(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

The threatened loss of his family estates in Scotland sends Nigel Olifaunt, the lord of Glenvarloch, and his servant, Richard Moniplies, to London. Their mission there is to petition King James I for the repayment of large loans made to the crown by Nigel’s late father. After Richie Moniplies makes an unsuccessful attempt to deliver his master’s petition, he is followed from the court by George Heriot, the royal goldsmith, who goes to Nigel and offers to help him gain favor with the king. Heriot gives his friendship with Nigel’s late father as his motive. He succeeds in presenting Nigel’s petition to the king. King James, in royal good humor, orders Heriot to provide Nigel with money needed to outfit himself properly for an appearance at court, so that he can speak in his own behalf. The king gives Heriot a small crown of jewels with instructions that the gems are to remain in Heriot’s possession until the state repays him for the money he will lend to Nigel. The state’s finances are seriously depleted, and the king is forced to do business by warrant.

While dining at Heriot’s house the next day, Nigel meets Margaret Ramsay, Heriot’s godchild and the daughter of David Ramsay, the royal clockmaker. Margaret promptly loses her heart to Nigel, but because he is a nobleman, she is too shy to talk with him. That same night, however, she commissions Dame Suddlechop, a local gossip, to investigate Nigel and his business. The Dame already knows that Nigel has powerful enemies in court, who are interested in seeing that he is prevented from taking rightful possession of his estates. On the promise of more money in the future, the old gossip agrees to learn all she can about Nigel and his affairs.

Dressed in clothing bought by money advanced by Heriot, Nigel goes to the king with his petition. At first, he has difficulty in gaining admittance, but at last, he manages to see the king. The king confesses that there are no funds available for the debt, but he makes a notation on the petition to the Scottish Exchequer and tells Nigel that perhaps he can borrow from moneylenders on the strength of the royal warrant. Nigel leaves the court with Heriot and the earl of Huntinglen, who befriends him because of his father’s name.

Anticipating a session with the moneylenders, the three decide to have a paper drawn up, a document that will allow Nigel ample time to redeem his estates by means of the king’s warrant. Trusting Heriot and the old earl to handle his business, Nigel devotes himself to becoming acquainted with the earl’s young son, Lord Dalgarno. Pretending friendship, Dalgarno in reality begins a campaign to undermine Nigel’s character and reputation and complete his financial ruin. Dalgarno himself hopes to gain possession of Nigel’s estate.

Dalgarno takes Nigel to gaming houses and other questionable places until Nigel’s reputation begins to suffer in the city and at court. At last, even faithful Richie asks for permission to leave his service and return to Scotland. Immediately after Richie’s departure, Nigel receives an anonymous note, telling him of Dalgarno’s plot to ruin him. At first, Nigel refuses to consider such a possibility, but at length he decides to investigate the charges. When he confronts Dalgarno in the park and accuses him of knavery, Dalgarno is so contemptuous of him that Nigel draws his sword and strikes Dalgarno. The young courtier is not injured....

(The entire section is 1405 words.)