Nora Roberts - Published 1988

Prolific romance writer Nora Roberts owes her career to a blizzard and a bad case of cabin fever. In 1979, while snowed in with her two young sons at their home in Maryland, Roberts decided to try writing down one of the stories she had made up in her mind since childhood. She put pencil to paper and the result, according to Roberts, “was really bad, but I got hooked, and it changed my life.” She spent the next three years collecting rejection slips before her first manuscript was accepted. Born in Silver Spring, Maryland, on October 10, 1950, Roberts is the youngest of five children. Her Roman Catholic upbringing plays a role in her first published work, Irish Thoroughbred (1981), and in several later books, including a minor one in Rebellion. Her first marriage ended in divorce, leaving her with two sons, Daniel and Jason. She remarried in 1985 in true storybook romance style by falling in love with Bruce Wilder, the carpenter who came to make repairs and additions to her home in Keedysville, Maryland. Roberts’s novels revolve around family and relationships, which is not surprising considering her extended family. Many of her novels are interconnected along family relationships, including Rebellion, which is her first historical romance tying in with her contemporary romance series about the MacGregor family.


Serena MacGregor, a young Scottish woman, refuses to believe her brother Coll’s friend Brigham Langston, an Englishman, is loyal to the plan to place Bonnie Prince Charlie on the throne of Scotland and overthrow the hated English troops who have caused her family so much pain in the past. Brigham refuses to let Serena’s antagonistic attitude keep him from pursuing her and winning her love. As he reveals his heart to her, Serena learns to look beyond labels to see the true heart awaiting her if she only will let go of her fears.


Rebellion starts with a prologue set in 1735 at the family home in Glenroe Forest in Scotland, ten years before the main part of the novel. Serena MacGregor is a preadolescent bemoaning the fact that she did not get to go hunting with her father, Ian, and older brother, Coll. When she sees riders approaching, she starts to greet them, but a warning from her mother, Fiona, sends her and the other two children upstairs as English dragoons in red coats sweep into the yard. The dragoons, under the command of the sadistic Captain Standish, torch villagers’ homes and plan to make an example of the MacGregor men, whom the captain accuses of conspiring against the British ruler, Queen Caroline. With the men out hunting, he vents his anger on Fiona by raping her then throwing her naked into the room with her children. Serena’s hatred of the English grows in an instant from a child’s mimicry of her parents’ political views to an intense hatred rooted in her soul for all things English.

The plot skips forward to 1745 and the drawing room of Brigham Langston, the fourth earl of Ashburn, at his country estate. Brigham and his friend Coll MacGregor are quietly discussing the brewing rebellion in Scotland when he receives a note informing him Bonnie Prince Charlie is on his way to Scotland. The two men immediately make plans to leave for Coll’s home in the Glenroe Forest.

As they travel through the wild Highlands of Scotland, bandits from the Campbell clan attack and seriously wound Coll. Brigham receives a minor wound to his arm while routing the bandits and takes Coll the rest of the way home as quickly as possible so his wound can be treated. Serena is the first one to greet them, and she immediately accuses Brigham of causing Coll’s wound by refusing to fight. He treats her with extreme politeness, which enrages her until her mother’s sharp words make her mind her manners.

The majority of the relationship’s highs and lows take place in Glenroe Forest in the family home and surrounding woods against a backdrop of rising unrest and bitterness towards the English. Near the end of the novel, Brigham, Coll, and Ian leave to join the prince’s army as it moves to Edinburgh, Newcastle, Manchester, and Derby. By this time, the promised aid from France has failed to materialize, and the Highlanders realize their dream is dying. The British troops under the command of the duke of Cumberland follow the remaining supporters of Bonnie Prince Charlie to Inverness where they meet in battle for the last time in April 1746 on Drumossie Moor in the Battle of Culloden.

Brigham realizes the futility of fighting British troops who outnumber the Scots almost three to one, and decides to leave the battlefield taking a wounded Coll with him. The men make for home where they find the surviving MacGregors camped in a cave in the hills above the family home where the dragoons will have a hard time finding them. When a few dragoons do find them, the MacGregors fight back and realize they need to find another hiding place. Coll plans to stay in the Highlands with his wife and child, but Brigham and Serena, married in a hurried ceremony before Culloden, plan to travel to the Americas. Too many people know of Brigham’s part in the rebellion for him to return to England.

Overall, the setting takes second place to the romance and lacks the detail to fully draw a reader into the time period. This same story could have taken place in almost any setting and any time period—only surface details such as clothing, housing, and a few historically significant names tie it specifically to Scotland and the Third Jacobite Rebellion.


The heroine, Serena MacGregor, is a redheaded, hot-tempered shrew who is at the same time a stereotypical redhead and a character based on the freedoms of more modern women. Stuck in a rut of hating the English for most of the book, she lacks the depth of Brigham’s character. Only at the end does Serena start to blossom from child to woman.

Brigham Langston, fourth earl of Ashburn, is a strong character who steadily develops over the course of the book. His initial portrayal as an English dandy, supported by his immaculate clothing and lace cuffs, is offset by the quiet strength of his convictions and his sword arm. He looks past the labels that trip up Serena, sees the woman who will haunt his dreams for the rest of his life, and goes after her. He is constantly in forward motion waiting for Serena to get out her rut.

Serena’s oldest brother Coll fills the role of stolid sidekick to Brigham’s more flamboyant personality. He still teases Serena and calls her “pest,” but he has a healthy respect for her temper. When Serena’s friend Maggie MacDonald pays a visit, Coll prepares to tolerate her presence, but she has grown into a woman since he last saw her, and he falls in love at first sight. The exquisitely beautiful Maggie resembles a porcelain doll and is a real lady, as opposed to Serena’s tomboy image. Serena and Brigham’s romance pales in comparison to Coll’s and Maggie’s, which is more entertaining.

Love is perhaps the strongest theme in Rebellion because it motivates the characters. Love of a country and an ideal sets events in motion leading to the final battle at Culloden. Serena and Brigham share the passionate side of love as they battle to establish their relationship. Coll and Maggie share a quieter, but no less intense, new love that is accepted without question. Ian and Fiona share a love tempered by time and trial, as they have raised a family together and dealt with the aftermath of her rape. The MacGregors also share the love of parent for child and sibling for sibling.

Loss is also present as Brigham and Coll physically lose the battle for Scotland and mentally say goodbye to their dreams. Ian dies in battle for his beliefs. Fiona loses a piece of herself after being raped by Captain Standish, and she loses her heart when Ian dies. Serena loses the certainty of childhood when she sees her mother broken after the rape. In the end, Brigham and Serena lose even Scotland itself as they head for a new world and a new beginning.


Rebellion is an apt title that catches the rebellious nature of the main characters and the state of Scotland during the course of the novel. The viewpoint shifts numerous times so the reader sees parts of the story through almost every major character’s eyes at some time, even if only briefly. Serena and Brigham are the primary focuses for the point of view, though, so the transitions are not confusing.

Roberts uses relatively few colloquialisms to add authenticity to the characters. After Serena calls Brigham an “English pig” during their first meeting, everyone tends to speak casually, more like modern Americans.


The political background of the time is turbulent, with the majority of the fighting and political upheaval taking place on Scottish soil. The Jacobite Rebellion of 1745 is the third such uprising as the Stuarts attempt to regain the throne of Scotland. The last time a Stuart held the throne was during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I of England (1558 to 1603) when Mary, Queen of Scots, angered her cousin Elizabeth with her claims to the throne and was beheaded. Unfortunately for Bonnie Prince Charlie, his ties to the French government are not strong enough for them to risk a war with the British Empire, at this time, still one of the strongest political and military forces in the world. Roberts captures the political issues swirling around Serena and Brigham in an evenhanded manner.

In the prologue, Roberts obliquely leads the reader to infer that Fiona MacGregor was raped by Captain Standish. She does not describe the physical act of the rape, mentioning instead Standish’s anger at not finding the men at home to punish and his anger at Fiona for not fearing him. The scene then skips to dragoons throwing Fiona’s naked and battered body into the room where her children are held. Later in the novel, Brigham is enraged to learn of the attack even though it took place ten years before, and he gets even with Standish by maneuvering him into a duel so he can kill him. Roberts makes the impact of the rape stronger by not discussing and dissecting it at length. Rape is a silent crime, and victims of rape tend to hide their physical and mental scars because they believe they somehow invited the attack. Roberts uses Standish to show rape is a crime against women.

The trend in adult romance novels since the 1970s is for the characters to indulge in premarital sex with the understanding that marriage will be the end result of the story. This sexual freedom is a reflection of changing social mores, making the discussion of premarital sex more open in society if not in the family home. However, premarital sex is not a new discovery, and Roberts’s depiction of Serena and Brigham making love is not surprising. According to traditions of the 1700s, the man would be expected to marry the woman if she was a virgin. A woman’s virginity was often her only dowry, and if the man refused to marry her, she would be shamed and considered wanton.


1. How does Serena MacGregor act differently from the average upper-class lady of her time, as portrayed by her friend Maggie MacDonald? Does she fit in with her time or is she a more modern woman?

2. How do Brigham Langston’s background and appearance help him act as a spy for the growing rebellion in Scotland?

3. Was Brigham a coward for leaving the battle at Culloden when he knew it was hopeless? Or was he following the adage, “He who fights and runs away, lives to fight another day”?

4. Serena MacGregor was not allowed to fight at Culloden. Do you believe women should be allowed to fight in combat? Why or why not?

5. How does the rape of Fiona MacGregor affect Serena? Brigham? The rest of her family?

6. Even though Fiona MacGregor’s rape is only hinted at in the prologue, rape is a potential consequence of war. Did Captain Standish receive a just punishment for the acts he committed? How else could Brigham have handled the matter?

7. Did Ian MacGregor’s death make the battle at Culloden seem more real and personal after having read about his character throughout the novel? Why or why not? Would it have been realistic for everyone in the MacGregor family to survive?

8. Malcolm MacGregor is too young to fight at Culloden, yet he is left as the “man in charge” of his family when the others leave for war. Should a teenager, male or female, be responsible for an entire family’s welfare? Why or why not?


1. How realistic is the description of life in Scotland in 1745? For the upper classes? For the lower classes?

2. What is the role of the clans in Scottish history? What drove some clans to fight for England in 1745 while others followed Bonnie Prince Charles?

3. Who was Bonnie Prince Charles? Why would the clans follow him into battle? When did the other Jacobite rebellions take place, and what were their outcomes?

4. Serena MacGregor was not allowed to fight at Culloden. Do you believe women should be allowed to fight in combat? Why or why not?

5. Rape is often a consequence of war. How has rape been treated in the conflicts of recent years? Has anyone been punished for their actions?

6. Describe how warfare has changed since the 1700s. When did gunpowder, pistols, rifles, and cannons replace swords, shields, and knives?

7. Was Culloden and the fight to restore Prince Charles to the throne the only time Scotland rebelled against British rule? Who were some other famous Scottish leaders?

8. Queen Caroline sat on the throne in England. What was her policy towards Scotland and its people? Was she a strong ruler or a weak one?

9. Standards of beauty change with time. Is Serena MacGregor an example of the “standard of beauty” in 1745, or does she fit a more modern standard? How has beauty and fashion changed for women through the centuries?

10. The British Empire was so vast at one time that the sun supposedly never set on it. What other countries did Britain control in the 1700s and 1800s? Did any rebel like the Scots did?


Rebellion offers readers a glimpse into the history of the modern family depicted in Roberts’s MacGregor saga. The original five stories from the mid-1980s have been repackaged: The MacGregors: Serena and Caine contains Playing the Odds and Tempting Fate; The MacGregors: Alan and Grant contains All the Possibilities and One Man’s Art; The MacGregors: Daniel and Ian contains For Now, Forever and In from the Cold, a historical novella. Other titles in the series are The MacGregor Brides, The Winning Hand, The MacGregor Grooms, and The Perfect Neighbor.

Older readers interested in the Scottish setting may want to tackle Diana Gabaldon’s “Outlander” series, the story of a woman who time travels back to an earlier Scotland to find the man of her dreams. Younger readers may want to investigate the titles of Ann Rinaldi, whose historical fiction covers a wide variety of time periods and settings.

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