The Talisman (Scott novel)

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The Talisman
Talisman 1825.jpg
First edition title page.
AuthorSir Walter Scott
SeriesTales of the Crusaders; Waverley Novels
GenreHistorical novel
PublisherArchibald Constable and Co. (Edinburgh); Hurst, Robinson and Co. (London)
Publication date
Media typePrint
Pages278 (Edinburgh Edition, 2009)
Preceded byThe Betrothed 
Followed byWoodstock 

The Talisman is one of the Waverley novels by Sir Walter Scott. Published in 1825 as the second of his Tales of the Crusaders, the first being The Betrothed, it is set during the Third Crusade and centres on the relationship between Richard I of England and Saladin.

Composition and sources[edit]

At the beginning of April 1824, two months before he completed Redgauntlet, Scott envisaged that it would be followed by a four-volume publication containing two tales, at least one of which would be based on the Crusades. He began composition of the first story, The Betrothed, in June, but it made slow progress and came to a halt in the second volume at some point in the autumn after criticisms by James Ballantyne. Scott then changed course and began work on the companion novel The Talisman, and the first two chapters and part of the third were set in type by the end of the year. January 1825 was full of distractions, but a decision to resume The Betrothed was made in mid-February 1825 and it was essentially complete by mid-March. The way was then clear for the main composition of The Talisman which proceeded briskly. Its first volume was completed in April and its second at the very end of May or beginning of June.[1]

Five clearly identifiable sources have been located for leading elements in The Talisman. The disguised Saladin's account of the origin of the Kurds is taken from the Bibliotheque orientale by Barthélemy d'Herbelot (1777‒79). The character of Leopold of Austria and his tearing down of Richard's standard was prompted by the Anglo-Norman romance Richard Coer de Lyon. The attempted assassination of Richard is recounted in The History of the Crusades by Charles Mills (1820). Saladin's beheading of Amaury comes from The History of the Knights of Malta by the Abbé de Vertot (1728). And the talisman itself is the Lee Penny used to cure people and animals up to Scott's time and preserved at the Lee near Lanark in the Scottish Borders. Scott's sceptical attitude to the Crusades, and his presentation of Richard and Saladin, follow three historians: David Hume, Edward Gibbon, and Mills.[2]


The first edition of The Talisman was published as part of Tales of the Crusaders in Edinburgh by Archibald Constable and Co. on 22 June 1825. It was advertised for publication by Hurst, Robinson, and Co. in London on the same date, but apparently not issued until 11 July. The price was two guineas (£2 2s or £2.10).[3] As with all of the Waverley novels until 1827 publication was anonymous. There is no conclusive evidence that Scott returned to the novel until the spring of 1831 when he revised the text and provided an introduction and notes for the 'Magnum' edition, in which it appeared as Volume 38 in July 1832.[4]

The standard modern edition, by J. B. Ellis with J. H. Alexander, P. D. Garside, and David Hewitt, was published as Volume 18b of the Edinburgh Edition of the Waverley Novels in 2009: this is based on the first edition with emendations mainly from the manuscript; the 'Magnum' material appears in Volume 25b (2012).

Plot introduction[edit]

The Talisman takes place at the end of the Third Crusade, mostly in the camp of the Crusaders in Palestine. Scheming and partisan politics, as well as the illness of King Richard the Lionheart, are placing the Crusade in danger. The main characters are the Scottish knight Kenneth, a fictional version of David of Scotland, Earl of Huntingdon, who returned from the third Crusade in 1190; Richard the Lionheart; Saladin; and Edith Plantagenet, a relative of Richard. Other leading characters include the actual historical figure Sir Robert de Sablé The One To Ever Serve As The Eleventh One To Be Known As The Grandmaster of the Order of the Knights Templar/The Grandmaster of the Templar Order and as well as Conrad Aleramici da Montferrat/Conrad Aleramici di Montferrat/Conrad Aleramici de Montferrat, referred to here whilst as "Conrade of Montserrat", due to an admitted misspelling on The Author Sir Walter Scott's respective part.

Plot summary[edit]

During a truce between the Christian armies taking part in the third Crusade, and the infidel forces under Sultan Saladin, Sir Kenneth, on his way to Syria, encountered a Saracen Emir, whom he unhorsed, and they then rode together, discoursing on love and necromancy, towards the cave of the hermit Theodoric of Engaddi. This hermit was in correspondence with the pope, and the knight was charged to communicate secret information. Having provided the travellers with refreshment, the anchorite, as soon as the Saracen slept, conducted his companion to a chapel, where he witnessed a procession, and was recognised by the Lady Edith, to whom he had devoted his heart and sword. He was then startled by the sudden appearance of the dwarfs, and, having reached his couch again, watched the hermit scourging himself until he fell asleep.

Ruins of Ascalon, 1880s

About the same time Richard Coeur de Lion had succumbed to an attack of fever, and as he lay in his gorgeous tent at Ascalon, Sir Kenneth arrived accompanied by a Moorish physician, who had cured his squire, and who offered to restore the king to health. After a long consultation, and eliciting from Sir Kenneth his visit to the chapel, the physician was admitted to the royal presence; and, having swallowed a draught which he prepared from a silken bag or talisman, Richard sank back on his cushions. While he slept Conrade of Montserrat secretly avowed to the wily Grand-master of the Templars his ambition to be King of Jerusalem; and, with the object of injuring Richard's reputation, incited Leopold of Austria to plant his banner by the side of that of England in the centre of the camp. When the king woke the fever had left him, and Conrade entered to announce what the archduke had done. Springing from his couch, Richard rushed to the spot and defiantly tore down and trampled on the Teuton pennon. Philip of France at length persuaded him to refer the matter to the council, and Sir Kenneth was charged to watch the English standard until daybreak, with a favourite hound as his only companion. Soon after midnight, however, the dwarf Necbatanus approached him with Lady Edith's ring, as a token that his attendance was required to decide a wager she had with the queen; and during his absence from his post the banner was carried off, and his dog severely wounded. Overcome with shame and grief, he was accosted by the physician, who dressed the animal's wound, and, having entrusted Sir Kenneth with Saladin's desire to marry the Lady Edith, proposed that he should seek the Saracen ruler's protection against the wrath of Richard. The valiant Scot, however, resolved to confront the king and reveal the Sultan's purpose; but it availed him not, and he was sentenced to death, in spite of the intercessions of the queen and his lady-love; when the hermit, and then the physician, arrived, and Richard having yielded to their entreaties, Sir Kenneth was simply forbidden to appear before him again.

Having, by a bold speech, revived the drooping hopes of his brother Crusaders, and reproved the queen and his kinswoman for tampering with the Scot, Richard received him, disguised as a Nubian slave, as a present from Saladin, with whom he had been induced to spend several days. Shortly afterwards, as the king was reposing in his pavilion, the "slave" saved his life from the dagger of an assassin secretly employed by the grand-master, and intimated that he could discover the purloiner of the standard. A procession of the Christian armies and their leaders had already been arranged in token of amity to Richard; and as they marched past him, seated on horseback, with the slave holding the hound among his attendants, the dog suddenly sprang at the Marquis Conrade, who was thus convicted of having injured the animal, and betrayed his guilt by exclaiming, "I never touched the banner." Not being permitted to fight the Teuton himself, the king undertook to provide a champion, and Saladin to make all needful preparations for the combat. Accompanied by Queen Berengaria and Lady Edith, Richard was met by the Saracen with a brilliant retinue, and discovered, in the person of his entertainer, the physician who had cured his fever, and saved Sir Kenneth, whom he found prepared to do battle for him on the morrow, with the hermit as his confessor. The encounter took place soon after sunrise, in the presence of the assembled hosts, and Conrade, who was wounded and unhorsed, was tended by the Sultan in the grand-master's tent, while the victorious knight was unarmed by the royal ladies, and made known by Richard as the Prince Royal of Scotland. At noon the Sultan welcomed his guests to a banquet, but, as the grand-master was raising a goblet to his lips, Necbatanus uttered the words accipe hoc, and Saladin decapitated the templar with his sabre; on which the dwarf explained that, hidden behind a curtain, he had seen him stab his accomplice the Marquis of Montserrat, obviously to prevent him from revealing their infamous plots, while he answered his appeal for mercy in the words he had repeated. The next day the young prince was married to Lady Edith, and presented by the Sultan with his talisman, the Crusade was abandoned, and Richard, on his way homewards, was imprisoned by the Austrians in the Tyrol.


Principal characters in bold

Chapter summary[edit]

Volume Three (of Tales of the Crusaders)

Ch.1: Kenneth and an Emir [Sheerkohf or Ilderim, Saladin incognito] clash by the Dead Sea and agree a personal truce.

Ch. 2: Kenneth and Sheerkohf are contrasted as they arrive at the oasis known as the Diamond of the Desert. They express their differing cultural views of women.

Ch. 3: As they continue to debate, Sheerkohf tells of his descent from the immortal Genii. They encounter the hermit Engaddi and are afforded shelter for the night in his cell.

Ch. 4: Entering a richly decorated chapel, Kenneth receives the clandestine acknowledgment of one of the choristers, his lady love Edith.

Ch. 5: After the service two dwarves, Nectanabus and Guenevra, enter the chapel: Engaddi dismisses them and departs with Kenneth.

Ch. 6: The fevered King Richard and Sir Thomas de Vaux discuss the inactivity of the other Crusaders and their inability to find an effective leader.

Ch. 7: Kenneth arrives and tries to persuade De Vaux (who is not well disposed to the Scots) that a Moorish physician sent by Saladin, Adouban el Hakim [Saladin again in disguise], should be admitted to Richard.

Ch. 8: Richard tells De Vaux that he will see El Hakim. De Vaux and the Archbishop of Tyre discuss the physician and receive a demonstration of his skill. The Archbishop is alarmed to learn that Kenneth has returned.

Ch. 9: Kenneth tells Richard that he sought Engaddi, at the behest of the Crusading council, to act as a vehicle for securing a lasting peace. Giles Amaury, Grand Master of the Templars, and Conrade of Montserrat urge Richard not to trust El Hakim, but he drinks the cup of water prepared by the physician by dipping a talisman in it.

Ch. 10: Amaury and Conrade consider that their ambitions will be best served by a Crusader withdrawal, to which Richard is opposed. Amaury suggests he be assassinated, but they agree that Conrade should first attempt to stir up dissent between Austria and England.

Ch. 11: Conrade arouses Leopold of Austria, who plants his banner alongside Richard's. Richard fells the Austrian flag and the Earl Wallenrode, and entrusts the care of his own standard to Kenneth.

Ch. 12: Nectanabus brings a ring as a token of summons from Edith and persuades Kenneth to leave the banner unattended.

Ch. 13: Kenneth overhears the royal ladies discussing him in their tent: it becomes clear that he has been enticed to leave the standard as a result of a wager by the Queen, and when he is revealed Edith urges him to return to his watch. He finds Richard's flag gone and his own dog Roswal injured.

Volume Four

Ch. 1 (14): El Hakim sets about tending Roswal and tells Kenneth that Tyre is to suggest to Richard a plan including the marriage of Saladin and Edith as part of a peace treaty.

Ch. 2 (15): Kenneth accepts the royal sentence of death for deserting the banner.

Ch. 3 (16): At Edith's urging, Queen Berengaria agrees to intercede with her husband for Kenneth's life.

Ch. 4 (17): Berengaria and Edith, supported by Engaddi, obtain a temporary stay of execution for Kenneth.

Ch. 5 (18): El Hakim obtains a pardon for Kenneth, who will become the physician's slave. Engaddi unveils an agreement which will deal with Leopold without involving violence and tells Richard his own sinful history.

Ch. 6 (19): Tyre presents the marriage plan to Richard, who is not unreceptive but decides to make one attempt to rally his allies. This is successful. Amaury proposes to Conrade that they employ a Charegite (belonging to a fanatical Islamic sect) to eliminate Richard.

Ch. 7 (20): The royal ladies decide to tell Richard the truth about Kenneth's desertion of the banner, and he pardons the Queen for her irresponsible behaviour. Edith complains to Richard about Kenneth's bondage. A mute Nubian slave, Zohauk [Kenneth in disguise], arrives with a letter from Saladin presenting him as a gift to Richard. He is followed by a dancing dervise [the Charegite].

Ch. 8 (21): Zohauk saves Richard from assassination by the dervise. He undertakes (in writing) to reveal the identity of the banner thief, and indicates that he has a message to deliver to Edith from Saladin.

Ch. 9 (22): [The narrative retrogrades to follow Ch. 18] El Hakim and his slave Kenneth out-gallop a party of Templars.

Ch. 10 (23): El Hakim reveals himself as the Emir of the opening chapters and arranges that Kenneth, disguised as Zohauk, will convey Saladin's message to Edith.

Ch. 11 (24): Roswal attacks Conrade, identifying him as the banner thief, and arrangements are made for a duel between him and a royal champion.

Ch. 12 (25): Richard, aware that Zohauk is Kenneth, hints that he may become his champion against Conrade and sends him, escorted by Sir Henry Neville, with Saladin's letter to Edith. Although she recognises him, he persists in his dumbness as agreed with Richard, and she spurns both him and the letter.

Ch. 13 (26): Blondel sings the lay of 'The Bloody Vest' at Richard's request, and Edith tells the King of her intention to reject Saladin's approach for her hand.

Ch. 14 (27): Richard and his followers arrive at the Diamond of the Desert where the duel is to take place. Saladin demonstrates his skill with a scimitar before revealing that he was El Hakim. De Vaux indicates to the King that Kenneth is ready to act as champion, and Edith that she has no particular interest in him.

Ch. 15 (28): Preparations are made for the combat, and Amaury tries to stiffen Conrade's resolve. Kenneth defeats him and Richard announces he has discovered the Scot to be the Earl of Huntingdon. Amaury kills Conrade to prevent him from revealing his own treachery, leading Saladin to kill him in turn. Saladin's sense of his responsibility as a ruler leads him to decline Richard's impetuous offer of a combat. Huntingdon and Edith marry, Saladin sending them the talisman as a gift.

Major themes[edit]

David Earl of Huntingdon, frontispiece to 1863 edition by A & C Black

The piece features many schemes from within the alliance against Richard the Lionheart's plans to complete the Crusade. These involve historical figures such as the Master of the Knights Templar and Conrad of Montserrat (the historical Conrad of Montferrat: Scott mistook the F for a long S, ſ, in his researches). After several betrayals and a nearly fatal mistake by Kenneth, his redemption, justice for the schemers, and the peace treaty follow.

An interesting feature is the character of Saladin—portrayed as virtuous and moral, in contrast to some of the despicable European nobles in the story.[5] This is a feature of Romanticism,[5] but perhaps also a reflection of a rising European interest in the Orient.

Departures from historical fact[edit]

Sir Kenneth is eventually revealed to be David of Scotland, Earl of Huntingdon in disguise, and marries the Lady Edith. However, David's real wife (married in 1190) was Maud of Chester, who goes unmentioned; Edith Plantagenet is a fictional character. David was also in his late forties at the time of the Third Crusade, while Sir Kenneth appears to be considerably younger.


Only a handful of reviewers dissented from the overwhelmingly enthusiastic reception of The Talisman.[6] It was generally ranked among the best of the Waverley novels, with admiration of its dazzling richness and high colouring.[citation needed] The plot was skilfully conducted, and the characters well discriminated and interesting, with Richard and Saladin outstandingly complex, and Edith and De Vaux both impressive.[citation needed] The small number of objectors tended to find the work extravagant and theatrical in a bad sense.[citation needed]

Film and television[edit]

The movie King Richard and the Crusaders (1954) was based on The Talisman. The Italian silent film Il talismano (1911) and King Richard the Lion-Hearted (1923) were also based on the novel. The Egyptian epic film El Naser Salah-Ad Din (Saladin Victorious, 1963) takes much of its inspiration from this novel.

In 1980 a British miniseries was also made of The Talisman.

In 1992 and 1993, Russian director Yevgeni Gerasimov adapted The Betrothed and The Talisman under the titles Richard L'vinoe Serdtse and Ritsar' Kennet.

The 2005 epic film Kingdom of Heaven, directed by Sir Ridley Scott and starring Orlando Bloom, Liam Neeson and Edward Norton, while set in an earlier period, took part of its plot from The Talisman.[5] Major elements include: the figure of Saladin as a noble ruler, a young European nobleman coming alone to the Crusades and encountering and fighting a Saracen warrior who is later revealed to be of higher birth than the viewer/reader is led to believe, his becoming a good friend of the latter, and finally a forbidden romance between the young nobleman and a young woman of royal heritage.

The 2007 Swedish epic Film/Series 'Arn - Knight Templar' (based on the books by Jan Guillou) also leans heavily upon the similar themes as the above-mentioned 'Kingdom of Heaven'.


In September 1956, British Railways named the 10 o'clock London King's Cross to Edinburgh Waverley non-stop express train The Talisman.[7][8]


  1. ^ Walter Scott, The Talisman, ed. J. B. Ellis, with J. H. Alexander, P. D. Garside, and David Hewitt (Edinburgh, 2009), 280–88.
  2. ^ Ibid., 365–74.
  3. ^ William B. Todd and Ann Bowden, Sir Walter Scott: A bibliographical History 1796–1832 (New Castle, Delaware, 1998), 605.
  4. ^ The Talisman, ed. Ellis, 306–11.
  5. ^ a b c Charlotte Edwardes (17 January 2004). "Ridley Scott's new Crusades film 'panders to Osama bin Laden'". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 3 January 2015.
  6. ^ For a full list of contemporaneous British reviews of "Tales of the Crusaders" see William S. Ward, Literary Reviews in British Periodicals, 1821‒1826: A Bibliography (New York and London, 1977), 179. For an earlier annotated list see James Clarkson Corson, A Bibliography of Sir Walter Scott (Edinburgh and London, 1943), 262‒64.
  7. ^ Fast Winter Scottish Service Railway Gazette 21 September 1956 page 411
  8. ^ The Talisman The Railway Magazine issue 666 October 1956 page 47

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.

External links[edit]