The Castle of Otranto | Study Guide

Horace Walpole

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The Castle of Otranto | Chapter 3 | Summary



Chapter 3 opens with the sound of trumpets and the plumes of the giant helmet quivering in such a manner that Manfred becomes afraid they are supernatural portents (warning signs). He begs Father Jerome to tell him what the signs mean and to pray for him. Father Jerome tells Manfred to "submit [himself] to the church; and cease to persecute her ministers." The friar also tells Manfred to free Theodore, who is Father Jerome's son. Manfred agrees on the condition Father Jerome will go and see who is at the front gate.

A herald stands at the gate and announces, "I must speak with the usurper of Otranto." Manfred is furious at being referred to as a usurper. Manfred then orders Father Jerome to return to the convent and fetch Isabella, saying he will hold Theodore hostage until Isabella is returned. Since the herald is not a portent from heaven, Manfred retracts his offer to free Theodore and submit to the church. Manfred turns his attention back to the herald, asking him what he wants. The herald declares he has a message from the "knight of the gigantic sabre," a knight loyal to Frederic, Marquis of Vicenza, who is Lady Isabella's father. The herald then delivers the message: Lady Isabella was taken unlawfully from her legal guardians and Frederic is the true heir of Otranto, being "nearest of blood to the last rightful lord, Alfonso the Good."

Manfred thinks privately about what the herald has declared, revealing that Frederic's claim has some validity. Manfred, believing Frederic to have died in the Crusades, purposely persuaded Isabella's legal guardians to let her live and be raised in Otranto and grow up to marry Conrad. It was Manfred's hope to unite his house with Frederic's and stop the dispute over rights to Otranto. In fact, this is part of the reason Manfred has been so desperate to marry Isabella ever since Conrad died. Manfred keeps his thoughts to himself and asks the herald to invite the knight and his retinue inside the castle so that they can discuss the disagreement and avoid bloodshed.

When Father Jerome returns to the convent, another friar tells him Hippolita is dead, which confuses the friar tremendously. He asks the other friar where Isabella is, but no one has seen her. Father Jerome searches the convent for Isabella but cannot find her anywhere. He assumes she has gone into hiding after hearing that Hippolita is dead. Father Jerome is torn: if he doesn't bring Isabella to the castle and urge her to marry Manfred, Manfred will certainly hurt Theodore.

During this time Manfred has flung open the gates of the castle and is preparing to receive the knight and his retinue. The cavalcade arrives, bearing the flags of both Vicenza and Otranto, which aggravates Manfred. The cavalcade is immense—trumpeters, pages, squires, heralds, horses, knights in full armor, 100 footmen, 100 guards, and 100 men struggling together to carry a gigantic sword. Manfred seems worried but pretends to be brave. He addresses the knight, repeating his request to avoid battle if possible. Manfred makes food and lodging arrangements for all those accompanying the knight, but the knight and those surrounding him at the table refuse to speak to Manfred, and they only open their visors (face coverings) wide enough to eat. Manfred becomes upset at their demeanor and gives up trying to entertain them, instead inviting the top three knights to join him in a serious conversation.

Manfred begins the conversation by stating that he is the rightful heir to the Castle of Otranto. Manfred explains that his father, Don Manuel, received Otranto from Manfred's grandfather, Don Ricardo, who inherited it from Alfonso the Good, who died childless. It was a reward for Don Ricardo's service. Manfred recognizes that Frederic, Marquis of Vicenza, is nearest in blood to Alfonso. However, Manfred believes his grandfather was given Otranto and did nothing illegal. The knight wordlessly shakes his head at these claims, showing he does not believe Manfred is the rightful heir.

Manfred extends his argument and asks the knights if they are there to retrieve Isabella, and they nod yes. Manfred puts on a show, crying about the death of his son Conrad. The chief knight finally breaks the silence, asking, "Do you then restore her?" in reference to Isabella. Manfred believes the knights are coming around to his viewpoint, so he continues with a teary, false speech about how the church will likely force him to divorce Hippolita (which is a lie) for being "related within the forbidden degrees" with Manfred. Through his tears Manfred also says he has been working all along "to restore the line of Alfonso" by marrying Isabella, a distant descendent—the only one he knew of—to Conrad. Now that Conrad is dead and the church is making him divorce Hippolita, he, Manfred says, is willing to marry Isabella.

A servant interrupts Manfred, saying that Father Jerome and other friars would like to see him immediately. Before Manfred can say no, they burst into the room. Manfred has already lied to them by saying he put Isabella in the convent for her own safety. Father Jerome, terrified Manfred will hurt Theodore, blurts out that Isabella has run away and that it isn't his fault. Another friar tells the truth about Isabella running away the night before to escape Manfred. The principal knight becomes upset and orders all of his retinue to rush out and find Isabella. As a method of protecting his own interest, Manfred sends his attendants and the friars after Isabella too.

During the chaos, Matilda goes to see Theodore, who has been left unguarded, and frees him. Matilda tells Theodore to run to the convent for sanctuary, but Theodore, who views himself as innocent, wants to go out into the world and become a knight. The two hear a groan from above and become afraid someone has caught them. Theodore escapes, kissing Matilda's hand and swearing to be her knight. Theodore then goes to the convent to say goodbye to Father Jerome, but he isn't there. The other friars tell Theodore about Isabella's situation and Manfred's hand in it, and Theodore leaves, heading to the forest.

Theodore enters some labyrinthine caves. He hears rustling sounds but believes his goodness will protect him from evil spirits. He decides to explore the caves in case there are thieves inside, which leads him to discover Isabella is also hiding in the caves. Theodore tells Isabella that he was not sent to retrieve her for Manfred, and she is thankful. She thinks Theodore must be her guardian angel. Theodore acknowledges Isabella's beauty but says he has pledged himself to another. They retreat back into the cave.

When a knight approaches, Theodore puts himself between Isabella and the knight, believing him to be one of Manfred's men. The knight believes the same of Theodore, and they fight. Theodore wounds the knight in three places, and the knight faints from loss of blood. He rouses just enough for Theodore to discover he has accidentally injured an enemy of Manfred's. The knight begs to speak with Isabella because he has a secret from her father that he must tell her. Isabella emerges from deeper within the cave, and the dying knight reveals he is her father, Frederic, and he came to deliver her from Manfred. Isabella is saddened and stunned. The knight's dying wish is for Theodore to protect Isabella, and he agrees. They bandage Frederic's wounds and bring him to the castle in an attempt to save his life.


Theodore and Matilda heed the sign—a noise from above—and Theodore escapes to safety. It becomes clear that the way characters can achieve protection is through a combination of morality and paying attention to signs. Theodore, who believes his goodness will protect him from any evil, seems unrealistic as he plunges from one dangerous situation after another. Nonetheless, Matilda and Theodore are cast as foils, opposites of Manfred and Hippolita. Unlike Hippolita, Matilda has agency and knows how to pursue the moral path. Hippolita is controlled by Manfred and docilely accepts his evil behavior, although she has chances to speak her mind. Because Hippolita accepts and follows Manfred's, behavior she is complicit in the evil that is occurring.

There is a falsehood of protection at work in the novel: those you are trying to care for perhaps do not need it. Theodore attempts to protect Isabella and instead wounds her father. He is only able to do so because Matilda frees him. While women lack formal power, and are frequently placed in defensive positions because they become the objects of lust or anger, Hippolita is the only one who seems lacking in agency. Isabella escapes Manfred's anger and quite presciently leaves the convent when it becomes unsafe there because Father Jerome has reason to bring her back to Manfred. Matilda rebels against her father in order to free Theodore. Both young women have strong morals and are willing to act in defense of themselves and others.

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