The Blanket of the Dark

The Blanket of the Dark is a 1931 historical novel by the Scottish author John Buchan. The novel is set in the early part of the reign of Henry VIII, and explores the possible consequences had the Tudors been overthrown by a rightful descendant of Edward III.[2]

The Blanket of the Dark
The Blanket of the Dark by John Buchan, first edition cover.jpg
AuthorJohn Buchan
PublisherHodder & Stoughton[1]
Publication date
Media typePrint


The action of the novel takes place in the country west of Oxford during the 1536 Pilgrimage of Grace, an uprising against Henry VIII. Peter Pentecost, a young monastic scholar, is informed by shadowy figures who are plotting to depose the king that he is the legitimate son of the deceased Duke of Buckingham and that, as the last of the Bohun line, he has a claim to the English throne.

Although his true identity must for now remain secret, Peter finds himself being prepared for his intended kingly role and being tutored in the noble pursuits of swordsmanship and archery. He meets a noblewoman, Sabine Beauforest.

To hide from the king’s men, Peter takes to the greenwood where he is aided by Solomon Darking and his vagabond comrades. They introduce him to the lore of the countryside, and reveal the existence of an entirely self-contained outlaw society, invisible to the agents of the state, with its own system of communication and intelligence gathering. He discovers that ‘under the blanket of the dark all men are alike and all are nameless'.

As the novel progresses, Peter realises he is having increasing doubts about the venture he is being asked to undertake, and the motives of those behind it: “They claimed to stand for the elder England and its rights, and the old Church, but at their heart they stood only for themselves.” After an encounter with the king himself, Peter asks himself whether there “might not there be a world of light under the blanket of the dark?”, and he decides that he does not wish to pursue a life of power. He disappears from official sight back into the greenwood with Sabine.

Critical receptionEdit

David Daniell in The Interpreter's House (1975) quotes Kipling who professed to be "rested and delighted" by the book and who called it a tour de force. Rose Macaulay said that the book was "so enchanting and beautiful that I often read it for my pleasure". Daniell himself notes that while the tone is relaxed, the control is tight, and "it is as if Buchan is drawing together all his skills under the influence of his response to the land and its people".[2]

Writing for the John Buchan Society website in 2001, Kenneth Hillier called The Blanket of the Dark “a thoroughly enjoyable book, because it not only expresses the deep love Buchan had for his adopted countryside but it conveys great empathy with the period in which it is set”.[3]

David Goldie noted in 2009 that "One of the animating ideas of The Blanket of the Dark is that English values are expressed more profoundly in the quiet wisdom of its folk than in the forceful actions of its rulers".[4]

In 2019, the historian Diarmaid MacCulloch called it a "wonderful young adult book", also describing it as "chilling" and "brilliant".[5]


  1. ^ a b c "British Library Item details". Retrieved 7 January 2018.
  2. ^ a b Daniell, David (1975). The Interpreter's House. Thomas Nelson and Sons Ltd. p. 185. ISBN 0 17 146051 0.
  3. ^ "John Buchan Society website". Retrieved 10 January 2017.
  4. ^ Goldie, David (2009). "Twin Loyalties: John Buchan's England". In Macdonald, Kate (ed.). Reassessing John Buchan: beyond the Third-Nine Steps. London: Pickering & Chatto. p. 34. ISBN 978-1851969982.
  5. ^ Preston, Alex (13 July 2019). "Diarmaid MacCulloch: 'I got very irritated with Henry VIII'". The Guardian. Retrieved 18 August 2019.

External linksEdit