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by Sir Walter Scott
The original, squashed down to read in about 30 minutes
Ivanhoe reinvented Robin Hood as the cheerful, patriotic rebel of Douglas Fairbanks and 'Prince of Thieves', provided the popular image of Normans and Saxons, of bold King Richard, sneaky Prince John, of knights in armour and ladies in towers. This book, despite, or probably because of, its suspect historical accuracy, heralded-in the century-long Victorian fascination with the medieval which spilled over into art, architecture and even religion.
For more works by Walter Scott, see The Index
IN that pleasant district of merry England which is watered by the river Don, there extended in ancient times a large forest, covering the greater part of the beautiful hills and valleys between Sheffield and Doncaster.
Such being our chief scene, the date of our story refers to a period when King Richard was a prisoner of the perfidious Duke of Austria, and when his return had become an event rather wished than hoped for by his despairing subjects. His brother, Prince John, was using every species of influence to prolong the captivity, and to strengthen his own faction in the kingdom.
The condition of the English nation was miserable. From the Conquest, by Duke William of Normandy, four generations had not sufficed to blend the hostile blood of the Normans and Anglo-Saxons.
The hall of Rotherwood was of the rude simplicity of the Saxon period; the walls were left bare, the rude earthen floor was uncarpeted and the board was uncovered by cloth.
In the centre of the upper table, were placed two chairs for the master and mistress of the family. One of these was occupied by Cedric the Saxon, who, though but in rank a thane, or, as the Normans called him, a Franklin, felt, at the delay of his evening meal, an irritable impatience at the absence of his faithful slaves, Wamba and Gurth. "I suppose, they are carried off, the Saxon fools, to serve the Norman lord. But I will be avenged," he added. "Haply they think me old; but they shall find, alone and childless as I am, the blood of Hereward is in the veins of Cedric."
From his musing, Cedric was suddenly awakened by the blast of a horn at his gate followed by a warder announcing "The Prior Aymer of Jorvaulx, and the good knight Brian de Bois-Guilbert, commander of the Knights Templars, with a small retinue, requested hospitality and lodging for the night, being on their way to a tournament to be held not far from Ashby-de-la-Zouche, on the second day from the present."
Cedric muttered; "Normans both;- but Norman or Saxon, the hospitality of Rotherwood must not be impeached; they are welcome." He knit his brows, and fixed his eyes for an instant on the ground; as he raised them, the folding doors at the bottom of the hall were cast wide, and, preceded by the major-domo, or steward, with his wand, the guests of the evening entered the apartment.
The Prior Aymer wore a cope curiously embroidered, and his fingers, contrary to the canon, were loaded with precious gems. The Knight Templar was as rich in dress, and his appearance far more commanding.
These two were followed by their respective attendants, and at a more humble distance by their guide, whose figure wore the weeds of a pilgrim.
When the repast was about to commence the major-domo suddenly said aloud, "Forbear! for the Lady Rowena."
A side-door at the upper end of the hall opened and Rowena, followed by four female attendants, entered the apartment. Cedric hastened to meet his ward, and to conduct her, with respectful ceremony, to the seat at his own right hand. All stood up to receive her; as she moved gracefully forward to assume her place at the board.
Rowena perceived the Knight Templar's eyes bent on her with ardour, and drew with dignity the veil around her.
"Sir Prior," said the Saxon, "I drink to you, in this cup of wine, unless you be so rigid in adhering to monastic rule as to prefer your acid preparation of milk."
"Nay," said the Priest, laughing, "it is only in our abbey that we confine ourselves to the 'lac acidum'. Conversing with, the world, we use the world's fashions."
A servant whispered into Cedric's ear, "A Jew is at the gate, Isaac of York; should I marshal him into the hall?"
"St Mary," said the Abbot, "an unbelieving Jew!"
"A dog Jew," echoed the Templar, "my Saracen slaves are true Moslems, and scorn as much as any Christian to hold intercourse with a Jew."
"Hush," said Cedric, "let him enter."
As Isaac stood an outcast in the present society, like his people among the nations, the pilgrim who sat by the chimney took compassion upon him, and resigned his seat, saying briefly, "Old man, my garments are dried, my hunger is appeased, thou art both wet and fasting."
Meanwhile the Abbot and Cedric continued their discourse upon hunting. "Pledge me in a cup of wine, Sir Templar," said Cedric, "and fill another to the Abbot. To the strong in arms, Sir Templar, be their race or language what it will, who now bear them in Palestine among the champions of the Cross!"
"To the Knights Hospitallers," said the Abbot."
"Were there none in the English army," said the Lady Rowena, "worthy to be mentioned?"
"Forgive me, lady," replied De Bois-Guilbert; "the English warriors were second only to..."
"Second to NONE," said the Pilgrim, who had stood near enough to hear, "the English chivalry were second to NONE who ever drew sword in defence of the Holy Land. I say, for I saw it. King Richard and five of his knights held a tournament after the taking of St John-de-Acre, as challengers against all comers - and Sir Brian de Bois-Guilbert well knows the truth of what I tell you."
At Cedric's request the Pilgrim told out the names of the English knights, only pausing at the sixth to say- "he was a young knight- his name dwells not in my memory."
"Sir Palmer," said Sir Brian de Bois-Guilbert scornfully, I will myself tell the name - it was the Knight of Ivanhoe; nor was there one of the six that had more renown in arms. Were he in England, I would give him every advantage of weapons, and abide the result."
"If Ivanhoe ever returns from Palestine," replied the Palmer, "I will be his surety that he meets you."
"And what do you proffer as pledge?" said the Templar.
"This reliquary," said the Palmer, taking a small ivory box from his bosom, "containing a portion of the true cross, brought from the Monastery of Mount Carmel."
The Prior of Jorvaulx crossed himself, in which all devoutly joined, excepting the Jew, the Mahomedans, and the Templar. "Let Prior Aymer hold my pledge and that of this nameless vagrant, in token that when the Knight of Ivanhoe comes within the four seas of Britain, he underlies the challenge of Brian de Bois-Guilbert, which, if he answer not, I will proclaim him as a coward on the walls of every Temple Court in Europe."
"My voice shall be heard," said the Lady Rowen, "if no other in this hall is raised on behalf of the absent Ivanhoe. I affirm he will meet every honourable challenge."
The grace-cup was served round, and the guests, after making obeisance to their landlord, arose and mingled in the hall, before, by separate doors, they retired.
In a sleeping-chamber the Palmer stirred the Jew with his pilgrim's staff.
"Fear nothing from me, Isaac," said the Palmer, "I come as your friend. The Templar yesternight spoke to his Mussulman slaves, charging them to seize the Jew. You have cause for terror, considering how your brethren have been ill-used; but, I say, leave this mansion instantly, while its inmates sleep.
"In truth", said the Jew, "I am a plundered, man. Hard hands have wrung from me all that I possessed - Yet I can tell that thy wish is for a horse and armour."
The Palmer started, but the Jew delivered a scroll, in Hebrew characters, saying, "In the town of Leicester all men know Kirjath Jairam of Lombardy; give him this scroll, and he will give thee thy choice of armour and mount. Thy lance will be powerful as the rod of Moses."
They parted, and took different roads towards Sheffield.
The Passage of Arms, as it was called, at Ashby, attracted universal attention, as champions of the first renown were to take the field in the presence of Prince John himself, whose quick eye instantly recognised the Jew among the crowds, but was more agreeably attracted by his beautiful daughter, Rebecca.
Waldemar Fitzurse, Prince John's favourite minister, gave signal to the heralds to proclaim the laws of the tournament, which were briefly as follows:
First, the five challengers were to undertake all comers. Secondly, any knight proposing to combat, might select an antagonist by touching his shield.
The lists presented a most splendid spectacle. The Wardour Manuscript records at great length their devices, colours, and the embroidery of their horse trappings. But, to borrow lines from a contemporary poet:
"The knights are dust,
And their good swords are rust,
Their souls are with the saints, we trust."
Their castles themselves are but green mounds and shattered ruins - the place that once knew them, knows them no more
The challengers, headed by Brian de Bois-Guilbert, were all Normans, and Cedric saw, with keen dissatisfaction, the advantage they gained. No less than four parties of knights had gone down before them, and Prince John began to talk about adjudging the prize to Bois-Guilbert.
At length, a solitary trumpet, breathed a note of defiance. All eyes were turned to see a new champion
His suit of armour was formed of steel, richly inlaid with gold, and the device on his shield was a young oak-tree pulled up by the roots, with the Spanish word Desdichado, signifying Disinherited. He struck with the sharp end of his spear the shield of Brian de Bois-Guilbert until it rang.
"Have you confessed yourself, brother," said the Templar, "for today you look your last upon the sun."
The champions closed with the shock of a thunderbolt. The Templar aimed at the centre of his antagonist's shield, while that champion directed the point of his lance towards Bois-Guilbert's helmet, as saddle, horse, and man, rolled on the ground under a cloud of dust.
The Templar drew his sword and waved it in defiance, as the marshals of the field spurred their horses between them, and reminded them, that the laws of the tournament did not permit this species of encounter.
The conqueror called for a bowl of wine, and opening the beaver, or lower part of his helmet, announced that he quaffed it, "To all true English hearts." He then commanded his trumpet to sound a defiance to challengers, and four Normans each in his turn retired discomfited.
The acclamations of thousands applauded the unanimous award of that day's honours to the Disinherited Knight.
Prince John, having placed upon his lance a coronet of green satin, the Disinherited Knight rode slowly around the lists and deposited the coronet at the feet of the fair Rowena, while the populace shouted "Long live the Lady Rowena, the chosen Queen of Love and of Beauty!
On the following morning the general tournament was proclaimed, and about fifty knights were ready upon each side. The Disinherited Knight led one body, and Brian de Bois-Guilbert the other, with the gigantic Front-de-Boeuf, and the ponderous Athelstane, who, though a Saxon, had enlisted as a Norman, to Cedric's disgust.
The masterly horsemanship of the Disinherited Knight, and his noble mount, enabled him for a few minutes to keep at sword's point his antagonists, until an unexpected incident changed the fortune of the day.
Among the ranks of the Disinherited Knight a champion in black armour, who bore on his shield no device of any kind, had hitherto evinced very little interest. At once this knight seemed to throw aside his apathy, and came like a thunderbolt, exclaiming, "Desdichado, to the rescue!" "Le Noir Faineant" then turned his horse upon Athelstane of Coningsburgh; and bestowed him such a blow upon the crest, that Athelstane lay senseless.
The knight returned calmly to the extremity of the lists, leaving his leader to cope as he best could with Brian de Bois-Guilbert. This was no longer matter of so much difficulty as formerly. The Templar's horse had bled much, and gave way under the shock of the Disinherited Knight's charge. Brian de Bois-Guilbert rolled on the field, encumbered with the stirrup, from which he was unable to draw his foot. His antagonist sprung from horseback, waved his fatal sword over the head of his adversary, and commanded him to yield himself. Prince John only saved him by casting down his warder, and putting an end to the conflict.
Thus ended the memorable field of Ashby. The Knight of the Black Armour, to the surprise of all present, was nowhere to be found, so that the Disinherited Knight was, therefore, named champion of the day.
The marshals conducted the Disinherited Knight across the lists to the foot of that throne of honour occupied by the Lady Rowena.
The knight muttered that his helmet might not be removed, but the marshals paid no attention and unhelmed him by cutting the laces of his casque, so that the well-formed, yet sun-burnt features of a young man of twenty-five were seen,
Rowena had no sooner beheld him than she uttered a faint shriek; as the knight stooped his head, and then, sinking forward, lay prostrate at her feet.
Cedric, who had been struck mute by the sudden appearance of none other than his banished son, now rushed forward, as the marshals of the field hastened to undo his armour, and found that the head of a lance had inflicted a wound in his side.
As the name of Ivanhoe reached the circle of the Prince, his brow darkened.
"Ay," said Fitzurse, "this gallant is likely to reclaim the castle and manor which Richard assigned to him, and which your Highness's generosity has since given to Front-de-Boeuf."
"Whatever becomes of him," said Prince John, "he is victor of the day. For now, we must begin the archery contest."
More than thirty yeomen at first presented themselves, but soon only Hubert, a forester in the service of Philip de Malvoisin, and one other remained.
"Fellow," said Prince John, "What is thy name?"
"Locksley," answered the yeoman.
"Then, Locksley," said Prince John, "If thou carriest the prize, I will add to it twenty nobles; but if thou losest, thou shalt be stript of thy Lincoln green
Hubert shot so successfully that his arrow alighted in the very centre of the target.
"Thou canst not mend that shot, Locksley," said the Prince, with an insulting smile.
Locksley let fly his arrow, it lighted right upon that of his competitor, which it split to shivers. "Such archery was never seen since bow was first bent in Britain," whispered the yeomen to each other.
A jubilee of acclamations followed; and even Prince John, was forced to admire Locksley's skill, "These twenty nobles, thou hast fairly won; we will make them fifty, if thou wilt take livery and service with us as a yeoman of our body guard,
"Pardon me, noble Prince," said Locksley; "but I have vowed, that if ever I take service, it should be with your royal brother King Richard", and Locksley, anxious to escape further observation, mixed with the crowd, and was seen no more.
But Cedric, Rowena, and Athelstane, returning home with their retinue from Ashby, were waylaid by Bois-Guilbert and his followers, and boldly carried off as prisoners to Torquilstone, Front-de-Boeuf's castle. In those lawless times these Norman nobles trusted thus to obtain a good ransom, and to win Rowena for a bride. Ivanhoe, who, enfeebled by his wound, lay concealed in a litter, unknown to his father, was also taken. It was not long before the Jew and his daughter were taken too.
The Black Knight, meanwhile, was holding course northward through the woodlands. The sun had sunk behind the Derbyshire hills when he reached an open plat of turf and a rude hut, the door of which he assailed with the butt of his lance.
The door was opened; and the hermit, a large man, in his sackcloth gown with two large shaggy dogs, spoke,
"Thou mayst call me, the Clerk of Copmanhurst. They add the epithet holy, but I stand not upon that."
"Truly," said the knight, "men call me the Black Knight, - many add the epithet of Sluggard, whereby I am no way ambitious to be distinguished."
After exchanging a mute glance or two, the hermit brought out a large pasty. "Sit thee down, Sir Knight, and fill thy cup; let us drink, sing, and be merry. Thou art welcome to a nook of pasty at Copmanhurst so long as I serve the chapel of St Dunstan, which, please God, shall be till I change my grey covering for one of green turf.
While they were speaking, loud and repeated knocks at length disturbed the anchorite and his guest.
"Mad priest," came a voice, "open to Locksley!"
The hermit speedily unbolted his portal.
"I tell thee, friar," said Locksley; "thou must lay down the rosary and take up the quarter-staff; we shall need every one of our merry men, whether clerk or layman."
The armed men by whom Cedric and his companions had been seized, hurried their captives along towards the place where they intended to imprison them. The Lady Rowena was separated from her train, and conducted, with courtesy, indeed, to a distant apartment. The old Jew was forcibly dragged off to a dungeon while his daughter Rebecca awaited her fate in a distant and sequestered turret where she was able to bring her knowledge of the healing arts to the aid of the stricken Ivanhoe.
A great noise was heard without; "Rebecca!" exclaimed Ivanhoe, "I lie here like a bedridden monk, Look from the window kind maiden, and tell me if they yet advance."
"I see a cloud of arrows flying so thick as to dazzle mine eyes!" She exclaimed, "He is down! - he is down!"
"Who is down?" cried Ivanhoe; "for our dear Lady's sake, tell me?"
"The Black Knight," answered Rebecca, faintly; "But no - but no! - he is on foot again, and fights as if there were twenty men's strength in his single arm - His sword is broken - he snatches an axe from a yeoman - he presses Front-de-Boeuf with blow on blow - The giant stoops and totters like an oak under the steel - he falls - he falls!"
"The assailants have won the barriers, have they not?" said Ivanhoe.
"They have - they have!" exclaimed Rebecca -
There the stout yeoman Locksley was seen hasting to the outwork. "Saint George!" he cried, "merry Saint George for England! - To the charge, bold yeomen!"
"The castle burns," said Rebecca; "it burns!
One turret was now in bright flames, which flashed out furiously from window and shot-hole. In the castle-yard, Athelstane snatched a mace from the pavement, to join the fray, but a silken bonnet keeps out no steel blade and he fell before the Templar's weapon.
Tower after tower crashed down, with blazing roof and rafter; and the combatants were driven from the court-yard. The voice of Locksley was then heard, "Shout, yeomen! - the den of tyrants is no more!
The daylight dawned upon the glades of the forest, within half a mile of the demolished castle. Here Locksley assumed his throne of turf under the twisted branches of a huge oak, and his silvan followers gathered around him. He assigned to the Black Knight a seat at his right hand, and to Cedric a place upon his left.
Cedric was oppressed with sadness for the loss of the noble Athelstane of Coningsburgh, and, ere they departed, expressed his gratitude to the Black Champion, and earnestly entreated him to accompany him to Rotherwood, "not as a guest, but as a son or brother."
"To Rotherwood will I come, brave Saxon; and when I come hither, I will ask such a boon as will put even thy generosity to the test."
"It is granted ere spoken out," said Cedric,
Rowena waved a graceful adieu to The Black Knight, and on they moved away through a wide glade of the forest.
"Thou bearest an English heart, Locksley," said the Black Knight, "and well dost judge thou art bound to obey my behest - for I am Richard of England!"
At these words, pronounced in a tone of majesty, the yeomen at once kneeled down before him.
"Rise, my friends," said Richard, "and thou, brave Locksley-"
"Call me no longer Locksley, my Liege, for I am Robin Hood of Sherwood Forest."
"King of Outlaws, and Prince of good fellows!" said the King, "be assured, brave Outlaw, that no deed done in our absence, and in the turbulent times to which it hath given rise, shall be remembered to thy disadvantage."
Preparing for the funeral rites of the noble Athelstane, all around the castle of Coningsburgh was a scene of busy commotion when the Black Knight, attended by Ivanhoe, who had muffled his face in his mantle, entered and was welcomed gravely by Cedric- chief of the distinguished Saxon families present.
"It seems to me fit" said the Knight, "that, when closing the grave on the noble Athelstane, we should deposit therein certain prejudices. As yet you have known me but as the Black Knight - know me now as Richard Plantagenet of England! Hast thou no knee for thy prince?"
"To Norman blood," said Cedric, "it hath never bended."
"Reserve thine homage then," said the King, "until I shall prove my equal protection of Normans and English."
"And now to my boon," said the King, "I require of thee to forgive thy good knight, Wilfred of Ivanhoe."
"My father! - my father!" said Ivanhoe
"Thou hast it, my son," said Cedric, raising him up. "The ghost of Athelstane himself would forbid such dishonour to his memory."
It seemed as if Cedric's words had raised a spectre; for, scarce had he uttered them ere the door flew open, and Athelstane, arrayed in the garments of the grave, stood before them, pale, haggard, and like something arisen from the dead!
"In the name of God!" said Cedric, "if thou art mortal, speak!"
"I will," said the spectre, "I am as much alive as he can be who has fed on bread and water for three days.
"Why, noble Athelstane," said the Black Knight, "I myself saw you struck down by the fierce Templar.
"You thought amiss," said Athelstane, "I went, stunned, indeed, but unwounded. I never recovered my senses until I found myself in a coffin, and would well have been kept there if that villain Abbot had held his way. I tell you, I will be king in my own domains, and nowhere else; and my first act shall be to hang the Abbot."
"And my ward Rowena," said Cedric - "I trust you intend not to desert her?"
"Father Cedric," said Athelstane, "The Lady Rowena loves the little finger of my kinsman Wilfred's glove better than my whole person. Hey! by Saint Dunstan, Wilfred hath vanished!"
But King Richard was gone also. Summoned to the courtyard by a Jew, Ivanhoe had thrown himself upon a steed and set off at a rate.
Brian de Bois-Guilbert, had abducted Rebecca, and spurned by her, had only escaped condemnation by the Grand Master of the Templars for his offence by claiming Rebecca to be a sorceress. Thus our scene transfers to the Castle of Templestowe, where the bloody die was to be cast for the life or death of Rebecca.
In the courtyard a throne was erected for the Grand Master of the Templars, opposite a pile of faggots around a stake, ready for the unfortunate Rebecca.
Said the Grand Master. "Go, herald, and ask her whether she expects any champion to do battle in her cause."
At this instant a knight appeared. "My name," he said, raising his helmet, "is Wilfred of Ivanhoe. Does the Grand Master allow me the combat?"
"I may not deny it." said the Grand Master
But Ivanhoe was already at his post, and had closed his visor, and assumed his lance. Bois-Guilbert did the same, and the knights charged each other in full career. It was not long before Wilfred, placing his foot on his antagonists breast, and the sword's point to his throat, commanded him to yield. Bois-Guilbert returned no answer. Unscathed by the lance of his enemy, he had died a victim to the violence of his own contending passions.
"I will not despoil him of his weapons," said the Knight of Ivanhoe, "nor condemn his corpse to shame - he hath fought for Christendom in his time."
He was interrupted by a clattering of horses' feet, and the Black Knight galloped into the lists.
"Peace be with him," said Richard, "he was a gallant knight - Bohun, do thine office!"
A Knight stepped forward from the King's attendants, and, laying his hand on the shoulder of Albert de Malvoisin, said, "I arrest thee of High Treason."
The nuptials of Rowena and Ivanhoe, were celebrated in the noble Minster of York. The King himself attended, and the presence of high-born Normans, as well as Saxons, joined with the universal rejoicing of the lower orders, marked the marriage as a pledge of the future peace and harmony betwixt the two races.
And, after this happy bridal, a certain lady came to Rowena, saying; "The people of England are a fierce race, such is no safe abode for the children of my people. Ere I leave, accept these my jewels, to me they are valueless above my liberty."
"O, Rebecca," said Rowena, "remain with us - the counsel of holy men will wean you from your erring law, and I will be a sister to you."
"No, lady," answered Rebecca, "I may not change the faith of my fathers like a garment unsuited to the climate in which I dwell. Farewell, and may He, who made both Jew and Christian, shower down on you his choicest blessings!"
● Copyright © 2014 Glyn Hughes.
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