Walter Scott


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Count Robert of Paris

(Tales of My Landlord, Fourth Series)

First Edition, First Impression:

Tales of My Landlord, Fourth and Last Series. Collected and Arranged by Jedediah Cleishbotham, Schoolmaster and Parish-Clerk of Gandercleuch. In Four Volumes. Vol. I (II-IV). Printed for Robert Cadell, Edinburgh; and Whittaker and Co., London, 1832.

Composition | Synopsis | Reception | Links


Count Robert on the throne of Emperor Alexius, drawn by William Boxall, engraved by William Greatbach, 1833 (Corson FNNH section)It was around February 1826, in the middle of writing Woodstock, that Scott read the Chronicles of the Good Knight Messire Jacques Lalain. Although he found much of it dull and repetitious, Scott soon recognized that it could be turned into a chivalric romance. It was more than four years later, though, in the autumn of 1830, that he actually set to work upon the story. Scott's publisher Cadell and those around him tried to persuade him to write something on a less epic scale, but, despite his rapidly deteriorating health, Scott sought a challenge. He believed that there was great potential in describing the declining Byzantine Empire as it confronted both Western Christendom and the advancing Ottoman Empire.While working on Count Robert, Scott's imagination was also fired by the tale of Douglas Castle, and he begun to work simultaneously on Castle Dangerous, with a view to publishing the two novels together as a fourth series of Tales of My Landlord. Friends and associates feared the effects of overwork (Scott suffered two strokes while working on Count Robert), and doctors advised him to seek a healthier climate abroad. A defiant Scott, though, agreed to travel only once the two novels were finished. He worked on, plagued by self-doubt, and in the face of heavy criticism of both novels from Ballantyne. Never before had writing been so laborious, and despite intense revision, Scott remained dissatisfied with Count Robert, fearing it would never be better than 'mended china' (letter to Cadell, 3 July 1831). It was eventually published along with Castle Dangerous on December 1, 1831.

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Count Robert is set during the reign of the Byzantine Emperor Alexius Comnenus (1081-1118) and focuses on the arrival of the first Crusaders in 1096. During the oath-taking ceremony on the eve of the Crusade, the haughty Count Robert insults the Emperor by seating himself on the imperial throne. Also offended is Robert's friend Hereward, a Saxon member of the Varangian guard, exiled from England after the Norman Conquest. When the Crusaders leave Byzance for Asia, Robert is drugged and detained as captive. His Amazonian wife, Brenhilda is held separately and persecuted by the enamoured Nicephorus Briennus, the emperor's son-in-law. Brenhilda challenges Nicephorus to combat, promising to give herself to him if defeated. In the meantime, Robert is freed by Hereward, and presents himself at the duel in his wife's stead. Nicephorus, though, does not appear as he has been arrested following the discovery of a plot to usurp Alexius. Still keen to avenge Robert's affront to the Emperor, Hereward takes his place. Robert defeats him but spares his life in gratitude for his earlier help. Hereward follows Robert to Palestine as a vassal, after discovering that his lost Saxon love Bertha is Brenhilda's waiting-woman. Through Robert's influence, a portion of Hereward's English property is restored to him.

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Death of Agelastes, illustration by Gordon Browne, 1894 (Corson P.4836)


Sales were strong, but the critics were slow to review the new volume. Most were uneffusive but respectful, with only the Gentleman's Magazine considering it an unqualified success, and only the Monthly Review branding it 'an unfortunate production'. The Edinburgh Literary Journal summed up the thoughts of many critics and non-professional readers, judging that the two novels 'must rank among the least successful of Sir Walter's works, and yet they bear about them sufficient traces of his genius to redeem them from absolute failure, even were they not his farewell gift to the public'.

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Last updated: 19-Dec-2011
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