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Quotes

Quote #1

A circumstance which greatly tended to enhance the tyranny of the nobility, and the sufferings of the inferior classes, arose from the consequences of the Conquest by Duke William of Normandy. Four generations had not sufficed to blend the hostile blood of the Normans and Anglo-Saxons, or to unite, by common language and mutual interests, two hostile races, one of which still felt the elation of triumph, while the other groaned under all the consequences of defeat. [...] All the monarchs of the Norman race had shown the most marked predilection for their Norman subjects; the laws of the chase, and many others equally unknown to the milder and more free spirit of the Saxon constitution, had been fixed upon the necks of the subjugated inhabitants, to add weight, as it were, to the feudal chains with which they were loaded. [...]

This state of things I have thought it necessary to premise for the information of the general reader, who might be apt to forget, that, although no great historical events, such as war or insurrection, mark the existence of the Anglo-Saxons as a separate people subsequent to the reign of William the Second; yet the great national distinctions betwixt them and their conquerors, the recollection of what they had formerly been, and to what they were now reduced, continued down to the reign of Edward the Third, to keep open the wounds which the Conquest had inflicted, and to maintain a line of separation betwixt the descendants of the victor Normans and the vanquished Saxons. (1.4-5)

Scott loved outsiders. He made his name as a novelist writing about outlaws and soldiers who rebelled against English authority in 18th century Scotland. Even though he has chosen a very different historical period for Ivanhoe, we can still see the same preoccupation with people resisting conquest. In this case, it's the Saxons (descendants of Old Germanic tribes that occupied Britain in the 5th century) vs. the Normans (who invaded Britain from France in 1066).

Scott has chosen to set Ivanhoe in northern England, sometime between 1189 and 1199 – over a hundred years after the invasion of the Normans. Even though the Normans have become the lords of the land, the Saxons are still doing their best to resist their domination.

Scott admits right here in Chapter 1 that this resistance is not going to be successful. "The great national distinctions" between the Saxons and the Normans only continue on to "the reign of Edward the Third" (so, the 14th century). Modern English is a mixture of Saxon and Norman words, and there is no distinction between Saxon and Norman culture or lineage in England today. As for why Scott would choose to write about a cultural distinction that no longer really matters, see our "Setting" section.

Quote #2

"Why, how call you those grunting brutes running about on their four legs?" demanded Wamba.

"Swine, fool – swine," said the herd; "every fool knows that."

"And swine is good Saxon," said the Jester; "but how call you the sow when she is flayed, and drawn, and quartered, and hung up by the heels, like a traitor?"

"Pork," answered the swineherd.

"I am very glad every fool knows that too," said Wamba, "and pork, I think, is good Norman-French; and so when the brute lives, and is in the charge of a Saxon slave, she goes by her Saxon name; but becomes a Norman, and is called pork, when she is carried to the castle hall to feast among the nobles. What dost thou think of this, friend Gurth, ha?" (1.17-18)

Wamba points out that Gurth, the pig-herder, is a Saxon slave. Gurth uses a Saxon word to refer to his herd ("swine"), but when the pigs are slaughtered and eaten they are called "pork," a Norman-French word. The hard work of pig-herding is Saxon, but the delicious reward, pork, is Norman. Wamba sums up the whole Norman/Saxon injustice of this book with the contrast between these two words: the Saxons make the things that the Normans consume.

Of course Wamba overlooks the fact that Gurth is not a slave to the Normans; his master is a Saxon. Wamba's anti-Norman rant sounds good, and the swine/pork split is really clever. But even at this early stage of the book, we're already getting the sense that at least some of this anti-Norman feeling is just a cover for deeper problems among the Saxons.

Quote #3

"Forgive me, lady," replied Bois-Guilbert; "the English monarch did indeed bring to Palestine a host of gallant warriors, second only to those whose breasts have been the unceasing bulwark of that blessed land."

"Second to NONE," said the Pilgrim, who had stood near enough to hear, and had listened to this conversation with marked impatience. All turned towards the spot from whence this unexpected asseveration was heard. "I say," repeated the Pilgrim in a firm and strong voice, "that the English chivalry were second to NONE who ever drew sword in defence of the Holy Land. I say besides, for I saw it, that King Richard himself, and five of his knights, held a tournament after the taking of St. John-de-Acre, as challengers against all comers. I say that, on that day, each knight ran three courses, and cast to the ground three antagonists. I add, that seven of these assailants were Knights of the Temple; and Sir Brian de Bois-Guilbert well knows the truth of what I tell you." (5.27-28)

The squabble between the Saxons and the Normans continues. Bois-Guilbert says the knights of his order, the Templars, are the best, while the Palmer (Ivanhoe in disguise) swears the English knights are the best.

What's interesting is not so much that the Normans and the Saxons don't like each other (that's pretty obvious), but the terms Scott uses. Ivanhoe doesn't say the Saxon knights are the best; he's talking about the English knights. Even in 1189, "English" could mean Saxon, Norman, Dane, Celt – any of the peoples who had overrun the British isles for centuries. Ivanhoe expresses patriotism for a new England made up of both honorable Saxons and great Normans like King Richard I (and excluding proud, oppressive Normans like Bois-Guilbert). Cedric can't let go of old Saxon/Norman struggles, but Ivanhoe represents a new, more integrated England.

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