Study Guide

Ivanhoe Justice and Judgment

By Sir Walter Scott

Justice and Judgment

"We shall meet again, I trust," said the Templar, casting a resentful glance at his antagonist; "and where there are none to separate us."

"If we do not," said the Disinherited Knight, "the fault shall not be mine. On foot or horseback, with spear or with sword, I am alike ready to encounter thee." (8.50-51)

Obviously there is a lot of bad blood between Bois-Guilbert and Ivanhoe (disguised here as the Disinherited Knight). They clearly hate each other, what with Ivanhoe swearing to fight Bois-Guilbert whenever and wherever he can. There are also hints early on in the novel that this struggle may go back to their time during the Crusades in Palestine (although they would both have presumably been on the same side). Even if we leave out the Crusades, there's the matter of Bois-Guilbert's support for Prince John and Ivanhoe's loyalty to King Richard, as well as the usual Norman-vs.-Saxon tensions. What do you think is the cause of the struggle between Bois-Guilbert and Ivanhoe? Is either knight justified in his hatred of the other?

"Well and yeomanly done!" shouted the robbers; "fair play and Old England for ever! The Saxon hath saved both his purse and his hide, and the Miller has met his match."

"Thou mayst go thy ways, my friend," said the Captain, addressing Gurth, in special confirmation of the general voice, "and I will cause two of my comrades to guide thee by the best way to thy master's pavilion, and to guard thee from night-walkers that might have less tender consciences than ours; for there is many one of them upon the amble in such a night as this." (11.52-53)

After Gurth defeats the outlaw miller in the forest, the thieves cheer his strength and let him go with all his money. This showdown foreshadows the much more serious and formal trial by combat between Bois-Guilbert and Ivanhoe at the end of the novel. It seems that no matter whether you're a thief or a knight, the laws of honor and dueling still apply. What do you make of the fact that the outlaws all shout "Old England!" as a cheer? Where do they fit in this whole Saxon/Norman struggle? Why does Scott even include this outlaw subplot? What do these guys add to the overall story and its tone?

"Are ye afraid of his power?" continued [Waldemar Fitzurse,] the artful confident of that Prince, "we acknowledge him a strong and valiant knight; but these are not the days of King Arthur, when a champion could encounter an army. If Richard indeed comes back, it must be alone, – unfollowed --unfriended. The bones of his gallant army have whitened the sands of Palestine. The few of his followers who have returned have straggled hither like this Wilfred of Ivanhoe, beggared and broken men. – And what talk ye of Richard's right of birth?" he proceeded, in answer to those who objected scruples on that head. "Is Richard's title of primogeniture more decidedly certain than that of Duke Robert of Normandy, the Conqueror's eldest son? And yet William the Red, and Henry, his second and third brothers, were successively preferred to him by the voice of the nation, Robert had every merit which can be pleaded for Richard; he was a bold knight, a good leader, generous to his friends and to the church, and, to crown the whole, a crusader and a conqueror of the Holy Sepulchre; and yet he died a blind and miserable prisoner in the Castle of Cardiff, because he opposed himself to the will of the people, who chose that he should not rule over them. It is our right," he said, "to choose from the blood royal the prince who is best qualified to hold the supreme power – that is," said he, correcting himself, "him whose election will best promote the interests of the nobility." (15.2)

Waldemar Fitzurse's belief that kings should be chosen by human authority is pretty out there from a medieval point of view. He's saying that the idea that kings become kings because they've been selected by God is a bunch of hooey. And so is primogeniture – the policy by which the oldest son inherits the lands and titles of his father. Fitzurse points out that there are plenty of historical examples of second or third sons in the royal line (men like Prince John) taking the throne instead of their elder brothers. He also says that maybe kings should be elected by the nobility. It's not until the 17th century (five hundred years after Ivanhoe takes place) that England's Parliament (the British version of the Congress) actually seizes the power to appoint kings and queens to the throne.

"I care not," replied Gurth, "how soon he makes a mark of me. Yesterday he left Wilfred, my young master, in his blood. To-day he has striven to kill before my face the only other living creature that ever showed me kindness. By St Edmund, St Dunstan, St Withold, St Edward the Confessor, and every other Saxon saint in the calendar," (for Cedric never swore by any that was not of Saxon lineage, and all his household had the same limited devotion), "I will never forgive him!" (18.24)

While Gurth has been off helping Ivanhoe at the tournament at Ashby, he has technically been AWOL from his job as Cedric's pig-herder. Gurth reappears in the forest as his master is passing by on his way home from a feast with Prince John. In a rage, Cedric hurls a spear at Gurth's dog Fang and throws Gurth in chains. Here Gurth complains to Wamba about how much he hates Cedric now. As soon as Cedric is attacked by De Bracy and Bois-Guilbert, though, Gurth immediately lets go of his (justified) anger and tries to help his master. What do you think of Gurth's forgiveness? Does Cedric deserve it? Would you be able to forgive Cedric for the highhanded way he treats his slaves and his son?

"For my vow," said the Templar [Brian de Bois-Guilbert], "our Grand Master hath granted me a dispensation. And for my conscience, a man that has slain three hundred Saracens, need not reckon up every little failing, like a village girl at her first confession upon Good Friday eve." (21.18)

Even though Bois-Guilbert's attraction to Rebecca breaks his vow of chastity as a Knight Templar, he doesn't feel guilty about it. Why? Because he has fought so bravely in the Crusades that he thinks a few little sins won't count against him after he dies. Bois-Guilbert seems to think of morality like a bank account: if you make enough good-deed deposits you don't have to worry about a couple of bad-deed withdrawals. Obviously Bois-Guilbert has done plenty of bad deeds, but do you agree with this moral system? If you do enough good works, do they cancel out your wrongdoing? Is there evil that no amount of good can make up for?

And here we cannot but think it necessary to offer some better proof than the incidents of an idle tale, to vindicate the melancholy representation of manners which has been just laid before the reader. It is grievous to think that those valiant barons, to whose stand against the crown the liberties of England were indebted for their existence, should themselves have been such dreadful oppressors, and capable of excesses contrary not only to the laws of England, but to those of nature and humanity. But, alas! we have only to extract from the industrious Henry one of those numerous passages which he has collected from contemporary historians, to prove that fiction itself can hardly reach the dark reality of the horrors of the period. (24.33)

In this passage, Scott interrupts the story with a message: you may find it hard to believe that the cruelty at Torquilstone could ever really take place, but don't forget that the Middle Ages was a bad time! Even fiction can barely match the "dark reality of the horrors of the period."

By making this statement, Scott implies both that the Middle Ages were hellish and that times have changed: people are more civilized now, and would never torture anyone the way they did back then. This seems like a naive outlook on human history. If Scott had lived long enough to see the horrors of the 20th and 21st centuries, maybe he would have had a less rosy view of how much humanity has changed and improved.

By the way, the "valiant barons" Scott is talking about are the nobles who forced King John (still Prince John in Ivanhoe) to sign the Magna Carta in 1215. This document started to chip away at the supposedly divine power of the throne by making English kings subject to laws just like everybody else.

"It matters not who I am," said Cedric; "proceed, unhappy woman, with thy tale of horror and guilt! – Guilt there must be – there is guilt even in thy living to tell it."

"There is – there is," answered the wretched woman, "deep, black, damning guilt, – guilt, that lies like a load at my breast – guilt, that all the penitential fires of hereafter cannot cleanse. – Yes, in these halls, stained with the noble and pure blood of my father and my brethren – in these very halls, to have lived the paramour of their murderer, the slave at once and the partaker of his pleasures, was to render every breath which I drew of vital air, a crime and a curse." (27.9-10)

This scene between Ulrica and Cedric is one of the ugliest in all of Ivanhoe. Essentially, Cedric tells Ulrica that she must be feeling guilty about living when she was supposed to have been murdered along with her father and seven brothers. In today's terms, we would say that Ulrica has survivor's guilt. Cedric also seems to hold her responsible for her own assault at the hands of Front-de-Boeuf Senior. He appears to think it's her fault for being brutally raped by the Normans. The idea that Ulrica is to blame for being victimized, or that she should have died rather than give in to Front-de-Boeuf Senior, seems appalling today. What do you think of Scott's portrayal of Ulrica?

"Bestow not on me, Sir Knight," she said, "the epithet of noble. It is well you should speedily know that your handmaiden is a poor Jewess, the daughter of that Isaac of York, to whom you were so lately a good and kind lord. It well becomes him, and those of his household, to render to you such careful tendance as your present state necessarily demands."

I know not whether the fair Rowena would have been altogether satisfied with the species of emotion with which her devoted knight had hitherto gazed on the beautiful features, and fair form, and lustrous eyes, of the lovely Rebecca; eyes whose brilliancy was shaded, and, as it were, mellowed, by the fringe of her long silken eyelashes, and which a minstrel would have compared to the evening star darting its rays through a bower of jessamine. But Ivanhoe was too good a Catholic to retain the same class of feelings towards a Jewess. This Rebecca had foreseen, and for this very purpose she had hastened to mention her father's name and lineage; yet – for the fair and wise daughter of Isaac was not without a touch of female weakness – she could not but sigh internally when the glance of respectful admiration, not altogether unmixed with tenderness, with which Ivanhoe had hitherto regarded his unknown benefactress, was exchanged at once for a manner cold, composed, and collected, and fraught with no deeper feeling than that which expressed a grateful sense of courtesy received from an unexpected quarter, and from one of an inferior race. It was not that Ivanhoe's former carriage expressed more than that general devotional homage which youth always pays to beauty; yet it was mortifying that one word should operate as a spell to remove poor Rebecca, who could not be supposed altogether ignorant of her title to such homage, into a degraded class, to whom it could not be honourably rendered. (28.23-24)

Okay, we know that Bois-Guilbert is generally a total jerk, but this is one case where we think he's better than Ivanhoe. When Ivanhoe first wakes up from his post-tournament fainting fit, he finds Rebecca looking after him. He thinks she looks absolutely lovely and is attracted to her. As soon as she tells him she's Jewish, though, he immediately becomes cold and distant – he is tainted by the prejudice of his people. Even though Rebecca expects this offensive response, she can't help but be disappointed by Ivanhoe's sudden lack of interest in her. Bois-Guilbert may be a proud, cruel man, but at least he's capable of appreciating Rebecca's worth. He doesn't let the empty prejudices of medieval Europe cloud his judgment entirely (though he is certainly still an anti-Semitic character). Ivanhoe's ungrateful interactions with Rebecca when she is trying to treat his injuries really lower our assessment of his character.

"In God's name, Diccon, an thou canst, aid me to recover the child of my bosom!" [said Isaac].

"Do not thou interrupt me with thine ill-timed avarice," said the Outlaw, "and I will deal with him in thy behalf." (33.66-67)

When Isaac and Prior Aymer both find themselves captives of the outlaws of the forest, the outlaws joke around, trying to get as much cash out of them as they can. But when one of the outlaws tells Isaac that Rebecca has been kidnapped by Bois-Guilbert, the outlaw captain (Locksley/Robin Hood/Diccon Bend-the-Bow) feels bad. It turns out Locksley owes Rebecca a favor, so he decides to help Isaac get Rebecca back.

Here's what we don't understand: later in the chapter, Locksley cuts Isaac a deal on his ransom – he'll only ask for 500 crowns instead of 1,000 so Isaac will have some left over to bribe Bois-Guilbert. But if Locksley were really being generous or noble, he wouldn't demand any ransom at all; he would just let poor Isaac go find Rebecca. What kind of justice is this? What does this say about Locksley/Robin Hood's character?

"Ah, false Jew!" said the Grand Master; "was it not from that same witch Miriam [from whom Rebecca learned medicine], the abomination of whose enchantments have been heard of throughout every Christian land?" exclaimed the Grand Master, crossing himself. "Her body was burnt at a stake, and her ashes were scattered to the four winds; and so be it with me and mine Order, if I do not as much to her pupil, and more also! I will teach her to throw spell and incantation over the soldiers of the blessed Temple. – There, Damian, spurn this Jew [Isaac] from the gate – shoot him dead if he oppose or turn again. With his daughter [Rebecca] we will deal as the Christian law and our own high office warrant." (35.59)

We've already encountered the medieval stereotype of the worldly, fun-loving monk in Ivanhoe with Friar Tuck and Prior Aymer. Now we get the opposite stereotype: the insanely rigid and judgmental religious leader. As head of the Knights Templar, Beaumanoir's hatred of women and Jews are dangerous, and what's worse, he truly believes that his horrible prejudices are sanctified by God. He's arrogant enough to think that his judgment is sacred and that he is a straightforward representative of "Christian law." Beaumanoir is as driven by pride, conceit, and love of power as Bois-Guilbert, even if he thinks of himself as a holy man.

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