History: This book was written in 1819.
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 Castle (now a ruin in the care of English Heritage), York (though the mention of Clifford's Tower, likewise a still standing English Heritage property, is anachronistic, it not having been called that until later after various rebuilds) and 'Coningsburgh', which is based upon Conisbrough Castle, in the ancient town of Conisbrough near Doncaster (the castle also being a popular English Heritage site). Reference is made within the story to the York Minster, where the climactic wedding takes place, and to the Bishop of Sheffield, despite the Diocese of Sheffield not being founded until 1914. These references within the story contribute to the notion that Robin Hood lived or travelled in and around this area. 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 modern-day conception of Robin Hood as a cheerful, decent, patriotic rebel owes much to Ivanhoe.
"Locksley" becomes Robin Hood's title in the Scott novel, and it has been used ever since by the authors of various books and screenplays dealing with the fictional outlaw. Scott appears to have taken the name from an anonymous manuscript — written in 1600 — that employs "Locksley" as an epithet for Robin Hood. Owing to Scott's decision to make use of the manuscript, Robin Hood from Locksley has been transformed for all time into "Robin of Locksley", alias Robin Hood. (There is, incidentally, a village called Loxley in Yorkshire.)
Scott makes the 12th-century's Saxon-Norman conflict a major theme in his novel. The conflict was first mentioned as a possible influence on the development of Robin Hood folklore by the 18th-century writer and editor Joseph Ritson. It remains a pervasive element in more recent retellings of the outlaw's legend through Scott's literary legacy.
Conversely, Scott shuns the late 16th-century convention of depicting Robin as a dispossessed nobleman (the Earl of Huntingdon). This, however, has not prevented Scott from making an important contribution to the noble-hero strand of the legend, too, because some subsequent motion picture treatments of the outlaw's adventures (most notably a lavish 1922 silent film and 1991's box-office success Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves) give Robin traits that are characteristic of Ivanhoe. Both Ivanhoe and Robin, for instance, are returning Crusaders. They have quarreled with their respective fathers, they are proud to be Saxons, they display a well-developed sense of justice, they support the rightful king even though he is of Norman-French ancestry, they are adept with weapons, and they each fall in love with a "fair maid" (Rowena in one case, Marian in the other).
Robin's familiar feat of splitting his competitor's arrow in an archery contest appears for the first time in Ivanhoe.
Plot: 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 on the Crusades, where he is said 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. They are guided there by a palmer, who has recently returned from the Holy Land. The same night, seeking refuge from inclement weather and bandits, the Jew Isaac of York arrives at Rotherwood. Following the night's meal, 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.
The palmer then warns the Jewish moneylender of his peril and assists in his escape from Rotherwood. The swineherd Gurth refuses to open the gates until the palmer whispers a few words in his ear, which turns Gurth as helpful as he was recalcitrant earlier. This is but one of the many mysterious incidents that occur throughout the book.
Isaac of York offers to repay his debt to the palmer by offering him a suit of armour and a war horse, to participate in the tournament at Ashby-de-la-Zouch where 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 accepts to the offer.
The story then moves to the scene of the tournament, which was presided over by Prince John of England. Other characters in attendance are Cedric, Aethelstane, 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.
On the first day of the tournament, a bout of individual jousting, a mysterious masked knight, identifying himself only as "Desdichado" (which is described in the book as Spanish for the "Disinherited One", though actually meaning "Unfortunate"), makes his appearance and manages to defeat some of the best Norman lances, including Bois-Guilbert, Maurice de Bracy, a leader of a group of "Free Companions" (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 is permitted to choose the Queen of the Tournament. He bestows this honour upon the Lady Rowena.
On the second day, which is a melée, Desdichado is chosen to be leader of one party. Most of the leading knights of the realm, however, flock to the opposite standard under which Desdichado's vanquished opponents fought. Desdichado's side is soon hard pressed and he himself beset by multiple foes, when a knight who had until 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 Desdichado was instrumental in the victory, Prince John being displeased with his behaviour of the previous day, wishes to bestow his accolades on the vanished Black Knight. Since the latter has departed, he is forced to declare the Desdichado the champion. At this point, being forced to unmask himself to receive his coronet, Desdichado is revealed to be Wilfred of Ivanhoe himself, returned from the Crusades. This causes much consternation to Prince John and his court who now fear the imminent return of King Richard.
Because he is severely wounded in the competition and because Cedric refuses to have anything to do with him, Ivanhoe is taken into the care of Rebecca, the beautiful daughter of Isaac, who is a skilled healer. She convinces her father to take him with them to York, where he may be best treated. The story then goes over the conclusion of the tournament including feats of archery by Locksley.
Meanwhile, de Bracy finds himself infatuated with the Lady Rowena and, with his companions-in-arms, makes plans to abduct her. In the forests between Ashby and York, the Lady Rowena, Cedric, and Aethelstane encounter Isaac, Rebecca, and the wounded Ivanhoe, who had been abandoned by their servants for fear of bandits. The Lady Rowena, in response to the requests of Isaac and Rebecca, urges Cedric to take the group under his protection to York. Cedric agrees although he is unaware that the wounded man is Ivanhoe. En route, the party is captured by de Bracy and his companions and taken to Torquilstone, the castle of Front-de-Boeuf. However, the swineherd 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.
The 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 captives from Robin of Locksley, who had come to rouse the friar for an attempt to free them. They then besiege the Castle of Torquilstone with Robin's own men, including the friar and assorted Saxon yeomen whom they had manage to raise due to the hatred of Front-de-Boeuf and his neighbour, Philip de Malvoisin.
At Torquilstone, de Bracy expresses his love for the Lady Rowena, but is refused. In the meantime, de Bois-Guilbert, who had accompanied de Bracy on the raid, takes Rebecca for his captive, and tries to force his attentions on her, which are rebuffed. Front-de-Boeuf, in the meantime, tries to wring a hefty ransom, by torture, from Isaac of York. However, 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 Cedric's jester Wamba slips in disguised as a priest, and takes the place of Cedric, who then escapes and brings important information to the besiegers on 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 King Richard. Showing mercy, he releases de Bracy. De Bois-Guilbert escapes with Rebecca while Isaac is released from his underground dungeon by the Clerk of Copmanhurst. The Lady Rowena is saved by Cedric, while the still wounded Ivanhoe is rescued from the burning castle by King Richard. In the fighting, Aethelstane is wounded while attempting to rescue Rebecca, whom he mistakes for Rowena.
Following the battle, Locksley plays host to King Richard. Word is also conveyed by de Bracy to Prince John of the King's return and the fall of Torquilstone. In the meantime, de 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, who he thinks has cast a spell on de Bois-Guilbert. She is found guilty through a flawed trial and pleads for a trial by combat. Bois-Guilbert, who had hoped to fight as her champion incognito, is devastated when the Grand-Master orders him to fight against Rebecca's champion. Rebecca then writes 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 arrives with a companion. Cedric, who had not been present at Locksley's carousal, is ill-disposed towards the knight upon learning his true identity. However, King Richard calms Cedric and reconciles him with his son, convincing him to agree to the marriage of Ivanhoe and Rowena. Shortly after, 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 Rowena to Ivanhoe to which Cedric finally agrees.
Soon after this reconciliation, Ivanhoe receives word from Isaac 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. However, 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 left Kyningestun soon after Ivanhoe's departure, arrives at the Templar Preceptory, banishes the Templars 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. Before leaving, Rebecca comes to bid Rowena a fond farewell. Finally, 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 ended with the death of King Richard.
Review: This is a book of chivalry and bravery and derring-do and heraldry and true hearts. Good overcomes evil and the heroes save the day - and the women, and even the loathsome Jew. It's close, though. The reader meets characters from English folklore and has a grand time doing so.
Sir Walter Scott wrote this book almost 200 years ago. He then used King James' English for the characters' conversations. It often sounds like Shakespeare when they are speaking. Many of the scenes are long and full of detail, especially early in the book. (Did Scott get paid by the word like Dickens and Dumas did?) Most of the characters are larger than life - but some are dead on.
Opening Line: "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 which lie between Sheffield and the pleasant town of Doncaster."
Closing Line: "With the life of a generous, but rash and romantic monarch, perished all the projects which his ambition and his generosity had formed; to whom may be applied, with a slight alteration, the lines composed by Johnson for Charles of Sweden---
His fate was destined to a foreign strand,
A petty fortress and an "humble" hand;
He left the name at which the world grew pale,
To point a moral, or adorn a TALE."
Quotes: "Chivalry!---why, maiden, she is the nurse of pure and high affection---the stay of the oppressed, the redresser of grievances, the curb of the power of the tyrant ---Nobility were but an empty name without her, and liberty finds the best protection in her lance and her sword."