Five Fascinating Facts about Sir Walter Scott

Five fun facts about the life and work of Scottish author Sir Walter Scott

1. The word ‘glamour’ is first found in his work. ‘Glamour’ is a Scottish corruption of ‘grammar’ (‘corruption’ is the linguistic term for when one word morphs into another), and was introduced into English literature by Sir Walter Scott (1771-1832). Scott also coined the rather good phrase ‘book-bosomed’, denoting one who carries a book at all times.

2. Scott’s last novel, The Siege of Malta, was only first published in 2008. Although it was written in the last year of Scott’s life, 1831-32, The Siege of Malta didn’t see the light of day until over 175 years later, when the full novel was published. A general idea of the content of the book had not been made known until 1977. Like most of Walter ScottScott’s fiction it’s a historical novel, centring on the events of the Great Siege of Malta by Ottoman Turks in 1565. The latter portions of the work are marred by Scott’s ill health towards the end of his life. John Sutherland, Scott’s biographer, said that the novel indicates ‘a very wonderful mind, completely buggered up by explosions in the head.’

3. Sir Walter Scott coined the phrase ‘Wars of the Roses’. The phrase ‘Wars of the Roses’ is as recent as the early nineteenth century, when Scott used it to refer to the dynastic wars of the fifteenth century between the royal houses of Lancaster and York.

4. One of his novels inspired the film Robin Hood: Prince of ThievesScott’s 1819 novel Ivanhoe contributed to the Robin Hood myth – it was Scott who popularised the idea of the outlaw being ‘Robin of Locksley’, thus making him an exiled Saxon nobleman. (Antiquarian Roger Dodsworth had been the first to call Robin Hood ‘Robin Loxley’ in the seventeenth century.) We have debunked some common misconceptions about Robin Hood here. Scott’s Ivanhoe also gave us the name Cedric, from Scott’s misreading (whether wilful or inadvertent) of a genuine Saxon name Cerdic. Of the opening sentence of Ivanhoe, Joan Aiken said, in The Way to Write for Children: ‘Such a sentence makes you hear the sound of books slapping shut all over the library.’

5. Sir Walter Scott came up with some of his bestselling epic poem Marmion while on horseback. In 1807, Scott was training with the Light Horse Volunteers, preparing for a possible invasion from Napoleon’s French forces. (Curiously, Scott shares his birthday with Napoleon, who was born exactly two years before, in 1769.) Scott used his training time to store away ideas for the poem Marmion (1808), about the Battle of Flodden in 1513. The descriptions of armed horsemen in the poem were composed largely as a result of Scott’s own experiences on horseback. It is from this poem, incidentally, that we get Scott’s most famous lines of poetry: ‘Oh, what a tangled web we weave / When first we practise to deceive!’

If you liked these Walter Scott facts, check out our surprising facts about Samuel Taylor Coleridge.

Image: Portrait of Sir Walter Scott, 1890s, Wikimedia Commons.

20 thoughts on “Five Fascinating Facts about Sir Walter Scott”

  1. You’re right, those are indeed interesting tidbits. I think I knew Scott coined “Wars of the Roses” (clever that), but not because I studied Scott – t’was because I read up on the squabbles between the Planagenets and the Lancasters and Yorks. I enjoyed Ivanhoe – No, I’m thinking of something else – let’s say I read parts of Ivanhoe, but classic historical fiction from that far back gets me confused although I really enjoy Twain, Tolstoy and Dickens are about as complex as I can get – Scott seems harder. I enjoy some contemporary (21st century) historical fiction. Also, I’m not big on war stories.

    That said I should probably give Scott another try – any suggestions? I really enjoy classics but when they are also historical fiction it can double up on me comprehension-wise. But A Tale of Two Cities and War and Peace are so excellent in spite of that – I’ve read them each multiple times.

    Oops, got long again! Sheesh!

  2. Extremely cool, although… why did they wait until recently to publish his last book?

    Love the fact that he “named” the War of the Roses. That’s fantastic.

  3. ‘Glamour’ is a Scottish corruption of ‘grammar’ …
    Though you don’t say why there’s this link with attraction and attractiveness!

    As I understand it, literacy meant that one was able to read books about writing — grammars — and as so many scholars were able to access arcane information in them it was assumed that grammar-books were about magic (which is why we associate magic-producing words and phrases with ‘spells’).

    These ‘grammars’ (‘grimoires’ is another form of the word) were corrupted into Scottish ‘glamour’, which meant that anyone with the grammar/glamour was able to ensorcelle you with spells — or even enchantments, if they sang or chanted the words.

    As far as being glamorous now is concerned, one don’t even have to open one’s mouth for their black magic to have you in their spell!

  4. Great facts! It’s cool to see what authors from years ago were doing because it makes you realize that what’s going on here and now is preceded by a great deal of thought and writing.


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