Walter Scott

“Oh what a tangled web we weave, when first we practise to deceive!” These often-quoted words are from Walter Scott’s epic poem Marmion, published in 1806. It told of the romantic entanglements of lords and ladies before the Battle of Flodden in 1513: a clash between English armies and invading Scottish forces. It was beloved by readers. A few years later, Scott turned his hand to novels, beginning with the immensely popular Waverley. His skillful treatment of Scotland, romance and history helped him forge a romantic image of Scottish identity which endures to this day.


Scott’s devotion to his home country was clear throughout his works, and his words helped to make Scotland the country it is today: he made wearing tartan popular, for one thing, and romanticised the wild landscapes of the Highlands.


By creating fictional characters and placing them in lively, colourful stories of the past, Scott became known as the “father of the historical novel”. He would mimic the speech, customs and spirit of an age. How do we relate to history 200 years after his death?

Culture clash

Many of Scott’s historical novels told stories of clashes between cultures: Christians and Muslims in The Talisman, Normans and Saxons in Ivanhoe — and, of course, the ancient rivalries between England and Scotland. In the complex and interconnected world of the 21st Century, the theme feels more relevant than ever.


Scott was unfailingly generous to his characters. From struggling peasants, to Highland rebels, to wealthy kings, everyone was given a thoughtful and sympathetic portrayal. He was relentlessly tolerant. Has the rest of society followed in his footsteps?


The beautiful portrayal of Scotland’s incredible natural beauty in Scott’s novels helped to give the country a special place in Europe’s romantic imagination. How do we understand nature today?