Cliff Notes™, Cliffs Notes™, Cliffnotes™, Cliffsnotes™ are trademarked properties of the John Wiley Publishing Company. does not provide or claim to provide free Cliff Notes™ or free Sparknotes™. Free Cliffnotes™ and Free Spark Notes™ are trademarked properties of the John Wiley Publishing Company and Barnes & Noble, Inc., respectively. has no relation. Free Summary / Study Guide / Book Summaries / Literature Notes / Analysis / Synopsis
+Larger Font+
-Smaller Font-

Free Study Guide - Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott

Previous Page | Table of Contents | Next Page
Downloadable / Printable Version





The novel begins in England during the reign of King Richard I, also known as Richard the Lion-Hearted (1157-1199). Scott provides some historical background for the politics of the time and places the action somewhere near the end of Richard’s reign when he is returning from the Crusades. England’s Saxon population is under the control of Norman royalty. French has become the forced official language, a fact which both angers and demeans the Saxons, and many landowners have been forced to give their lands to their Norman rulers. When the action of the novel begins, the Norman King Richard I has been captured and held for ransom in Europe. His brother John has assumed power. Though both men are Norman rulers in Saxon populated England, Richard is more popular among the people he rules, known as both fair and courageous; John is aggressive, encouraging his men to steal or destroy everything Saxon. John is content to rule, and even hopes his brother remains imprisoned so that he can become king. Richard’s loyal subjects despair of ever seeing him again, and are angry that John and his greedy nobles have been aggressive and relentless in seizing whatever Saxon land they can.

A swineherd named Gurth is talking with a jester, Wamba, about the increasing hostility between the native Saxons and the Norman rulers. Both servants work for a loyal Saxon named Cedric. When a storm approaches, they head for home. On their way, they hear horsemen riding toward them.


Scott begins his narrative by describing the state of England. The Saxon country is under the rule of Norman royalty. Furthermore, the Norman King Richard I, who was at least fair to his Saxon subjects, has been kidnapped and detained in Europe. His ruthless and aggressive brother John has taken over and encouraged the Norman nobles in their cruel and limitless plunder of Saxon property and possessions. The Saxon people are totally dissatisfied and have a smoldering hatred of the Normal ruling class. French has been imposed as the national language, creating an even larger rift between the Saxons and Normans.

The conversation between Wamba and Gurth masterfully reveals the state of discontent in England. The two servants discuss the changes to their language. The word “swine”, Anglo-Saxon in origin, can now be used for grazing animals only; when the swine is killed and served as a meat, it becomes “pork” (a French word). Similarly, “Alderman Ox” and “deer” become “beef” and “venison” respectively. The dog, Fangs, has had his front claws removed according to some cruel Norman law that has been newly imposed. The changes seem silly to the two men, and they clearly resent the Norman presence in their homeland.

Although Gurth and Wamba are both Saxon servants, they are very different from one another. Samba is well dressed, while Gurth is clad in coarse attire. Wamba’s job is to entertain; Gurth’s job is to tend to pigs in the field. Both, however, are united in their apparent dislike of the Norman rulers; when they hear Norman horsemen coming toward them, they try to avoid contact.



The Norman horsemen catch up with Gurth and Wamba. One of them is a Cisterian monk dressed in fine clothes. The other is a Knight Templar. The two, attended by several others, demand to know where they will be able to stay for the night and ask where Cedric the Saxon lives. Knowing his master Cedric’s hatred of Normans, Wamba, with sheer mischief, gives them wrong and confusing directions. However, they soon meet a Palmer, a holy man who has traveled to the Holy Land on a pilgrimage, who takes them safely to Cedric’s mansion.


The travelers are Brian de Bois-Guilbert, a Knight Templar, and the Prior Aymer of Jorvaulx, a Cisterian monk. Scott’s portrait of the Prior is not a pleasant one. He appears worldly, having indulged in eating, drinking, and leading a dissipated life; nothing about him seems spiritual. While his costume is basically appropriate for a priest, it is made of the finest and most extravagant materials. The bags under his eyes come from too much drinking. Brian de Bois-Guilbert is a proud, arrogant, and demanding Norman, who is a member of the Knights Templar, a special order of knights who remain celibate as part of their duty. With typical rudeness and arrogance, he demands lodging and directions from Gurth and Wamba. Scott obviously condemns both men; the Prior, a man of the church, is a drunken hypocrite, and the Knight Templar, a representative of Normal nobility, is an arrogant brute.

The servants are clearly aware of Cedric’s hatred of Normans. In agreement, they misdirect the traveling Normans on purpose, hoping that they will never reach Cedric’s mansion. But a Palmer comes along and points the Norman travelers in the right direction. The Palmer also tells the travelers that Cedric has recently disinherited his son Ivanhoe and that he has a beautiful young ward, named Lady Rowena, who is of very good Saxon origin. This Palmer is actually Ivanhoe, Cedric’s son, in disguise.


Previous Page | Table of Contents | Next Page
Downloadable / Printable Version

Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott - Free BookNotes Summary

Privacy Policy
All Content Copyright©TheBestNotes. All Rights Reserved.
No further distribution without written consent.
67 Users Online | This page has been viewed 7840 times
This page was last updated on 5/9/2017 8:50:34 AM

Cite this page: Staff. "TheBestNotes on Ivanhoe". . 09 May 2017