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Marmion: A Tale of Flodden Field is a historical romance in verse of 16th-century Britain by Walter Scott, published in 1808. It concludes with the Battle of Flodden in 1513.[1] It was published in Edinburgh, printed by Ballantyne and Co. for Archibald Constable and also in London by William Miller and John Murray.

Marmion: A Tale of Flodden Field 
by Walter Scott
Marmion 1st ed.jpg
First edition title page
MeterVarious, including iambic pentameter, iambic tetrameter
PublisherBallantyne and Co. for Archibald Constable, Edinburgh
William Miller, and John Murray, London
Publication date22 February 1808
Media typeHardback
Preceded byThe Lay of the Last Minstrel
Followed byThe Lady of the Lake
Read onlineMarmion: A Tale of Flodden Field at Wikisource

Publication historyEdit

In November 1806, Scott started writing Marmion, his second major work. When Archibald Constable, the publisher, learnt of this, he offered a thousand guineas for the copyright unseen. William Miller and John Murray each agreed to take a 25% share in the project.[2] Murray observed: "We both view it as honourable, profitable, and glorious to be concerned in the publication of a new poem by Walter Scott."[3] Scott said that he thoroughly enjoyed writing the work. He told his son-in-law, Lockhart: "Oh, man, I had many a grand gallop among these braes when I was thinking of Marmion."[3]

In 1807, Scott practised manoeuvres with the Light Horse Volunteers (formed to defend against invasion from France) in order to polish his description of the battle at Flodden.[3]

On 22 January 1808, Marmion was finished, and it was published on 22 February 1808 in a quarto first edition of two thousand copies. This edition, priced at one and a half guineas, a high price, sold out in a month.[4] It was followed by twelve octavo editions between 1808 and 1825. "Previously to 1825, no fewer than thirty-six thousand copies of Marmion were sold."[5]


Detail of the painting Lady Clara de Clare, inspired by original poem Marmion (William D. Washington).

The poem tells how Lord Marmion, a favourite of Henry VIII of England, lusts for Clara de Clare, a rich woman. He and his mistress, Constance De Beverley, forge a letter implicating Clara's fiancé, Sir Ralph De Wilton, in treason. Constance, a dishonest nun, hopes that her aid will restore her to favour with Marmion. When De Wilton loses the duel he claims in order to defend his honour against Marmion, he is obliged to go into exile. Clara retires to a convent rather than risk Marmion's attentions.

Constance's hopes of a reconciliation with Marmion are dashed when he abandons her; she ends up being walled up alive in the Lindisfarne convent for breaking her vows. She takes her revenge by giving the Abbess, who is one of her three judges, documents that prove De Wilton's innocence. De Wilton, having returned disguised as a pilgrim, follows Marmion to Edinburgh where he meets the Abbess, who gives him the exonerating documents. When Marmion's host, the Earl of Angus is shown the documents, he arms De Wilton and accepts him as a knight again. De Wilton's plans for revenge are overturned by the Battle of Flodden. Marmion dies on the battlefield, while De Wilton displays heroism, regains his honour, retrieves his lands, and marries Clara.[6]

Style of poemEdit

Marmion is a narrative poem with varied meters, "here, rhymed couplets in iambic tetrameter, there, iambic pentameter using alternating rhyme, still elsewhere, hymn meter using a combination of alternating and nested rhyme".[7]

To his contemporaries, Scott introduced "a very modern and new form of poetry. He ended the dominance of the heroic couplet and the pentameter, and introduced a more flexible ‘light horseman sort of stanza’".[8]


The book was a huge and lasting success in both Britain and the United States, but it did not find favour with critics at the time. The introductory letters to Scott's friends that open each canto were dismissed by the critics as unwarranted intrusions.[4] A hero as flawed as Marmion was also unwelcome at the time, and the story was criticised for its obscurity.

Francis Jeffrey published a particularly harsh review in the Edinburgh Review. He observed that much of the verse was "flat and tedious", and he accused Scott of simply showing off his historical erudition. He also objected to the anachronism of the chivalric code and opposed the warlike sentiments of the introductory epistles. All of Europe was at war when this poem was published, embroiled in the lengthy Napoleonic Wars. Nevertheless, the public enthusiasm for Scott's work was undimmed and the poem remained popular for over a century.[4] The stanzas telling the story of "young Lochinvar" from Canto V particularly caught the public imagination and were widely published in anthologies and learned as a recitation piece.[7][9] The Brontë sisters were also admirers of Marmion.[10] It is mentioned in Jane Eyre when St. John Rivers gives the poem to Jane.[11] Similarly, in Anne Brontë's The Tenant of Wildfell Hall (1848), Gilbert Markham - the supposed author - gives a copy of Marmion to the central character, Mrs Graham.

One of the most quoted excerpts from Scottish poetry[12] is derived from Canto VI, stanza XVII (although it is often erroneously attributed to Shakespeare):[13][7]

Oh, what a tangled web we weave
When first we practise to deceive!


  1. ^ Lawson, John Parker (1839). "Battle of Flodden AD 1513" (PDF). Historical Tales of the Wars of Scotland And of the Border Raids, Forays and Conflicts. Electric Scotland. p. 363. Retrieved 26 June 2018.
  2. ^ Smiles, Samuel (1911). "XXXVI". In Mackay, Thomas (ed.). A Publisher and His Friends Memoir and Correspondence of John Murray with an Account of the Origin and Progress of the House, 1768-1843. Retrieved 26 June 2018.
  3. ^ a b c Scott, Walter (1888). "Introduction". In Morley, Henry (ed.). Marmion: A Tale of Flodden Field. Cassell and Company. Retrieved 26 June 2018.
  4. ^ a b c "Walter Scott, Marmion: Reception". Edinburgh University Library. 19 December 2011. Retrieved 26 June 2018.
  5. ^ "Significant Scots: Sir Walter Scott". Electric Scotland. Retrieved 26 June 2018.
  6. ^ "Marmion: Synopsis". Edinburgh University Library. 19 December 2011. Retrieved 26 June 2018.
  7. ^ a b c Fineman, Kelly R (15 January 2010). "Marmion by Sir Walter Scott". Writing and Ruminating. Retrieved 25 June 2018.
  8. ^ Kelly, Stuart (2012). "Sir Walter Scott (1771 - 1832)". Scottish Poetry Library.
  9. ^ "Lochinvar by Sir Walter Scott". Poetry Foundation. Retrieved 26 June 2018.
  10. ^ Glen, Heather; Glen, Senior Lecturer Faculty of English Cambridge University and Fellow of New Hall Heather (7 December 2018). "Charlotte Brontë: The Imagination in History". Oxford University Press – via Google Books.
  11. ^ Brontë, Charlotte; Townsend, F. H. (Frederick Henry) (1 March 1998). "Jane Eyre: An Autobiography" – via Project Gutenberg.
  12. ^ Murphy, Sean (8 February 2017). "Great Scottish quotes on life". The Scotsman. Retrieved 26 June 2018.
  13. ^ Mabillard, Amanda (11 June 2018). "Quotes Mistakenly Attributed to Shakespeare". Shakespeare on line. Retrieved 26 June 2018.

External linksEdit