A BOOK co-written by a descendant of Dracula author Bram Stoker sheds new light on the attempts to prevent Scotland’s union with England.

Along with Scot Mike Shepherd, Dacre Stoker has exposed the secret plotting at Slains Castle, the venue which is thought to be the inspiration for the famous novel.

Along with other intriguing stories about the Aberdeenshire castle, it tells the tale of Colonel Nathaniel Hooke, an Irish secret agent for the French, who was sent to Slains to find out if growing discontent in Scotland could be used to divert England from war with France.

It is a tale which holds warnings for independence supporters of today as delay, betrayal and division, both in the French and Scottish ranks, led to defeat being snatched from the jaws of victory.

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“The UK almost disappeared within nine months of it coming together in 1707,” said Shepherd. “It was that close and nearly happened.”

A geologist who wrote the Saltire Award-nominated book Oil Strike North Sea, Shepherd lives in Cruden Bay and has long been fascinated by Slains Castle – so much so that he researched Stoker’s links to the area, with the findings becoming the basis for another book.

In the process he made contact with Stoker’s great-grandnephew, who lives in the US. After meeting, the pair realised there was enough material for a book solely about the castle as it has been the scene for much international intrigue, despite its apparent remoteness.

For centuries the principal seat of the Earls of Errol, the Lords High Constable of Scotland, Slains Castle was, in fact, at the heart of most of the critical events of the country’s history, including a bold attempt to overthrow the Protestant ascendancy in the late 16th century.

The earls in the north-east of Scotland were Catholics and after the Reformation they organised an insurrection with the help of King Philip of Spain. However Spanish supplies of cannons meant for Slains were lost at sea in a shipwreck.

The castle then became the focus of plotting behind the attempt to restore the Stuart line to the throne at the time of the Acts of Union. Hooke was dispatched from France to Slains Castle in 1705 to meet the 13th Earl of Erroll, Charles Hay, who was known to be against any union with England.

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“Nothing less than the fate of Scotland is at stake in 1705 – that is, will the country stay independent, or will it join with England to become the United Kingdom?” the book asks. “The Scottish nation is thus lurching in the balance, and Colonel Hooke ended up provoking much of that lurching.”

Yet, as the authors point out using previously overlooked sources and eyewitness accounts, the rebellion that came in 1708 failed principally because the French fleet carrying James Edward Stuart and money, arms and troops, got lost twice on the way over. There was division too in the Scottish ranks, with the Duke of Hamilton delaying the chance to strike because he realised there was a possibility he could become king instead of James.

“He was a flawed character who probably sincerely believed when he started that he was doing his best for Scotland as the leader against the Union but then he got corrupted by the chance to be king,” said Shepherd. “Power corrupts absolutely and that was a perfect example of it.”

The authors are keen to point out that the book provides a narrative rather than a conventional history.

“The events we describe have been written by us as they were happening at the time, in the moment so to speak, and by doing so the text resembles a work of historical fiction,” they write. “Nevertheless, our book is not fiction: everything described by us actually happened and nothing is invented. It’s based on the memoirs, letters, and books of the people who witnessed it all – and we often quote the actual words of the main participants from these documents. The idea is to make the stories more immediate and vivid.”

THE book also recounts the visit by Dr Johnson and Samuel Boswell to the castle in 1773 and the story of Winston Churchill who sped to Slains in 1908 to try to patch up his relationship with Prime Minister Herbert Asquith after Churchill jilted Asquith’s daughter Violet.

“This is known about but I have fleshed it out with a lot of stuff I have discovered and it makes for a cracking story, with Churchill trying to keep his job and keep the PM and daughter on side,” said Shepherd.

“For a remote castle in the north of Scotland, Slains has seen much intrigue,” he added. “It is quite spectacular what happened there but nobody knows much about it.”

Slains Castle’s Secret History; Warlords, Winston Churchill & Dracula by Mike Shepherd and Dacre Stoker will be published in paperback tomorrow (September 20) by Wild Wolf Publishing (£12.99)