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Ivanhoe | Study Guide

Sir Walter Scott

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Ivanhoe | Plot Summary

See Plot Diagram


Ivanhoe is written in the tradition of medieval romances, full of swashbuckling heroes, evil villains, and damsels in distress. It is set in the forests of northern England—in Yorkshire and Nottinghamshire. Many of the castles and other locations mentioned are, or are based on, historical places and can still be seen today.

Wilfred of Ivanhoe has come back to England after going on Crusade to the Holy Land with Richard the Lionheart, who is believed to be in captivity in Europe. Disguised as a pilgrim, Ivanhoe returns home to the estate of his father, Cedric of Rotherwood. Cedric, who is Saxon and wants to return control of England to Saxon hands, has disinherited Ivanhoe for following the Norman king. (On October 14, 1066, at the Battle of Hastings, Norman-French forces, led by William the Conqueror, defeated the last Anglo-Saxon king of England, Harold II, beginning the Norman takeover of England. The Germanic Saxons had joined with the Angles and the Jutes to overtake England in the fifth century; the merged peoples created the Anglo-Saxon race.) On the road Ivanhoe meets Prior Aymer of Jorvaulx and the Templar knight Sir Brian de Bois-Guilbert and guides them to Cedric's castle, where the entire company stays the night. Another traveler also shows up—an old Jew known as Isaac of York. Ivanhoe overhears Bois-Guilbert telling his Saracen slaves to capture or kill Isaac and helps the old man escape. In return the Jew arranges for Ivanhoe to get a horse and armor.

Two days later everyone meets again at a tournament in the town of Ashby hosted by Richard's brother Prince John. Cedric is there with his ward, the beautiful Rowena, and his friend, Athelstane of Coningsburgh. Cedric has engineered the engagement of Athelstane and Rowena to rally the Saxons behind a potential Saxon king. However, it is Rowena and Ivanhoe who are in love. Isaac is also at the tournament along with his stunningly beautiful daughter, the healer Rebecca. A group of knights—all supporters of Prince John—are the challengers at the tournament and will take on all comers. Among them are the mighty Bois-Guilbert; the hulking Sir Reginald Front-de-Boeuf, a Norman knight whose father took over an estate neighboring Cedric's; and Sir Maurice de Bracy, a mercenary leader. At the end of the first day, the anonymous Disinherited Knight appears and challenges Bois-Guilbert to joust. The newcomer defeats Bois-Guilbert, becoming the day's champion. His reward is to name the Queen of Beauty and of Love, who will reign over the second day of the tournament. The Disinherited Knight chooses the Saxon Rowena, which affronts Prince John and his Norman supporters. On the second day of the tournament, with the support of a mysterious knight in black armor, the Disinherited Knight wins again, but he has been badly wounded and collapses just as Rowena is about to crown him victor. His helmet is removed and he is revealed to be Wilfred of Ivanhoe. Isaac and Rebecca take him to their house, where Rebecca begins nursing him back to health. The last event of the tournament is an archery contest. It is won by an unknown yeoman who gives his name as Locksley. He wins by splitting the arrow in the bull's-eye. Prince John offers him a position on his guard, but Locksley declines.

On the way back to Rotherwood, Cedric and his friends and retainers come across Isaac, Rebecca, and a sick man on a litter, who have been deserted by their bodyguards. Reluctantly—because they are Jews—Cedric allows them to join his party. Soon the group is attacked and captured by woodland outlaws. Only Cedric's fool, Wamba, and his swineherd, Gurth, escape capture. It turns out the outlaws are Normans in disguise. They take Cedric and his people to Torquilstone, Front-de-Boeuf's heavily fortified castle, where they imprison the moneyed captives separately from one another. Cedric and Athelstane are given lunch and held for ransom. Isaac is put in the dungeon, where he is threatened with torture and death if he doesn't pay Front-de-Boeuf a huge sum of money. Rowena is held in a distant room, where de Bracy tells her she will be released only if she marries him. Rebecca finds herself in a turret room where she meets Ulrica, an old woman who was the daughter of the Saxon who once owned the castle. Ulrica leaves Rebecca with Bois-Guilbert, who wants the Jewess to be his lover. She threatens to jump from the balcony, which prevents him from hurting her, but makes him want her more.

Meanwhile Wamba and Gurth meet up with Locksley in the forest. Locksley turns out to command a large number of skilled yeomen who live in the greenwood—his "merry men." They join forces with the Black Knight and together attack Torquilstone. A long and bloody battle ensues, aided on the inside by Ulrica, who sets fire to the castle's fuel supply. The casualties include Front-de-Boeuf, who is severely injured and then burns to death in a locked room, and Athelstane, whose body is taken to a nearby abbey. Bois-Guilbert rescues Rebecca from the fire and carries her off to a Templar preceptory. The rest of the characters are reunited.

In York Prince John is horrified to hear from de Bracy that the Black Knight is really John's brother, King Richard. John's closest adviser, Waldemar Fitzurse, assembles a small group of knights to ambush and kill Richard in the greenwood. When they find the king, he is on his way to Athelstane's funeral feast at Coningsburgh with Wamba as his guide. The two of them fight about eight attackers, and Richard is weakening when Locksley and his men arrive to save the day. Richard reveals he is the king, and Locksley reveals he is Robin Hood. Robin and his men swear allegiance to Richard, who pardons them. Ivanhoe, accompanied by Gurth, joins them, and the whole party rides on to Coningsburgh.

Unexpectedly, the Templar grand master shows up at the preceptory, where he decides to restore the order's tarnished reputation by burning "the Jewess" at the stake for sorcery. At her trial she is found guilty based on a case of distorted facts and out-and-out lies. Rebecca demands a trial by combat, and the grand master appoints Bois-Guilbert as the order's champion.

At Coningsburgh Richard reveals his identity to Cedric and asks him to reconcile with Wilfred. Suddenly, to everyone's amazement, Athelstane shows up dressed in his grave clothes. He has been held captive because the abbey expected to receive a large gift from his estate after his death. Athelstane has decided not to try to be king and not to marry Rowena because he knows she loves Ivanhoe. But before he can tell Wilfred the good news, a Jew arrives with a message for Ivanhoe, and both Ivanhoe and Richard disappear.

The time of Rebecca's trial by combat arrives, but no champion appears for her. Just as the grand master is about to order her burned, Ivanhoe rides up. Both he and his horse are weak from their journey, but he fights anyway and is knocked from his horse. Even though Ivanhoe's lance didn't touch him, Bois-Guilbert also falls. Ivanhoe gets up, but his opponent doesn't. Bois-Guilbert is dead. The grand master sees this as a message from God and frees Rebecca. Richard and a group of his supporters arrive, and the king orders the Templars to get out of England. Rebecca leaves the preceptory with Isaac without seeing Ivanhoe because she doesn't want him to see how much she loves him.

Richard attends the wedding of Ivanhoe and Rowena. Two days later Rebecca comes to Rowena, gives the Saxon woman some diamond jewelry, and announces she and Isaac are moving to Spain.

Ivanhoe Plot Diagram

Climax123456789Rising ActionFalling ActionResolutionIntroduction


1 Ivanhoe returns home in secrecy and meets Isaac of York.

Rising Action

2 As the Disinherited Knight, Ivanhoe defeats Bois-Guilbert.

3 The Normans imprison Cedric's party in Torquilstone.

4 Locksley and the Black Knight rescue Cedric and the others.

5 Bois-Guilbert kidnaps Rebecca; she is tried for sorcery.

6 Cedric and Ivanhoe reconcile; Athelstane renounces Rowena.


7 Ivanhoe fights Bois-Guilbert; Rebecca is proven innocent.

Falling Action

8 Ivanhoe and Rowena marry with King Richard I in attendance.


9 Rebecca tells Rowena she and Isaac are going to Spain.

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