Marmion Themes

The main themes in Marmion are compassion for the guilty, honor in a time of war, and the dangers of ambition.

  • Compassion for the guilty: Though Marmion has done many wrongs, he is shown mercy by those around him in the end.
  • Honor in a time of war: Even though he is an English knight, Marmion is respected by the Scottish nobles he meets.
  • The dangers of ambition: Marmion's ambition leads him to commit many wrongs, which ultimately lead to his downfall.


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Last Updated November 3, 2023.

Compassion for the Guilty

At the beginning of Marmion, Lord Marmion is treated with utmost respect and admiration by those around him and is honored by every noble he meets. Through Constance and de Wilton’s stories, however, the reader learns that Marmion has abandoned a woman who was dependent upon him out of his desire for Clara’s inheritance; he has also falsely accused de Wilton and ruined his reputation. Though Marmion loses much respect in the eyes of Douglas, his host in Scotland, as well as in the eyes of the reader, Scott shows him mercy in the end. As he dies, Clara takes pity on him and tends to him; Marmion also demonstrates great concern for Constance, wishing to help her, before Clara informs him that Constance has died. 

In what may be interpreted as poetic justice for his wrongs, Marmion is mistakenly buried in an unmarked grave, while a peasant is buried in the elaborately decorated tomb meant for him. In describing this grave, though, Scott encourages readers not to condemn the fallen Marmion. If they should locate his grave, he warns that anyone who has ever left “the right path for the wrong” in temptation should

Dread . . . to speak presumptuous doom
On noble Marmion’s lowly tomb;
But say, “He died a gallant knight,
With sword in hand, for England’s right.”

Honor in a Time of War

Lord Marmion, though an English knight, is greatly respected by the nobles he meets in Scotland—and even by King James IV himself. When Marmion and his men encounter Sir David Lindesay during their journey in Scotland, Lindesay’s greeting illustrates the respect King James has for Marmion: the king will receive him in his court 

Though [he] hath deeply swore
Ne’er to knit faith with Henry more,
And strictly hath forbid resort
From England to his royal court . . . 

King James has vowed to never again associate with King Henry VIII of England and has gone so far as to ban Englishmen from visiting his court. However, he will allow Marmion an audience with him because “he knows Lord Marmion’s name, / And honours much his warlike frame.” The king even sends Sir Lindesay to act as Marmion’s escort and host until the king can meet with them.

Douglas, the Earl of Angus, displays a similar respect for de Wilton after de Wilton reveals his identity to Douglas and tells the story of Marmion’s treachery. Douglas believes de Wilton’s tale and reinstates him as a knight before the Battle of Flodden. In gratitude, de Wilton promises that any time he meets “a Douglas” he will consider him his “brother.” Douglas refuses this promise, though he knows de Wilton will soon be fighting against Scotland and may encounter his sons in battle:

I have two sons in yonder field;
And, if thou meet’st them under shield
Upon them bravely—do thy worst;
And foul fall him that blenches first!

The respect and honor that Scottish nobles display toward Marmion and de Wilton demonstrate that in times of tension and war, honor is not always based on allegiance, but instead hinges on a person’s respectability.

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