Dorothy Dunnett OBE

(née Halliday)
(25 August 1923 – 9 November 2001)

Dorothy Dunnett will feature in the March of Women on 7th March 2015, a procession of women from Glasgow and beyond spilling out of Glasgow Women’s Library onto the streets of Bridgeton to celebrate the achievements of women past and present.

Dorothy Dunnett was a Scottish historical novelist. She is best known for her six-part series about Francis Crawford of Lymond, The Lymond Chronicles, which she followed with the eight-part prequel The House of Niccolò. She also wrote a novel about the historical Macbeth called King Hereafter (1982), and a series of mystery novels centred on Johnson Johnson, a portrait painter/spy.

Dunnett was educated at James Gillespie's High School for Girls in Edinburgh. She started her career as a press officer in the civil service, where she met her husband.

A leading light in the Scottish arts world and a renaissance woman, she was a professional portrait painter and exhibited at the Royal Scottish Academy on many occasions. She had portraits commissioned by a number of prominent public figures in Scotland. She had a keen interest in opera, was a trustee of the National Library of Scotland, a board member of the Edinburgh International Book Festival, a trustee of the Scottish National War Memorial, and a non-executive director of Scottish Television. In 1992 she was awarded an OBE for her services to literature. Writing in The Times Literary Supplement, Alexander Fiske-Harrison reviewed her final novel in 2000, Gemini, and through that her entire oeuvre of historical fiction: "Although Dunnett’s writing style is not the neutral prose of genre fiction and it can be opaque and hard to read, especially in the early works, at times, this works with the almost melodramatic content to produce a powerful, operatic mixture... It is neither as a literary novelist nor as a historian, but as a writer of historical fiction that Dorothy Dunnett deserves recognition... The publication of Gemini completes an ambitious literary circle."

In 2001 she founded the Dorothy Dunnett Society to promote interest in the historical periods about which she wrote and communication between her readers. Dorothy Dunnett's archive was left to the National Library of Scotland and articles from it appear in Whispering Gallery, the magazine of the Dorothy Dunnett Society.

Dorothy Dunnett was married in 1946 to Sir Alastair Dunnett, editor of The Scotsman newspaper, and appears in his autobiography, Among Friends, 1984. By virtue of his knighthood in 1995, she became Lady Dunnett. She died in Edinburgh, and was survived by her sons Ninian and Mungo Dunnett.

The manuscript for the first book in the Lymond Chronicles, The Game of Kings, was rejected by five British publishers before being published by US publisher Putnam in 1961. It was written in response to her husband's suggestion that she write something herself, when she complained of having run out of reading material.

The Lymond Chronicles is a series of six novels, set in mid-sixteenth-century Europe and the Mediterranean, which follows the life and career of a Scottish nobleman, Francis Crawford of Lymond, from 1547 through 1558. The series is a suspenseful tale of adventure and romance, filled with action, intense drama, poetry, culture and high comedy. Meticulously researched, the series takes place in a wide variety of locations, including France, the Ottoman Empire, Malta, England, Scotland and Russia. In addition to a compelling cast of original characters, the novels feature many historical figures, often in important roles.

The volumes are as follows:

  1. The Game of Kings (1961)
  2. Queen's Play (1964)
  3. The Disorderly Knights (1966)
  4. Pawn in Frankincense (1969)
  5. The Ringed Castle (1971)
  6. Checkmate (1975)

The six volumes of the Lymond Chronicles, set in the 16th century, are part of what Dunnett viewed as a larger fourteen-volume work, which includes the eight novels of The House of Niccolò series, set in the 15th century. The House of Niccolò, which was written after the Lymond Chronicles, tells the tale of Lymond's ancestors in the previous century and includes allusions to events in the Lymond Chronicles. Dunnett recommended that readers begin with the Lymond Chronicles and then read The House of Niccolò.

To make your own nomination download the nomination form here