Context: Written more hastily than his other metrical romances such as Lay of the Last Minstrel and Lady of the Lake, Scott's Marmion, a tale of the Scottish Border in the early sixteenth century, is flawed by melodrama, yet it maintains the lyric beauty and exciting story of his other dramatic pieces. The title character is Lord Marmion. He had persuaded a nun, Constance de Beverley, to leave her convent and for three years to accompany him, disguised as a page. Then, meeting the heiress Clare Fitz-Clare, he had discarded Constance, and was trying to discredit Clare's sweetheart, Ralph de Wilton, and marry her. He had fought a duel with Wilton and left him for dead on the field. Dispatched by Henry VIII of England to try to persuade James IV of Scotland to stop sending armed raiders across the border into England, Marmion gets as guide a holy palmer, really de Wilton in disguise. Though James refuses to agree, he puts Marmion under the protection of Archibald Douglas, the most powerful of his lords, who is also conveying to his castle an abbess and several nuns, including Constance on her way to execution, and Clare. When the Scotch and English armies meet in battle at Flodden Field, September 9, 1513, the Scotch king is killed, and the English under Thomas Howard, with both Wilton and Marmion fighting in his ranks, are the victors. Mortally wounded, Marmion receives water from Clare and Wilton. He is buried in an unmarked grave, and Clare and Wilton are married. Stanza 33 of Canto Six, following the death of Marmion, tells the sad plight of the Scotch. The poet thinks of the episode at the Pyrenees Pass of Roncesvalles when Roland and Oliver made their gallant fight against the Saracens in 778, and Roland too late sounded the trumpet that could have brought Charlemagne with reinforcements.
By this, though deep the evening fell,Still rose the battle's deadly swell,For still the Scots, around their King,Unbroken, fought in desperate ring.Where's now their victor vaward wing,Where Huntly, and where Home?–O, for a blast of that dread horn,On Fontarabian echoes borne.That to King Charles did come,When Rowland brave, and OlivierAnd every paladin and peer,On Roncesvalles died!. . .