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    Re-discovering Sir Walter Scott’s novels: KENILWORTH…


    Walter Scott at his desk in his Abbotsford study  © 2006 Scotiana

    What a good idea, Janice, to have drawn our attention to Kenilworth, one of the famous historical novels by Sir Walter Scott. I’m a great admirer of  ‘The Magician of the North’ and I’ve not forgotten our promise to read all his books when we visited his home at Abbotsford, I mean the books he wrote and not those contained in his magnificent and very extensive library!  Not easy challenge anyway and, considering the number of volumes he did write, we’d better resume our reading now if we want to keep up our promise before going back to Abbotsford!

    So, our  re-discovering of Sir Walter Scott’s novels will begin with Kenilworth. It’s the 13 th volume of  the ‘Waverley Novels’ which comprises 28 volumes if we include the ‘Tales of My Landlord series’ and two novels published posthumously. The ‘Waverley series’ (*) begins with Waverley, Sir Walter’s first novel which was  published anonymously in 1814, the  following volumes bearing the mention “by the author of Waverley”.

    A Day with Scott May Byron Hodder & Stoughton

    But before concentrating on Kenilworth, let us go back in time,  in company of May Byron, the author of A Day with Scott to try and catch a glimpse of the author writing at his desk.  Between 1814 and 1832 Sir Walter wrote no less than 28 novels (the last one, Bizarro, being unfinished) and the writing of a novel could take to him as little as eight weeks!

    Sir Walter Scott's desk Abbotsford © 2001 Scotiana

    Sir Walter Scott’s desk Abbotsford © 2001 Scotiana

    As morning slowly lightened above the flow of the river Tweed, running broad and luminous over its pearl-white pebbles, Walter Scott, arrayed in a rough shooting jacket, might have been seen lighting his library fire and seating himself at his desk. Never later than six a.m. he was well at work,  – his papers neatly arranged before him, his books of reference set orderly beside him on the floor,  – every tool and detail of his craft to hand, as befits a sound and scrupulous workman. ‘ (…)

    Abbotsford view upon the Tweed River © 2007 Scotiana

    Abbotsford view upon the Tweed River © 2007 Scotiana

    Hour by hour, line by line, stanza by stanza, the poet wrote steadily on: he was never charged with hurrying or scamping his work. The early dawn is not, one would suppose, the period most conducive to the divine afflatus : “thoughts that breathe and words that burn” are rarely associated with the chilly morning twilight. But Scott’s genius was of a singularly sane character, robust and well-controlled as the man himself. “When at his desk,” says Lockhart, “the truth is that he did little more, as far as regarded poetry, than write down the lines which he had fashioned in his mind” already, while pursuing out-of-door vocations. No line of verse – whether his own or other people’s  – was ever lost from that astonishing memory.

    (A Day with Scott by May Byron Hodder & Stoughton Ltd., Publishers London)

    Kenilworth Walter Scott Boivin & Cie Editeurs 1929

    Kenilworth Walter Scott Boivin & Cie Editeurs 1929

    In 1821, when Kenilworth was published,  Sir Walter seemed to have definitely turned from poetry to fiction and he had already become a very successful novelist with Waverley (1814), Rob Roy (1818) or Ivanhoe (1819) to mention only the best known novels.  Kenilworth just comes after The Monastery (1820) and The Abbot (1820).

    Walter Scott has often been considered as the inventor of the historical novel and he influenced a number of European and American novelists. In France  he had (and still has) great admirers like Balzac (1799-1850), Victor Hugo (1802-1885) or Alexandre Dumas (1802-1870) .  Only a few years after the publication of Kenilworth, Victor Hugo wrote Amy Robsart a five-act play based on Kenilworth which was first performed in Paris at the théatre de l’Odéon on 13 February 1828.

    Kenilworth Castle Keep from south Source Wikimedia Commons

    (Kenilworth Castle Keep from south Source Wikimedia Commons)

    More than half of the Waverley Novels are set in Scotland but Kelniworth takes place in England (as Ivanhoe).

    Kenilworth Castle gatehouse atehouse landscape Wikipedia

    Kenilworth Castle gatehouse atehouse landscape Wikipedia

    The title of the novel  novel refers to Dudley’s Kenilworth Castle in Kenilworth, Warwickshire.

    Below are the main characters of Kenilworth.

    • Giles Gosling, host of the “Black Bear” at Cumnor
    • Michael Lambourne, his nephew
    • Edmund Tressilian, a Cornish gentleman, Amy’s former lover
    • Wayland Smith, his servant
    • Thomas Radclyffe, 3rd Earl of Sussex
    • Sir Nicholas Blount, master of house to the Earl of Sussex
    • Sir Walter Raleigh, a gentleman in the household of the Earl of Sussex
    • Robert Dudley, 1st Earl of Leicester
    • Richard Varney, his squire
    • Anthony Foster, steward of Cumnor Place
    • Master Erasmus Holiday, a village pedagogue
    • Dickie Sludge, alias Flibbertigibbet, one of his pupils
    • Doctor Doboobie, alias Alasco, an astrologer
    • Sir Hugh Robsart, of Lidcote Hall, Devonshire
    • Amy Robsart, his daughter
    • Janet Foster, her attendant at Cumnor
    • Queen Elizabeth, at Kenilworth

    Portrait of an unknown lady by Levina Teerlin c1550 Yale University

    Portrait miniature  of an unknown lady by Levina Teerlin c1550 Yale UniversityPortrait, possibly Amy Robsart on the occasion of her wedding, 1550 (Wikipedia)


    Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester c. 1564 Wikimedia Commons

    (Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, c. 1564.)

    In the background are the devices of the Order of Saint Michael and the Order of the Garter;
    Robert Dudley was a knight of both.

    Ward Leicester and Amy Robsart at Cumnor Hall Edward Matthew Ward 1866

    (Leicester and Amy Robsart at Cumnor Hall)

    (1866 Painting of the Historicism school, inspired by Walter Scott’s novel Kenilworth.)

    Queen Elizabeth and Leicester miniatures by Hilliard Wikipedia

    (Elizabeth and her favourite, Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, c. 1575)

    Pair of stamp-sized miniatures by Nicholas Hilliard.

    The Queen’s friendship with Dudley lasted for over thirty years, until his death.

    (Source Wikipedia)


    Now that we know a little more about the characters and the setting of Kenilworth let us focus on the story.

    Plot introduction

    Kenilworth is apparently set in 1575, and centers on the secret marriage of Robert Dudley, 1st Earl of Leicester, and Amy Robsart, daughter of Sir Hugh Robsart. The tragic series of events begins when Amy flees her father and her betrothed, Tressilian, to marry the Earl. Amy passionately loves her husband, and the Earl loves her in return, but he is driven by ambition. He is courting the favour of Queen Elizabeth I, and only by keeping his marriage to Amy secret can he hope to rise to the height of power that he desires. At the end of the book, the queen finally discovers the truth, to the shame of the Earl. But the disclosure has come too late, for Amy has been murdered by the Earl’s even more ambitious steward, Varney.

    The story begins:

    Giles Gosling, the innkeeper, had just welcomed his scape-grace nephew Michael Lambourne on his return from Flanders. He invited the Cornishman, Tressilian, and other guests to drink with them. Lambourne made a wager he would obtain an introduction to a certain young lady under the steward Foster’s charge at Cumnor Place, seat of the Earl of Leicester, and the Cornish stranger begged permission to accompany him. On arriving there Tressilian found that this lady was his former lady-love, Amy. He would have carried back to her home, but she refused; and as he was leaving he quarrelled with Richard Varney, the earl’s squire, and might have taken his life had not Lambourne intervened. Amy was soothed in her seclusion by costly presents from the earl, and during his next visit she pleaded that she might inform her father of their secret marriage, but he was afraid of Elizabeth’s resentment.

    Warned by his host against the squire, and having confided to him how Amy had been entrapped, Tressilian left Cumnor by night, and, after several adventures by the way, reached the residence of Sir Hugh Robsart, Amy’s father, to assist him in laying his daughter’s case before the queen. (…)

    (Source: Wikipedia)

    So far, I’ve only reached chapter 12 (there are 41 chapters in the novel). In this chapter Tressillian arrives at Lidcote Hall, the residence of Sir Hugh Robsart, Amy’s father in  A. Montémont’s French translation. I’ve tried to read Kenilworth in my old Furne edition of ‘Oeuvres Complètes de Walter Scott, traduites par A.J. B. Defauconpret’ which was published in the years 1835-1836  (I have only 26 out of the 30 volumes). But the musty smell of my books was such that it made me sneeze repeatedly so that I had to give up and turn to my kindle…

    The novel opens at Cunmor Place, near Abingdon in Berkshire (now Oxfordshire) first at the  the Black Bear Inn and then at Cumnor Place, seat of the Earl of Leicester where Amy Dudley lives under the custody of Anthony Foster.

    West side of the Quadrange of Cumner Place 1805 engraving

    Cumnor Place – 1805 engraving from Lyson: Magna Brittanica.

    (Source: “AMY ROBSART AND CUMNOR PLACE”  Peggy Inman article (Cumnor History Society)

    The dews of summer night did fall;
    The moon, sweet regent of the sky,
    Silver’ed the walls of Cumnor Hall,
    And many an oak that grew thereby.

    (from a ballad of the Scotch poet, Mickle, entitled ‘Cumnor Hall’)

    Charles S. Olcott The Country of Sir Walter Scott Cassell edition 1913

    Charles S. Olcott The Country of Sir Walter Scott Cassell edition 1913

    I always try when reading a novel, and still more if it is a historical novel, to try and know more about the place where the story is supposed to have taken place and I’ve found nothing better, to help me in my present investigations about Kenilworth, than to have a look at  The Country of Sir Walter Scott by Charles S. Olcott. In company of his wife, Charles S. Olcott visited most of the places linked with Sir Walter Scott and the result is extremely interesting. The book can even be read as a literary travel guide. Chapter XX is entitled ‘Kenilworth’ and it is illustrated with black and white pictures.

    Here’s what Charles S. Olcott says about Cunmor:

    Cunmor is one of those lovely little villages in the Midlands of England where Father Time employs his talents as an artist, softening the outlines of the stone walls and fences with graceful mantles of dark green ivy and imparting richer and deeper shades of brown to the old thatched roofs of the cottages.


    We did not ruin our reputation as travellers by failing to ‘wet a cup at the bonny Black Bear,’ for that ‘excellent inn of the old stamp,’ if indeed it ever existed, has disappeared as effectually as its famous landlord, Giles Gosling.


    Cumnor Place has likewise disappeared. The site where it stood appears to be a comparatively small piece of land, near the street, but well covered with large trees. It was not an extensive park with formal walks and avenues, nor was the house itself so large or high as the structure described in the novel. It was a single-story building or series of buildings, forming an enclosure about seventy feet long and fifty feet wide. It was built about1350 as a country residence for the Abbot of Abingdon an as a sanitarium for the monks. After two centuries its useby the monastery ceased and Cumnor Place passed into the hands of the Court physician, George Owen, who leased it to Anthony Foster. As the servant of Lord Robert Dudley, Foster received into his house the ill-fated Amy Robsart, whom that gentleman had married in 1550.


    About Cumnor I’ve also found on the web a very interesting article written by a lady who is member of Cumnor History Society. It is appropriately entitled ‘Wandering with a pen and pencil’ for it contains not only very interesting facts about Sir Walter Scott’s sources for his novel but also very useful old engravings.  There is even the mention of a ghost  😉


    There follows an account of Cumnor’s connection with Abingdon abbey and -much overwritten- of Leicester’s neglect of Amy Robsart and of her murder, as described in Scott’s novel. The authors, however, have a problem in reconciling the virtuous Forster, as described on his tomb in Cumnor church, and the villainous accomplice to Amy’s murder. They tell us that Sir Walter, to acquire material for the book, visited Cumnor ‘where he is well remembered’, (see also the innkeeper, quoted below). Whether this is their invention or the villagers’ we cannot say but Sir Walter was almost certainly never in Cumnor. In his preface to ‘Kenilworth’ he refers to Mickle’s ballad and Ashmole’s ‘Antiquities of Berkshire’ as his inspiration. ‘I like’, he wrote from Abbotsford to his publisher in Edinburgh, ‘to be as minutely local as I can’ and asked for any material about Cumnor from Lyson’s ‘Magna Brittanica’, or elsewhere. Scott was friendly with Dr Thomas Hughes, the vicar of Uffington and with his son John of Donnington Priory near Newbury, and their respective wives. Mrs Thomas Hughes told Scott that ‘if you had been in every part of the country you could not have drawn it more accurately’. She also said that crowds visited Curnnor in consequence of the publication of ‘Kenilworth’ and that she had heard that lord Abingdon had been ‘ready to hang himself for flinging away’ an asset like Cumnor Place, pulled down in 1810. There were traditions current in the village about the building. Even after Amy’s death, our book says, ‘the spectre of poor Amie Leicester attired in courtly apparel, pearls and brocade, was seen to linger in faint coloured beautiful light upon the great stairs at nightfall. The place was abhorred, even until it was forsaken’. In fact for much of the time the building had been occupied, in one way or another, right up to the end. Scott wrote to Mrs Hughes that he was amused by ‘the hasty dexterity of the good folk of Cumnor …. getting all their traditionary lore into such order as to meet the taste of the public’. William Clarke said that when he visited Cumnor in 1817 there were no traditions about the Place among the villagers. By his account they were invented, rather than organised, after 1821 to please the likes of our authors!

    (from ‘Wandering with a Pen and Pencil’, an article written  by Mrs Peggy Inman (Cumnor History Society), for ‘Cumnor and Thereabouts’, CHS, 1995)

    So it appears that Sir Walter’s source of inspiration comes from an old ballad by William Julius Mickle, a Scottish poet born at Langholm. This name rings a bell! How can we forget the hours passed there, during our last journey to Scotland in 2012, in company of the very friendly and erudite lady in charge of Langholm library. She guided us through an exhibition dedicated to Hugh Mac Diarmid and even read one of his poems to us. Below is a fountain dedicated to William Julius Mickle.

    Fountain in memory of William Julius Mickle Langholm Dumfriesshire Wikimedia

    Drinking fountain in Langholm town centre A pink granite drinking fountain set into a corner of the town hall building in High Street, with an inscribed granite stone above. Presented by the London Eskdale Society in 1896. The inscription on the stone above reads:





    William Julius Mickle (* Langholm, in Dumfrieshire, on the 29th of Sept. 1734 † Forest Hill, on the 28th of October, 1788) was a Scottish poet.

    Son of the minister of Langholm, Dumfriesshire, he was for some time a brewer in Edinburgh, but failed. He moved to England where he worked as a corrector for the Clarendon Press at Oxford. In 1771-75 Mickle lodged at the manor house in Forest Hill, Oxfordshire. Mickle had various literary failures and minor successes until, while at Forest Hill, he produced his translation of the Lusiad, from the Portuguese of Luís de Camões. This was a success that brought him both fame and money.

    In 1777 he went to Portugal, where he was received with distinction. In 1784 he published the ballad of Cumnor Hall, which suggested to Scott the writing of Kenilworth. He is perhaps best remembered, however, by the beautiful lyric, There’s nae luck aboot the Hoose, which, although claimed by others, is almost certainly his.

    In 1781 Mickle married Mary Tomkins, the daughter of his former landlord in Forest Hill, and settled in Wheatley.[2] He died in 1788 while on a visit to his in-laws, and is buried in Forest Hill churchyard.[3]


    Last but not least, and before concluding this introduction to Kenilworth, I’d like to invite the fans of Walter Scott and of Scottish pubs to go to Rose Street in Edinburgh for at n° 152-154 they will find a bar called ‘The Kenilworth’

    Bonne lecture ! A bientôt !Mairiuna

    (*) The Waverley Novels

    (including the  ‘Tales of my Landlord’ series not always included and two novels published posthumously)

    • Waverley, or, Tis Sixty Years Since (1814)
    • Guy Mannering, or The Astrologer (1815)
    • The Antiquary (1816)
    • Tales of my Landlord 1st series
      • The Black Dwarf (1816)
      • The Old Mortality (1816)
    • Rob Roy (1818)
    • Tales of my Landlord 2nd series
      • The Heart of Midlothian ‘1818)
    • Tales of my Landlord 3rd series
      • The Bride of Lammermoor (1819)
      • A Legend of Montrose (1819)
    • Ivanhoe (1819)
    • The Monastery (1820)
    • The Abbot (1820)
    • Kenilworth (1821)
    • The Pirate (1822).
    • The Fortunes of Nigel (1822).
    • Peveril of the Peak (1822).
    • Quentin Durward (1823).
    • St. Ronan’s Well (1824).
    • Redgauntlet (1824).
    • Tales of the Crusaders
      •  The Betrothed (1825)
      • The Talisman (1825).
    • Woodstock (1826).
    • Chronicles of the Canongate, second series
      • St Valentine’s Day, or, The Fair Maid of Perth (1828).
      • Anne of Geierstein, or, The Maiden in the Mist (1829).
    • Tales of my Landlord 4th series
      • Count Robert of Paris
      • Castle Dangerous
    • The Siege of Malta (1831–1832, published posthumously 2008).
    • Bizarro (1832, published posthumously 2008).


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