The Pirate (novel)

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"The Pirate" is also the title of novels by Harold Robbins and Frederick Marryat
The Pirate
The Pirate 1822.jpg
First edition title page
AuthorWalter Scott
CountryScotland and England
LanguageEnglish, Lowland Scots
SeriesWaverley Novels
GenreHistorical novel
PublisherConstable and Co, Edinburgh
Hurst, Robinson and Co, London
Publication date
Media typePrint (Hardback)
Preceded byKenilworth
Followed byThe Fortunes of Nigel

The Pirate is a novel by Walter Scott, based roughly on the life of John Gow who features as Captain Cleveland.[1] The setting is the southern tip of the main island of Shetland (which Scott visited in 1814), around 1700. It was published in 1822, the year after it was finished and the lighthouse at Sumburgh Head began to operate.

Plot introduction[edit]

The arrival of the shipwrecked captain, Cleveland, spoils young Mordaunt's relationship with the Troil girls, and soon a bitter rivalry grows between the two men. Minna falls in love with Cleveland, not knowing his true profession. Brenda however is in love with Mordaunt. The pirates capture the Troils, but after an encounter with the frigate HMS Halcyon, they are freed. Brenda and Mordaunt are reunited, and Minna and Clement parted.

Plot summary[edit]

Old House of Sumburgh

Mr Mertoun and his son had arrived as strangers, and resided for several years in the remaining rooms of the old mansion of the Earls of Orkney, the father leading a very secluded life, while the son Mordaunt became a general favourite with the inhabitants, and especially with the udaller, Magnus Troil, and his daughters. On his way home from a visit to them, he and the pedlar Snailsfoot sought shelter from a storm at the Yellowleys' farmhouse, where they were amused with their penurious ways, and encountered Norna, a relative of Magnus Troil who was supposed to be in league with the fairies, and to possess supernatural powers. The next day a ship was wrecked on the rocky coast, and, at the risk of his life, Mordaunt rescued the captain, Cleveland, as he was cast on the beach clinging to a plank, while Norna prevented his sea-chest from being pillaged. Cleveland was in fact a pirate, but they did not know this. The captain promised his preserver a trip in a consort ship which he expected would arrive shortly, and went to seek the udaller's help in recovering some of his other property that had been washed ashore. After the lapse of several weeks, however, during which the Troils had discontinued their friendly communications with him, Mordaunt heard that the stranger was still their guest, and that they were arranging an entertainment for St John's Eve, to which he had not been bidden.

Minna Troil and Cleveland, illustration from 1879 edition

As he was brooding over this slight, Norna touched his shoulder, and, assuring him of her goodwill, advised him to join the party uninvited. Warned by his father against falling in love, and with some misgivings as to his reception, he called at Harfra on his way, and accompanied Yellowley and his sister to the feast. Minna and Brenda Troil replied to their discarded companion's greeting with cold civility, and he felt convinced that Captain Cleveland had supplanted him in their esteem. The bard, Claud Halcro, endeavoured to cheer him with his poetry and reminiscences of John Dryden; and, in the course of the evening, Brenda, disguised as a masquer, told him they had heard that he had spoken unkindly of them, but that she did not believe he had done so. She also expressed her fear that the stranger had won Minna's love, and begged Mordaunt to discover all he could respecting him. During an attempt to capture a whale the following day, Cleveland saved Mordaunt from drowning, and, being thus released from his obligation to him, intimated that henceforth they were rivals. The same evening the pedlar brought tidings that a strange ship had arrived at Kirkwall, and Cleveland talked of a trip thither to ascertain whether it was the consort he had been so long expecting.

After the sisters had retired to bed, Norna appeared in their room, and narrated a startling tale of her early life, which led Minna to confess her attachment to the captain, and to elicit Brenda's partiality for Mordaunt. At a secret interview the next morning, Cleveland admitted to Minna that he was a pirate, upon which she declared that she could only still love him as a penitent, and not as the hero she had hitherto imagined him to be. He announced, in the presence of her father and sister, his intention of starting at once for Kirkwall; but at night he serenaded her, and then, after hearing a struggle and a groan, she saw the shadow of a figure disappearing with another on his shoulders. Overcome with grief and suspense, she was seized with a fit of melancholy, for the cure of which the udaller consulted Norna in her secluded dwelling; and, after a mystic ceremony, she predicted that the cause would cease when "crimson foot met crimson hand" in the Martyr's Aisle in Orkney land, whither she commanded her kinsman to proceed with his daughters. Mordaunt had been stabbed by the pirate, but had been carried away by Norna to Hoy, where she told him she was his mother, and, after curing his wound, conveyed him to Kirkwall. Here Cleveland had joined his companions, and, having been chosen captain of the consort ship, he obtained leave from the provost for her to take in stores at Stromness and quit the islands, on condition that he remained as a hostage for the crew's behaviour.

Stones of Stenness

On their way they captured the brig containing the Troils, but Minna and Brenda were sent safely ashore by John Bunce, Cleveland's lieutenant, and escorted by old Halcro to visit a relative. The lovers met in the cathedral of St Magnus, whence, with Norna's aid, Cleveland escaped to his ship, and the sisters were transferred to the residence of the bard's cousin, where their father joined them, and found Mordaunt in charge of a party of dependents for their protection. When all was ready for sailing, the captain resolved to see Minna once more, and having sent a note begging her to meet him at the Standing Stones of Stenness at daybreak, he made his way thither. Brenda persuaded Mordaunt to allow her sister to keep the appointment, and as the lovers were taking their last farewell, they and Brenda were seized by Bunce and his crew from the boat, and would have been carried off, had not Mordaunt hastened to the rescue, and made prisoners of the pirate and his lieutenant. Norna had warned Cleveland against delaying his departure, and his last hopes were quenched when, from the window of the room in which he and Bunce were confined, they witnessed the arrival of the Halcyon, whose captain she had communicated with, and the capture, after a desperate resistance, of their ship.

The elder Mertoun now sought Norna's aid to save their son, who, he declared, was not Mordaunt, as she imagined, but Cleveland, whom he had trained as a pirate under his own real name of Vaughan, her former lover; and having lost trace of him till now, had come to Jarlshof, with his child by a Spanish wife, to atone for the misdeeds of his youth. On inquiry it appeared that Cleveland and Bunce had earned their pardon by acts of mercy in their piratical career, and were allowed to enter the king's service. Minna was further consoled by a penitent letter from her lover; Brenda became Mordaunt's wife; and the aberration of mind, occasioned by remorse at having caused her father's death, having died, Norna abandoned her supernatural pretensions and peculiar habits, and resumed her family name.


  • Mr Basil Mertoun, alias Vaughan, of Jarlshof Castle, Sumburgh Head
  • Mordaunt Mertoun, his son
  • Swertha, their housekeeper
  • Sweyn Erickson, a fisherman
  • Magnus Troil, an udaller, or allodial landholder
  • Minna and Brenda, his daughters
  • Euphane Fea, his housekeeper
  • Eric Scambester, his servant
  • Ulla Troil, alias Norna, of the Fitful Head, his kinswoman
  • Nicholas Strumpfer, alias Pacolet, her servant
  • Neil Ronaldson, Ranzelman of Jarlshof
  • Mr Triptolemus Yellowley, of Harfra-Stourburgh, a Scotch factor
  • Barbara Yellowley, his sister
  • Tronda Dronsdaughter, their servant
  • Bryce Snailsfoot, a pedlar
  • Claud Halcro, an old bard
  • Clement Cleveland, alias Vaughan, a pirate captain
  • John Bunce, alias Frederick Altamont, his lieutenant
  • Captain Weatherfort, of HMS Halcyon


  1. ^ Warren S. Walker, "A 'Scottish Cooper' for an 'American Scott'", 537; John Robert Moore, "Defoe and Scott," 729.

Further reading[edit]

  • Crane, James. "Love and Merit in the Maritime Historical Novel: Cooper and Scott". Romantic Circles. Retrieved 8 February 2015.
  • Schmidt, Arnold (2002). "Walter Scott's The Pirate: Imperialism, Nationalism, and Bourgeois Values". In Bernhard Klein. Fictions of the Sea. Ashgate Press. pp. 89–103.
  • Davis, Jana (1987). "Scott's the Pirate". The Explicator. 45 (3): 20–22. doi:10.1080/00144940.1987.9938669. Retrieved 8 February 2015.

External links[edit]

This article incorporates text from the revised 1898 edition of Henry Grey's A Key to the Waverley Novels (1880), now in the public domain.