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Ivanhoe

Ivanhoe the hero of Scott's novel (1819) of that name, a knight of noble Saxon lineage at the time of the Crusades; he becomes a friend and supporter of Richard the Lionheart, despite the traditional enmity between Normans and Saxons, which Scott presents as having survived from the 11th century.

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Ivanhoe

Ivanhoe.
1. Opera in 3 acts by Sullivan (his only ‘grand opera’) to lib. by J. Sturgis after Scott's novel (1819). Comp. 1890. Prod. London 1891 (run of 160 perfs.); Berlin 1895; Boston 1991.

2. Pasticcio by Rossini, Paris 1826, CG 1829, NY 1832, rev. Mont Pellier 1990.

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Ivanhoe

Ivanhoe

by Sir Walter Scott

THE LITERARY WORK

A novel set in twelfth-century England; published in 1820.

SYNOPSIS

The knight Ivanhoe returns home from the Crusades to find England under the control of the scheming Prince John, brother of King Richard the Lion-Hearted. Ivanhoe undergoes a series of trials that test his skills as a knight and ultimately marries his lifelong love.

Events in History at the Time the Novel Takes Place

The Novel in Focus

Events in History at the Time the Novel Was Written

For More Information

Sir Walter Scott was born in Edinburgh, Scotland, in 1771. Scotland had only recently (in 1707) united with England to form the United Kingdom. At the time of union, Scotland was still a relatively undeveloped country, with half of its population made up of Highland clansmen. It was not until 1745 that Scotland began to close the technological and social gap with England. The forced merging of an advanced culture and an unsophisticated culture into one society became a common theme of Sir Walter’s novels. During the era in which Ivanhoe takes place, tension existed between the advanced Normans and the less sophisticated Anglo-Saxons.

Events in History at the Time the Novel Takes Place

The Norman Conquest

In 1066 a.d., Duke William of Normandy (a section of modern-day France) landed in England with an army, defeated the English at the battle of Hastings, and became king of England. The English of the eleventh century were Anglo-Saxons, descendants of Germanic tribes that had conquered the British Isle sometime in the sixth century a.d. The Norman invaders spoke a different language, had their own customs, and were technologically more advanced than the Anglo-Saxons.

Although the Normans were foreigners, their leader William was distantly related to the Anglo-Saxon king. His claim to the crown was thus regarded as semi-legitimate and was not strongly contested by the English after the Battle of Hastings. Nevertheless, many Anglo-Saxon nobles had their property taken away by William and given to the Norman knights who had fought for him. Scott points this fact out in the opening pages of Ivanhoe: “The whole race of Saxon princes and nobles had been extirpated or disinherited, with few or no exceptions; nor were the numbers great who possessed land in the country of their fathers ...” (Ivanhoe, pp. 8-9). As a result, much of the power in England was transferred to the Norman conquerors. They helped to support the descendants of Duke William, who became the subsequent kings of England.

Richard the Lion-Hearted

The third king to descend from the line of William of Normandy was Richard the Lion-Hearted. He earned a reputation as a strong warrior and brilliant general, yet those same qualities hindered him from becoming a good ruler. During Richard’s ten-year reign (1189-1199 a.d.), he visited England only twice for just a few months. In fact, although he was born in England, he never learned the English language. There were two reasons for his neglect of England. The first was that Richard was much more interested in his kingdom in France (the Norman kings ruled both countries at once). In addition, Richard spent his entire life fighting wars, an occupation that left him little time to concentrate on other responsibilities. At the age of fifteen, he commanded an army in a revolt against his father, and before the age of twenty, Richard had besieged and destroyed his first fortress. His greatest military feat was to organize

HIGH TECHNOLOGY

When the Normans invaded England, they had an important advantage—the knight. The armored knight was the tank of the Middle Ages. When protected by armor, the knight was a fearsome sight on the battlefield. Such a transformation, however, required significant technological advances. Different devices, like the stirrup, had to be developed so that a knight could stay seated on his horse during the shock of combat, where impact speeds could approach fifty miles per hour. At the Battle of Hastings, the main strength of the Normans lay in their force of mounted knights. The Anglo-Saxons, on the other hand, all fought on foot. This difference proved crucial as the Norman cavalry gradually wore down and then utterly defeated the Anglo-Saxon army, thereby making Duke William the undisputed victor. In Ivanhoe, knighthood becomes a symbol for Norman culture. The Anglo-Saxon patriot Cedric, for instance, dislikes all discussion of knights and jousting—combat between knights on horseback—because of what he calls “the fantastic fashions of Norman chivalry” (Scott. Ivanhoe, p. 56).

and lead the Third Crusade.

Richard’s crusade

In 1099 a crusade by the Christian kings of Europe had resulted in the capture of Jerusalem from the Saracens and its transformation into a Christian kingdom. The attack on the city had been made, according to the crusaders, to ensure safe passage for all Christians who were making their pilgrimage to Jerusalem. The kingdom of Jerusalem remained in European hands until 1187, when it was retaken by the Saracens. As soon as Richard heard the news, he vowed to undertake a crusade to recapture Jerusalem. The king spent three years trying to reach Jerusalem, but he was ultimately unsuccessful due to rivalries within his army. As Richard began the journey home to France, he was captured by his enemies in Austria. This is the historical backdrop on which Ivanhoe is played out. King Richard is still imprisoned when the novel opens, and the hero Ivanhoe has not yet returned home from the Crusades.

The Templars

During the First Crusade, certain knights took it upon themselves to defend both the kingdoms of Christianity in the Holy Land and the pilgrims who traveled there. The knights took religious vows that made them roughly equivalent to monks in the eyes of the Catholic Church. One particularly successful group of knights was named the Poor Knights of Christ and of the Temple of Solomon. They were more commonly known as the Knights Templars, or simply, the Templars.

Although the Templars’ original duties lay in the Holy Land, they later acquired and maintained estates throughout Europe, including England. Since the order was made up of wellmanned and skillful armies, they became a force in European politics and warfare. They also expanded into trade and banking and amassed great fortunes. In the early 1300s, the Templars were accused of heresy, and these charges were vigorously promoted by King Philip IV of France. Though the truth of these allegations is still a matter of dispute, Pope Clement V banned the Templars in 1312. In some areas, members were imprisoned and executed and their assets were taken by other orders. Certain countries, such as Spain and Portugal, gave the Templars better treatment, with some groups of knights continuing their activities under different names. In Ivanhoe, the main antagonist or enemy is Sir Brian de Bois-Guilbert, a high-ranking Templar who has returned from the Third Crusade.

The Jews

Life in England was very difficult for the Jewish people during the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. Even though many Jews had immigrated to England after the Norman Conquest, they were not allowed to become citizens and were shunned by the English population. They had to live separately from the rest of the community, and English laws did not protect them. One of the only businesses open to a member of the Jewish people was that of moneylending, a practice that the Catholic Church had forbidden Christians from pursuing. Still, moneylending proved to be a profitable profession because the English kings and nobles often required money to finance their military ventures. The English king, aware of this need for their money, saw that it was in his best interest to protect the Jews from his own subjects so that he could obtain favorable rates on his loans. Despite royal protection, the Jews were often persecuted or murdered. In 1190, on the eve of Richard’s coronation as King of England, many people in the country took note of the king’s idea of a crusade against those who did not believe in Christianity. In response, they massacred all Jews living in the town of York. Perhaps Sir Walter Scott was unaware of this historical event when he wrote Ivanhoe; one of his characters, Isaac, is a Jew who lives in the town of York during the reign of Richard.

The Novel in Focus

The plot

The story opens four generations after the Norman conquest of England. Although most of the former Anglo-Saxon rulers lost their wealth and power as a result of the conquest, there were some exceptions. One Anglo-Saxon who retained both his wealth and position is Cedric of Rother-wood. The setting of the first chapter is Cedric’s woodlands. Two of his slaves—Wamba, a jester, and Gurth, a pig-herder—are asked for directions to Cedric’s castle by two Norman aristocrats. One is a priest and the other is Brian de Bois-Guilbert, a knight who has just returned from the Crusades. The travelers are on their way to participate in a large jousting tournament held by Prince John. Both are men of the church, yet they are making a detour in order to see Cedric’s beautiful ward, Rowena.

Misled by the jester, the two Normans become lost. They encounter Ivanhoe, Cedric’s son, who has recently returned from the Holy Land, where he had gone with King Richard to fight in the Crusades. Ivanhoe is disguised as a pilgrim, however, and he is not recognized. Remaining disguised, he leads the Normans to his father’s castle. Ivanhoe does not want his identity discovered because his father has disowned him for leaving his family lands to fight under a Norman king in a foreign country. Cedric gives the travelers lodging and a place at his dinner table. During the course of the feast, two important events occur. Another traveler arrives and asks for lodging at Cedric’s castle. The man, a wealthy Jew named Isaac, is temporarily without money or food. Although he is allowed to enter the castle, he is shunned because he is a Jew. Ivanhoe gives up his own seat so that Isaac can eat. In the meantime, Brian de Bois-Guilbert boasts of the unsurpassed skills of his knightly order, the Templars. The pilgrim contradicts Sir Brian and reminds him that both King Richard and Ivanhoe have defeated the Templars in the past. The angered Templar then issues a challenge against Ivanhoe, who he believes is still in the Holy Land, to do battle at anytime. Rowena, who was engaged to Ivanhoe before he left for the Crusades, accepts the challenge on Ivanhoe’s behalf. Later, in the middle of the night, Ivanhoe departs with Isaac, who gives the warrior a good suit of armor and a strong horse for use in Prince John’s tournament.

A NEW LANGUAGE

The language that we know as English developed as a result of the Norman Conquest. Before 1066, the primary language spoken in England was Old English, a close relative of the German language. When the Normans took over, French became the official language of England. It was the tongue used by all those who ruled, or aspired to rule. Gradually, though, Old English and French began to merge into one language, a melding that formed the basis of modern-day English. A scene in Ivanhoe illustrates this early language barrier between the Normans and the Anglo-Saxons. Cedric the Saxon greets Sir Brian de Bois-Guilbert and says, “You will excuse my speaking to you in my native language, and that you will reply in the same if your knowledge of it permits; if not, I sufficiently understand Norman to follow your meaning.” In response Bois-Guilbert explains, “I speak ever French, the language of King Richard and his nobles; but I understand English sufficiently to communicate with the natives of the country” Ivanhoc, pp. 41-42).

On the first day of the tournament Ivanhoe defeats five knights in the joust. He refuses to take off his helmet, thus keeping his identity secret. The second day of contests features a mass fight between two forces of fifty knights each. At the end of the day-long battle Ivanhoe is declared the most worthy of all the knights in the battle, although at one point he was almost defeated, only to be saved by a mysterious Black Knight. Grievously wounded in the contest, Ivanhoe falls unconscious after receiving his prize. His helmet is removed and his identity discovered. Isaac and his beautiful daughter Rebecca, a talented healer, proceed to save the wounded Ivanhoe.

After the tournament one of the royal henchmen devises a plan to kidnap Rowena and force her to marry Sir Brian. Cedric and Rowena’s party is ambushed as they travel through the woods on their way home. The kidnapped group includes Isaac, Rebecca, and the still wounded

Ivanhoe, though his identity is once again disguised. They are all brought to the castle of a Norman warrior and held captive. Two of Cedric’s followers, Wamba and Gurth, manage to escape. They meet up with a group of bandits led by the legendary Robin Hood, who vows to raise an army to free the captives. He is aided by the Black Knight, who turns out to be none other than King Richard himself. Led by Robin Hood and Richard, a large force of bandits and local woodsmen attacks the castle, sets fire to the fortress, and manages to rescue all of the prisoners except for Rebecca.

Sir Brian, who has fallen in love with Rebecca, hides her in one of the churches overseen by the Templars. Sir Brian takes a number of precautions, but she is still discovered by the visiting Grand Master of the Templar order. He believes that Rebecca is a witch because of her Jewish faith and her wonderful healing powers. The Grand Master blames Rebecca for Sir Brian’s behavior as well, contending that she enchanted the knight, causing him to break his holy vows of celibacy.

A trial is held and Rebecca is condemned to be burned at the stake. Her only remaining chance is to demand that her guilt or innocence be determined by combat between two champions. Sir Brian is chosen to fight against Rebecca’s cause. In the final hours before Rebecca is to be burned alive, Ivanhoe appears to defend her. Exhausted from riding all day to arrive there and still recovering from the wounds suffered in the earlier tournament, he can barely sit in his saddle. Yet Ivanhoe makes a single pass against Brian de Bois-Guilbert and kills him. Ivanhoe’s lance barely grazes Sir Brian, but he dies from his own guilt. Rebecca is subsequently set free.

King Richard restores order to England, having captured his rebellious brother John, and all is set right again. The story ends with Ivanhoe’s marriage to his lifelong love Rowena and Rebecca’s departure from prejudiced England for a safer home in the south of Spain.

Staying true to one’s self

An important facet of the characters of Ivanhoe is that they do not stray from the path that they have chosen for themselves. For example, although Ivanhoe cares for Rebecca and saves her life, he does not marry her. He instead weds Rowena, to whom he had previously pledged himself before leaving for the Crusades. In much the same way, Rebecca remains true to herself throughout the course of the novel. Sir Brian offers to save Rebecca from being burned at the stake if she will leave Europe with him and become his wife. She is resolute in rejecting him, though it means her certain death: “Put not a price on my deliverance, Sir Knight—sell not a deed of generosity—protect the oppressed for the sake of charity, and not for a selfish advantage” (Ivanhoe, p. 443). In the last scene of the novel, Rebecca visits Rowena and asks her to thank Ivanhoe for saving her life. She then tells Rowena that she will be leaving for Spain and that she will not marry but will devote her life to healing the sick.

THE WELL-DRESSED TEMPLAR

The Templar uniform was a white mantle with a red cross. Famous for their military skill, the uniformed Templars attracted many recruits and were frequently employed by kings, popes, and lords. Included in the order were noblemen-knights, priests, craftsmen, and temporary members. Only the knights were allowed to wear the uniforms.

When Ivanhoe was first published in 1820, many of Scott’s readers were disappointed with the conclusion. They argued that since Rebecca was the heroine of the book, she should be the one to marry the valiant Ivanhoe. Scott heard the criticisms, but he did not agree with them. Expressing his thoughts on the subject in the introduction to the 1830 edition of Ivanhoe, he writes:

Not to mention that the prejudices of the age rendered such an union almost impossible, the author may, in passing, observe, that he thinks a character of a highly virtuous and lofty stamp is degraded rather than exalted by an attempt to reward virtue with temporal prosperity [marriage].

(author’s introduction to Ivanhoe, p. 544)

Anxious to set a good example for his readers, particularly the young ones, Scott felt that it was his responsibility to portray life as close to reality as possible. He knew that it was highly unlikely that a Christian who had fought in the Crusades would marry a Jew.

Sources

Scott believed that there were kernels of truth in the fiction of the past. To give Ivanhoe the feel of the Middle Ages, he relied upon earlier books, poems, and plays. For example, Scott drew upon his memory of an old ballad when he chose the name “Ivanhoe,” thinking that it had an old English sound. Also connected to

earlier literature is the character Friar Tuck, inspired by an obscure tale entitled the “Kyng and the Hermite.” Among the numerous sources Scott used was the ancient Greek epic The Odyssey (also covered in Literature and Its Times), which tells the story of a Greek warrior who returns after the Trojan War to find his home in disarray, then restores order and exacts revenge with the help of his son and a faithful swineherd. Scott’s novel paralleled the Greek epic in several respects. Both works feature similar plot lines and include a character who is a loyal keeper of the hero’s swine. Scott refers also to Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice (also covered in Literature and Its Times), beginning several chapters with quotes from this play. In Shakespeare’s drama, the main characters are a Jewish moneylender and his beautiful daughter; Ivanhoe has two similar characters—Isaac the Jew and Rebecca. In addition to earlier literature, Scott’s novels plainly draw on actual historical personalities—for example, the real king Richard the Lion-Hearted and his brother Prince John.

Events in History at the Time the Novel Was Written

The difficult union

In 1707 Scotland and England signed the Act of Union, which formally united the two countries to create a single nation, the United Kingdom. The Scottish, however, did not welcome the union, and many problems arose in the decades that followed. The conflict stemmed from the differences between Scotland and England. Scotland was an undeveloped country with large regions dominated by clans of Highlanders. These Highlanders were the descendants of the Celts, the people whom the Anglo-Saxons had conquered in the sixth century. They spoke a different language, Gaelic, and had different customs from the English. Their political system was based on old laws of feudalism, which gave the clan chiefs all the power. The English, on the other hand, had already passed through their stage of feudalism to more advanced forms of government. By the time of the union, the English practiced limited democracy, a form of government that spread power more evenly throughout the population.

The differences between the two countries eventually exploded into war. On two occasions—1715 and 1745—the Highlanders rose in arms against the English. On both occasions they were defeated. After 1745 the English implemented harsh laws to destroy the power of the clan chiefs, whom they saw as the main threat to the union. The Highlander feudal system disintegrated, a development that greatly affected Sir Walter Scott. He apparently saw the defeat of the Highlanders as a type of victory for Scotland. Scott felt that, while many of the Highlander customs such as loyalty to clan and adherence to pledges were noble, those customs ultimately held Scotland back. Scott seemed to believe that the strongest society would develop from a combination of Scottish and English customs, politics, and technology.

This desire to blend the two cultures is evident in many of the novels that Scott wrote about eighteenth-century Scotland. Forced to choose between the two ways of life, Scottish or English, Scott’s heroes choose the middle ground. Ivanhoe, although it deals with a much earlier time, addresses similar problems. On one side is Cedric the Saxon, and on the other is the Norman Prince John. Both are unswervingly devoted to their respective cultures, Cedric to the Anglo-Saxon monarchy and John to the Norman feudalism. In the middle is Ivanhoe, a faithful Anglo-Saxon defender of England who has learned the Norman customs, and, to the displeasure of his father, the codes of Norman chivalry. Ivanhoe was the only one of Scott’s novels to feature the beginnings of the feudal era in England; his other novels dealt with the end of feudalism.

Scott’s historical fiction

By the time Scott began Ivanhoe, he had already written many successful novels about eighteenth-century Scotland. Those books were the first examples of historical fiction, the type of story based to a greater or lesser degree on facts and actual occurrences. Most of Scott’s novels were rich repositories of information on Scottish culture and politics. For example, before writing a story about the famous Scottish outlaw Rob Roy, Sir Walter Scott first spoke with men who had personally known Rob Roy. Ivanhoe surprised his readers because, despite the sources about the Middle Ages that he had used, it lacked much of the historical accuracy of his previous works. Even so, it became Scott’s most successful novel.

Popular acclaim for Ivanhoe

Immediately popular when it was first published, Ivanhoe inspired operas and plays throughout Europe. Scott was amazed at the response. Six years after the publication of Ivanhoe, after viewing an opera in Paris based on his novel, Scott commented that it “was strange to hear anything like the words which I ... dictated ... now recited in a foreign tongue and for the amusement of a strange people” (Ivanhoe,p. xvi). Scott’s novel influenced architecture and painting as well, and there were eccentrics who tried to recreate details from the book in real life. In 1839 one English lord, inspired by Ivanhoe’s knightly skills, held a jousting tournament on his estate; in America a group of gentlemen formed a society called the Knights Templar, naming themselves after the Templars of Scott’s novel.

Critical reviews

While Ivanhoe was a commercial success, critics have subsequently found fault with a number of aspects of the novel, including its historical inaccuracies. Many historians feel that Scott’s portrayal of the conflict between the Anglo-Saxons and Normans is overblown, arguing that the cultural differences cited in the book were no longer an issue by the time of Richard I. They also believe that Scott’s grasp on the particulars of the time period was weak. In text that accompanies his novel, Scott himself admits that he may have made mistakes:

[I]t is extremely probable that I may have confused the manners of two or three centuries, and introduced, during the reign of Richard the First [Richard the Lion-Hearted], circumstances appropriated to a period either considerably earlier or a good deal later than that era.

(Ivanhoe, p. 530)

Unchanging human nature

Scott’s objective in writing Ivanhoe was to illustrate that the passions that drove the people of the 1100s were the same ones that drove inhabitants of the 1800s. In the text accompanying his novel, he clarifies this point by quoting several lines from The Merchant of Venice:

Our ancestors were not more distinct from us... they had “eyes, hands, organs, dimension, sense affections, passions”; were “fed with the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject to the same diseases, warmed and cooled by the same winter and summer,” as ourselves.

(Scott, Ivanhoe, p. 528-29)

Scott gleaned information from old manuscripts in his attempt to understand the personalities of historical figures such as King Richard. To fill in details, he used his intuition about people, whom he assumed had not changed much in the more than 600 years that had elapsed from their time to his own. His estimation of earlier personalities proved surprisingly accurate. In Ivanhoe, King Richard, disguised as the Black Knight, helps Robin Hood storm a Norman castle. Scott created this scene based on his understanding of the adventurous personality of King Richard, not on any knowledge of historical events. Yet in 1882 an old manuscript of 1219 was discovered that speaks of a disguised King Richard taking part in a siege of the castle of Nottingham. It is only when the attackers demand the surrender of the castle’s defender that the king reveals his true identity.

For More Information

Anderson, James, and Ross G. Roy. Sir Walter Scott and History. Edinburgh: Edina, 1981.

Gillingham, John. Richard the Lion-Hearted. London: Weidenfeld and Nicholson, 1978.

Hilton, R. H. Peasants, Knights and Heretics: Studies in Medieval English Social History. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1976.

Johnson, Edgar. Sir Walter Scott: The Great Unknown. New York: Macmillan, 1970.

Lunt, W. E. History of England. New York: Harper & Row, 1965.

Parker, Thomas M. The Knights Templars in England. Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1963.

Scott, Sir Walter. Ivanhoe. Edited by A. N. Wilson. New York: Penguin, 1984.

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