Relations between England and Scotland had long been tumultuous when Scott was born in 1771. Historically, England had dominated Scotland, regarding it as a possession rather than a partner. Throughout the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, disputes about religion erupted, and many of these disputes continued into the eighteenth century. There was fear in England that Scotland would lead efforts to restore the Stuart line to the British throne. The Stuarts (sometimes spelled Stewarts) were the Scottish royal house that produced nine Scottish kings from 1371 to 1603. That year, James VI of Scotland laid claim to the English throne as James I after his predecessor, Queen Elizabeth I, died childless. Over the next century, England and Scotland were ruled by a total of six Stuart monarchs. In 1701, however, the Act of Settlement established the German Hanoverian line on the British throne, and in 1707 the two countries united in the Act of Union, extinguishing the line of Stuart monarchs. But in 1715 and again in 1745 Jacobite revolts in Scotland (Jacobite derives from the Latin version of ‘‘James’’ attempted to restore the descendants of King James II of England, who was also King James VII of Scotland. English forces ended these rebellions.
In time, the relationship between England and Scotland became peaceful, but during Scott’s life, many Scots looked backward to a more glorious past of Scottish nationalism. Two writers during this period became emblematic of a romantic Scottish past. One, of course, was Sir Walter Scott himself, whose early Scottish novels, including Waverley, Guy Mannering, The Antiquary, and Rob Roy, celebrated Scotland’s past. The other was Robert Burns (1759–1796), whose poetry, written in Scottish dialect, was enormously popular. Further, both Scott and Burns were responsible for resurrecting Scottish folklore, particularly ballads, folktales, and folk songs. Although the setting of Ivanhoe is England, the ‘‘Author of Waverley,’’ often referred to as ‘‘the Bard of the North,’’ was, and still is, a source of enormous pride in Scotland.
The period from the mid-eighteenth century to the end of Scott’s life in 1832 was one of great social upheaval and change. The Industrial Revolution was beginning, breaking down the old feudal agricultural order. The monarchy was overthrown in France with the French Revolution, and revolution created a new nation in America. Old ways of thought about science, religion, politics, and economics were being replaced by new beliefs. Scott lived at a time when old and new clashed—just as Ivanhoe stood in the middle of the clash between Saxon and Norman cultures.
Sara Constantakis (Editor), Novels for Students – Presenting Analysis, Context, and Criticism on Commonly Studied Novels, Volume 31, Sir Walter Scott, Published by Gale, Cengage Learning, 2010.