Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 996
Nigel Olifaunt, lord of Glenvarloch, a gallant young Scotsman who comes to England to collect payment for injustices committed against his noble family. Naïve and impressionable, he becomes involved in gambling and ribaldry in the ordinaries and gaming houses of the town. This experience leads to his association...
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Nigel Olifaunt, lord of Glenvarloch, a gallant young Scotsman who comes to England to collect payment for injustices committed against his noble family. Naïve and impressionable, he becomes involved in gambling and ribaldry in the ordinaries and gaming houses of the town. This experience leads to his association with ruffians and life in Alsatia, the haunt of bully-boys, thieves, and murderers. A brave youth, he kills a robber in his rooming house and saves the life of Martha Trapbois, his landlord’s daughter. Imprisoned for carrying arms in the presence of King James, he languishes while his faithful servant negotiates for the money owed the Glenvarlochides, as the king calls them. On his return to Scotland, he is accompanied by his bride, Margaret Ramsay, an English commoner now known to be of noble Scottish descent.
James I, king of England, whose conduct makes him a portentous clown among the Stuarts. His folly, insensibilities, and erudition are interwoven to make him a comedic character, to the detriment of the suspense of the story.
Richard (Richie) Moniplies
Richard (Richie) Moniplies, Nigel’s faithful page. His capabilities and fortitude make Nigel’s expedition a success. Richie’s impudence is offset by better qualities, to justify his winning the wealthiest woman, although of low birth, in the story. Money becomes Richie more than rank or station.
Lord Dalgarno, a spendthrift Scotsman who knows the ways of London. Befriending the newly arrived Nigel, Dalgarno introduces him to the seamy side of life, only to desert him in time of reverses and to report Nigel’s unbecoming behavior to court circles. The villain Dalgarno marries Martha Trapbois, a usurer’s daughter, for her large sum of money, but deserts her and takes another man’s wife with him when he starts back to Scotland. Richie murders him.
Master George Heriot
Master George Heriot, an old goldsmith and confidant of the king who is involved in most of the political intrigue surrounding Nigel’s efforts to regain family property and Dalgarno’s rascality to prevent Nigel’s success.
Reginald Lowestoffe, a young, profligate law student who befriends Nigel in Alsatia. He aids Richie in avenging Nigel against Dalgarno.
Margaret Ramsay, the beautiful young daughter of a London clockmaker. Enamored of Nigel because of his handsome appearance and his ill fortune at the hands of Dalgarno, she goes before the king in the disguise of a page to plead for Nigel’s release from the Tower of London. Through Heriot’s efforts, Margaret and Nigel are married, Margaret’s noble heritage having been established to save the union from that of nobleman and commoner.
Martha Trapbois, the uneducated but wise daughter of a moneylender in Alsatia, in whose house Nigel lives in his exile from society. Nigel saves her life during a robbery and flees with her when she takes her father’s great money chest. She is intercepted on her way to John Christie’s rooming house by Dalgarno, who marries her for her wealth. After Dalgarno’s murder, she marries Richie Moniplies.
Lady Hermione, a descendant of the House of Glenvarloch and long an isolate in the house of George Heriot, after her criminal abduction from her Spanish husband. Approached for counsel by Margaret Ramsay, Lady Hermione encourages the young woman to leave no stone unturned in winning and keeping her lover, Nigel.
Andrew Skurliewhitter, the scrivener who handles all court papers. An accomplice to Dalgarno, he lacks courage to complete the thefts that will accomplish Dalgarno’s purposes, and he disappears from the scene and the story when Dalgarno is murdered.
Dame Nelly Christie
Dame Nelly Christie, the housewife who elopes with Dalgarno when he flees with money and papers to Scotland. A simpering woman, she pleads to become Dalgarno’s loving wife rather than his loving lady. She is apprehended by her husband at the scene of Dalgarno’s murder.
John Christie, her husband, a ship chandler who acts as a news carrier from his rooming house.
Sir Mungo Malagrowther
Sir Mungo Malagrowther, a confidant of the King. As Nigel’s adversary, he adds considerably to the young nobleman’s difficulties.
Dame Ursula Suddlechop
Dame Ursula Suddlechop, a barber’s wife who acts as a matchmaker, her activity bordering on sorcery. She predicts marriage between Margaret Ramsay and Jenkin Vincent, as well as other unfulfilled prophecies.
Jenkin Vincent, a young apprentice to the clockmaker. Thwarted in his desire for Margaret, he is sent, through the efforts of George Heriot, on an important business mission to Paris. It is assumed that he returns to London and establishes a prosperous business with his fellow apprentice.
Frank Tunstall, another apprentice to the clockmaker, introduced into the plot only as a possible suitor to Margaret.
David Ramsay, Margaret’s father. An ingenious, whimsical mechanic, he becomes a successful horologist.
The Duke of Buckingham
The Duke of Buckingham, a favorite of King James, at odds with Nigel when he appears at court to sue for money due his family.
Prince Charles, the son of King James. His chief function seems to be to point up the foolish behavior of the king.
Lord Huntinglen, Dalgarno’s father. A righteous man, he would have the Glenvarlochs compensated. In the manner of the old nobility, he deplores his son’s villainy.
Trapbois, Martha’s father, a usurer, murdered by accomplices of the scrivener, who thinks that Trapbois was able to steal Nigel’s mortgage papers while Nigel lived in the Trapbois house in Alsatia.
Captain Colepepper, a cowardly criminal who flees any danger but may be talked into any villainy. He and the scrivener plot against Dalgarno as Dalgarno plots against Nigel.
De Beaujeu, a gaming-house keeper whose establishment, as a rendezvous, is a focal point for much of the action in the novel.