The Castle of Otranto

by Horace Walpole
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The Castle of Otranto Summary

The Castle of Otranto is a novel by Horace Walpole. The usurper Manfred plots to secure his rule over Otranto by marrying princess Isabella.

  • Manfred plans to have Isabella marry his son Conrad. However, Conrad is killed, and Manfred decides to marry Isabella himself.

  • Isabella flees the castle, aided by a peasant named Theodore.

  • Isabella's father arrives to retrieve her, but he falls in love with Manfred's daughter, Matilda. A deal is struck, in which Manfred will wed Isabella while her father marries Matilda. However, Manfred accidentally kills Matilda.

  • Theodore, who is revealed to be of noble birth, marries Isabella and assumes the throne. 


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Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 383

Manfred, Prince of Otranto is determined to secure the transmission of his title, castle, and state to his only son, Conrad, via Conrad's marriage to Princess Isabella. The morning of the wedding, however, Conrad is crushed under a mysterious giant helmet, and Manfred, in his agitated state of mind, determines to marry Isabella himself, against Isabella's will. A strange prophecy predicted that the estate would pass out of Manfred's family when the rightful owner had grown too large to inhabit it.

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Isabella escapes Manfred with the aid of a peasant, Theodore, and seeks refuge in a nearby church, whose patroness happens to be Manfred's wife, Hippolita. Isabella informs Jerome, the priest, of Manfred's intention to divorce his wife in order to marry her. Jerome intercedes on Isabella's behalf, and this enrages Manfred further. Jerome seeks to divert his attention by hinting that Theodore is involved, but this only results in a death sentence for Theodore. Theodore is saved from execution by the pleadings of Jerome, who discovers he is Theodore's father. A retinue of a herald, knights, squires, pages, and retainers appears at the sound of a trumpet at the gates of Castle Otranto, and the herald gives Manfred a challenge on behalf of the Marquis of Vicenzo, who claims to be the true heir to his title. The party has come to retrieve Isabella.

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Latest answer posted January 17, 2011, 7:29 pm (UTC)

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Manfred's daughter, Matilda, releases Theodore from his confinement in the dark tower, and he finds Isabella and helps to hide her in a tunnel. He is confronted by a knight, whom he wounds, but they figure out that they are on the same side. The knight is the Marquis of Vicenza, Isabella's father. With Isabella secure, they return to the castle, where the Marquis falls in love with one of Manfred's daughters, Matilda, who has already fallen in love with Theodore. Just when it appears the two houses might peacefully reconcile in marriage, Manfred, in a fit of jealousy over an imagined tryst between Isabella and Theodore, stabs his own daughter in a case of mistaken identity. Theodore might have married Matilda were it not for Manfred's rash violence. Theodore, it turns out, is of noble birth. Theodore and Isabella are eventually married, and they become the lord and lady of Castle Otranto, as the prophecy is fulfilled.


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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 974

Manfred, the prince of Otranto, plans to marry his fifteen-year-old son Conrad to Isabella, the daughter of the marquis of Vicenza. On the day of the wedding, however, a servant runs into the hall and informs the assembled company that a huge helmet has appeared mysteriously in the courtyard of the castle. When Count Manfred and his guests rush into the courtyard, they find Conrad crushed to death beneath a gigantic helmet adorned with waving black plumes. Theodore, a young peasant, declares the helmet is like that on a statue of Prince Alfonso the Good, which stands in the chapel. Another spectator shouts that the helmet is missing from the statue. Prince Manfred imprisons the young peasant as a magician and charges him with the murder of the heir to Otranto.

That evening, Manfred sends for Isabella. He informs her that he intends to divorce his wife so that he himself might marry her and have another male heir. Frightened, Isabella runs away and loses herself in the passages beneath the castle. There she encounters Theodore, who helps her to escape through an underground passage into a nearby church. Manfred, searching for the girl, accuses the young man of aiding her. As he is threatening Theodore, servants rush up to tell the prince of a giant who is sleeping in the great hall of the castle. When Manfred returns to the hall, the giant disappears.

The following morning, Father Jerome comes to inform Manfred and his wife that Isabella took sanctuary at the altar of his church. Sending his wife away, Manfred calls on the priest to help him divorce his wife and marry Isabella. Father Jerome refuses, warning Manfred that heaven will punish him for harboring such thoughts. The priest unthinkingly suggests Isabella might be in love with the handsome young peasant who aided in her escape.

Manfred, enraged at the possibility, confronts Theodore. Although the young man does not deny having aided the princess, he claims never to have seen her before. The frustrated Manfred orders him to the courtyard to be executed, and Father Jerome is called to give absolution to the condemned man; however, when the collar of the lad is loosened, the priest discovers a birthmark that proves the young peasant to be Father Jerome’s son, born before the priest entered the Church. Manfred offers to stay the execution if the priest will deliver Isabella to him. At that moment, a trumpet sounds at the gates of the castle.

The trumpet signals the arrival of a herald from the Knight of the Gigantic Sabre, champion of Isabella’s father, who is the rightful heir to Otranto. Greeting Manfred as a usurper, the herald demands either the immediate release of Isabella and Manfred’s abdication or the satisfaction of mortal combat. Manfred invites the Knight of the Gigantic Sabre to the castle, hoping to get his permission to marry Isabella and keep the throne. The knight enters the castle with five hundred men at arms and a hundred more carrying one gigantic sword.

During the feast, the strange knight keeps silent and raises his visor only to pass food into his mouth. Later, Manfred broaches the question of marrying Isabella, telling the knight he wishes to marry again to ensure himself of an heir. Before he finishes, Father Jerome arrives with the news of Isabella’s disappearance from the church. After everyone goes to look for Isabella, Manfred’s daughter, Matilda, helps Theodore to escape from the castle.

In the forest, Theodore meets Isabella and promises to protect her. Shortly thereafter, they meet the Knight of the Gigantic Sabre. Fearing the knight means harm to Isabella, the young man overcomes him in combat. The knight, thinking he is about to die, reveals to Isabella that he is her father. They return together to the castle, where Isabella’s father confides to her that he discovered the gigantic sword in the Holy Land. It is a miraculous weapon; on the blade is written that only the blood of Manfred can atone for the wrongs committed on the family of the true ruler of Otranto. When Manfred returns to the castle, he finds Theodore dressed in armor. It seems to Manfred that the young man resembles the prince whose throne Manfred usurped.

Manfred still hopes to wed Isabella, and he craftily wins her father’s consent by allowing that nobleman’s betrothal to Matilda. At that point, a nearby statue drips blood from its nose, an omen that disaster will follow the proposed marriages.

Manfred sees only two courses open to him. One is to surrender all claims to Otranto; the other is to proceed with his plan to marry Isabella. In either case, it appears that fate is against his success. A second appearance of the giant in the castle does not ease the anxiety he feels. When Isabella’s father hears of the giant, he decides not to court disaster by marrying Matilda or by permitting Manfred to marry his daughter. His resolution is strengthened when a skeleton in the rags of a hermit exhorts him to renounce Matilda.

Hours later, Manfred is told that Theodore is in the chapel with a woman. Jealous, he goes to the chapel and stabs the woman, who is his own daughter Matilda. Over the body of Matilda, Theodore announces that he is the true ruler of Otranto. Suddenly, the giant form of the dead Prince Alfonso appears, proclaiming Theodore to be the true heir. Then he ascends to heaven, where he is received by St. Nicholas.

The truth becomes known that Theodore is the son of Father Jerome, when he was still prince of Falconara, and Alfonso’s daughter. Manfred confesses his usurpation, and he and his wife enter neighboring convents. Theodore marries Isabella and rules as the new prince of Otranto.

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