Ivanhoe (Chapter 1, page 1 of 7)


 
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Chapter 1

Thus communed these; while to their lowly dome,
The full-fed swine return'd with evening home;
Compell'd, reluctant, to the several sties,
With din obstreperous, and ungrateful cries.

Pope's Odyssey

In that pleasant district of merry England which is watered by the
river Don, there extended in ancient times a large forest, covering
the greater part of the beautiful hills and valleys which lie between
Sheffield and the pleasant town of Doncaster. The remains of this
extensive wood are still to be seen at the noble seats of Wentworth, of
Warncliffe Park, and around Rotherham. Here haunted of yore the fabulous
Dragon of Wantley; here were fought many of the most desperate battles
during the Civil Wars of the Roses; and here also flourished in ancient
times those bands of gallant outlaws, whose deeds have been rendered so
popular in English song.

Such being our chief scene, the date of our story refers to a period
towards the end of the reign of Richard I., when his return from his
long captivity had become an event rather wished than hoped for by his
despairing subjects, who were in the meantime subjected to every species
of subordinate oppression. The nobles, whose power had become exorbitant
during the reign of Stephen, and whom the prudence of Henry the Second
had scarce reduced to some degree of subjection to the crown, had now
resumed their ancient license in its utmost extent; despising the feeble
interference of the English Council of State, fortifying their castles,
increasing the number of their dependants, reducing all around them to a
state of vassalage, and striving by every means in their power, to place
themselves each at the head of such forces as might enable him to make a
figure in the national convulsions which appeared to be impending.

The situation of the inferior gentry, or Franklins, as they were called,
who, by the law and spirit of the English constitution, were entitled
to hold themselves independent of feudal tyranny, became now unusually
precarious. If, as was most generally the case, they placed themselves
under the protection of any of the petty kings in their vicinity,
accepted of feudal offices in his household, or bound themselves by
mutual treaties of alliance and protection, to support him in his
enterprises, they might indeed purchase temporary repose; but it must
be with the sacrifice of that independence which was so dear to every
English bosom, and at the certain hazard of being involved as a party in
whatever rash expedition the ambition of their protector might lead him
to undertake.

On the other hand, such and so multiplied were the means
of vexation and oppression possessed by the great Barons, that they
never wanted the pretext, and seldom the will, to harass and pursue,
even to the very edge of destruction, any of their less powerful
neighbours, who attempted to separate themselves from their authority,
and to trust for their protection, during the dangers of the times, to
their own inoffensive conduct, and to the laws of the land.

 
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