The Talisman (Scott novel)

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The Talisman
Talisman 1825.jpg
First edition title page.
AuthorSir Walter Scott
SeriesTales of the Crusaders
GenreHistorical novel
PublisherArchibald Constable
Publication date
22 June 1825
Preceded byThe Betrothed 

The Talisman is a novel by Sir Walter Scott. It was published in 1825 as the second of his Tales of the Crusaders, the first being The Betrothed.

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.

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 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.[1] This is a feature of Romanticism,[1] but perhaps also a reflection of a rising European interest in the Orient.

Historical inaccuracies[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.

Leading Crusades historian Jonathan Riley-Smith accused Walter Scott of propagating a romanticized view of the Crusades now discredited by academics, "which depicts the Muslims as sophisticated and civilised, and the Crusaders are all brutes and barbarians. It has nothing to do with reality."[1][2][3]

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.[1] 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.


  1. ^ a b c d Charlotte Edwardes (17 January 2004). "Ridley Scott's new Crusades film 'panders to Osama bin Laden'". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 3 January 2015.
  2. ^ Andrew Holt (5 May 2005). "Truth is the First Victim- Jonathan Riley-Smith". Archived from the original on 23 July 2012. Retrieved 3 January 2015.
  3. ^ Jamie Byrom, Michael Riley "The Crusades"

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]