Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott summary



Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott summary


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Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott summary


 Plot introduction

Ivanhoe is the story of one of the remaining Saxon noble families at a time when the English nobility was overwhelmingly Norman. It follows the Saxon protagonist, Wilfred of Ivanhoe, who is out of favour with his father for his allegiance to the Norman king Richard I of England. The story is set in 1194, after the end of the Third Crusade, when many of the Crusaders were still returning to Europe. King Richard, who had been captured by the Duke of Saxony, on his way back, was still supposed to be in the arms of his captors. The legendary Robin Hood, initially under the name of Locksley, is also a character in the story, as are his 'merry men,' including Friar Tuck and, less so, Alan-a-Dale. (Little John is merely mentioned.) The character that Scott gave to Robin Hood in Ivanhoe helped shape the modern notion of this figure as a cheery noble outlaw.


Other major characters include Ivanhoe's intractable Saxon father Cedric, a descendant of the Saxon King Harold Godwinson; various Knights Templar and churchmen; the loyal serfs Gurth the swineherd and the jester Wamba, whose observations punctuate much of the action; and the Jewish moneylender, Isaac of York, equally passionate of money and his daughter, Rebecca. The book was written and published during a period of increasing struggle for emancipation of the Jews in England, and there are frequent references to injustice against them.


Plot summary

Sir Wilfred of Ivanhoe is disinherited by his father Cedric of Rotherwood, for supporting the Norman King Richard and for falling in love with the Lady Rowena, Cedric's ward and a descendant of the Saxon Kings of England. Cedric had planned to marry her to the powerful Lord Aethelstane, pretender to the Saxon Crown of England, thus cementing a Saxon political alliance between two rivals for the same claim. Ivanhoe accompanies King Richard I to the Crusades, where he is stated to have played a notable role in the Siege of Acre.


The book opens with a scene of Norman knights and prelates seeking the hospitality of Cedric the Saxon, of Rotherwood. They are guided thither by a Palmer, fresh returned from the Holy Land. The same night, seeking refuge from the inclement weather and bandits, the Jew Isaac of York arrives at Rotherwood. Subsequent to the night's meal, characterised in keeping with the times by a heated exchange of words between the Saxon hosts and their Norman guests, the Palmer observes one of the Normans, the Templar Brian de Bois-Guilbert issue orders to his Saracen soldiers to follow Isaac of York after he leaves Rotherwood in the morning and relieve him of his possessions a safe distance from the castle.


The Palmer then warns the Jewish money-lender of his peril and assists his escape from Rotherwood, at the crack of dawn. When he tries to get the swineherd Gurth to open the gates, he refuses to do so until the Palmer whispers a few words in his ear, which turn Gurth as helpful as he was recalcitrant earlier. This is but one of the many mysterious incidents that occur throughout the tale.


Isaac of York offers to repay his debt to the Palmer by offering him a suit of armour and a destrier, to participate in the tournament of Ashby whither he was bound. His offer is made on the surmise that the Palmer was in reality a knight, having observed his knight's chain and spurs (a fact that he mentions to the Palmer). Though the Palmer is taken by surprise, he acquiesces to the offer, after the admonition that both armour and horse would be forfeit if he lost in combat.


The story then moves to the scene of the famed tournament of Ashby-de-la-Zouche, which was presided over by Prince John Lackland of England. Besides the prince, the other characters in attendance are Cedric, Athelstane, the Lady Rowena, Isaac of York, his daughter Rebecca, Robin of Locksley and his men, Prince John's advisor Waldemar Fitzurse and numerous Norman knights.


In the first day of the tournament, a bout of individual jousting, a mysterious masked knight identifying himself only as "Desdichado", supposedly Spanish for the "Disinherited One" (though actually meaning "Unfortunate"), makes his appearance and manages to defeat some of the best Norman lances including the Templar Sir Brian de Bois-Guilbert, Maurice de Bracy, a leader of a group of 'Free Companions' or mercenary knights, and the baron Reginald Front-de-Boeuf. The masked knight declines to reveal himself despite Prince John's request, but is nevertheless declared the champion of the day and, as his due, is permitted to choose the Queen of the Tournament, which honour he bestows upon the Lady Rowena.


On the second day, which is a melée, Desdichado, as champion of the first day, is chosen to be leader of one party. Most of the leading knights of the realm, however, flock to the opposite standard under which fight Desdichado's vanquished opponents of the previous day. The Desdichado's side is soon hard pressed and he himself unfairly beset by multiple foes simultaneously, when a knight who had till then taken no part in the battle, thus earning the sobriquet Le Noir Faineant or the Black Sluggard, rides to the Desdichado's rescue. The rescuing knight, having evened the odds by his action, then slips away. Though the Desdichado was instrumental in wringing victory, Prince John being displeased with his behaviour of the previous day, wishes to bestow his accolades on the Black Knight who had ridden to the rescue. Since this latter is nowhere to be found, he is forced to declare the Desdichado the champion. At this point, being forced to unmask himself to receive his coronet, the Desdichado is revealed to be Wilfred of Ivanhoe himself, returned from the Crusades. This causes much consternation to Prince John and his coterie who now fear the imminent return of King Richard.


Being severely wounded in the competition and, since Cedric refuses to have aught to do with him, he is taken into the care of Rebecca, the beautiful daughter of Isaac of York, a skilled healer. She convinces her father to take him with them to York, where he may be best treated. There follows a splendid account of a feat of archery by Locksley, or Robin Hood at the conclusion of the tournament.


In the meanwhile, Maurice de Bracy finds himself infatuated with the Lady Rowena and, with his companions-in-arms, plans to abduct her. In the forests between Ashby and York, the Lady Rowena, her guardian Cedric and the Saxon thane Aethelstane encounter Isaac of York, Rebecca and the wounded Ivanhoe, who were abandoned by their servants for fear of bandits. The Lady Rowena, in response to the supplication of Isaac and Rebecca, urges Cedric to take them under his protection till York. Cedric acquiesces to it, being unaware that the wounded man is Ivanhoe. En route, they are captured by Maurice de Bracy and his companions and taken to Torquilstone, the castle of Reginald Front-de-Boeuf. The swineherd and serf, Gurth, who had run away from Rotherwood to serve Ivanhoe as squire at the tournament, and who was recaptured by Cedric when Ivanhoe was identified, manages to escape.



Le Noir Faineant in the Hermit's Cell by J. Cooper, Sr. From an 1886 edition of Walter Scott's worksThe Black Knight, having taken refuge for the night in the hut of a local friar, the Holy Clerk of Copmanhurst, volunteers his assistance on learning about the predicament of the captives from Robin of Locksley who comes to rouse the friar for an attempt to free them. They then set about besieging the Castle of Torquilstone with Robin Hood's own men, including the friar, and the Saxon yeomen they manage to raise, who are angered by the oppression of Reginald Front-de-Boeuf and his neighbour, Philip de Malvoisin.


At Torquilstone, Maurice de Bracy presses his suit with the Lady Rowena, while his love goes unrequited. In the meantime, Brian de Bois-Guilbert, who had accompanied de Bracy on the raid, takes Rebecca for his captive, and tries to force his attentions upon her, which are rebuffed. Front-de-Boeuf, in the meantime, tries to wring a hefty ransom, by torture, from Isaac of York. Isaac refuses to pay a farthing unless his daughter is freed from her Templar captor.


When the besiegers deliver a note to yield up the captives, their Norman captors retort with a message for a priest to administer the Final Sacrament to the captives. It is then that Wamba manages to slip in disguised as a priest and take the place of Cedric, who thus escapes, bringing important information of the strength of the garrison and its layout.


Then follows an account of the storming of the castle. Front-de-Boeuf is killed while de Bracy surrenders to the Black Knight, who identifies himself as Richard of England. Showing mercy, the Black Knight releases de Bracy. Brian de Bois-Guilbert manages to escape with Rebecca and Isaac is released from his underground dungeon by the Clerk of Copmanhurst. The Lady Rowena is saved by Cedric, while the crippled Ivanhoe is plucked from the flames of the castle by the Black Knight. In the fighting, Aethelstane is grievously wounded while attempting to rescue Rebecca, whom he mistakes for Rowena.


Subsequently, in the woodlands, Robin Hood plays the host to the Black Knight. Word is also conveyed by De Bracy to Prince John of the King's return and the fall of Torquilstone.


In the meantime, Bois-Guilbert rushes with his captive to the nearest Templar Preceptory, which is under his friend Albert de Malvoisin, expecting to be able to flee the country. However, Lucas de Beaumanoir, the Grand-Master of the Templars is unexpectedly present there. He takes umbrage at de Bois-Guilbert's sinful passion, which is in violation of his Templar vows and decides to subject Rebecca to a trial for witchcraft, for having cast a spell on so devoted a Templar brother as Bois-Guilbert. She is found guilty through a flawed trial and pleads for a trial by combat. De Bois-Guilbert, who had hoped to fight as her champion incognito, is devastated by the Grand-Master's ordering him to fight against her champion. Rebecca then proceeds to write to her father to procure a champion for her.


Meanwhile Cedric organises Aethelstane's funeral at Kyningestun, in the midst of which the Black Knight, having been invited, arrives with a companion. Cedric, who had not been present at Robin Hood's carousal, is ill-disposed towards the Black Knight on learning his true identity. But King Richard calms Cedric and reconciles him with his son, convincing him to agree to the marriage of Ivanhoe and Rowena. Shortly afterwards, Aethelstane emerges - not dead, but having been laid in his coffin alive by avaricious monks, desirous of the funeral money. Over Cedric's renewed protests, Aethelstane pledges his homage to the Norman King Richard and urges Cedric to marry the Lady Rowena to Ivanhoe. Cedric yields, not, as it seems, unwillingly.


Soon after this reconciliation, Ivanhoe receives a message from Isaac of York beseeching him to fight on Rebecca's behalf. Upon arriving at the scene of the witch-burning Ivanhoe forces de Bois-Guilbert from his saddle, but does not kill him - the Templar dies "a victim to the violence of his own contending passions," which is pronounced by the Grand Master as the judgment of God and proof of Rebecca's innocence. King Richard, who had quit the funeral feast soon after Ivanhoe's departure, then arrives at the Templar Preceptory, banishes the Templars from the Preceptory and declares that the Malvoisins' lives are forfeit for having aided in the plots against him.


Fearing further persecution, Rebecca and her father leave England for Granada, prior to which she comes to bid Rowena a fond farewell. Ivanhoe and Rowena marry and live a long and happy life together, though the final paragraphs of the book note that Ivanhoe's long service was cut short when King Richard met a premature death in battle.


Allusions to real history and geography

The location of the novel is centred upon South Yorkshire and North Nottinghamshire in England. Castles mentioned within the story include Ashby de la Zouch where the opening tournament is held (now a ruin in the care of English Heritage), York (though the mention of Clifford's Tower, likewise an English Heritage property, and still standing, is anachronistic, it not having been called that until later after various rebuilds) and 'Coningsburgh', which is based upon Conisbrough Castle near Doncaster (also English Heritage and a popular tourist attraction). Reference is made within the story, too, to York Minster, where the climactic wedding takes place, and to the Bishop of Sheffield, although the Diocese of Sheffield was not founded until 1914. These references within the story contribute to the notion that Robin Hood lived or travelled in and around this area.


The ancient town of Conisbrough has become so dedicated to the story of Ivanhoe that many of the streets, schools and public buildings are named after either characters from the book or the 12th-century castle.


The Historical Novel

Scott is regardee as the “founder” of a new literary form, the historical novel which is a combination of fictional and historical events.

The reasons why the historical novel appeared at the beginning of the 19th century have been widely discussed by critics and some of them consider the Napoleonic Wars the most important cause as these wars, for the first time, brought together men from different nations, awakened national feelings and the search for a national identity even among peoples, like the Italians and the Germans, who were still divided into several states.

Scott lived in a period during which the decline of Scotland had come to an end. He saw the past as inevitably leading to the present, which was not superior to the past; the writer’s aim was not to exploit the remoteness of the past, but to show its closeness to the present. Therefore he expressed his deep regret for the heroic times of scottish history, - the jacobite rebellions – but rationally he believed that only active collaboration with England could help his country.




Most of Scott’s novel follow  a pattern which has been called the “journey”:a traveller, in this case Ivanhoe, moves from a safe situation inside an ethnic group, comes into contact with another ethnic group and shares their life for a time. In the end he will return to where he came from with a different experience of life which will enable him to mediate between two rival groups.


Scott adopted the third-person omniscient narrator exploiting the techniques of flashbacks and time shifts to follow the adventures connected with different sets of characters.

He used a great deal of description of settings and characters, introducing his personal comments about them.  He also pretended to have documents proving  the truthfulness of  his narrative and giving authority to his words.

Scott’s interest in the past is confirmed by his stylistic devices: references to the Scottish language and a simple and immediate prose, proper to old legends and romances.


Influence on Robin Hood legend

The modern vision of Robin Hood as a cheerful, patriotic rebel owes much to Ivanhoe. "Locksley", although first mentioned as Robin's birthplace in 1600 and used as an epithet in one ballad, becomes Robin's title in this novel and hereafter: Robin Hood from Locksley becomes Robin of Locksley, alias Robin Hood. The Saxon-Norman conflict first mooted as an influence on the legend by Joseph Ritson is made a major theme by Scott, and remains so in many subsequent retellings. Although Scott actually shuns the convention since the sixteenth century of depicting Robin as a dispossessed nobleman, Ivanhoe has contributed to this strand of the legend too: because subsequent Robin Hoods (e.g. in the 1922 Douglas Fairbanks film, and 1991's Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves) take on Wilfrid of Ivanhoe's own characteristics - they are returning Crusaders, have quarrelled with their fathers, and so forth. Also, the modern practice of depicting Robin as a contemporary of Richard I first appears in this novel; before that, he was generally placed two centuries later.


Robin's familiar feat of splitting his competitor's arrow in an archery contest appears for the first time in Ivanhoe.


Historical accuracy

Although the general political events depicted in the novel are relatively accurate – it tells of the period just after King Richard's imprisonment in Austria following the Crusade, and of his return to England – the story is heavily fictionalized.


There has been criticism, "... as unsupported by the evidence of contemporary records, of the enmity of Saxon and Norman, represented as persisting in the days of Richard I, which forms the basis of the story."[2]


One inaccuracy in Ivanhoe created a new name in the English language: Cedric. The original Saxon name is Cerdic but Sir Walter committed metathesis. The satirist H. H. Munro, with his typical caustic wit, commented: "It is not a name but a misspelling."


A major inaccuracy is that in 1194 England it would have been quite impossible for Rebecca to face the threat of being burned at the stake on charges of witchcraft. The Church did not undertake the finding and punishment of "witches" until the 1250s, and death did not become the usual penalty until the fifteenth century; even then, the form of execution used for witches in England (unlike Scotland and Continental Europe) was hanging, burning being reserved for those also convicted of high or petty treason.

However, it should be noted that the method of Rebecca's execution is presented as proposed by Lucas Beaumanoir, Grand Master of the Knights Templars - a Frenchman and a fanatic, determined to root out "corruption" from the Templars. It is quite plausible that Beaumanoir, like many nobles of the time, would have considered himself above the law and entitled to execute a witch in his power in any way he chose.


Another inaccuracy comes with the terms used by certain characters throughout the novel. At one point, Cedric refers to the lingua franca, an Italian term for "Frankish language" that would not be introduced into British vocabulary until the mid-1600s. Other such anomalies occur at random through the novel.

The novel's references to the Moorish king Boabdil are also anachronistic, since he lived about 300 years after Richard.


Rebecca Gratz as inspiration for the character Rebecca

It has been conjectured that the character of Rebecca in the book was inspired by Rebecca Gratz, a preeminent Jewish American educator and philanthropist who was the first Jewish female college student in the United States. Scott's attention had been drawn to Gratz's character by Washington Irving, who was a close friend of the Gratz family. The claim has been disputed, but it has also been well sustained in an article entitled "The Original of Rebecca in Ivanhoe", which appeared in The Century Magazine, 1882, pp. 679–682.


Gratz, considered among the most beautiful and educated women in her community, never married, and is told to have refused on account of her faith a marriage proposal from a Gentile whom she loved - a well-known incident at the time, which may have inspired the relationship depicted in the book beween Rebecca and Ivanhoe.



Scott did not create only fictional characters: in fact his minor characters are real kings and princes.

Moreover, he altered great historical events setting them in poetical environments and because of this he was accused of historical anachronism. However, the historical method he introduced allowed him to paint unforgettable portraits of remote events and people.

Scott’s works have been compared  to those of Alessandro Manzoni; however, Manzoni portrayed the characters of  ordinary people with greater precision and psychological insight; his aim was to create a national consciousness and his works had a higher degree of historical accuracy.

Scott wanted to celebrate the glorious past of his country and to express  the regret for the values of heroism and loyalty which seemed to be lost in a world dominated by economic laws.




Named Wilfred of Ivanhoe, he is disinherited by his father for loving Rowena and following the Norman King Richard to fight in the Crusades. Though the novel is named after him and he ultimately becomes a hero when he defends and saves Rebecca from death, he remains a somewhat vague character through much of the book. As the protagonist of the novel, he is largely symbolic of the new type of Saxon who can accept the Norman rule as long as it is just and merciful.


After he is disinherited, Ivanhoe takes on two disguises to accomplish his goals. First, he appears as the Palmer to reassure Rowena that Ivanhoe is still alive and on his way home to England; he also serves to defend Isaac the Jew when he is mistreated by the Normans and Saxons alike. Ivanhoe then disguises himself as the Disinherited Knight and participates in the Ashby Tournament, where he fights bravely and honorably, defeating all of the other knights. When he is wounded in the fighting, he is nursed back to health by Rebecca.


Ivanhoe is constant in his love for Rowena. In spite of being disinherited for his love, he refuses to change his plans to marry the noble and beautiful woman. In the end, he wins her hand in marriage. Ivanhoe is also constant in his support of Isaac and Rebecca. He openly comes to Isaac’s defense when he is mistreated at the banquet and fights for Rebecca and wins her freedom before she is accused as a witch and burned at the stake.


Scott’s enormous knowledge of history and chivalry go into the characterization of Ivanhoe, who becomes the symbol of an ideal, gentle, and perfect knight. His constancy, honor, bravery, kindness, and nobility make him a worthy protagonist. The reader is pleased that the novel ends in comedy for this hero.




Cedric’s main ambition is to see a Saxon back on the throne of England and puts all his energy into this goal. When his son Ivanhoe displeases him by falling in love with his ward Rowena and by supporting the Norman King Richard, Cedric disinherits him. Cedric is so involved in executing his own desires and wishes that he is often oblivious to others. He chooses Athelstane as the logical successor to the crown, even though he is ineffectual and lazy. He also plans to marry his ward Rowena to Athelstane, for he sees it as politically advantageous; he is not at all concerned that Rowena might love Ivanhoe, as he loves her.


When Ivanhoe returns in disguise, first as the Palmer and then as the Disinherited Knight, Cedric does not recognize or acknowledge his son. When his identity is revealed, Cedric never openly expresses regret or concern that he has disinherited Ivanhoe for no other reason than that his son has threatened his ability to restore a Saxon to the throne. When Ivanhoe emerges as victor in the games at Ashby and raises his visor to crown Rowena Queen of the Tournament, Cedric recognizes him; out of pride, however, he refuses to acknowledge him.


Cedric’s pride is his worst quality. Saxon pride compels him to find some kind of answer to the Norman conquest of the country he loves. In this quest, he virtually forgets his own son and everyone around him. Though in reality he has a kind heart, Cedric is single-mindedly focused on his goal of raising a Saxon line to the throne. He will not tolerate anyone, even his son, standing in his way. Though he hates the Normans, when he hosts them in his home, his pride makes him offer them his finest foods and wines. Although he constantly calls for Saxon strength as an answer to the Norman rule of England, when the Saxon resistance needs a leader, he declines. He is so proud and so stubborn, it is hard for him to see that even he contributes to the poor leadership skills of the Saxons, a fact which inevitably bears on the fact that they continued to be ruled by the Normans


Cedric is not a totally static character. He undergoes a gradual transformation, as seen when he drinks a toast to Richard’s health. He realizes that just as there are many kinds of leaders, there are many kinds of Normans. He decides to treat each person on an individual basis, and in the end pledges his loyalty to Richard, who has proved himself a triumphant and effective king and a merciful leader. Most importantly, Cedric reconciles with his son in the end and blesses his marriage to Rowena.




As Cedric’s ward, Rowena is at his mercy in matters of marriage. Though Cedric wants her to marry Athelstane and though she is sought by De Bracy, she stands firm in her love for Ivanhoe. Rowena is beautiful both physically and morally; she is depicted as a truly noble heroine in all ways. She is as chaste and merciful. Though De Bracy has attempted to molest her, she resists his advances and says she will die before she succumbs to him. She then forgives him in a true Christian spirit. Although she realizes that Rebecca is also in love with Ivanhoe, she kindly and discreetly protects the other girl’s feelings, expressing her graciousness when the two meet at the end of the novel. She is always patient with Cedric, never disrespectful, even when he tries to make her marry Athelstane. She understands his ambition but is not willing to sacrifice herself to fulfill it. In all ways, Rowena seems to be the perfect match for the noble Ivanhoe.




A lovely young Jewess, Rebecca is as indifferent to money as her father is attracted to it. She returns the money Ivanhoe pays for the use of a horse and armor and even adds a generous tip for Gurth. Rebecca is so beautiful that she attracts all the men who see her; even the faithful Ivanhoe recognizes her charm. So does the Templar Knight, Bois-Guilbert, who takes Rebecca prisoner and harbors wicked desires to defile her. Rebecca, however, stands firm against him and is even willing to face death rather than succumb to his advances. Her firmness of resolve only strengthens Bois-Guilbert’s admiration for her.


Rebecca is known for her healing powers. When Ivanhoe is wounded, she volunteers to care for him and nurse him back to health. In the process, she realizes that she loves this noble man, but accepts that since she is a Jew, her love will not be satisfied. Ivanhoe, however, greatly respects Rebecca and comes to her aid at the end of the novel. When she is accused of witchcraft and is ready to be burned at the stake, Ivanhoe fights for her, defeats Bois-Gilbert, and wins Rebecca’s freedom. Rebecca expresses her gratitude by calling upon Rowena; she is afraid of facing Ivanhoe and displaying her true emotions.


Isaac the Jew


Isaac is Rebecca’s father and a wealthy moneylender. In the portrait of him, there are strong resemblances to Shakespeare’s character of Shylock in The Merchant of Venice. Both of them love money and resist parting from it. Ironically, they both loan money to people who instinctively hate them, but they both become more wealthy because of it. It is only Isaac’s love for his daughter Rebecca that would cause him to part with his money. When he thinks he has lost Rebecca, he is a broken man and offers all his wealth to whomever can rescue her.


Isaac is hated for being both a Jew and a moneylender. During the Middle Ages, there is a strong prejudice against all Jewish people. The Jewish moneylenders are especially hated, for they are the only people who can charge interest on loans, for Christians are prohibited from it. Isaac, like most of the Jewish moneylenders, has considerable business acumen and holds power over those he lends money to, including some of the important Norman knights. As a result, he is hated and ostracized.


Isaac can be grateful. When Ivanhoe, disguised as the Palmer, tells the Jew about the plot against him, he repays the Palmer’s kindness by arranging the loan of a horse and armor to use during the tournament. This trait, along with his love for Rebecca and his cruel treatment at the hands of Saxons and Normans alike, make Isaac a sympathetic character.


Richard Plantagenet, King of England


King Richard, also known as Richard the Lion-Hearted, is a good and brave Norman, who is respected by Normans and Saxons. Friar Tuck, Locksley and his men, and Ivanhoe pledge loyalty to him. Even Cedric, a Staunch Saxon, eventually recognizes the king’s goodness and seems to accept his reign over England.


Richard is amiable and capable of forgetting his royalty, allowing himself to mingle with common people in good companionship. His feast with Friar Tuck and his good-natured exchange of insults and songs are proof of this. He is also merciful, especially in his banishing, rather than murdering, the traitors and the forgiveness of his shiftless brother John. Richard also proves his bravery and nobility, when he disguises himself as the Black Knight and comes to Ivanhoe’s aid against the wicked Norman knights during the tournament.


There is a weakness in Richard’s character, which Scott is quick to point out. He has spent most of his reign in the Holy Land, seeking personal glory in the Crusades, instead of looking after his people and his country. It is this weakness of character that allows his brother to seize power and rule with injustice. In spite of this weakness, Richard becomes a legendary king of English history.


Brian de Bois-Guilbert


Bois-Guilbert is an arrogant Knight Templar, who should be chaste, high-principled, and brave in battle. Although he proves himself to be a brave and skillful soldier, he lacks principles and lives an immoral life. His Moslem slaves fear his cruel ways. If Ivanhoe is the symbol of a good, brave, steadfast, honorable, and true knight, Bois-Guilbert represents just the opposite. Scott deliberately places them in opposition as the light and dark forces of the novel; they become the personifications of good and evil.


Bois-Guilbert is caught in his own trap of license and immorality. When he is attracted to Rebecca’s beauty, he takes her captive and makes plans to defile her. When she resists his advances, he simply loves her more. His licentious plans, however, are exposed to the chief of the order of Knight Templars, who is furious at Bois-Guilbert’s behavior. Rebecca is then accused of witchcraft and is to be put on trial. Bois-Guilbert is also tried and excused; his actions are blamed on Rebecca’s having cast a spell on him.


In the end, Bois-Guilbert fights with Ivanhoe in a duel for Rebecca’s life. He fights bravely, but is killed by Ivanhoe; as a result, he is spared the disgrace of being removed from the Knight Templars and the agony of condemning the girl he loves. Though he has spent much of the novel being a villain, in the end he regains some of his nobility through his bravery and his protection of Rebecca.


Maurice De Bracy


Perhaps the least evil of the Norman knights in the novel, De Bracy is brave in combat and honorable in his conduct toward Rowena. In sharp contrast to Bois-Guilbert’s treatment of Rebecca, De Bracy offers marriage to Rowena and treats her with great respect. Even when defeated, he reveals his dignity and practical nature. Knowing that Richard is going to triumph and accepting that he will never win Rowena’s love, De Bracy escapes hastily to France.




Front-De-Boeuf’s name means ‘face of an Ox’, and both his appearance and behavior support this description. His lack of humanity is demonstrated when he tortures Isaac in Torquilstone Castle. Urfried also accuses him of murdering his own father. When Front-De-Boeuf is dying in the fire at the castle, he cruelly hopes that De Bracy and Bois-Guilbert die with him. Both men escape and have no concern that Front-De-Boeuf has perished in the flames. It seems a just end for an unjust man.


Prince John


John is King Richard’s youngest brother. He is as evil and corrupt, as Richard is good and popular. He spends all his time extorting money, seizing Saxon lands, drinking, and plotting against his brother. When news arrives that the King is returning to England, John’s nobles desert him. He can attract no loyalty or respect from his people, for he is an ineffectual leader and a man of low moral character and stolen authority.


Waldemar Fitzurse


Fitzurse is John’s shrewd and power-hungry adviser. He patches up quarrels and pacifies John’s troubled followers. In fact, he is John’s only loyal follower. He actually tries to kill Richard in order to save his own power, but he is overcome and banished from the country. His loyalty to John is fueled totally by his own ambition; if he can get John to the throne, Fitzurse feels he can be the king’s right-hand man and become the most powerful man in the country.


Prior Aymer Jorvaulx


This greedy, worldly priest is a typical portrait of the corrupt religious man of medieval England. Though he has Saxon blood, Aymer caters to the Normans because they are in power, and he feels he is better served by them. He always appears in fine, expensive garments; in fact, the Prior seems to be more worried about the state of his clothes than the state of his soul. He is also portrayed as a heavy drinker and a total hypocrite. Prior Aymer becomes Scott’s symbol of all that is wrong with the priesthood of the Middle Ages.




Known as ‘The Unready’, Athelstane, a Saxon who claims royal blood, is a lazy, indifferent person. He is, however, the person that Cedric chooses to ascend the throne and regain power for the Saxons. He is also the person that he wants Rowena to marry, even though this despicable man is indifferent to her.


Athelstane does not prove his valor in battle, but is knocked unconscious at the end of the fighting. Everyone assumes he is dead, and they proceed to take his body back to his home for burial. During the trip, he is bizarrely “resurrected from the dead” since he has never died. In the end, Cedric accepts that this man will never be strong enough to ascend to the throne and Athelstane accepts that he will never marry Rowena.


Robin of Locksley


Robin of Locksley is really Robin Hood, the legendary figure from tales of antiquity. Deprived of his lands and earldom, Robin decides to become an outlaw. He collects a band of loyal men who rob the Normans whenever they can and share their plunder with the poor. History and legend show him defying unjust laws. In the novel, he is shown coming to the aid of the Saxons in their fight against the unjust Normans.




Major Theme


All the characters in Ivanhoe are in some way affected by the themes of conquest and dispossession. The smoldering hatred between the conquered Saxons and the conquering Normans is the major theme that runs throughout the novel. Scott masterfully develops the unscrupulous leadership of Prince John and shows its affect on the common people of England. The prince has stolen the land of the Saxons, taken their money, and usurped all of their power. He also allows his knights to behave in immoral ways and to take any women they so desire. Even though King Richard is kinder and more popular than Prince John, some of the Saxons even resent him. Cedric, in particular, hates all Normans.


There are several smaller examples of conquest and disposition in the novel. Prince John has stolen power from his brother, King Richard. The king himself is displaced, being held captive in a foreign land. Ivanhoe has been disinherited by his father because of his love for Rowena and his allegiance to King Richard. Robin Hood has lost his earldom of Locksley. Isaac, as a Jew, is permanently displaced and persecuted. De Bracy tries to conquer Rowena, Bois-Guilbert tries to conquer Rebecca, and the Prior and Isaac are conquered and ransomed. Rebecca is conquered because of her Jewishness and accused of being a witch; to save her, Ivanhoe finally conquers Bois-Guilbert. In the end, all of the conquests and dispositions are favorably resolved.


Minor Themes


Civil unrest is a minor, but recurrent, theme in the novel. The Saxons are discontented because they have lost their lands and their power to the Normans. Additionally, they would like to again have a Saxon King on the English throne. They also resent the contempt and mockery of the Normans, who pride themselves as a superior race. The common people are frightened of Norman cruelty and injustice. The frustration and tension in the novel is constantly suggestive of civil unrest.


Honor among thieves and the profession of outlawry is another recurring theme of the novel. The general discontent of the common Saxon people and the strict embargoes placed on them by their conquerors naturally leads to increased crime. But in Scott’s chivalric novel, the criminals are heroes of their own sort; they are actually Robin Hood and his legendary band of outlaws, who rob from the rich to give to the poor. These “outlaws” have more honor and chivalry than many of the Norman knights.


The cruelty of anti-Semitism is another theme of the novel. In the Middle Ages, there were widespread discrimination and persecution of the Jews. They were not allowed to own land or to become craftsmen. As a result, Jews engaged in trade and money-lending, often becoming rich through their natural aptitude for commerce. The Christians were jealous of their successes, but depended upon the Jews for loans. As such, they were regarded as a necessary abhorrence and were hated and treated cruelly by the very people whom they helped. The Jews were especially susceptible to accusations of witchcraft, chiefly because they had learned the art of healing. Rebecca, who cures Ivanhoe of his wounds, is suspected of being a witch both because of her knowledge of medicine and because of her unusual beauty which attracts many men. Because she is a Jew, her case is more serious. Everyone expects Rebecca to be burned at the stake.




Most of Scott’s novel follow  a pattern which has been called the “journey”:a traveller, in this case Ivanhoe, moves from a safe situation inside an ethnic group, comes into contact with another ethnic group and shares their life for a time. In the end he will return to where he came from with a different experience of life which will enable him to mediate between two rival groups.


Scott adopted the third-person omniscient narrator exploiting the techniques of flashbacks and time shifts to follow the adventures connected with different sets of characters.

He used a great deal of description of settings and characters, introducing his personal comments about them.  He also pretended to have documents proving  the truthfulness of  his narrative and giving authority to his words.

Scott’s interest in the past is confirmed by his stylistic devices: references to the Scottish language and a simple and immediate prose, proper to old legends and romances.




1. Describe in your own words the historical and social setting of Ivanhoe.

2. Are Scott’s characters realistic? Give reasons for your answer.

3. Compare and contrast Ivanhoe with Bois-Guilbert.

4. How does Cedric change during the course of the novel?

5. Comment on the plot of Ivanhoe and show how Scott ties up all the loose ends of the conflicts.

6. What is the function of Wamba and Gurth in the novel?

7. Compare and contrast Rowena and Rebecca. Which of these two characters do you prefer, and why?

8. What information does Scott provide regarding the clergy of the Middle Ages? Give examples.

9. Who is the real villain of Ivanhoe? Answer in detail.

10. What picture of chivalry do you get from Ivanhoe?

11. Choosing two scenes from the novel, analyze them to show the dramatic progress of the novel.


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