The Poem

(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Wherever Lord Marmion goes, he is welcomed and honored as a brave and valiant knight. The English king has sent him to the Scottish court to try to persuade that country’s king to end armed raids in the Border country. Marmion asks a Scottish lord to furnish him a guide, someone of peaceful appearance, and since no one else is available the lord sends a palmer, a holy man who had made many pilgrimages to religious shrines.

At the same time, an abbess, accompanied by several nuns, is making a sea voyage to Cuthbert Isle to hold an inquisition over two prisoners of the Church. One of the young nuns aboard, still a novice, is Clare Fitz-Clare, a lovely young woman who had entered the abbey after her lover, dishonored, had, it was believed, died. One of the accused is Constance de Beverley, a nun who has broken her vows and run away from the convent. Before she is put to death, Constance tells the abbess and her other accusers the story of her fall from grace.

Constance’s betrayer is Lord Marmion. Believing his protestations of love for her, she escapes from the convent and follows him for three years as his page. Then Marmion meets lovely Clare Fitz-Clare, and, because she is an heir of great wealth, he abandons Constance to seek Clare for his bride. The king promises him that he should have Clare, but she loves another knight, Ralph de Wilton.

Marmion forges papers that offer false proof that Wilton is not true to the king. The two knights fight a duel, and de Wilton is left for dead. Constance, soon to die, gives the papers proving the forgery to the abbess and implores her to get the papers to the king to save Clare from a hateful marriage. Although the woman has entered a convent rather than marry Marmion, the king will force the marriage if Clare is found, for Marmion is a great favorite at court. Although her judges pity her, Constance is put to a horrible death after she tells her story.

Marmion continues on his way to the court. Guilty thoughts of Constance worry him; he had been responsible for her capture by the Church. He soothes his conscience with the belief that she will not be severely punished. One night as they stay at an inn a young boy sings a ballad about the soul’s disquiet of every man who would betray a maid. At the end of the song Marmion thinks he hears the tolling of a death bell. When the knight mentions the tolling sound he hears, the palmer speaks his first words, saying that it is the toll of death for a friend. That night Marmion, unable to sleep, goes out into the dark to ride. There he is attacked by what seems a devil, for the man has the face of de Wilton, long dead. The strangest part is that Marmion’s mysterious...

(The entire section is 1104 words.)


(Great Characters in Literature)

Alexander, J. H. “Marmion”: Studies in Interpretation and Composition. Salzburg: Institut für Anglistik und Amerikanistik, Universität Salzburg, 1981. Approaches Marmion from several different points of view; the most exacting modern appraisal.

Alexander, J. H., and David Hewett, eds. Scott and His Influence. Aberdeen, Scotland: Association for Scottish Literary Studies, 1983. Specialized scholarly papers on a variety of Scott topics, including Marmion.

Cockshut, A. O. J. The Achievement of Walter Scott. London: Collins, 1969. A widely available introduction to the man and his work—reasonable, centrist, and modern. Chapters on Scott’s major poems precede those dealing with his novels and other works.

Goslee, Nancy Moore. Scott the Rhymer. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1988. Includes separate chapters on The Lay of the Last Minstrel, Marmion, and The Lady of the Lake (1810). Almost the only serious critique of Scott’s long poems since modern techniques of analysis were developed. Deserves to be read in full.

Johnson, Edgar. Sir Walter Scott: The Great Unknown. 2 vols. New York: Macmillan, 1970. Intended to commemorate the two hundredth anniversary of Scott’s birth, Johnson’s critical biography is the most important modern book on Scott. Contains unsurpassed discussions of his major poems, including The Lay of the Last Minstrel, Marmion, and The Lady of the Lake.