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Ivanhoe and the Black Knight — Costumes for the 1828 Stage Adaptation

Ivanhoe: A Romance is an 1819 historical novel by Sir Walter Scott, set in the reign of King Richard the Lion Heart and largely concerning the long-smouldering antagonism between the Normans and Saxons in the centuries after the Norman Conquest — an antagonism which, at that date, is highly anachronistic (one might call it a sort of "Holyrood History") and largely the product of Scott's teeming imagination. In the face of severe criticism by his own contemporaries on this and other historical inaccuracies, Scott himself admitted, "It is extremely probable that I may have confused the manners of two or three centuries," but comforted himself that "errors of this kind will escape the general class of readers." And indeed, despite the author's Whig history limitations and prejudices (which are evident), Ivanhoe is a stirring and colourful tale, with plenty of action, lovable heroes and heroines and hissable villains, and a real feeling for the genuine — if extremely exaggerated — romance of The High Middle Ages.

The novel was originally something of a Pot-boiler. Scott's popularity as a poet was waning in the face of the more exotic verses of Lord Byron, and his over-gentrified lifestyle and a life-threatening bout of illness had left his pocketbook in an equally sickly condition. His Scottish novels were popular enough, but of limited appeal; Scott felt, moreover, the need for a fresher source of inspiration — so he turned to History and The Middle Ages, the object of his lifelong and devoted — if not always pedantically accurate — study. The novel won immediate, long-lasting, and deserved popularity, restored Scott's fortunes, and helped to launch the entire Historical Fiction genre.


Scott's novel has had a number of adaptations.

There have been several Film Adaptations.

  • Two appeared in 1913:
    • Ivanhoe was a US production, directed by Herbert Brenon, and starring King Baggot as Ivanhoe, Leah Baird as Rebecca, Herbert Brenon as Isaac, Evelyn Hope as Rowena, and Wallace Widdicombe as Bois-Guilbert;
    • Rebecca the Jewess was directed by Leedham Bantock and featured Lauderdale Maitland, Ethel Bracewell, Hubert Carter, Nancy Bevington, and Harry Lonsdale in the same rôles, respectively. (Oddly, both were filmed in the same locations at Chepstow Castle in Wales.)
  • In 1952, Metro Goldwyn Mayer produced what is probably the best remembered film version, Ivanhoe, directed by Richard Thorpe, and starring Robert Taylor as Wilfred, Elizabeth Taylor as Rebecca, Felix Aylmer as Isaac, Joan Fontaine as Rowena, George Sanders as Bois-Guilbert, Finlay Currie as Cedric. This version was nominated for three Academy Awards, for Best Picture, Best Colour Cinematography, and Best Score for Miklós Rózsa; it stressed the spectacular and swashbuckling elements.
  • A Russian adaptation in 1983, The Ballad of the Valiant Knight Ivanhoe (Баллада о доблестном рыцаре Айвенго, Ballada o Dovlestnom Ryzare "Ayvenho") appeared, directed by Sergey Tarasov, starring Peteris Gaudins as Ivanhoe and featuring songs by Vladimir Vysotsky.

There have also been quite a number of Live Action Television adaptations of the novel:

  • A 1958 television series with Roger Moore as Ivanhoe.
  • A 1970 miniseries starring Eric Flynn.
  • A 1982 television film with Anthony Andrews as Ivanhoe, Olivia Hussey as Rebecca, James Mason as Isaac, Lysette Anthony as Rowena, and Sam Neill as Bois-Guilbert.
  • A 1986 Australian Animated Adaptation by Burbank Films, Young Ivanhoe.
  • A 1995 television series starring Kristen Holden-Ried, Ivanhoe, the King's Knight
  • A 1997 Animated Adaptation by Cinar and France Animation.
  • Another 1997 production, a mini-series produced by A&E and the BBC, starring Steven Waddington, with Susan Lynch as Rebecca, Victoria Smurfit as Rowena, Christopher Lee as Beaumanoir, and Ciarán Hinds as Bois-Guilbert.
  • Darkest Knight, a 2000 Channel 5 adaptation starring Ben Pullen as Ivanhoe and Charlotte Comer as Rebecca.

Interestingly, there have been several operatic versions: Gioachino Rossini's Ivanhoé (a pastiche which did not impress Scott, who attended a performance), Thomas Sari's Ivanhoé, Bartolomeo Pisani's Rebecca, A. Castagnier's Rébecca, Otto Nicolai's Il Templario, and Heinrich Marschner's Der Templer und die Jüdin. The best known, however, is probably Sir Arthur Seymour Sullivan's rather turgidly solemn 1891 adaptation, which impressed Queen Victoria and ran for over 150 performances.

Tropes employed by this novel (and its various adaptations) include:

The Book

  • Abhorrent Admirer: Athelstane and de Bracy for Rowena; Bois-Guilbert for Rebecca; Prince John for Alicia Fitzurse.
  • Adaptation Distillation: A number of the various adaptations have successfully reinterpreted the original in the terms of their own eras. The 1952 version was extremely popular in an age which demanded spectacle. The 1982 version attempted a sort of Adventures of Ivanhoe approach, and featured some striking performances. The 1997 A&E/BBC version went for a Darker and Edgier, de-romanticized interpretation that captured more of the sense of suspense and tragedy in the novel than other versions. As is the way with most great works, each age will get the kind of Ivanhoe that best suits it.
  • All Love Is Unrequited: Guilbert loves Rebecca who loves Ivanhoe who loves Rowena.
  • Altum Videtur: The churchmen in this novel are very prone to lapsing into gratuitous Latin. Even Rebecca does it at one point.
  • Anachronism Stew: As Scott himself admitted. See above.
  • Anticlimax: In the trial by combat to determine the fate of Rebecca, Brian de Bois-Guilbert, the invincible Templar, is facing Wilfred of Ivanhoe, who is still recovering from his wounds — but when they actually joust, Bois-Guilbert simply keels over dead, "a victim of his own contending passions," and Wilfred is left standing there, looking awkward.
  • Arrow Gram
  • Attempted Rape: Bois-Guilbert is foiled in this by Rebecca's threatening to throw herself off the tower See Driven to Suicide, below.
  • Badass Preacher: Friar Tuck
  • Being Good Sucks: One reason Rebecca doesn't really enjoy herself in the novel.
  • Berserk Button: For Gurth, Cedric attacking his dog Fangs.
  • Betty and Veronica
  • Big Damn Heroes: The Black Knight for Ivanhoe, Ivanhoe for Rebecca.
  • Black and White Morality: YMMV. Certainly most of the Goodies are very good, and most of the Baddies very bad, but it does not prevent them from being memorable characters. One is inclined to say that, rather than being Black and White, they are all rendered in primary colours.
  • Black Knight: "Le Noir Faineant" (aka The Black Sluggard)
  • Blood Knight: Front-de-Bœuf
  • Boisterous Bruiser: Perhaps the most outstanding examples are Friar Tuck and Cœur-de-Lion himself.
  • Burn the Witch: Rebecca's fate if her champion loses the Trial by Combat.
  • The Caretaker: Rebecca the beautiful Jewish maiden cares for Sir Wilfred of Ivanhoe after he is wounded in the tournament at Ashby-de-la-Zouche.
  • Character Title
  • Cold-Blooded Torture: As when Front-de-Bœuf threatens to roast Isaac alive on a grill.
  • Christianity Is Catholic: The setting dictates this, though Sir Walter throws in a number of hints that "it ain't necessarily so."
  • Corrupt Church: Sir Walter, being a conventional if not convicted Presbyterian, invented quite a few corrupt churchmen as Take Thats against the Roman Catholic Church: the worldly Prior Aylmer, the proud, cruel, and lustful Bois-Guilbert, the ignorant and violent "hedge-priest" Friar Tuck, the unscrupulous Malvoisin, the fanatical Beaumanoir, the greedy and treacherous Abbot Wolfram who betrays Athelstane. Indeed, there is not a single completely decent cleric in the whole novel.
  • Courtly Love: Played straight by Wilfred and Rowena (and Rebecca for Wilfred; subverted by Athelstane and de Bracy for Rowena; beaten all to hell and back by Bois-Guilbert for Rebecca
  • The Crusades: Where many of the main characters are returning from — specifically, the Third Crusade.
  • Dark Is Not Evil: See the Black Knight, above.
  • Did Not Do the Research: Numerous examples, of which perhaps the most extreme is the warping of the real Saxon name "Cerdic" into the previously non-existent "Cedric" — though making Ulrica, an Englishwoman of the 12th century, invoke "Zernebock" (i.e., Chernabog) is a pretty epic Research Failure, too.
  • The Dog Bites Back: Ulrica
  • Driven to Suicide: What Rebecca will be if Bois-Guilbert tries to seize her in the tower of Torquilstone.
  • The Dulcinea Effect: Ivanhoe champions Rebecca, who is not his Love Interest. Of course, he owed her his life.
  • The Dung Ages: Averted in Scott's original novel, though some adaptations have depicted at least parts of the setting this way.
  • Estrogen Brigade: In-universe. In the first volume, the narrator spends a lot of time repeatedly pointing out how much the ladies enjoy tournaments and matches between knights even more enthusiastically than many men.
  • Evil Chancellor: Waldemar Fitzurse — not personally depraved, but certainly ruthlessly ambitious — and a heck of a lot smarter than nearly all the other baddies.
  • The Evil Prince: Prince John, whose taking of this rôle in the Robin Hood legend was cemented by Scott.
  • Fan Sequel: W. M. Thackeray's Rebecca and Rowena.
  • Fate Worse Than Death: Rape, emphasized by Ulrica and Rebecca.
  • Feudal Overlord:
    • What Cedric is to Gurth and Wamba.
    • Baron Front-de-Bœuf
  • Florence Nightingale Effect: How Rebecca falls for Wilfred
  • Gratuitous Norman French: Mort de ma vie! The Normans here are always bursting out with Gallic oaths and phrases — in fact, the novel practically opens with a long discussion between Gurth and Wamba of the intermingling of French words with English and the subtle distinctions of meaning between them both.
  • Foil: Rowena and Rebecca, as Scott shows by paralleling their reactions to their would-be-rapists.
  • Greedy Jew: Isaac of York in Ivanhoe is somewhere between an example and a subversion.
  • The High Middle Ages: To be exact, the year 1194 A. D. (But see The Middle Ages below.)
  • Historical Fiction: One of the Trope Codifiers.
  • Historical Domain Character: Prince John and Richard Cœur-de-Lion
  • Historical Hero Upgrade: Richard I — though Scott's depiction is not uniformly a positive one; his Richard is proud, reckless, a bit sensual, rather violent, and perhaps on the whole not an entirely inaccurate depiction of the warrior king. Still, he does seem to leave out the king’s extreme arrogance, deviousness, intolerance, morbidity, and occasional bouts of almost insane fury. (The theory, by the way, that Richard was a homosexual — which would doubtless have scandalized the strait-laced Puritan Scott — was not seriously advanced until after his time.)
  • History Marches On: The view popularised by Sir Walter, of plucky "English" commoners still resisting their "Norman" overlords a century or two after the Conquest was questioned even in Scott's own time, and almost wholly abandoned by serious historians within the same century.
  • Hollywood Costuming: Scott's descriptions of clothing and armour are wildly at variance with our knowledge of 12th century costume.
  • Hollywood History: At times nearing Critical Research Failure.
  • Honour Before Reason: Wilfred tries to explain this concept to Rebecca, who still insists on Reason before Honour.
  • I Can Still Fight: What the wounded Wilfred asserts for Rebecca's trial by combat.
  • I Gave My Word: As Bois-Guilbert tells Rebecca: “Many a law, many a commandment have I broken, but my sworn word, never.”
  • It's All About Me: Brian de Bois-Guilbert, who is too blind even to be aware of it.
  • The Jester: Wamba
  • Kick the Dog: Gurth doesn't care how badly you treat him, but throw a javelin at his dog, and he's lost all respect for you.
  • King Incognito: Richard the Lion Heart is disguised as the Black Knight .
  • Knight in Shining Armor: In effect, if not in fact.
  • The Knights Hospitallers: The Hospitaller, Ralph de Vipont, is a much less formidable figure than any of the other challengers at Ashby-de-la-Zouche.
  • The Knights Templar: Most importantly Brian de Bois-Guilbert, but also Albert de Malvoisin, Grand Master Lucas de Beaumanoir, et al.
  • Knight Templar: Averted, oddly enough, by most of the actual Templars in the story, but played absolutely straight by Lucas de Beaumanoir, who is a Knight Templar in both senses of the term — indeed, the Grand Master of the Order.
  • Literary Agent Hypothesis: Scott originally published the novel under the pseudonym Laurence Templeton, in which guise he claimed he was merely transcribing and editing an actual medieval document, the "Wardour Manuscript" [1] — though the author’s actual identity seems to have been an open secret.
  • Love Dodecahedron: Rowena for Wilfred; Athelstane for Rowena, Maurice de Bracy for Rowena, Wilfred for Rowena; Rebecca for Wilfred; Bois-Guilbert for Rebecca.
  • Lust: Exemplified by a number of the baddies, perhaps most egregiously by Brian de Bois-Guilbert.
  • Matzo Fever: Rebecca
  • Medieval Morons: Averted for the most part; though some play is made of the credulity of the crowd during Rebecca's trial, it is made clear that the accusing witnesses found by Malvoisin are acting more out of greed, envy, and political corruption rather than out superstition. (Beaumanoir, though a fanatic, is not exactly a moron.)
  • The Middle Ages: Scott's Early Romantic, "Look-to-the-Knight-of-the-Fetterlock-Fair-Rebecca" conception of the 12th century England veers at times very close to the Theme Park Version of the mediæval period.
  • Names to Run Away From Really Fast: A lot of these. The Templar Preceptor Albert de Malvoisin ("bad neighbour").and his brother Philip; Reginald Front-de-Bœuf ("Or 'Beef-head'" as Richard Armour put it, in The Classics Reclassified). Waldemar Fitzurse's last name means "Son of the Bear" — which was also the surname of the ringleader of St. Thomas Becket's assassins.
  • Never My Fault: Bois-Guilbert, refusing to realize that Rebecca is in danger of being sentenced to burn mainly because he kidnapped her.
  • Nobody Calls Me Chicken: How Wilfred goads Bois-Guilbert into dueling him in the third volume.
  • Now Let Me Carry You: Rebecca nurses Wilfred back to health. Later he comes to save her from being burned as a witch.
  • Obfuscating Insanity: Wamba
  • Obliviously Evil: Bois-Guilbert so thoroughly buries himself under the tropes of Never My Fault and Playing the Victim Card that he honestly doesn't seem to understand that what he does to Rebecca makes him a villain, not her Knight in Shining Armor.
  • Eerie Pale-Skinned Brunette: Rebecca of York is described as having "Bright eyes, black locks, and a skin like paper, ere the priest stains it with his black unguent."
  • People of Hair Color: Although Scott’s assertion of a lingering racial animosity between Normans and Saxons was not absolutely without basis (there was in Henry II's time a Saxon noble called "William with the Beard" who refused to shave as a protest against the Conquest), there can be absolutely no doubt that such feelings were highly eccentric, uncommon, and of no practical social or political importance by the reign of Richard I.
  • Perverse Sexual Lust: William Makepeace Thackeray was in love with Rebecca.
"... ever since I grew to love Rebecca, that sweetest creature of the poet's fancy, and longed to see her righted."
Excerpt from Rebecca and Rowena
  • Pinball Protagonist: One of Scott's calling cards is the passive protagonist, who often spends most of the novel being carted around by the Action Hero. Ivanhoe is one of the best-known examples, and famously spends a battle sequence flat on his back in a tower, unable to see anything that's going on.
  • Playing the Victim Card: After Rebecca has been sentenced to death, Bois-Guilbert sees himself as the injured party because the girl still refuses to love him. Sure, it's his fault she's in this mess in the first place, but he would save her if she would just agree to reward him.
  • Prince Charming Wannabe: Bois-Guilbert just can't seem to wrap his head around the fact that "Marry me, and I'll save your life; refuse, and I'll let you die" is something villains, not heroes, do.
  • Public Domain Character: Robin Hood. Scott was not the first, by any means, but he is probably the most influential author in linking the outlaw's legend with Richard the Lion Heart and Prince John; more original with Scott was the linking of the legend with a supposed racial animosity between the Normans and the Saxons. Scott also popularised the name "Locksley" as associated with the outlaw.
  • Purple Prose: As an example, Ulrica’s parting Take That to Front-de-Bœuf:

 Farewell, Front-de-Bœuf! May Mista, Skogula, and Zernebock, gods of the ancient Saxons — fiends as the priests now call them – supply the place of comforters at your dying bed, which Ulrica now relinquishes! But know, if it will give thee comfort to know it, that Ulrica is bound to the same dark coast with thyself, the companion of thy punishment as the companion of thy guilt. And now, parricide, farewell for ever! May each stone of this vaulted roof find a tongue to echo that title into thine ear!


 In that war-cry is the downfall of thy house. The blood-cemented fabric of Front-de-Bœuf's power totters to the foundation, and before the foes he most despised! The Saxon, Reginald! The scorned Saxon assails thy walls! Why liest here, when the Saxon assails thy place of strength?


Tropes Present in the 1952 Movie

Tropes Present in the 1982 TV Adaptation

Tropes Present in the 1997 Miniseries

  1. a pun on "Wardour Street" in London, which was known for its shops that sold antique furniture of dubious provenance