Nigel Tranter was born in Scotland and educated in Edinburgh. His childhood interests included history and architecture, but his first job was as an accountant for his uncle's insurance company. In 1933, he married Jean Campbell Grieve, and his first book was published a year later: The Fortalices and Early Mansions of Southern Scotland, which he illustrated himself. Tranter then turned to fiction and became a full-time writer by 1936.
During World War II he served in the Royal Artillery, but still found time to write five books. After the war, he returned to writing, producing childrens' books, romantic novels, and Westerns under the pen-name Nye Tredgold. Tranter is most famous for his historical novels, particularly the Robert the Bruce trilogy, written between 1969 and 1971. Later novels featured many more Scottish figures, including King James II, James V, Macbeth, and King David I.
He was an active public speaker, particularly on historical and political subjects, and was a firm Scottish Nationalist.
In all, he wrote over 130 books; his final novel, Hope Endures, was published posthumously in 2004.