Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1421
The English family of Waverley is long known for its Jacobite sympathies. In 1745, Waverley-Honour, the ancestral home of the family, is a quiet retreat for Sir Everard Waverley, an elderly Jacobite. In an attempt to seek political advantage in London, his brother, Richard Waverley, swears loyalty to the king.
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Edward Waverley, the son of Whig Richard, divides his time between his father and his Uncle Everard at Waverley-Honour. On that great estate, Edward is free to come and to go as he pleases, for his tutor Pembroke, a devout dissenter, is often too busy writing religious pamphlets to spend much time with the education of his young charge. When Edward becomes old enough, his father obtains a commission in the army for him. Shortly afterward, he is ordered to Scotland to join the dragoons of Colonel Gardiner. Equipped with the necessary articles of dress, accompanied by a retinue of men selected by Sir Everard, and weighed down by the dissenting tomes of Pembroke, Edward leaves Waverley-Honour in quixotic fashion to conquer his world.
He is instructed by Sir Everard to visit an old friend, Sir Cosmo Comyne Bradwardine, whose estate is near the village of Tully-Veolan in the Scottish Lowlands. Soon after his arrival at the post of Colonel Gardiner, Edward obtains leave to go to Tully-Veolan. There he finds Sir Everard’s friend both cordial and happy to see him. The few days spent at Tully-Veolan convince Edward that Scotland is a wilder and a more romantic land than his native England. He pays little attention to Rose Bradwardine, the baron’s daughter, his youthful imagination being fired instead by the songs and dances of Davie Gellatley, the baron’s servant, and by tales about the Scottish Highlanders and their rude ways. At Tully-Veolan, he is also confronted by a political issue that was but an idealistic quarrel in his former existence; these Scottish people are Jacobites, and because of his father’s politics and his own rank in the army of Hanoverian George II of England Edward ostensibly is a Whig Royalist.
During his stay at Tully-Veolan, an event occurs that changes Edward’s life. It begins with the unexpected arrival of Evan Dhu Maccombich, a Highlander in the service of the renowned clan chieftain Fergus Mac Ivor Vich Ian Vohr, a friend of the baron. Since his taste for romantic adventure is aroused, Edward begs another extension of his leave in order to accompany Evan Dhu into the Highlands. In those rugged hills, Edward is led to the cave that shelters the band of Donald Bean Lean, an outlaw who robs and plunders the wealthy Lowlanders. Staying with the bandit only long enough to discover the romantic attachment between Donald’s daughter Alice and Evan Dhu, Edward again sets out into the hills with his cheerful young guide. His curiosity is sufficiently whetted by Evan’s descriptions of Fergus Mac Ivor and his ancient castle deep in the Highland hills at Glennaquoich.
The welcome Mac Ivor extends to Edward is openhanded and hearty. No less warm is the quiet greeting that Flora, Mac Ivor’s sister, has for the English soldier. Flora is a beautiful woman of romantic, poetic nature, and Edward soon finds himself deeply in love with the chieftain’s sister. Mac Ivor seems to sanction the idea of a marriage. That union can never be, however, for Flora vows her life to another cause—that of placing Charles, the young Stuart prince, on the throne of England. When Edward proposes marriage, Flora advises him to seek a woman who can attach herself wholeheartedly to his happiness; Flora claims that she cannot divide her attentions between the Jacobite cause and marriage to one who is not an ardent supporter of Charles Edward Stuart.
Edward’s stay at Glennaquoich is interrupted by letters carried to him by Davie Gellatley from Tully-Veolan. The first is from Rose, who advises him that the Lowlands are in a state of revolt. Since her father is absent, she warns Edward not to return to Tully-Veolan. The other letters inform him that Richard Waverley engaged in some unfortunate political maneuvers that caused his political downfall. On the heels of this news come orders from Colonel Gardiner, who, having heard reports of Edward’s association with traitors, is relieving the young officer of his command. Repulsed by Flora and disgraced in his army career, Edward resolves to return to Waverley-Honour. He equips himself suitably for the dangerous journey and sets out toward the Lowlands.
Because of armed revolt in Scotland and the linking of the Waverley name with the Jacobite cause, Edward finds himself under arrest for treason against King George. The dissenting pamphlets of Pembroke that he carries, his stay in the Highlands, and the company he keeps there are suspicious circumstances that make it impossible for him to prove his innocence. He is captured by some of the king’s troops and turned over to an armed guard with orders to take him to Stirling Castle for trial on a charge of treason.
Because he is a friend of Mac Ivor, however, a quick ambush rescues Edward from his captors, and he finds himself once again in the hands of Highlanders. He recognizes them as a party of Donald Bean Lean’s followers. Indeed, Alice once appears among the men to slip a packet of letters to him, but at the time, he has no opportunity to read the papers she gives him so secretively.
A few days’ journey brings Edward to the center of Jacobite activities at Holyrood, the temporary court of Charles Edward Stuart, who secretly crosses the channel from France. There Edward finds Mac Ivor awaiting him. When the Highlander presents Edward to Charles, the Pretender welcomes the English youth because of the name he bears. The prince, trained in French courts, is a model of refinement and courtesy. His heartfelt trust gives Edward a feeling of belonging, particularly because he lost his commission, his cause unheard, in the English army. When Charles asks him to join in the Scottish uprising, Edward assents. Mac Ivor seems quite happy about Edward’s new allegiance. When the young Englishman asks about Flora, Mac Ivor explains that he brought her along to the prince’s court so that she can help him gain a political foothold once the battle is won. Edward resents this manner of using Flora as bait, but soon he perceives that the court of the Pretender functions very much like the French court where Charles and his followers learned statecraft. Mac Ivor presses Edward to continue his courtship of Flora. The sister of Mac Ivor, however, meets his advances coldly. In the company of the Highland beauty is Rose, whose father also joins the Stuart cause.
Edward is accepted as a cavalier by the women who cluster around Charles. Under the influence of the Pretender’s courtly manners, Edward soon becomes a favorite, but Mac Ivor’s sister persists in ignoring him. He begins to compare the two women, Rose and Flora, and Rose gains favor in his eyes as he watches them together.
The expedition of the Pretender and his Highlanders is doomed to failure. As they march southward to England, they begin to lose hope. The prince orders a retreat to Scotland. Many of the clansmen are killed at the disastrous Battle of Culloden. The survivors escape to the Highlands to spend their days in hiding from troops sent to track them down. A few are fortunate enough to make their way in safety to France.
Edward manages to get away and to find a friend who helps him to steal back to Scotland, where he hopes to find Rose. By now, Edward clears himself of the earlier charges of treachery and desertion, which were the initial cause of his joining the Pretender. It is Donald Bean Lean who deceives Colonel Gardiner with a false report of Edward’s activities. The letters Alice slips to him convey that information to Edward. Now he hopes to escape to France with Rose and wait for a pardon from England. Richard Waverley dies, and Edward inherits his fortune.
Mac Ivor and Evan Dhu are executed for their crimes against the Crown, and the power of the Highland clan is broken. Flora enters a Catholic convent in France, the country in which she was reared. Edward and Rose are married once Edward makes certain of his pardon. They return to Tully-Veolan, where the baron’s estate awaits its heirs.