Human nature – does it ever change?

Ivanhoe is an historical romantic novel written by Sir Walter Scott. The historical setting is England roughly 130 years after the Norman Conquest of England in 1066. The king of England is Richard 1, known as the Richard the Lionheart. He left England to participate in the Crusades. Prince John became Regent of England when Richard was away, but he wanted to be king and so he plotted with Philip of France and an Austrian prince to hold Richard captive so that he could not return. Richard got away and did in fact return to England.

The latest movie on Robin Hood was set immediately after Richard the Lionheart had been killed as he lay siege to some castle in France. The movie itself contained some historical information but it left a lot of doubt. Even so, it served as a reminder that the king who was asked to sign the Magna Carta, the most important document in history, that laid out our justice system was in fact John, the same black prince who was King regent whilst Richard was in the Holy Land.

Ivanhoe has some interesting themes, but what both stories have in common is the legend of Robin of Loxley, also known as Robin Hood. Now I am certain that nearly all of us grew up on the legends of Robin Hood. In fact as a young girl, I used to watch stories about Robin Hood in a TV series. I admit that I also devoured any book I could find on the subject of this particular man.

Robin Hood was only a minor hero of Ivanhoe. There were others who I think formed a much bigger part of the story, such as Cedric, Wilfred of Ivanhoe, Lady Rowena, Rebecca, and her father Isaac, as well as minor characters such as Prince John, the Knight Templar and a few other knights. Each had their own place in the story. Rebecca and Rowena do in fact stand out as women who knew their own minds, which would be unusual for women of that period. Yet, within this novel one gets the distinct impression that in those times women were considered to be playthings.

One of the anti-heroes of the novel was the Knight Templar. Sir Walter Scott gives a bit of an insight into this particular order. I note here I need to do more research as to why they were disbanded, but I think I have some idea. I saw mention that this anti-hero was a mumbler or murmerer and this is a particular heresy that was found within England (I thought that they existed at a slightly later date). One name that I have seen associated with that particular heresy (the Lollards) is Wycliffe who was certainly no saint!!  I also saw mention of Languedoc and Montserrat. Both of these names I associate with certain heresies, namely Catharism (think Albigenses) and there was in fact some hint of this heresy as the story unfolds in relation to the anti-hero. He did in fact rescue Rebecca from the burning castle.

The plots within the novel prove to me that human nature does not change very much over time. The major plot revolves around Prince John who was wanting to take the throne in England. The Black Knight who feature in the novel is finally revealed as King Richard, which is funny because Richard was the winner of the tournament with Wilfred Ivanhoe. The Black Knight took off and was not revealed at that stage.

The Jew in the story is depicted as a usurer. When he travels he claims that he is a poor man, even though he is very wealthy. Rebecca uses a balm to heal wounds and ends up being accused of being a witch, yet doctor or nurse is a more appropriate description. The marksman is in fact Robin Hood. At the tournament near Ashby, Richard, Wilfred and Robin Hood disguised themselves so not to reveal who they were and there was some intrigue. Each of their talents showed that they were in fact heroes and honorable individuals.

The Jew and his daughter Rebecca, Cedric, Wilfred, Athelstane and Lady Rowena were captured by the bad knights. When word got out that they were being held for ransom (although their captors wanted to kill them) an army of more than 500 woodsmen (bandits in Sherwood forest) the Black Knight and men from the estate of Cedric came together to lay siege to the castle. There is in fact very little that is different in how people go about warfare, only their implements change over time. The siege was successful but the Knight Templar took off with Rebecca. I add here that he was in fact captivated by Rebecca but she repulsed him. Probably the funniest part of this story was the way in which Cedric escaped captivity thanks to a Court Jester. This part of the story, where Wamba dressed up as a priest was amusing because Wamba only knew a few words of Latin, and he had to try and pass himself off as a friar. Cedric had to do the same inside the Castle after the pair changed clothing.

Another familiar character in this story is Friar Tuck. Now I could write a lot about the way in which the priests are depicted as dissolute and in that period this was true. This is the period in which a number of monasteries and convents needed to be reformed. There was a lot of drunkeness and probaby other forms of debauchery that was indicated at the time. Friar Tuck represents the dissolute behaviours of priests at the time. The Knight Templar was also a priest, but in him I noticed a few things that pointed him out to be a heretic.

The kinds of novels that I like are those that explore a little bit of character, and in Ivanhoe there are plenty of characters. I am a very big fan of Jane Austen novels because she was a very good reader of character. Sir Walter Scott I think was her equal when it comes to bringing his characters alive. In Ivanhoe what really stood out was the greed of man (one woman in the story acted not out of greed, but out of self-preservation). The bad characters were the most greedy, but to Robin Hood, who was in fact an outlaw and bandit, he assigned a certain level of self-discipline. Another character trait of the men of the forest was their loyalty to Richard.

How does this tie in with the later story relating to the Magna Carta? It looks like I need to do more research. Prince John did in fact become king aroud 1197 when Richard was killed. If the new movie is correct then Prince John had continued his plotting against Richard, even after he escaped from being punished after his first plot was discovered and Richard returned to England. Prince John also killed Prince Arthur who was Richard’s designated heir.  King John signed the Magna Carta but he backtracked and had the Pope annul the document. It was signed again when John’s son became king.

One other thing that I learned about the period in question was the difficulty that people had in communicating with each other. The Saxons had their own language and the Normans spoke French. It took perhaps another 100 years before the English that we know emerged. At the same time I learned that indeed at the time the Christians had what i would consider a very warped view of Christianity and conversion. They were demanding that isaac and Rebecca convert. They were also very superstitious at that point in time.

Whilst we see things very differently these days, i do not believe that we can say that we are in any way morally superior to those who lived during that period of time. We also have Christian heresies. There are the constant attempts to convert people… and we continue to fight the savages known as Muslims.


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