Last Updated November 3, 2023.
Though Lord Marmion is held in the greatest esteem and welcomed with utmost honor by nobles of both England and Scotland, he demonstrates great selfishness and deceit. Prior to the events of the poem, Marmion abandoned his mistress, Constance, who had left her convent to follow him. This abandonment led to her brutal execution at the hands of religious authorities. Marmion also lied about Sir Ralph de Wilton in order to secure for himself de Wilton’s fiancée, Clara—or, more accurately, Clara’s large inheritance.
In the poem, Marmion is sent as an emissary from the king of England to the king of Scotland; while the king of Scotland receives Marmion cordially, he refuses to call off his battle plans, and Marmion joins England in the Battle of Flodden. In the end, Marmion dies from his battle wounds and is buried in an unmarked grave, while a peasant is mistakenly buried in the extravagant tomb meant for him. Despite Marmion’s many wrongs, the narrator urges those who might visit Marmion’s lowly grave to not “speak presumptuous doom” on “noble Marmion,” but to recognize that “he died a gallant knight, / With sword in hand, for England’s right.”
Constance de Beverley
Constance is a former nun and was, at one point, Marmion’s lover. The reader is first introduced to Constance in the second canto, when she is on a ship bound for St. Cuthbert’s Island for her inquisition: she has been “numbered with the dead” by the church “for broken vows, and convent fled.” Constance reveals at her inquisition that she had fled her convent to be with Marmion, who proceeded to abandon her and fall in love with Clara de Clare instead. Constance, hoping to win Marmion’s affections, assisted him in forging documents implicating Clara’s fiancé, Ralph de Wilton, of treason. Constance produces these documents shortly before she is executed.
Clara de Clare
Clara—who is also referred to as “Clare” throughout the poem—is a young woman with whom Marmion falls in love because of her large inheritance. The narrator describes her as “lovely, and gentle, and distressed” in the second canto: she became a nun to avoid marriage to Marmion after he falsely accused her fiancé, de Wilton, of disloyalty to the king of England. Though she spurns Marmion for his treatment of de Wilton and fears falling into his clutches, Clara shows Marmion mercy, bringing him water and tending his wounds as he dies. With Marmion dead and his treacherous actions revealed, Clara is able to marry the vindicated de Wilton in the end.
Sir Ralph de Wilton
De Wilton is an English knight and Clara’s fiancé. When Marmion, seeking to win Clara for himself, fabricates documents implicating de Wilton of treason, de Wilton loses his titles, honor, and land. Desperate to defend his honor and protect Clara, de Wilton duels Marmion and nearly dies; however, de Wilton’s friend tends his wounds and helps him recover. De Wilton disguises himself as a palmer and acts as Marmion’s guide throughout his journey in Scotland. One night, he nearly kills Marmion, but remembering a promise he made to his friend to refrain from killing even his “deadliest enemy,” de Wilton spares his life and disappears, resuming his disguise as a palmer the next morning.
De Wilton eventually reveals his identity to Douglas, a Scottish earl with whom Marmion and his men had been staying, and presents Constance’s documents proving his innocence, which had been given to him by the abbess; Douglas believes his story and reinstates him as a knight. De Wilton fights courageously for England, regains his titles and land, and marries Clara with the king’s blessing.