Book Review: “Women Of Scotland: A Journey Through History” by Helen Susan Swift

Howdy!

Recently I was scrolling through new free books on Amazon and I came across this little beauty. It is called Women Of Scotland: A Journey Through History by Helen Susan Swift. I am prone to love books directed towards women and their everyday lives, and it doesn’t matter on the time period, I just like to learn what they were up to; so when I read the description of this, I became even more curious to learn about them.

I actually wasn’t going to do this review, but I wanted a nice get way to talk about my reason to why I decided to read this book. I just figured I could kill two birds with one stone! So, let’s get started with my explanation and ultimately talk about why I enjoyed this, but still gave it three stars on Goodreads.


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A historical survey of Scotswomen from earliest times to the 21st century. This book looks the huge number of women who have been the driving force behind this small but dynamic nation from the dark ages to the present day. As well as warriors and scientists, fish wives, seawomen, the factory workers and authors are included.

taken from Goodreads.


For Christmas, my dad received the AncestryDNA kit. He’s always talked about doing it, but is really paranoid about these things. However, once he did it, it was like he was a kid again, all excited and giddy with every new notification. It was so adorable!

He has known about the Scottish and Welsh roots, but wasn’t really sure about the percentage. Once the results were ready, he found out that he a greater amount of both heritages but with the addition of Irish, British and Germanic, which we are still unsure about anyways, so if you know this means, please explain it to me so I can tell him too!

For me, I have always felt more Irish than Scottish and that was the big reason why I decided to get this book, because I thought maybe it would inspire me to accept this easier. In the beginning, it really helped and I was even saying to my mom, “these are my ancestries and I am descended from these strong women!” So, it became a great investment in both ways as my dad was discovering his family tree and I was learning more about the history of Scottish women.

*****

I feel like I should mention that I got this, a little bit before he received his results back. So, whether or not he was right about his family folklore (because we found out another tall tale was wrong!) I think I would have continued to read it. I say “I think” because there were some chapters that were incredibly boring…

Since this book was about women, the author really dug deep and found some extraordinary women and girls to discuss in each section. We start off learning about the Romans, Vikings invading early Britton. As it continues talking about the Celts and their ways, like how they revered the women from their beauty to rules of marriage, divorce, and ownership over lands.

One story in particular that I remember in a chapter was about Lady Devorgilla. The name differs but the way Helen used was “Devorgilla” so that’s how I’ll call her. I don’t really remember much, because of the amount of other’s stories I learned while reading, but she was the mother of a King of Scotland. She created a college located in Oxford (Balliol College), an Abbey called “Sweetheart Abbey”, and a notable bridge called Devorgilla Bridge.

One interesting fact that I just adored was that even though she was betrothed to her husband John Balliol from a young age, she clearly loved him dearly! After he passed away, she commissioned an Abbey to be made so she and the nuns could endlessly pray for her husband’s soul. She apparently had his heart embalmed and locked away in a casket so she had a piece of him every day and night. This is why the name of the Abbey, is “Sweetheart Abbey”.

There were a lot of individual stories included in the book. Since it literally goes in order of history, you have many tales of medieval royal women. She does talk about Mary, Queen of Scots, but tries not to dedicate too much time to her which I liked a lot because I hope to read a book dedicated to her only. However, there were also just ordinary women included too. Some who maybe made a name for themselves outside of Scotland.

As you come to the 19th and 20th Century chapters, you will learn about women who did not abide by the rules of the time. They traveled all around the world like the men of the time. One by the name of Helen Gloag was an regular young women wanting to explore new worlds but her boat was captured by pirates and was forced to change course to Morocco.

At the point, the sexes would be separated, while the men were killed the women on the ship were sold as slaves and she was brought to the ruler, Sultan Sidi Mohammid ibn Abdullah. He obviously liked her unique features and took her in and eventually married her, thus becoming an Empress of Morocco.

The chemistry between them must been mutual as they had two sons and she was able to write to her family back in Scotland about her new home. She was also able to persuade the Sultan to release any person captured by the pirates that came into their kingdom. When her husband died, she was removed of her place and title as one of the Sultan’s older sons had his younger half brothers killed and there’s a possibility that Helen lived the reminder of her life in exile as she disappears from history afterwards.

These women were wonderful to learn about, but I did give a three star rating on my Goodreads profile for a reason. It was because there were like four or five chapters in a row that discussed how women dealt with life as a peasant I guess, and I do feel awful about this. I really didn’t like the discussion about how women were treated during the times of war, although learning that some wives and entire families would flock among the camps of soldiers! Imagine bringing in a new baby to an actual war zone?! The other part was when we got into the lives of fisherwomen and working in the salt mines. It just wanted to drag on and on, but I am glad I continued though.

A part of me thinks this is a great book full of references a person could use if they are after a Women’s Studies degree. It has a lot of material that could be useful for feminists, as it talks about the Scottish suffragettes in the later chapters. It could also be a great motivational book, as it really helped influence me into thinking I am a strong woman myself, and since I am descended through many of these different women and their histories, I definitely felt influenced but loved as well.

Have you read “Women In Scotland” by Helen Susan Swift yet? If you have, what were your thoughts about it? Did you have any favorite stories too?

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2 thoughts on “Book Review: “Women Of Scotland: A Journey Through History” by Helen Susan Swift

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