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 September 5, 2023.

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. The helmet belongs to a statue of Prince Alfonso the Good. A peasant named Theodore makes the connection to the statue, and is thus imprisoned. 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. Manfred is afraid of this prophecy coming true, hence his quick and rash actions.

Isabella gets lost in the passages of the castle, but escapes Manfred with the aid of the imprisoned peasant, Theodore, and seeks refuge in a nearby church. Whilst Manfred is searching for Isabella, there are reports of a giant sleeping in the castle’s great hall. When Manfred goes to investigate, the giant is strangely gone. Meanwhile, the patroness at the church Isabella has sought refuge in happens to be Manfred's wife, Hippolita. Isabella informs Father Jerome, the priest, of Manfred's intention to divorce his wife in order to marry her. Father Jerome intercedes on Isabella's behalf, and this enrages Manfred further. Father Jerome seeks to divert his attention by hinting that Theodore is involved and Isabella cares for him, but this only results in a death sentence for Theodore. Theodore himself admits to helping Isabella but denies having ever met her before. Theodore is saved from execution by the pleadings of Father Jerome, who discovers he is Theodore's father. Theodore has a distinct birthmark on his neck that proves this relation.

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 Vicenza, who claims to be the true heir to his title. They carry a colossal sword: the party has come to retrieve Isabella. Leading this party is the Knight of the Gigantic Sabre. 

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 then astonishingly reveals his true identity. The knight is the Marquis of Vicenza, Isabella's father. He claims that the sword is a powerful weapon to atone for Manfred’s wrongs and restore Otranto to its rightful owners.

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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