Sir Walter Scott

1771 - 1832

Sir Walter Scott
©2023 Gazetteer for Scotland

Sir Walter Scott

Prodigious writer, patriot and enthusiast for all things Scottish. Born in cramped surroundings the Old Town of Edinburgh, the son of a solicitor, Scott suffered from polio as an infant, which left him with a weak right leg. He was educated at the Old High School in the city. He studied law at the University of Edinburgh and became an advocate, before turning to writing. Although living with his parents in Edinburgh's George Square until he was 26, Scott gained a love for the Scottish Borders at an early age through visits to his paternal grandparent's farm at Sandy Knowe (by Smailholm).

His novels are steeped in the traditions and customs of Scotland, based on real events and characters not "the fine-spun cobwebs of the brain." An enthusiastic antiquarian and patriot, Scott did much towards identifying and nurturing a Scottish cultural identity, and indeed invented many expressions of this identity, including modern tartans, created for King George IV's visit in 1822, which Scott stage-managed. He was responsible for rediscovering Scotland's Honours in a chest in Edinburgh Castle, which had been long-forgotten since the Union of 1707. However, he did suffer from a propensity to re-write, or at least augment, history.

Despite initially seeking anonymity, the publication of Waverley in 1814 and the succeeding 'Waverley Novels' secured Scott's reputation as Britain's most popular historical author. These include The Antiquary (1816), Rob Roy (1817), Heart of Midlothian (1818), The Bride of Lammermoor (1819), Ivanhoe (1819), Kenilworth (1821), St. Ronan's Well (1823), The Talisman (1825), and The Fair Maid of Perth (1828). His other works include The Lay of the Last Minstrel (1805), Marmion (1808) and Tales of a Grandfather (1830). Ivanhoe greatly influenced the subsequent portrayal of Robin Hood (Robin of Locksley), King John and King Richard the Lionheart in print, on stage and screen, giving rise our modern perception of these characters. Less known is that Scott wrote the words to the popular hymn Ave Maria as part of his narrative poem The Lady of the Lake (1810), which was later translated into German and set to music by Franz Schubert. Scott was also a translator, biographer (of Napoleon) and passionate collector of all things Scottish.

Scott had turned down the post of Poet Laureate in 1813, but accepted a knighthood in 1820. His latter years were spent desperately writing to cover the debts of his bankrupt publishers. He died from over-work at his home, Abbotsford House on the banks of the River Tweed, and was buried in the ruins of Dryburgh Abbey, near St. Boswells. He is remembered by monuments in many Scottish towns, the grandest of which is in Princes Street Gardens, Edinburgh. His books were enjoyed by Queen Victoria, who with Prince Albert greatly popularised Scotland and all things Scottish, much influenced by Scott and his literary legacy.

More information is available...

Use the tabs on the right of this page to see other parts of this entry arrow

If you have found this information useful please consider making
a donation to help maintain and improve this resource. More info...

By using our site you agree to accept cookies, which help us serve you better