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JohnBuchan Greenmantle.jpg
First edition front (missing book jacket)
Author John Buchan
Country United Kingdom
Language English
Series Richard Hannay
Genre Thriller
Publisher Hodder & Stoughton, London
Publication date
Media type Print (Hardback & Paperback)
ISBN 978-1514836613
Preceded by The Thirty-Nine Steps
Followed by Mr Standfast

Greenmantle is the second of five novels by John Buchan featuring the character of Richard Hannay, first published in 1916 by Hodder & Stoughton, London. It is one of two Hannay novels set during the First World War, the other being Mr Standfast (1919); Hannay's first and best-known adventure, The Thirty-Nine Steps (1915), is set in the period immediately preceding the war.

Plot introduction[edit]

Hannay is called in to investigate rumours of an uprising in the Muslim world, and undertakes a perilous journey through enemy territory to meet his friend Sandy in Constantinople. Once there, he and his friends must thwart the Germans' plans to use religion to help them win the war, climaxing at the battle of Erzurum.

Plot summary[edit]

The book opens in November 1915, with Hannay and his friend Sandy convalescing from wounds received at the Battle of Loos. Sir Walter Bullivant, a senior intelligence officer, summons Hannay to the Foreign Office. Bullivant briefs Hannay on the political situation in the Middle East, suggesting that the Germans and their Turkish allies are plotting to create a Muslim uprising, that will throw the Middle East, India and North Africa into turmoil. Bullivant proposes that Hannay investigate the rumours, following a clue left on a slip of paper with the words "Kasredin", "cancer" and "v.I" written by Bullivant's son, a spy who was recently killed in the region.

Despite misgivings, Hannay accepts the challenge, and picks Sandy to help him. Bullivant says that American John Blenkiron will also be useful. The three meet, ponder their clues, and head to Constantinople. Starting on 17 November, they plan to meet at a hostelry exactly two months later, going each by his own route - Blenkiron travelling through Germany as an observer, Sandy travelling through Asia Minor, using his Arab contacts, and Hannay entering enemy territory via Lisbon under a Boer guise.

Hannay meets by chance an old comrade, Boer Peter Pienaar, and the two enter Germany via the Netherlands, posing as anti-British exiles itching to fight for the Germans. They meet the powerful and sinister Colonel Ulric von Stumm, and persuade him they can help persuade the Muslims to join the Germans' side. Hannay has several more adventures, meeting famed mining engineer Herr Gaudian (who later reappears in The Three Hostages), hears of the mysterious Hilda von Einem, and meets the Kaiser.

Finding Stumm plans to send him to Egypt via London, Hannay flees into the snowbound countryside, tracked by the vengeful Colonel. He falls ill with malaria and is sheltered over Christmas by a poor woman in a lonely cottage. On his sickbed, he realises that the clue "v.I" on the piece of paper may refer to the name he overheard, von Einem.

Recuperated, he carries on, travelling by barge carrying armaments down the Danube, picking up with Peter Pienaar, who has escaped from a German prison, along the way. They pass through Vienna, Budapest and Belgrade, and as they travel, Hannay connects the phrase "der grüne Mantel" with something else he overheard earlier. They reach Rustchuk on 10 January, with a week to go before the rendezvous in Constantinople.

On arrival there, Hannay has a run-in with Rasta Bey, an important Young Turk, and intercepts a telegram showing his trail has been picked up. They carry on by train, fending off an attempt to stop them by the angry Rasta Bey, and reach Constantinople with half a day to spare.

They seek out the meeting place, and are attacked by Bey and an angry mob, but rescued by a band of mysterious, wild dancing men, whom they then antagonise. Next day they return to the rendezvous, an illicit dance-room, where they find the main entertainment is none other than the wild men of the previous day. At the climax of the performance, soldiers of the Ottoman Minister of War Enver, arrive and drag Hannay and Peter away, apparently to prison, but they are instead delivered to a cosy room containing Blenkiron and the leader of the dancers - none other than the miraculous Sandy Arbuthnot.

They pool their news - Sandy has identified Kasredin from their clue sheet, as the title of an ancient Turkish allegorical story, the hero of which is a religious leader called Greenmantle, and has also heard much of a prophet known as "the Emerald", associated with the play. Blenkiron has met and been impressed by Hilda von Einem, who is in Constantinople and owns the house in which they are staying.

Blenkiron provides Hannay with a new identity, an American engineer named Hannau, and they attend a dinner party where they meet Herr Gaudian again, and Enver himself. Lost out riding, Hannay encounters von Einem, and is fascinated by her; later, he is recognised by Rasta Bey, and has just knocked him out and hidden him in a cupboard when von Einem arrives. Hannay impresses her, and hears she plans to take him East with her. Sandy visits, agrees to deal with the captive Turk and provides news of his own - the clue Cancer means the prophet Greenmantle has the disease and is on his deathbed. Blenkiron joins them, and tells them that fighting has hotted up between the Russians and the Turks, and they deduce that they will be taken towards Erzerum to help with its defence.

On the long road to Erzerum, they crash their car, and spend the night in a barn, where Hannay has a vivid dream of a hill with a saucepan-like indent in the top. They carry on on worn-out horses, but seeing a new car by the roadside, they steal it, only to find it belongs to Rasta Bey. They make good speed onward, but on arrival in Erzerum, they are delivered straight to Stumm, who recognises Hannay and has them locked up. They are rescued by one of Sandy's men, steal some plans from Stumm, and escape across the rooftops.

With the battle of Erzurum booming in the background, they realise the importance of the stolen plans, and Peter Pienaar volunteers to sneak through the battle lines and deliver them to the Russians. Sandy appears, magnificently dressed, and reveals that Greenmantle is dead and that he himself has been chosen to impersonate him. They form a plan to flee around the side of the battle lines, and while Sandy's helper searches for horses, Pienaar sets off on his dangerous mission.

Pienaar has an eventful and terrifying journey across the battlefield, while Hannay and Blenkiron hide out in a cellar. On the third day, they break cover, and make for safety in a wild horse ride, closely pursued by their enemies. On the verge of capture, they find the hill of Hannay's dream, and entrench there, holding the enemy at bay. Hilda von Einem arrives, and appeals to them to give up, but they refuse; she is shocked to learn Sandy is a British officer, and as she leaves, she is slain by a stray Russian shell.

Stumm arrives with artillery, and their position looks sure to be destroyed and overrun, but Stumm waits till dawn to savour his revenge. Just in time, the Russians, helped by the plans delivered by Pienaar, break through the defences and sweep towards the town. Stumm's men flee, Stumm is killed, and Hannay and Sandy meet up with Pienaar to ride into the city and victory.

Characters in Greenmantle[edit]

Literary significance and criticism[edit]

The book was very popular when published, and was read and enjoyed by Robert Baden-Powell and by the Russian imperial family as they awaited the outcome of the Revolution in 1917.

The first chapter of Greenmantle, "A Mission is Proposed", was chosen by Graham Greene for his 1957 anthology The Spy's Bedside Book.

The book has been adapted for broadcast on BBC Radio 4. It was for instance broadcast on BBC Radio4 Extra in two episodes on 27 and 28 August 2013, and again on 30 April and 1 May 2015, with David Robb as Richard Hannay and James Fleet as Sandy Arbuthnot, forced to be 'Greenmantle':.[1]

Allusions/references to actual history, geography and current science[edit]

The character Sandy Arbuthnot, Hannay's resourceful polyglot friend, was based on Buchan's friend, Aubrey Herbert, though some propose that he is based on Lawrence of Arabia.[2] The character of Hannay drew on the real life military officer, Field Marshal Lord Ironside.[3]

Many of the novel's references to political tensions in the Middle East seem strangely contemporary at the beginning of the 21st century.[citation needed] The potential of the tale to arouse controversy was again illustrated following the terrorist bombings in London on July 7, 2005, by the BBC's decision to cancel its broadcast of Greenmantle as its Classic Serial on Radio 4 that week.

According to Patrick McGilligan's 2003 biography, Alfred Hitchcock, who directed the 1935 film adaptation of The 39 Steps, preferred Greenmantle and considered filming it on more than one occasion. He wanted to film the book with Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman in the lead roles, but Buchan’s estate wanted too much money for the screen rights. However no such project ever materialised in Hitchcock's lifetime and Greenmantle itself has yet to be filmed.

Peter Hopkirk's nonfiction work, Like Hidden Fire, published in 1997, follows actual German plots to destabilise the region during World War I. While Hopkirk draws various connections between Buchan's work and the historical events, there is no indication that Buchan had knowledge of the actual events or used them as the basis for his story. However, Lewis Einstein's book Inside Constantinople: A Diplomatist's Diary During the Dardanelles Expedition, April to September, 1915 refers to a German woman agitating the Muslim population in Constantinople, rather in the mode of Hilda von Einem, so this element of the story seems realistic.


  1. ^ "January 1916, John Buchan - Greenmantle - BBC Radio 4 Extra". BBC. Retrieved 2016-03-15. 
  2. ^ M.C. Rintoul (5 March 2014). Dictionary of Real People and Places in Fiction. Taylor & Francis. p. 504. ISBN 978-1-136-11940-8. 
  3. ^ Cairns, John C (September 2004). "Ironside, (William) Edmund, first Baron Ironside (1880–1959)". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/34113. Retrieved 2008-01-14. (Subscription required (help)). 


  • Slide, Anthony (2003). Lost Gay Novels: A Reference Guide to Fifty Works from the First Half of the Twentieth Century (1st ed.). Binghamton, NY: Harrington Park Press. ISBN 1-56023-413-X. 

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