Week 1 – Walter Scott: The Man Behind the Monument – University of Aberdeen – Abbotsford Trust – Future Learn

Discover the writer, collector and cultural icon who remains one of Scotland’s most enduring literary legends.

Explore literature that shaped the heritage and national identity of the Scots

Walter Scott is one of Scotland’s most significant figures and is famous around the world.

On this course, you’ll get to know the man behind the monuments and books. You’ll explore and discuss selections of Scott’s work, whilst reflecting upon his cultural impact and enduring literary legacy.

You’ll understand Scott’s significance as a poet and novelist, and will be familiar with some of his best-loved work; such as Waverley and The Heart of Mid-Lothian. You’ll also gain an understanding of how and why he was inspired to write, and how literature can shape heritage and national identity.

  • The work and legacy of Walter Scott
  • Scott as a collector
  • Relationship between Scott’s home at Abbotsford and storytelling
  • Connections between Scott’s work and landscape, history and nationhood
  • Curating Scott’s legacy

Part of my learning journal


Getting to Know Each Other

In this section of the course we will get to know each other and start to learn something about Scott and his early life.


exploring the relationship between collecting and storytelling later on in
the course. Today, though, we’d like to introduce you to Walter Scott. And to find out what you
might know about him already. You might very well be surprised.

I am joining the course actively today. I’ve just finished reading the contents of all four weeks. Having now some background about the man and his times, I feel I am better equipped to take this course and ask relevant questions, as I am quite ignorant about Scott.
When learning about a historical figure, I like to know where his or her grave is and how it looks like.
Walter Scott lies in Dryburgh Abbey.
Here two quotes from an article describing Scott’s funerals:
– “At Dryburgh Abbey the body, on being taken from the hearse, was borne by his own domestics to the grave, they having specially requested that no foreign hand should be allowed to touch the remains of a master so honoured and so beloved”.
– “… and in considering the genius and intellectual powers of the deceased ; his wit, his eloquence, his fancy, we could not help thinking of his own beautiful words…“They sleep with him, who sleeps below.””

I’m a very very late starter as I had been doing some other Future Learn courses – Highland Clans, Bonnie Prince Charlie and the Jacobites, Lancaster Castle – however now I am very keen to do this course – so I will be lagging behind.



a very interesting point: the tension between history and fiction, which was central to all of Scott’s writing. Of course, what is history, if it is not narrative-driven and therefore inherently subjective? However, Scott was always at pains to highlight that he was engaged in an imaginative process, blending historical events and characters into his work, but very much producing works of fiction. This raises interesting questions: why did Scott do this? what do we mean by the term ‘historical novel’? Looking forward to dicussing all of this further as a group.

thanks for this, and apologies if my comment was somewhat misleading: what I was trying to suggest was that it can be fruitful to pause for a moment and contemplate the term ‘historical novel’. ‘Historical romance’ is another generic categorisation frequently used to describe Scott’s writing (both by Scott himself and others). Is this terminology oxymoronic? Can an event be simultaneously history and romance, or history and fiction? In this way, the very mode that Scott writes in raises really interesting questions about the relationship between history and fiction. The relation of the individual to historical process is another equally fascinating topic that Scott explores time and again in his fiction.

I think that we have a lot to be grateful to Scott for. The Jacobite rebellion had resulted in tartan and many other aspects of traditional Scottish life being banned. Without Scott and Queen Victoria we may never have known much about certain parts of our history. I read Scott and Nigel Tranter books when I was in my teens and this fuelled an interest to go on and read academic books on history to find out the facts behind these stories.

In my opinion there is no historical retelling without a certain kind of distortion. In that sense I would even answer to the question raised by Ainsley that an event is always history and fiction at the same time! This applies in a certain way also to the personal memory:
But historical fiction has influence on how we see ‘us’ and ‘the other’, it’s creating or recurring on stereotypes. For Scott I vaguely remember having read a critique on his depiction on Rebecca in ‘Ivanhoe’. I don’t remember where, but there are several other sources available on the internet, eg:
I think it is not only a question of the ‘moral obligation of the historical novelist’ (to quote the Guardian article), it is also important for the audience not to consume texts or depictions of historical events without reflection and awareness of its inadequacies. Authors like Scott or Dumas have deeply influenced the perceptions of generations on historical events or persons. It’s not only their intention but also their reception that makes them fascinating.

I really appreciated your earlier comment, which I thought was very insightful. I think I’m personally sceptical about whether any historical account can be truly objective (despite the best intentions of the historian), but Julia’s comments made me think about the extent to which I’m coming at this from my own subjective point of view and place in history: we’re living in an age in which celebrity historians vie for our attention on TV and where history has become an extension of their own brand identity as a teller of history (this is not a criticism, I love a good historical documentary as much as anyone). Julia has made me think afresh about whether our approach to history has changed as society has changed?

You make the point that the novelist can help people to understand aspects the past better than the historian can. I entirely agree and would add that they can also throw light on present day society. Any novelist writing about the past is inevitably also passing comment on the present.
Karl Marx praised the authors Gaskell, Dickens, Thackeray and Charlotte Bronte in this way when he said that their ‘graphic and eloquent pages have issued to the world more political and social truths than have been uttered by all the professional politicians, publicists and moralists put together’.
Engels wrote an empirical account of the condition of the working class in 19th century England, Dickens brings the subjective experience to life in an extraordinary extravaganza of characters from every class which reveals the reality of urban life in quite a different way.
The more complex society has become the more inventive artists have had to become in order to show it. I would certainly include Charlie Chaplin among those who succeeded, along with the surrealists, magical realists, as well as realist, modernist and psychological novelists and artists

I’m following this discussion with interest. I write historical fiction and I consider myself a storyteller, not a historian. I’d bet that Scott would’ve described himself the same way. I’ve found that more people come to understand and love history through fiction than in any history class they’ve ever taken in school. Most readers know that the story told in a novel did not actually happen (the character didn’t exist, the circumstances are made up but exist against a backdrop of events that really did happen) but it “might” have happened if this character had actually lived. A novel portrays one character’s experience in that world and is subjective of that character’s background and worldview. Just as no two people have exactly matching memories of an event, no two characters would experience an historical event the same way. That’s what makes historical fiction rich and exciting. When I read a historical novel, I often turn to other sources to confirm or deny, or add a layer of knowledge to that which I read.

there is a real tension between making a story interesting and making it historically accurate @AinsleyMcIntosh. Take Outlander for example. Loads of the (mainly US) fans think it’s entirely HA but it is not & they get into debates about its authenticity. As someone who has now studied the history of the Gàidhealtachd (I’ll happily admit it was Outlander which sparked the interest), I’ve learned how wrong many of the story lines are. I wonder whether the 19th century audiences were so accepting of Scott’s portrayal of Rob Roy, for example, and whether they believed what Scott has written or realised it was fiction based on fact. Sorry, I could ramble on all night about this

I’ve come back to this after watching a programme on the influence of novels and also noted that Scott has made the list of 100 influential novels.


The kilt was actually worn in Scotland long before WS came on the scene. I don’t know the exact history but I believe it was worn in the Highlands in the 16th century.Then it was full length garment which could be wrapped around the body and double up as a blanket. it was shortened to knee length a century later. It was a also a battle uniform and therefore a symbol of patriotism and honour. After the Jacobites lost their nearly 60 year rebellion at the Battle of Culloden in1774 the English passed The Dress Act forbidding the wearing of the tartan except by the army e.g. the Black Watch.Wearing the kilt was punishable by 6 months in prison without bail for the first offence and transportation to the colonies for 7 years for a second offence.The act was repealed in 1782 and by then the kilt had almost gone out of fashion. WS reintroduced the kilt when King George 1V visited Scotland. He was the first monarch to do so in 2 centuries.One reason was to elevate the kilt into a national symbol (or a symbol of nationality)
And , secondly he was trying to portray George as the “Jacobite King” and so win the affections of the Scots. Basically I think WS was a nationalist.
Scott has nothing to be ashamed of re the tartan. True, he advised the wearing of it to celebrate the visit to Edinburgh of George 4th, because tartan had been proscribed by the Hanoverians after Culloden. If you want to blame someone, look to Queen Victoria who went around the Highlands eulogising the peace and quiet without once asking why it was so ( the Clearances) and just loved the tartan. Tartan then is a product (and a late 19th century passion) of the popularising of Romantic Scotland by the Royals as part of a unionist strategy – and it continues – ergo Charles et al in their tartan finery at the various Highland Games. There is one answer to this, and that is YES at the next indyref. Evelyn, this is not personal, but we are all a bit prickly up here at the moment and my hackles are up. All the best.
Reading Scott now, there is an extra layer of historical interest; I think his novels cannot help but tell us a lot about life and opinions at the turn of the nineteenth century, as well as traditions about Scottish history that were current at that time. He was an antiquarian and a very dramatic writer, which is an interesting combination. Historical novels would be dull if they were totally even handed and unbiased; Scott kindles interest in the history but I think one would need to read historical sources to get a fuller picture.
I’ve joined the course very much on the last minute, having completed the Jacobites course two days ago and before that the study of clan culture and history also rather late – there seems to be a pattern here, but I’ll put in extra time to catch up. I live in Leeds and am looking at Scottish history comparing it with the history I studied at school in the 1950s finding very different narratives and perceptions of events. I read and enjoyed several of Walter Scott’s novels when I was 14 or 15: Waverley, Rob Roy, Redgauntlet, Heart of Midlothian among others. I shall reread these as I have only vague memories of the plots. I visited Abbotsford about ten years ago and was fascinated with the house and the many Jacobite exhibits. My mother was born a McNeill, from her and my grandparents I imbibed some Scottish customs and ideas although I did not visit Scotland till I was 24 and have never lived there. I am very glad I can join this course and I know I’ll learn and have much to think about.
I’m a very very late starter with Scots ancestry from Edinburgh, Glasgow, Bathgate, Shotts, Elgin, Rothes, Skye and North/South Uist.
Previously I had been dismissive of WS’s work but my eyes were opened as I had been doing some other Future Learn courses – Highland Clans, Bonnie Prince Charlie and the Jacobites – however now I am very keen to do this course – so I will be lagging behind.


Walter Scott was born in the Old Town of Edinburgh at College Wynd on 15 August 1771. His father was the son of a sheep farmer from the Borders, but was himself a lawyer. His mother, Anne Rutherford, was the daughter of a professor of medicine at the University of Edinburgh. Walter was their ninth child, but not all of their children survived. The cramped conditions of Edinburgh’s old town were not healthy. Not long after Walter was born, they moved to a new home in George Square, near the university. Indeed, Scott’s childhood coincided with the building of Edinburgh’s New Town. And this also marked its development from a medieval city to a modern enlightenment town. In the decades before Scott’s birth, Edinburgh was home to many innovative thinkers, such as
philosopher and historian David Hume. In his novel “Humphry Clinker”, Tobias Smollett
described Edinburgh as a hotbed of genius. And, by moving to the fashionable George
Square, the Scott family were signalling that they were part of this new, modern way of life. But, in spite of this move, when Scott was only 1 and 1/2, he was struck down by a disease that we would now recognise as polio. In order to help their son recover, his parents sent him away to stay with his grandparents at Sandyknowe Farm in the Scottish Borders. Here at Sandyknowe, the young Scott was to encounter a world very different from that of Edinburgh. The Borders were still very much part of an oral tradition. And stories of battles, feuds, and superstition were still very much alive. They were also inscribed in the place names and the landscape that Scott could see around him. And stories of these events were told everywhere. Smailholm Tower stands just behind Sandyknowe Farm. And in this marrying together of story and the physical remnants of history, we can begin to see the ways in which Walter’s young imagination was being shaped. Although suffering from ill health throughout his early life, Scott did recover sufficiently to return to Edinburgh and attend the high school and later the University of Edinburgh where he qualified as a lawyer. It’s not surprising that when Scott had made enough money, it was to the Borders that he would return to create a place straight from the pages of his imagination

BBC article,
”Scott has been criticised in much of his writing for depicting an overly romantic, even mythological picture of Scottish history. When he published The Border Ballads, he did not hesitate to edit or ‘improve’ them, but he didn’t invent the romantic reiver”.
The tumultuous history of the borders would be around Scott in every way.

Introducing Scott – or more correctly re-introducing Scott – is for me one of the central issue of importance in Scottish education.

Those who claim that Scott was too romantic, it might be relevant to note that Scott was living through the romantic era. But to suggest that Scott’s work is essentially romantic might be an indication that those critics have actually not read his work – but the popular descriptions of his work. I have read only one novel “Castle Dangerous” – yes there is romance there but is the novel romantic?

The short stories display an interesting aspect of Scott. He loved stories. If he had people to dinner the highlight of the evening was when Scott would tell his guests a story. Many of his most popular stories were initially told to him by relatives. Although he was to make these stories famous – the truth is that these stories came to be written because Scott loved to hear such stories from friends and relatives. Scotts love of stories is an important part of Scott the writer.

The “border” refers to the actual border between Scotland and England. But the “Borderlands” is the land comprising the southern part of Scotland and the northern part of England. This is the area that from the late 13th century up until the 1603 union of the two countries was in effect a militarised zone – wars of Scottish independence – invasions of Scotland and armed response from Scotland (think of William Wallace and King Robert the Bruce for instance). And that led to the families having to protect themselves as best they could – this led to the Border Reivers (i.e. robbers) – it all became a bit like the American Wild West, but here, it went on for 300 years, and every family was involved. In effect, the “Borderlands” stretched from just south of Edinburgh all the way to at least Durham, and maybe even to York. All this provided Walter Scott much inspiration to write and to collect stories. Try this: look up Wikipedia and search for Border Reivers for a good description.

The “bible” for the Reiving period is “The Steel Bonnets” by George MacDonald Fraser in which there is a map showing the families and their situation in the Borders. The author asserts that ALL families were involved, and all levels within the family. There were large families (e.g. Scott, Kerr, Armstrong, Douglas, Eliott), and smaller ones (e.g. Bell, Crozier) who associated with other families to form bigger groups … Names and Graynes. The Wiki article is very good, but look out for that book.

The writers museum in Edinburgh has 3 floors, each dedicated to one writer – Burns, Scott and Stevenson. https://www.edinburghmuseums.org.uk/venue/writers-museum

He was a serious, compulsive writer I think – it wasn’t a hobby. It is remarkable that he managed to find the time and energy to have a legal career as well, although his actual court appearances as Sheriff were relatively few in number. But he was a bit enigmatic about making a living by writing. In a letter to an aspiring writer in 1825, he wrote: “… literature alone, and for subsistence, is the most miserable thing in the world”. He advised the writer to find a profession, thereby avoiding the need to “sell your daily thoughts for your daily bread”. He continued: “… having a profession you may use literature as a staff to support you occasionally, not as a crutch to lean upon … write when you please and how you please”.
Unlike many of their other articles, the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography’s page on Scott is free to read. It gives greater depth to his childhood
I have mostly identified as a descendant of McKenzie McLean and McIntosh ancestors from the Isle of Skye so I didn’t have much of a sense of the Borders area. However my husband’s Scots ancestry is from the Borders so I am learning a little more about the area.


Scott was in his late teens when he started taking an active interest in German poetry and ballads; partly because of influences within his University network and associated Societies, and also as a natural consequence of the deep interest he had developed in folklore and the ballad tradition. He attended German language lessons between 1792-4.

Scott wrote in both the English language and in Scots language.

His management of George IV’s visit was very instrumental in producing the “romantic” image of Scottish history so beloved by tourists and the owners of the shops on Princes Street

It seems interesting to compare Walter Scott Timeline with Timeline of Scottish history. I mean to focus on the 17th, 18th, 19th centuries to see the historical landscape most of Scott’s novels. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Timeline_of_Scottish_history; http://www.localhistories.org/scotime.html

Perhaps this timeline is more helpful?

I’ve also now found

Not having (until now) read any of Scott’s novels or poetry, the only thing I knew about Scott was that he was widely ‘blamed’ for the ‘tartanisation’ of Scotland. This is a really interesting (and colourful) link that outlines the development of this image of Scotland and talks about Scott’s influence:

Here is a timeline that provides you with some important information relating to Scott’s life. It also gives you the dates of some of his key publications. It is based on information included in the Abbotsford Guide Book. At this point you may wish to reflect upon what you knew about Scott already and what you have learnt. Please share your thoughts with us below.

Date Events
15/08/1771 Scott was born on August 15, 1771, in Edinburgh as the son of a solicitor Walter Scott and Anne, a daughter of professor of medicine.
Approx 1773 Polio attack leaves the young Scott with a limp.
1773 Lives with his grand-parents at Sandy Knowe, Kelso.
Approx 1775 Visits London and Bath with his aunt, Janet Scott.
1776 Returns to family home in George Square
1778 Sent to the Royal High School in Edinburgh.
1785 Studies Latin, Greek and Logic at Edinburgh University.
1786 Serious illness strikes – convalesces at Kelso. Apprenticed to his father`s firm of solicitors.
1789 Attends Law classes. Finishes in ‘92
1792 Called to the Scottish Bar as an Advocate.
1792 Falls in love with Williamina Belsches.
1795 Appointed as Curator of the Advocates` Library.
1796 Loses Williamina Belsches, who marries Sir William Forbes.
1796 Translates The Chase and William and Helen by G.A. Bürger from German.
1797 Meets Charlotte Charpentier in the Lake District and marries her in the same year.
1799 Appointed Sheriff of Selkirkshire.
1799 Death of his father.
1800 Translates Goetz of Belichingen by Goethe from German.
1804 Edits Sir Tristrem by Thomas the Rhymer.
1806 Appointed Principal Clerk of Session.
1808 Starts publishing-house with John Ballantyne.
1811 Buys small farm on the River Tweed.
1812 Moves to farm on the River Tweed. This will later be the site for Abbotsford.
1813 Lord of the Isles published.
1814 Publication of his Waverley novels as the Great Unknown – his identity is not publicly acknowledged until 1827.
1815 Visits London, Paris, Waterloo.
1815 His novel Guy Mannering is published.
1816 Publication of The AntiquaryBlack Dwarf and Old Mortality.
1818 Rob Roy is published. Also published are Bride of Lammermoor and The Heart of Midlothian.
1819 Suffers from bouts of cramp.
1819 His mother dies.
1819 Publication of Legend of Montrose.
1820 Visits London, sits for Chantrey for a portrait bust.
1820 Publication of IvanhoeThe Monastery and The Abbot.
1821 Attends the Coronation of George IV.
1821 Publication of Kenilworth.
1822 Organises visit of George IV to Edinburgh.
1822 Publication of The PirateThe Fortunes of Nigel and Peveril of the Peak.
1823 Suffers his first stroke.
1823 Publication of Quentin Durward.
1824 Publication of St Ronan`s Well and Redgauntlet.
1825 Bankruptcy of Ballantyne, his printer, and Constable, his publisher.
1826 Lady Scott dies.
1826 Travels to France to research life of Napoleon.
1826 Publication of The BetrothedThe TalismanWoodstock.
1827 Publication of Life of Napoleon Buonaparte and also Chronicles of the Canongate.
1828 Publication of The Fair Maid of Perth.
1829 Publication of Anne of Geierstein.
1830 Severe strokes in February and November. Resigns as Clerk of Session.
1831 Publication of Count Robert of Paris and Castle Dangerous
1831 Suffers another stroke in May.
1831 Sails on HMS Barham to Malta and Naples for health reasons. Has a cerebral haemorrhage.
1832 Resident in Naples, returns to Scotland via the River Rhine.
There is so much more to WS’s personal life story than I ever imagined.


In the first video we have introduced you to Scott’s family background and to some of the events and influences of his formative years. By approaching a writer in this way, we are suggesting that our early childhood experiences shape how we develop as adults. This was an idea that was emerging in the Romantic period and Scott’s fellow Romantic writer William Wordsworth wrote that “the Child is father of the man”.

Scott himself explores these ideas in his work. The extract below, from his story ‘My Aunt Margaret’s Mirror’, first published in The Keepsake in 1828, reminds us how memories of our childhood operate and suggests that they are a key component in story-telling. Please read the extract in the Downloads at the bottom of this page and think about how your own childhood memories feed your imagination.

You can listen to Alison Lumsden speaking about the story on The Association for Scottish Literary Studies’ website. – Scott speaks about meeting of cultures ie Highlander and Lowlander





Somebody has once said: “The guy who thinks that it is not possible to change the past has still not written his memories.”
But I think it is possible to hang over the truth and the reality of our childhood if we confront our stories with members of our family, friends, witnesses… But our memory is a benevolent liar which tells us that we are good guys and that our life has a good direction and is full of meanings.

Think about a memory from your own childhood or family and how it has become a ‘story’ preserved in your family or friendship group. Join in a discussion on this topic. Key questions you may wish to consider are:

  • How do memories of childhood feed our imaginations?
  • How do these get passed down as stories?
  • Does it matter if the stories do not fully represent the events that originally inspired them?

I liked listening to the stories my mother told of the family – my sister has sometimes said “How do you remember all of this?” and yet she has memories of things that I don’t. 
It is said that if stories of the family are not told then within three generations those family stories may be lost. 
I have set up family web sites and this has helped people connect with our families history and stories.

Scott as a writer

Here we will introduce you to Scott as a writer and consider how his career as an author developed.


Scott is now recognised as one of the great writers of the nineteenth century and an important figure in the history of antiquarianism, salvage and collecting.

But where did it all begin? And why? This video aims to introduce you to a timeline of that activity which we hope will prove useful as the course develops.




In the video we have been exploring how ballad collecting defined the early part of Scott’s literary career. We have an example of one of these ballads at the bottom of this page for you to download. It is the historical ballad The Battle of Otterbourne. Please read it and think about the following issues and questions:

  • How does the ballad tell a story?
  • How does it convey historical events?
  • Can you see ways in which it relates to a sung tradition rather than a printed one?
  • How is the ballad linked to a particular place?

Ballads are so much a product of their place that you might find some of the language unfamiliar. If you’re struggling with some of the Scots dialect words, it might be useful to refer to the Dictionary of the Scots Language.

there were many versions written, with varying degrees of accuracy. Much of the detail comes from a contemporary historian called Froissart http://www.public-library.uk/ebooks/37/68.pdf who said he had interviewed people on both sides of the battle, but who still managed to get the distance between Newcastle and Otterburn wrong…the date varies too, by a fortnight, depending on who you choose to believe… To my mind, one of the biggest inaccuracies is that whilst Scott has Douglas making meaningful deathbed speeches, In Froissart’s account he gets killed during the night in battle, and isn’t missed for hours. But then, it takes away considerably from the action if one of the main characters in your poem gets trampled under foot and lost for hours in the middle of the action, and so we have perhaps to allow Scott some poetic license..

The Ballad of Otterburn is an example of how historical events, people etc., could be conveyed to the masses via the oral medium rather than the written word. It is based round fact of the actual battle in 1388 and highlights the cross-border warfare not just between Scotland and England but also of the great families on both sides and their historical rivalries, such as the Douglas and Percy families. The ballad is a mixture of learning and entertainment. It has facts but also projects them in a way as to provide a more vivid interpretation of how the events played out. This can distort fact to some extent (just think of films in our time – such as Braveheart!).

How does the ballad tell a story?
It has form beginning middle and end
How does it convey historical events?
By naming people places and time
Can you see ways in which it relates to a sung tradition rather than a printed one?
It has the advantage a definite rhyming pattern, which matches well with repetitive melodies and riffs
How is the ballad linked to a particular place?
Highlighting where the event takes place.

A ballad tells a story by having an introduction, a body and a conclusion.
It conveys historical events by naming places and people that are a part of that locality’s social highlights.
A ballad is better sung as there is a definite rhyming pattern, which matches well with repetitive melodies and riffs.
It is linked to a particular place by mention of that location as where the highlighting event takes place.



Didn’t know the history of the Battle of Otterburn.
and I confess I went to Wikipedia


  • How does the ballad tell a story?
  • How does it convey historical events?
  • Can you see ways in which it relates to a sung tradition rather than a printed one?
  • How is the ballad linked to a particular place?

The story is told in chronological order, with brief descriptions and dialogues. It does not seem that the narrator took part in the events, so we have an extradiegetic narrator, but it is not the kind of an omniscient narrator that we are used to in the modern novel. It reminds me a narrator like Homer, that tells you what have been told to him. And as Homer tells you the Iliad from a Greek perspective, this narrator tells the Battle of Otterbourne from a Scottish perspective. The historical events are conveyed with concrete references to places and historical characters and facts, like the death of the earl of Douglas (By the way, in the Spanish epic poem about the Cid it is said that he won a battle after he died, because his death was hidden). The sung tradition can be traced in elements that help the ballad to be remembered like rhyme, rhythm and the repetion of structures and pair of words. I suppose the ballad is linked to a particular place and its people, not only with the references to this place and the historical events, but also with the description of a landscape and customs about farming that survived the battle itself.


1. The Ballad tells a story in rhyming verse – which could be sung
2. The Ballad tells a story across many verses which could be memorised
3. As it is told in verse and can be sung, it is in a form that could be memorised and so learned by people who were not literate
4. The Ballad tells the story of the Battle of Otterburn in as many as 35 verses

Introducing Scott and his Significance to Scotland

In this section of the course we will be introducing you to the relationship between Scott’s work and his home at Abbotsford, and how they might colour our understanding of Scotland ’s places and past.


Scott’s writing. Now, much of that writing is set in Scotland and so powerful were the images he created that he almost cemented an idea of Scotland in the minds of his readers across Britain, but also further afield. And that is not without complexity. Some have even gone as far as to say that he is the grandfather of our national tourist tradition, but also that he has created a version of Scotland all of his own, a “Scottland” with two t’s, if you like. As we’ll see later in the course, Scott’s ideas about nationhood are far more complex than they might first seem. What is clear though, is that his legacy has left powerful markers right around the globe, not least where we’re now standing today, his home at Abbotsford. Abbotsford, it was already a place of pilgrimage for other writers. And this trend continued throughout the 19th and 20th centuries. In the archive, we still have visitors’ books stretching back for 200 years bearing the signatures of Charlotte Bronte, Charles Dickens, and Oscar Wilde, to name just a few of the world-famous writers to have walked these rooms and even to have sat at Scott’s desk. From the literati, to artists, royalty, and future US presidents, they all came here to try and access the imagination of a famous writer in a very tangible way. The most famous of these is, of course, in Edinburgh Princes Street, where the Scott monument stands right next to the railway station named after his first novel, Waverley. Since 2014, Scott’s connection with Waverley has also become experiential in the station itself. An
installation funded by UNESCO and mounted by Edinburgh City of Literature has decorated the station with Scott’s own phrases, commemorating his legacy as a wordsmith. In fact, it’s only the plays of William Shakespeare and the Bible itself that have had more of an impact on the English language than the writing of Walter Scott.


Scott was a published novelist (although writing under pseudonyms) for 12 years before the financial crash changed everything for him. He then determined to try and write himself out of the colossal debt he was saddled with so he did produce more work (both novels and histories) in those final years. All the proceeds of these works were directed to his creditors.

The Ballantyne Press, of which Scott was the main partner, collapsed. Rather than declare bankruptcy, Scott placed his house and income in a trust to pay off creditors and resolved to write himself back into solvency. Nevertheless he died still owing money, although the continued popularity of his novels paid of the remainder of his debts after his death.

Scottish Gaelic is specifically associated with the Highlands and Islands, so Walter Scott as a Lowlander was not a native speaker. Having said that he did have a number of works in his Library containing Gaelic songs alongside their English translations. He was very familiar with the traditional Lowland Scots language and used it in his books, often in sections of dialogue (so you’ll experience it during this course); although as you will see most of his prose was written in standard English which helped broaden his appeal. Robert Burns, for example, wrote the majority of his poems and songs in Scots rather than Gaelic because he was from the Lowlands of Scotland.
Scots is actually recognised as a language in its own right by UNESCO. Hope this helps
‘Like many authors of his generation, Scott explored Europe metaphorically, writing at length about medieval Europeans in an attempt to understand his modern times. Historical fiction gave Scott the ability not just to examine the past, but to test out different identities and sympathies. One of his last novels, Count Robert of Paris, is purportedly about the Crusades and the Byzantine Empire, but it portrays two former rivals—French and English—who become allies. “Such transformations, Scott’s fiction assures us, are possible,” writes Crawford.’
Burns is more inaccesible than Scott because of his greater use of Scots language; even though he did write many works in English, his greatest work was in Scots. Scott wrote principally in English, so English speakers don’t have to read Scott with his book in one hand and a Scots-English dictionary in the other.


This is another interesting aspect of Scott’s complexity still being debated. I found yet another interesting article to bookmark for closer inspection.

Some of Scott’s own views and actions seems to be similarly complex, for example in pragmatically supporting the Hanovers whilst retaining a wistful admiration for the Jacobite cause?

‘Walter Scott’s startlingly contemporary approach to theories of language and the creative impact of this on his work are explored in this new study, which examines the linguistic diversity and creative playfulness of Scott’s fiction, and suggests that an evolving scepticism towards the communicative capacities of language runs throughout his writing. The book re-examines this scepticism in relation to Scottish Enlightenment thought and recent developments in theories of the novel.’
I enjoy reading Scott, and In my view he is rightly celebrated. But, Scott writes about Scotland, while Bobby Burns is Scotland.

Scott himself said something to that effect, that there was no comparison and that he (Scott) should not be named in the same day (as Burns).

The London and North Eastern Railway named twenty four locomotives after characters from Scott’s books and poems. Its predecessor, the North British, also had several locomotives with Scott related names and one named after the man himself.

It is interesting that Aberdeen, otherwise know as ‘the granite city,’ would look quite sombre. However Abbotsford is built outside of the city, and in a style that befits the nobility. Here, Scott would have a free spirit amongst the landscape and beauty of the scenery. I wonder, if Scott had lived in Aberdeen today, then his ballads and writings would have had a more sombre note to them. I have been reminded of a couple of streets from my childhood days, and now know why they were so called. I used to walk down Waverley street, which let onto Ivanhoe Street, to purchase some groceries for my mother. Also, when I studied on the FutureLearn course on The Duke of Wellington, I noticed that I had a Wellington Road, leading onto Waterloo Road. Quite interesting.
It is interesting that Aberdeen, otherwise know as ‘the granite city,’ would look quite sombre. However Abbotsford is built outside of the city, and in a style that befits the nobility. Here, Scott would have a free spirit amongst the landscape and beauty of the scenery. I wonder, if Scott had lived in Aberdeen today, then his ballads and writings would have had a more sombre note to them. I have been reminded of a couple of streets from my childhood days, and now know why they were so called. I used to walk down Waverley street, which let onto Ivanhoe Street, to purchase some groceries for my mother. Also, when I studied on the FutureLearn course on The Duke of Wellington, I noticed that I had a Wellington Road, leading onto Waterloo Road. Quite interesting.

I discovered that Abbotsford in Sydney took its name from Abbotsford House, owned by Sir Arthur Renwick. He named his property after Abbotsford House in the United Kingdom, the residence of historical novelist and poet, Sir Walter Scott. – source https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abbotsford,_New_South_Wales



I added Abbotsford Sydney Australia and Ellengowan Crescent, Fairy Meadow south of Sydney Australia to the map. There was a property known as Ellengowan in Fairy Meadow which was owned by my Scottish McKenzie relatives. A couple of years ago I discovered the WS connection with Ellengowan in his novel Guy Mannering. https://unbound.com/books/the-house-of-fiction/updates/ellangowan-castle-from-scott-s-guy-mannering My great grandmother’s sister had a farm called Ellengowan at Manildra in NSW Australia.

I live in Thirroul south of Sydney Australia & in the 1920’s DH Lawrence lived in a house called Wyewurk while he was writing “Kangaroo”. Wyewurk was then owned & managed by my Callcott relatives – he used Callcott as a name in Kangaroo.

I discovered that Abbotsford in Sydney took its name from Abbotsford House, owned by Sir Arthur Renwick. He named his property after Abbotsford House in the United Kingdom, the residence of historical novelist and poet, Sir Walter Scott. – source https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abbotsford,_New_South_Wales



Scott was immensely popular when he was first published, among the earliest writers in the Romantic movement. His poetry and novels caught the attention of a public jaded and disillusioned by war and hardship, using the ‘language
ordinarily used by men’ to narrate a positive vision of past and present events. Perhaps as his popularity became established he was seen as a literary figure,a member of elite society, his work studied in schools, his name and statues visible everywhere, he came to be regarded as an icon, no longer new and exciting, to be revered rather than read. But it is surprising that his novels especially are not more widely read outside Scotland.

Walter Scott raised Scotland’s profile significantly, giving its history a romantic and sentimental tinge at a time of the clearances when there would be many a homesick Scot thinking of their roots. Sadly this was a fiction since there was dire poverty and hunger for the common folk.
Possibly with modern attitudes the association with romanticism is shunned but his genius cannot be forgotten and his literature inspired so many others to follow. He loved his country and this is conveyed throughout his work. As a Scot I am therefore biased in his favour.

I grew up in Outback Australia, not far from the once thriving town of Ivanhoe. As I mentioned on the padlet, the entire region is drought stricken now, unfortunately. The people there are resilient and they are trying to survive this very difficult situation.


Well I live in Yorkshire and as we know the Brontes were influenced by Scott and Charlotte in particular admired him. Now I know that I can see Scott’s influence on their use of landscape in their works. They did for the Pennines and Yorkshire moors what he did for Scotland?

I didn’t know about the WS link to Abbotsford in Sydney NSW Australia.
I did know about the Ellengowan – WS connection in Fairy Meadow and Manildra, NSW Australia. There was a property known as Ellengowan in Fairy Meadow which was owned by my Scottish McKenzie relatives. A couple of years ago I discovered the WS connection with Ellengowan in his novel Guy Mannering. https://unbound.com/books/the-house-of-fiction/updates/ellangowan-castle-from-scott-s-guy-mannering My great grandmother’s sister had a farm called Ellengowan at Manildra in NSW Australia.

– I had considered WS an out of favour writer who was admired by my ancestors in the late 19th Century and earlier in the 20th Century. However when I did the Highland Scots and Bonnie Prince Charlie courses on Future Learn, I began to realise his importance to Scotland and the Highlands – even though he was a Lowlander associated with the Borders.

I live in Thirroul south of Sydney Australia & in the 1920’s DH Lawrence lived in a house called Wyewurk while he was writing “Kangaroo”. Wyewurk was then owned & managed by my Callcott relatives – he used Callcott as a name in Kangaroo.

Summing Up Week 1

This week we have been introducing you to Walter Scott. In this last section of week 1 we will consider what we have learned about Scott so far.




we’re going to be looking at how Scott approaches history and how that process of historical writing dovetails with his museum collection here at Abbotsford.

We will also be exploring the significance of Scott as a collector of ballads and a writer of
poetry and fiction. thinking about the ways in which Scott is relevant for today. We
will consider the relationship of his work to nationhood. And the ways in which story and history are always linked in Scott’s mind. As we have seen in our first few sessions, Scott enjoyed unprecedented popularity in his own times. And his legacy can be found everywhere. But Scott doesn’t only belong in the past. He’s not only enshrined within his monument in Princes Street. Scott is also a man whose works are still relevant and resonant for us today.

I have thoroughly enjoyed the first week of this course. I had not appreciated the impact the Scott has made even to modern times. I have now made it my mission to seek out more of the legacy of Scotland and will post the results at the end of the course.

Scott’s legacy, as seen in this poem:

So there, in solemn solitude,
In that sequester’d spot
Lies mingling with its kindred clay
The dust of Walter Scott !
Ah ! where is now the flashing eye
That kindled up at Flodden field,
That saw, in fancy. onsets fierce,
And clashing spear and shield,

The eager and untiring step,
That urged the search for Border lore,
To make old Scotland’s heroes known
On every peopled shore,
The wondrous spell that summon’d up
The charging squadrons fierce and fast,
And garnished every cottage wall
With pictures of the past (..)

(Extract of a poem found in The Gazetteer for Scotland)

I have very much enjoyed this week – the course is very well thought out and engaging even for those of us who are not familiar with Scotts’ works, and the extent of educator and mentor involvement is superb! One advantage of beginning a course late is being able to benefit from previous posts, links and discussion and this has certainly been the case so far on this course. Good, positive learner participation is nearly always the sign of a well produced course! Thank you everyone.

Maybe it’s because of Scott that Scottish history feels legendary, mystical and magical. Must be tough on true historians to get the hard, cold facts in there! But really, I love it that way! Keeps our hearts bonded to it!

I’ve just listened to the BBC radio programme Great Lives on Sir Walter Scott. It takes a critical look at Scott – Matthew Paris describing Scott’s writing in relation to Waverley as turgid! Nevertheless it is worth listening to as it explains why Scott was so popular and is no longer, and provides much information:

The popular image of Scott today has been mythologised as much as his own fictional writings. He seems popularly known as a novelist who wrote Ivanhoe and one or two other books that are no longer considered worthy of attention. As we have been told on the course that his influence on English Literature (and possibly on tourism?) is hardly less than that of the bible and Shakespeare, his writings ar surely worthy of more in-depth study and a wider public awareness.

I also hope that a Hollywood scriptwriter will pick up on an opportunity to adapt some of his ideas. Given the appetite for such things as Game of Thrones and Outlander, his gothic Scottish dramatic imagery could surely be effectively brought to the screen for a modern audience. Removing difficulties of dialect reveals some great stories.

Of course, some of us also manage to enjoy the original writings given the aid of resources to help understand them. I have much appreciated the thoughtful approach in supplying such educational resources as part of this course.

The course content this week has been well considered and well executed and the additional links are invaluable to further study. Many thanks.

Like Tolkien and Martin, Scott cleverly wrote ‘real’ myths into his poetical works, such as the wizard Michael Scott in Lay of the Last Minstrel

Or Sewingshields in Harold the Dauntless

After doing the Highland Clans and Bonnie Prince Charlie courses on Future Learn, and the positive mentions of WS I decided to study this programme – albeit very late. However I am appreciating the comments by other course participants.
I believe that WS helped Scottish emigrants to Australia, like my McKenzie’s, Tulloch’s and Newland’s in the 1830’s, to maintain a connection with Scotland.
He is mentioned in the Australian newspapers from 1820 – noting that Australian newspapers only commenced about 1804. Mentions of Scott continue in Australian newspapers into the 21st Century

About Kerrie Anne Christian

Interests - Travel, Photography, Developing Websites, Social Media, Writing, Local History, Researcher, Genealogy
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1 Response to Week 1 – Walter Scott: The Man Behind the Monument – University of Aberdeen – Abbotsford Trust – Future Learn

  1. Pingback: Walter Scott & the Re-Creation of the Scottish Highlands | The Illawarra McKenzie Family

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