t answer, Marthe said suddenly,

‘How many souls on this earth call you Francis ? Three ? Or perhaps four ?’

For a moment he looked at her unsmiling; and for a moment she wished, angrily that she could recall the question. Then quite suddenly he smiled, and held out his hand. ‘Five,’ he said. ‘Surely? Since last night.’

So at the end of Pawn in Frankincense it seems they are friends and that she has grown away from the bitter figure we were first presented with.

But then he goes to Russia, with Guzel. While she, marries Jerott.


We see nothing of Marthe in Ringed Castle and it’s 3 years before they meet again in Lyon. When we do she seems to have reverted to the bitterness and it’s clear the marriage is not going well. Jerott is drinking again and she hardly seems able to stop taunting him. Why is not entirely clear at first, although we have some clues.

Her thoughts when she watches Lymond entering Lyon:

Conscious of her own singular beauty she had wondered if he had lost his own looks, but this was not so. Indeed, he had come into them in an odd way; the pastel colours subtly enlivened by the snows of Muscovy; or what he had found there. The thought did not please her.

So it seems she resents that he has lived with Guzel, her former lover, but there is more to it than that and only one real clue as to what is wrong with her marriage. We hear it when Lymond talks to Jerott in Paris, and after discussing military tactics, asks why he married her.

‘I know what you feel about her. Why did you insist on marriage?’

Beneath Jerott’s drawn brows, his splendid dark eyes were stark with misery. ‘She thinks it was to compensate for her birth. I suppose it was, I loved her. I wanted to give her a position.’

‘She has a position,’ Lymond said. ‘It is not that of housekeeper, nor a mother, to you or your children. Marriage has weakened it: she is fighting not to lose it altogether.’

It hurt. ‘You mean,’ said Jerott, ‘she wants to be like Guzel? A courtesan selling her body round Europe for power?’

He had meant to wound. But instead Lymond said, smiling faint ‘No. Not like Guzel. Kiaya Khatun is above and beyond any male criticism, whereas Marthe is aware of shortcomings. She requires to taught, Jerott; not to be worshipped.’

Lymond you see, understands. Marthe has been put on a pedestal by Jerott when what she needs is to be nurtured and to further expand her mind to its full potential. We get more of an idea later when she surrounds herself with poets and musicians. She needs to grow and explore and Jerott’s love, for all that it is well-intentioned, is suffocation to her. We can imagine that the communication between them will easily break down and the more Jerott tries the more she will push him away with barbed comments until, unable to understand, he resorts to the wine flask.

We later hear Jerott’s mind watching Lymond and Philippa regaling his friends with the hilarious failed banquet performance and his despairing hope that Philippa isn’t falling for Lymond as he fell for Marthe.

The knowledge that one had his total friendship but never the key to the innermost door. …And there was an innermost door, which Marthe did not have, and had never had, although his hopes of that, and that alone, had been his reason for marrying her.

Yet Jerott is a biased and unreliable witness – I believe that Marthe has that inner door, but that Jerott doesn’t have the key.

With a perception that few others possess she realises that Lymond and Philippa are born for each other and tries to push them together at a time when everyone else wants to keep them apart. Her only failing being that from her tough, street-wise perspective she can’t see the emotional torture that each is suffering. It causes the cruel jibe about Guzel that Lymond uses in anguished self-defence in that same scene and it seems for a while to have revived her hatred.

We have the scene where Sybilla goes to visit her with Danny and reveals that she wanted to raise her. That scene is rife with many subcurrents and yet Marthe seems not entirely averse to Sybilla by the end. And she seems to act from good intentions. She goes back to Jerott, and she visits Philippa at Sevigny – although the result of that is the opposite of what she hopes for as Philippa decides to leave for England rather than overcoming her trauma and consummating her marriage.

After Sybilla revives Francis from the coma things change. He has promised to return to Scotland and when Marthe visits him – ‘How do you take leave, for all time, of a brother?’ – and asks for continued contact, he refuses because of what it would mean for Richard. That seems to trigger a renewed outbreak of animosity, but if we look closely it’s not towards him but to Richard and his family. In fact she seems to be angry as much on Lymond’s behalf as her own.

She retrieves the hitherto missing documents and when Danny tries to snatch them she stabs him. It’s only his mail shirt that saves his life.

With that stabbing scene at Blois we’re set up to believe that Marthe has travelled to England with the intention of revealing Sybilla’s secret to Richard. She says so herself.

But is all what it seems?

Danny clearly likes her despite his failed attempt to seize the papers, and we’ve been led to have some respect for his judgement and powers of observation. Nostradamus appears to be advising caution in his very carefully phrased reaction. Marthe herself seems to be more in shock than Danny at what she’s done.

The Word

Which brings me back to that word that you’ve doubtless been wondering about.

The first reading of books as complex as these is always a compromise between watching the plot, keeping track of the characters, and understanding the hidden meanings. We can’t apply our full attention to them all. We re-read, whether in full or delving into certain chapters, to fill in what we didn’t catch the first time, or the second, or the tenth!

Inevitably it blurs into a single picture of understanding, so there is a danger in looking back that you think you saw more than you really did that first time.

I’m glad that I documented at least some of my reactions at the time in the old newsletters because it reminds me of the feelings I had in a more reliable way than memory, warped by subsequent re-reads, can hope to do.

So I don’t think I could claim that I noticed what I regard as the key word relating to Marthe on that first read. However it may well have been on the second, or in one of my first few mini-readings of that emotionally devastating scene that is the climax of Checkmate, that this one word suddenly leapt out of the page at me. One which, in all the years of online discussion, I’ve never heard anyone remark on, but which to me speaks volumes.

Here’s the section it’s contained in. You all know it – it’s probably engraved on some of our hearts.

The blond rider is cresting the hill and Austin Grey has just stepped from his hiding place:

‘At point blank range, there was no possibility of missing. He aimed into the fair, weary, rancourless face, and then at the heart, and both balls found their mark and brought death in the end, not with the sweet ambiguity of an arrow but with the finality which frees the earth at once of body and soul, and all that was good or bad in either.’

Did you spot it?


Marthe, rancourless.

One of the dictionary definitions I looked up said:
“not possessing a long-lasting resentment or deep-seated ill-will”

Why would Dorothy use that word there? She doesn’t waste words – we’re all long familiar with the fact that every single one counts, and this was her at the very peak of her skill, writing the climax of a mighty 6-volume series that was rewriting the rules and standards of historical fiction. It can’t be there by accident.

Why “rancourless”?

It isn’t needed to convince us that this is Francis Crawford on the receiving end of the fatal shots. It wouldn’t fit his character anyway, whatever his faults he’s never been given to rancour so it would make no sense to mention here.

She’s already engaged us in a masterly juxtaposition of scene and perspective. We’ve been so much in Lymond’s head at this point, something that’s hardly ever been the case in the rest of the series, all through the capture by Margaret Lennox and his shamanistic preservation of life in the cold tower, and the ride back after his release; plus a little in Philippa’s mind, who thinks only of him. In a positively cinematic piece of scene cutting we’ve just been on the other side of that hill with him. On the edge of our seats and scarcely daring to breath as we hear, or more accurately feel, the raw tortured emotions of the two of them, we can think of no-one else. We need no convincing!

So why “rancourless”?

It has to be describing Marthe.

And it has to be a message, conveying in a single word a story Dorothy can’t show us any other way.

My interpretation is this:

Marthe’s had her crisis, been shocked to the core at what she almost did to Danny, and impressed by his loyalty, even while wounded, to Lymond, as well as his concern for her. She’s rethought her jealousy during the journey and detention in England, and seen the truth of Danny’s statement that what hurts the Crawford family hurts Lymond.

She was no longer planning to reveal the papers to Richard – she was going to give them to Francis!!

If I’m right then Dorothy has just done something few other writers could have imagined, let alone pulled off. She’s implied an entire character revelation and resolution in a single word!

If we’ve spotted this coup then perhaps we get some confirmation of it later. Sybilla thinks that maybe she was coming to give Lymond the papers or maybe reveal them to the family. Consider this in the context that Dorothy has taken the time to tell us back in France that they are originally addressed to Lymond, not to Richard, and that Marthe rewrapped them using Jerott’s seal. Surely if she was bent on revealing them to Richard she’d have readdressed them in case of accident?

What Marthe’s exact motives were is more difficult to say. We necessarily have little to go on and have to rely on instinct. Perhaps it was her only way of showing her brother that he could trust her, that she could after all maintain some contact with him without them hurting each other, though whether there could ever have been any wider contact with the family is open to doubt unless one gives Richard rather more credit for perceptiveness and discretion than we, and Lymond, have tended to. But then Richard, for all his failings, is a Crawford too, and despite some blind spots is certainly not unintelligent. Moreover he loves his brother and mother deeply enough to ignore things that might worry other men.

Marthe’s tragedy is that she dies at the one point in her life when she has come to accept who she is and perhaps allowed herself to be motivated by love instead of jealousy. Perhaps that inner door that Jerott sought had at last opened a little.

So to return to the question in the title of this talk.

Marthe is both – Tragic, though no longer a pawn; and a lost soul now Redeemed.

Perhaps the real tragic character of the series is Jerott, but that, is another story…