Review: The Castilians by V.E.H.Masters


1546 and Scotland is under attack from Henry VIII, determined to marry his son to the infant Mary, Queen of Scots. A few among the Scottish nobles, for both political and religious reasons, are eager for this alliance too. They kill Cardinal Beaton, who is Mary’s great protector, and take St Andrews Castle, expecting rescue any day from England.

Local lad Will is among them, fighting for the Protestant cause. His treasonous activities place his family in grave danger, forcing his sister Bethia into an unwelcome alliance. As the long siege unravels, Bethia and Will struggle over where their loyalties lie and the choices they each must make — whether to save their family, or stay true to their beliefs and follow their hearts

This debut novel closely follows the historical events of the siege of St Andrews Castle, and its dramatic re-taking.

My Review

Don’t let the title fool you! This is not about Spain or anything Spanish. Think of Castilians as in castle—St. Andrews Castle, more specifically, in Scotland. This is the lesser-known story of a radical group of Protestants who murder Cardinal David Beaton as a punishment for burning their preacher George Wishart at the stake. They take refuge in the fortress and resist capture for eighteen months, emboldened by the later enlistment of John Knox to their cause. One of the Castilians is a somewhat misguided but loyal adherent to the cause, Will, whose sister Bethia tries to talk him into abandoning the siege. His participating in the uprising threatens the safety and welfare of his merchant family. As a result, Bethia’s parents do their utmost to marry her off before they are ruined. Unfortunately, their choice of future husband is disastrous. But Bethia is a good girl knows she must obey. She sees the unmovable Will as her only hope;  if he can disassociate himself from the Castilians, maybe they can dodge the disgrace. She manages to find a way into the castle on more than one occasion, though her pleas fall on deaf ears:

Suddenly she grabs his arm. ‘Will, you must come home. If you do not, Father will make me wed Norman Wardlaw.’
‘You know, Fat Norman,’
‘Oh, him. Why?’
‘Because Father says our reputation will be as nothing once it is known you are among the Castilians, and we will be punished for it.’
‘That makes no sense. Why it’s more likely to be of advantage to have me as part of the garrison.‘ He knows this isn’t so, even as he speaks, for his fellows have alienated the townsfolk.
She shakes her head. ‘You cannot prevail. I have it on good authority, from one of his officers, that Arran’s now determined to end this siege quickly. Oh Will, please come home.’

It’s no use. The siege continues, and conditions within the castle are desperate. But the defenders hang on with dogged persistence as long as they can, even though the townspeople grow less and less sympathetic as they suffer depredations from both the Castilians themselves and the government. We know things are not going to end well—what siege does? The interest is in how long these Protestants can hold out, and how poor Bethia manages to keep her head above water, metaphorically. The story is very colorful and kept my interest throughout.


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