Literature Study GuidesIvanhoeChapters 1 3 Summary

Ivanhoe | Study Guide

Sir Walter Scott

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Ivanhoe | Chapters 1–3 | Summary



Chapter 1

A large forest stretches from Sheffield to Doncaster in which there "flourished in ancient times ... bands of gallant outlaws." Near the end of Richard I's reign, his subjects are losing hope that he will ever return from his "long captivity." The Barons are imposing their will on everyone around them, and although four generations have passed since the Norman conquest, Normans and Anglo-Saxons still have neither a "common language" nor "mutual interests." Few Saxons still possess "land in the country of their fathers." The Norman kings have consistently favored their Norman subjects, and French is "the language of honour, of chivalry, and even of justice, while the far more manly and expressive Anglo-Saxon [is used only by] rustics and hinds." But "a dialect, compounded betwixt the French and the Anglo-Saxon" has developed—English.

It's sunset and near a partially destroyed stone circle are two men. One is Gurth, a rustic swineherd wearing "a brass ring ... soldered fast round his neck"; on the ring is a Saxon inscription saying "Gurth, the son of Beowulph, is the born thrall of Cedric of Rotherwood." Sitting beside Gurth is a younger man dressed in bright colors and wearing silver bracelets; he also wears a collar, which reads, "Wamba, the son of Witless, is the thrall of Cedric of Rotherwood." Wamba is wearing a cap with bells on it that marks him as a jester. Gurth looks "sad and sullen"; Wamba looks curious, "fidgetty," and self-satisfied. Gurth is trying to get a herd of pigs to move, but his dog only scatters them further, and Wamba won't help. Finally, the dog manages to gather the pigs, and they all head off as a summer storm approaches, along with a company of riders.

Chapter 2

Ten riders overtake Gurth and Wamba. In front of the group is a monk riding a mule. His habit is made of expensive cloth. Several lay brothers on fine horses are among the riders. Beside the monk is a tall, muscular, deeply tanned man in his 40s who looks stern and dangerous; one of his eyes has been injured, and his vision is slightly "distorted." He's wearing a monk's cloak, but it is red with a white cross on the right shoulder. Beneath the cloak the man is dressed in armor. Behind him are two squires, one leading his warhorse and the other carrying his lance. The company also includes two dark-skinned "natives of some distant Eastern country" wearing silver collars.

The monk is Prior Aymer of Jorvaulx Abbey, who is well known in the area for his lax but generous ways. He asks Gurth and Wamba if they know of some place his group might stay the night. Wamba suggests a nearby priory or hermitage, but Aymer says no to both. He wonders if Cedric the Saxon's "dwelling" is near. Gurth is hesitant, which angers the soldier, but Aymer calms him down, saying, "Brian, you must not think you are now in Palestine, predominating over heathen Turks and infidel Saracens." The prior gives Wamba a coin and explains that Sir Brian de Bois-Guilbert is a Templar—"half a monk, half a soldier." Wamba gives him directions. When the riders have gone, Gurth says they won't find Cedric's with those directions; Wamba says they may find Sheffield, though.

Prior Aymer and Sir Brian differ on how insolence should be treated. Brian favors brutality; the prior favors caution. He warns they must not antagonize Cedric. The prior has wagered his gold collar that Brian has "seen no maiden so beautiful [as Rowena, Cedric's ward] since Pentecost was a twelvemonth." But he warns Brian to be careful how he looks at her. Cedric is very protective and even "banished his only son from his family for lifting his eyes in the way of affection towards" Rowena. The two men find someone lying at the crossroads and, since they can't remember Wamba's directions, ask the way to Cedric's. He says he will lead them. To get there they have to pass through swampy lands, but the stranger seems to know the safest path. Aymer asks the stranger his identity, and he says he's "A Palmer, just returned from the Holy Land" and a "native of these parts." As they arrive at the drawbridge, the rain begins. Brian blows a horn.

Chapter 3

Inside the mansion at Rotherwood, Cedric of Rotherwood is sitting at dinner in the great hall. Rowena has just arrived home. Cedric was worried about her and is still worried about Gurth and the pigs because pigs form a "great part of the domestic wealth of the Saxon" landowners in forested areas. He also misses Wamba. Oswald, the cupbearer, says it is only an hour after curfew, which starts Cedric on a rant about Norman oppression. He imagines that "his faithful slave" has been murdered, the pigs stolen, and Wamba "carried off." He grabs his boar spear and is ready to go complain to the council; he'll show them he is not just the old, childless man they think him. Then he thinks of his son, Wilfred, and sadly sits down again.

Just then they hear a horn, which set Cedric's 20 or 30 dogs barking. Cedric imagines it means some crime has been committed. Soon Prior Aymer and "the good knight Brian de Bois-Guilbert, commander of the valiant and venerable order of Knights Templars" are announced. They are traveling to a tournament near Ashby-de-la-Zouche and need lodging for the night. Cedric tells his steward, Hundebert, to show them to their rooms and tell them Cedric won't meet them as he has vowed "never to step more than three steps from the dais of his own hall to meet any who shares not the blood of Saxon royalty." He knows the reputations of both men and orders the best drink and food for them. He also tells Rowena's maid to let Rowena know she's not expected in the hall unless she particularly wants to join them. Elgitha says Rowena will want to come to learn the latest news from Palestine. Her comment makes him angry: It reminds him that his son disobeyed him and rode off on the Crusades.


The first three chapters introduce two of the main conflicts in Ivanhoe: the enmity between Saxons and Normans and the rift between Cedric and his son.

The quotation at the beginning of the first chapter is taken from Book 14 of Alexander Pope's translation of the Odyssey, in which Ulysses returns home in disguise and tells tall tales over dinner. This is an analogy for Richard I's return to England in disguise. But not every contemporary reader would have known this, so the clue might well have been lost on them. This particular passage refers to swine, which is echoed in Gurth's attempts to deal with the pigs in his care in Chapter 1. Similarly, Chapter 2 begins with a quote from the Canterbury Tales describing the monk traveling with the company of pilgrims. This prepares readers to meet a monk very like him: well-dressed and well-fed. Throughout the book, Scott starts each chapter with an appropriate quotation.

Chapter 1 introduces the following:

  • the setting where much of the novel's action takes place—the once-vast Sherwood Forest near the end of Richard I's reign
  • a major source of conflict—the social and political differences between the indigenous Saxons and the Norman conquerors
  • four important themes—dispossession, identity, the abuse of power, and frustrated love
  • the important motif of language, which divides the Saxons and the Normans but in its blended form, English, might also bring them together

Wamba explores the divisive issue of language when he says of the pigs Gurth is tending that their destiny "can be little else than to be converted into Normans before morning." This is a joke about how language reflects cultural dominance in their society: Live pigs are called swine, a Saxon word, but their roasted meat is called pork, a Norman word. Similar differences exist for cows and calves.

Chapter 2 brings the two Saxons face to face with two different types of monk—a local prior who is political and practical and the Templar knight Sir Brian de Bois-Guilbert, the baddie of the tale. Readers can predict the personality of each from Scott's physical description. The somewhat fleshy yet handsome Prior Aymer, who wears a habit made of the finest cloth, is not an ascetic by any means; he likes feasting, delights in fine clothes and beautiful women, and enjoys gambling and hunting. He also knows how to get along with people in order to get his way. Brian is the opposite. He wears a uniform that proclaims he is a powerful, no-nonsense fighter, and his dark, scarred face expresses his quick temper. Readers also learn that, despite being a serf, Gurth is brave, almost to the point of foolhardiness; Wamba is bold in his own way, too, and very clever. Both hate the Normans.

Another character is introduced in Chapter 2, but readers don't yet learn his name. He leads the Normans to Cedric's manor house, guiding them safely through the marshlands. Because he knows the area so well, readers might suspect he's Cedric's son—the one Cedric banished because of his interest in the beautiful Rowena. Scott offers more information about Cedric's son in Chapter 3: He joined the Crusades against Cedric's wishes.

Readers meet Cedric in Chapter 3. He may be a grouch, but he cares about Rowena and even Gurth, whom he talks of promoting. His servants don't seem to have any fear of him. So, despite his grouchiness and the warnings given by Prior Aymer in Chapter 2, it would appear Cedric's a kind man at heart. The only thing that really riles him up is the Normans. He doesn't like how they treat the Saxons, he wants them to know what he thinks of them, and he thinks their Crusade is "excess and blood-guiltiness." From his comments it's clear he doesn't consider the Crusades "an accomplishment of the will of God." It may be, though, that he would be against any endeavor the Normans embarked on.

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