Saturday, June 11, 2011

Ivanhoe Notes: Intro through Chapter 4

I consider Sir Walter Scott's novel, Ivanhoe, an excellent introduction to the higher levels of reading often required for high school and college. The story itself is not complicated. It is a simple romantic adventure in which good triumphs over evil. The language is complex, but not as challenging as some of Scott's other works. There is some dialect, as well as a few archaic words, but it is simpler than, say, Rob Roy. Most importantly, the story is vital and compelling enough to hold a student's attention, to make him want to work through the language.

I wrote this reading guide in 2010 as help for a co-op class I taught on Ivanhoe. Some of the students did not have the English history emphasis that AO provides. Therefore, I included a lot of background info. An AO student steeped in English history will most likely make these connections on his own or with the help of light scaffolding from the parent/teacher.

The best use of this guide would be for the parent to read the notes herself and reference them with her student *only as necessary* to enhance the student’s enjoyment of the novel. (We want the student to remember Sir Walter Scott with fondness...)

*And one more caveat: It is also perfectly okay to read Ivanhoe without some kind of study guide. I am only providing this for people who want something more.* The following quote exemplifies the atmosphere in which we should enjoy challenging books:

The Wart did not know what Merlyn was talking about, but he liked him to talk. He did not like the grown-ups who talked down to him, but the ones who went on talking in their usual way, leaving him to leap along in their wake, jumping at meanings, guessing, clutching at known words, and chuckling at complicated jokes as they suddenly dawned. He had the glee of the porpoise then, pouring and leaping through strange seas.

(More thoughts on Unabashed Enjoyment.)

There. I feel better. I want to share the things I have learned, but I don't want people to feel beaten down with details.

I will be posting the guide (in sections) over the next week or so. Eventually, I will have all the posts linked in my sidebar. I hope the guide helps parents, especially those that might not otherwise attempt Ivanhoe with their middle- or high-schoolers.

My thanks to the Advisory of Ambleside Online for their hard work on the AO curriculum. Many of the links in this guide can also be found at I especially want to thank Anne White for providing the Plutarch study guides. I used her format as a model for my Ivanhoe notes.

Another resource for the teacher is Monkey Notes. I referred to these notes occasionally as I researched the novel. I especially like their take on the study of literature.


These first notes are more comprehensive than the others. The beginning of the book lays groundwork for the exciting story, and I want to make sure everyone has enough background to delve into the adventure. Use as much or as little of this information as you need.

Links to background information:

The conquering Normans

Story of Richard I “Coeur de Lion”, his brother John, and Richard’s captivity and escape

Van Loon provides an astonishing look at medieval life, including the Crusades, in Chapters 35-39 of Story of Mankind

A timeline of the kings and queens of England, with pictures

Note on vocabulary: I will provide a list of vocabulary and definitions for each chapter, because I want you to be able to follow the story without looking up many words. However, I am not looking up every uncommon word because often you can figure out a word’s meaning using context. Context is a word’s immediate situation—the other words surrounding it, the language used, the opinions and beliefs of the people speaking or being spoken to, and the historic and geographic atmosphere of the book. If you cannot figure out a word’s meaning using context or the chapter’s vocabulary list, then get out the dictionary.

Who was Sir Walter Scott?

Also known as, “The Wizard of the North”, Scott mysteriously published his novels in the early 19th Century under the nom-de-plume, “Author of Waverly”. His collected prose works are often called The Waverly Novels. H.E. Marshall covers Scott’s biography in Chapters 77-78 of English Literature for Boys and Girls.

OR for a shorter biography that includes a list of works, go here.

Introduction to Chapters 1-4

Most of all, Ivanhoe is an adventure story, a romance. However, Sir Walter Scott set the story in a real time period of English history, and he spends half of the first chapter describing the political climate of 12th century England, laying the groundwork for his exciting tale. If you find the first few pages a little dry, be patient. Halfway through the chapter, we meet two of the most colorful characters of the book.

Notes and Vocabulary for Chapter 1

History: William I (1066-1087), a Norman, conquered Anglo-Saxon England at the Battle of Hastings in 1066. After he died, England was ruled by several other Norman kings, the worst being Stephen, who ruled ‘without any right’, which appropriately led to chaos. After Stephen came Henry II. He attempted to restore order and was marginally successful. Richard (1189-1199) and John are Henry’s sons.

When the story opens, Richard has inherited the kingdom from Henry II, gone to the Crusades, and been kidnapped by the Duke of Austria on his way home. During Richard’s absence, his brother, Prince John, has attempted a power grab, and the Norman barons have increased in might, disdaining the king’s council of advisors, and increasing their oppression of the Saxons, who after a hundred years of subjugation are still defiant.

Poetry: Scott begins each chapter with a verse of poetry that offers clues to the chapter. This particular offering is from Alexander Pope’s translation of The Odyssey.

Geography: Sheffield is in Yorkshire, just north of Nottingham and east of Liverpool.

The English Constitution: To this day, the English Constitution is not a single document, but what is called ‘case law’-- law based on precedent set through court cases decided by a jury of free men. The English had practiced some form of ‘shire court’ since the earliest days of Anglo-Saxon society, and by Richard’s reign, English Common Law was, well, common. Prior to the Norman invasion, even the king had to be recognized as legitimate by the witan, a group of noblemen who also served as the king’s closest advisors. The Normans continued these customary practices after a fashion, but not to the satisfaction of the Saxons. One glaring change is that the language of the courts changed from Anglo-Saxon to French, fixing a barrier against any Saxon gentleman who had not gone to the Continent to learn the language.

More background on English law

English council of state: the King’s council of advisors
state of vassalage: service, homage and fidelity owed to a feudal lord in return for protection
such and so multiplied were the means of vexation and oppression: the barons’ ability to wield their power, and their unjust and cruel ways of doing it, were so increased
nourishing the most inveterate antipathy: encouraging ingrained hatred
laws of the chase: hunting laws
rustics and hinds: coarse country people and farm laborers
West-Riding of Yorkshire: one of the historic divisions of the county of Yorkshire
malice prepense: evil intent
Ranger of the forest that cuts the foreclaws off our dogs: a reference to tyrannical hunting laws, which disabled the dogs of the inferior classes to protect the deer in the forest
Eumaeus: the faithful swineherd of Odysseus

Notes and Vocabulary for Chapter 2

Poetry: Chapter 2 begins with a quote from The Canterbury Tales by Chaucer, a collection of biographical verses and poetic tales told in the persons of medieval figures. Chaucer himself lived in the 14th Century, near the end of the English Middle Ages. This quote is from Chaucer’s biographical verses about the Monk. See if you can decipher his Middle English!

Brian: In this chapter, we meet Sir Brian du Bois-Guilbert, a Temple Knight. The Knights Templar was a monastic order of knights charged with protecting pilgrims and reclaiming the Holy Land. They were exempt from all authority except that of the Pope.

In defiance of conventual rules and the edicts of popes and councils: contrary to the rules of his religious order and the government
furniture: the necessary equipment for a saddle horse
stocking loom: a mechanical knitting loom invented in England in the 1500s
Damascene carving: an intricate inlaid pattern
device: an identifying emblem used by knights and lords
baldric: a belt worn across the chest to support a sword or bugle
Saracens: Arabs or Muslims
El Jerrid: a game played with a blunt javelin in Muslim countries
in Flanders and in Normandy: Flanders is a region on the coast of Belgium near the Netherlands. Normandy is the homeland of the Normans, on the northern coast of France.
Prior of Jorvaulx Abbey: second-in-command at the monastery
scan too nicely: examine in too much detail
anchoret: a person who has retired into seclusion for religious reasons
Franklin: a property owner not of noble birth
palmer: a pilgrim that carried a palm leaf as a symbol of having been to the Holy Land

Notes and Vocabulary on Chapter 3

We meet Cedric the Saxon in this chapter. Cedric is a descendant of Hereward the Wake, a famous Saxon rebel of one hundred years earlier.

sagacious knowledge of physiognomy: keen understanding of facial expressions
truncheon: a heavy club
to announce, I ween, some hership and robbery: to announce, I suppose, some pillaging and robbery
morat and pigment: “These were drinks used by the Saxons…Morat was made of honey flavored with the juice of mulberries; pigment was a sweet and rich liquor composed of wine highly spiced and also sweetened with honey.” (from a note in the Signet Classic edition of Ivanhoe)

Notes and Vocabulary on Chapter 4

Rowena: In Chapter 4 we finally meet the beautiful Lady Rowena. Rowena is a Saxon princess descended from Alfred the Great. She is named for the 1st century daughter of Hengist who helped Hengist overcome Vortigern and conquer the Britons. (In the 1st century, the Saxons were the conquerors and Britons the vanquished…) The story of the earlier Rowena and her triumph over Vortigern can be read in Chapter 9 of Our Island Story (found online at Sir Brian refers to this story when he drinks the health of Lady Rowena.

cope: a long ecclesiastical vestment worn over a robe
the wood was disforested: the wood is no longer a protected hunting area
reliquary: a container in which a religious relic is kept
the dark caverns under which they moved: the Templar has dark bushy eyebrows and deep-set eyes
I drink wassail: a toast of goodwill
a truce with Saladin: Richard had worked out a truce with the leader of the Muslims in whereby Jerusalem would remain in Muslim hands, but would be open to Christian pilgrimages.

Thought questions:

1. In Chapter 2, Scott says, “…charity, as it is well known, covereth a multitude of sins, in another sense than that in which it is said to do so in Scripture.” According to the Bible, how does charity cover a multitude of sins? In what sense do you think Scott is using it?

2. Why doesn’t Cedric want to listen to the latest news from Palestine?

3. Wamba the Fool is reprimanded several times in the first few chapters. What do you think of his responses? How does his social position differ from Gurth’s?

4. “Nothing could be more gracefully majestic than his step and manner, had they not been marked by a predominant air of haughtiness, easily acquired by the exercise of unresisted authority.” What do we learn from Scott’s description of Sir Brian’s walk?

5. “If mildness were the more natural expression of such a combination of features, it was plain that, in the present instance, the exercise of habitual superiority, and the reception of general homage, had given to the Saxon lady a loftier character, which mingled with and qualified that bestowed by nature.” What do we learn about Lady Rowena from the description of her face and expression?


(I am providing this study guide as a thank-you to the community of Ambleside Online for the many free resources with which they have blessed my family over the years. I did many hours of research to produce this guide. Feel free to use it if it helps you, but please respect my work and do not attempt to reproduce it for profit.)

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