JAMES Hepburn, 4th Earl of Bothwell, whose Borders stronghold was at Hermitage Castle, is one of the great tragic figures of Scottish history.
The life and ignominious death of the third husband of Mary Queen of Scots has long fascinated and consumed the award-winning French author Catherine Hermary-Vieille.
She has spent nearly four years painstakingly translating her own historical novel, Lord James, which was a best-seller in her native country, selling more than 30,000 copies.
Later this month, Mme Hermary-Vieille will make a belated visit from her home in the US to the Borders to talk about her work at the first literary lunch organised by bookshop Masons of Melrose.
It will be in the town’s Burt’s Hotel on Wednesday, August 17, at 12.30pm and advance reservations are strongly advised.
Mme Hermary-Vieille had been due to launch her translation in Scotland at a special event at Abbotsford House last December, but heavy snow led to its cancellation.
Now, the writer is heading back to the UK for the Edinburgh Book Festival and her session at the city’s Peppers Theatre on Thursday, August 18, is already a sell-out.
“Mme Hermary-Vieille was very disappointed that last year’s launch fell victim to the weather and has agreed to come back to the Borders for what promises to be a memorable lunch,” said Clare Mason of Masons of Melrose.
Lord James is Mme Hermary-Vieille’s novelised account, told from Bothwell’s perspective, of his passionate love affair with Mary.
The author has supported calls from Bothwell’s descendants to have him repatriated from the church at Faarevejle in Denmark where his mummified remains can be viewed on request.
Despite being a Protestant, Bothwell became a close friend and supporter of Catholic Mary after she returned to take the Scottish crown in 1560.
He was implicated, along with many Scottish lords who went unpunished, in the murder of Darnley, Mary’s second husband.
Bothwell married Mary in 1567, but they were separated a month later when she was imprisoned by Elizabeth I. Bothwell fled to Bergen, now in Norway but then part of Denmark, before being arrested as a pirate.
While in prison, after a failed bid by the Danish king to return him for a ransom, he could only walk the length of his chains and wore a groove in the dungeon’s stone floor with his pacing. He died in 1578, aged 44.
Among those at the literary lunch in Melrose will be Sir Alistair Buchan-Hepburne, Bothwell’s direct descendant, who last year began a memorial fund to support the campaign for his ancestor’s remains to be repatriated and buried at his birthplace of Crichton Castle near Pathhead.
Mr Buchan-Hepburnesaid: “Mme Hermary’s magnificent book and the huge popularity it has achieved in continental Europe have raised the profile of our campaign.”
It is a cause supported by Newstead-based author Liz Taylor whose own book on Bothwell and Mary, Blood Royal, was published three years ago. “It is shameful that the remains of this brave and patriotic Scot are being treated as a ghoulish tourist attraction in Denmark,” she told us.
Mme Hermary-Vieille, who visited the church at Faarevejle while researching Lord James, describes Bothwell as “a proud Scot who was loyal to his Queen and fought for Scottish independence”.
“He tried to govern Scotland with Mary, but ended up on a false charge and was kept in atrocious conditions because he was a political pawn.”
Parisian-born Mme Hermary-Vieille is a literary giant in her native country, having published more than 20 books, winning the Prix Femina for The Grand Vizier of the Night and the Grand Prix RTL for The Infidel.
At Burt’s, she will read from Lord James and take part in a question-and-answer session. Tickets for the event, which includes a three-course lunch with a glass of wine, are £35. To reserve a place, contact Masons of Melrose on 01896 822196.