Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1247
Night is drawing near when Prior Aymer of Jorvaux and the haughty Templar Brian de Bois-Guilbert overtake a swineherd and a fool by the roadside and ask directions to Rotherwood, the dwelling of Cedric the Saxon. The answers of these serfs so confuse the Templar and the prior that they would have gone far afield were it not for a pilgrim from the Holy Land whom they encounter shortly afterward. The pilgrim is also traveling to Rotherwood, and he brings them safely to Cedric’s hall, where they claim lodging for the night. It is the custom of those rude days to afford hospitality to all travelers, so Cedric gives a grudging welcome to the Norman lords.
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There is a feast at Rotherwood that night. On the dais beside Cedric the Saxon sits his ward, the lovely Lady Rowena, descendant of the ancient Saxon princes. It is the old man’s ambition to wed her to Athelstane of Coningsburgh, who comes from the line of King Alfred. Because his son, Wilfred of Ivanhoe, fell in love with Lady Rowena, Cedric banished him, and the young knight went with King Richard to Palestine. None in the banquet hall that night suspects that the pilgrim is Ivanhoe himself.
Another traveler who claims shelter at Rotherwood that night is an aged Jew, Isaac of York. Hearing some orders the Templar mutters to his servants at the feast’s end, Ivanhoe warns the Jew that Bois-Guilbert has designs on his moneybag or his person. Without taking leave of their host the next morning, the disguised pilgrim and Isaac of York leave Rotherwood together and continue on to the nearby town of Ashby de la Zouche.
Many other travelers are on their way to the town, for a great tournament is to be held there. Prince John, the regent of England in King Richard’s absence, is to preside. The winner of the tournament will be allowed to name the Queen of Love and Beauty and receive the prize of the passage of arms from her hands.
Ivanhoe attends the tournament with the word Disinherited written on his shield. Entering the lists, he strikes the shield of Bois-Guilbert with the point of his lance and challenges the knight to mortal combat. In the first passage, both knights splinter their lances, but neither is unhorsed. At the second passage, Ivanhoe’s lance strikes Bois-Guilbert’s helmet and upsets him. Then, one by one, Ivanhoe vanquishes five knights who agreed to take on all comers. When the heralds declare the Disinherited Knight victor of the tourney, Ivanhoe names Lady Rowena the Queen of Love and Beauty.
In the tournament on the following day, Ivanhoe is pressed hard by three antagonists, but he receives unexpected help from a knight in black, whom the spectators call the Black Sluggard because of his previous inactivity. Because of his earlier triumphs during the day, Ivanhoe is again named champion of the tournament. To receive the gift from Lady Rowena, Ivanhoe removes his helmet, and when he does, he is recognized. He receives the chaplet, his prize, kisses the hand of Lady Rowena, and then faints from loss of blood. Isaac of York and his daughter, Rebecca, are sitting nearby, and Rebecca suggests to her father that they nurse Ivanhoe until he is well. Isaac and his daughter start for their home with the wounded knight carried in a horse litter. On the way, they join the train of Cedric the Saxon, who is still ignorant of the Disinherited Knight’s identity.
Before the travelers go far, however, they are set upon and captured by a party led by three Norman knights, Bois-Guilbert, Maurice de Bracy, and Reginald Front de Boeuf. They are imprisoned in Front de Boeuf’s castle of Torquilstone. De Bracy has designs on Lady Rowena because she is an heiress of royal lineage. The Templar desires to possess Rebecca. Front de Boeuf hopes to extort a large sum of money from the aged Jew. Cedric is held for ransom. The wounded knight is put into the charge of an ancient hag named Ulrica.
Isaac and his daughter are placed in separate rooms. Bois-Guilbert goes to Rebecca in her tower prison and asks her to adopt Christianity so that they might be married. The plot of the Norman nobles against their prisoners is thwarted by an assault on the castle by Richard the Lion-Hearted, the knight known as the Black Sluggard at the Ashby tournament, in company with Robin Hood and his outlaws. Ulrica aids the besiegers by starting a fire within the castle walls. Robin Hood and his men take the prisoners to the forest along with the Norman nobles. In the confusion, however, Bois-Guilbert escapes with Rebecca, and Isaac prepares to ransom her from the Templar. De Bracy is set free, and he hurries to inform Prince John that he saw and talked with Richard. John plots to make Richard his prisoner.
Isaac goes to the establishment of the Knights Templar and begs to see Bois-Guilbert. Lucas de Beaumanoir, the grand master of the Templars, orders Isaac admitted to his presence. Isaac is frightened when the grand master asks him his business with the Templar. When he tells his story, the grand master learns that Bois-Guilbert abducted Rebecca. It is suggested that Rebecca cast a spell on Bois-Guilbert. Condemned as a witch, she is sentenced to be burned at the stake. In desperation, she demands, as is her right, a champion to defend her against the charge. Lucas de Beaumanoir agrees and names Bois-Guilbert to face that champion.
The day arrives for Rebecca’s execution. A pile of wood is placed around the stake. Seated in a black chair, Rebecca awaits the arrival of her defender. Three times the heralds call on a champion to appear. At the third call, a strange knight rides into the lists and announces himself as Rebecca’s champion. When Bois-Guilbert realizes that the stranger is Ivanhoe, he at first refuses combat because Ivanhoe’s wounds are not completely healed. Nevertheless, the grand master gives orders for the contest to begin. As everyone expects, the tired horse of Ivanhoe and its exhausted rider go down at the first blow, so that Ivanhoe’s lance merely touches the shield of the Templar. To the astonishment of all, however, Bois-Guilbert reels in his saddle and falls to the ground. Ivanhoe arises and draws his sword. Placing his foot on the breast of the fallen knight, he calls on Bois-Guilbert to yield himself or die on the spot. There is no answer from Bois-Guilbert; he is dead, a victim of the violence of his own passions. The grand master declares that Rebecca is acquitted of the charge against her. At that moment, the Black Knight appears, followed by a band of knights and men-at-arms. It is King Richard, who comes to arrest Rebecca’s accusers on a charge of treason. The grand master sees the flag of the Temple hauled down and the royal standard raised in its place.
King Richard returns in secret to reclaim his throne. Robin Hood becomes his true follower. Athelstane forfeits his claims to Lady Rowena’s hand so that she and Ivanhoe can be married. Reconciled at last with his son, Cedric the Saxon gives his consent, and Richard himself graces their wedding. Isaac and Rebecca leave England for Granada, hoping to find in that foreign land greater happiness than could ever be theirs in England.