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'The Lady of the Lake' and the Trossachs

Posted by Luci Ackers on 15 September 2017
Related property: Tigh Mor Trossachs
'The Lady of the Lake' and the Trossachs

How Loch Katrine plays a huge part in the history of British literature.

Sir Walter Scott (1771-1832)

Sir Walter Scott was a great literary figure of the 19th century. His works are still considered classics in both English and Scottish literature; the more notable ones including Rob Roy, The Lady of the Lake and Ivanhoe.

The Lady of the Lake is set close to our very own Tigh Mor and anyone who has read it will know that the poem is full of very atmospheric descriptions of the nearby Loch Katrine and its surroundings. Whether that’s the ‘varied realms of fair Mentieth’, the ‘bold cliffs of Benvenue’ or how the Loch Katrine gleams like a ‘burnished sheet of living gold’ in the setting sun.

It was while holidaying in the Trossachs with his family in the early 1800s that Scott began his masterpiece, and it isn’t surprising that such wild and romantic countryside inspired a narrative poem so reminiscent of the heroic tales of the past.

Image of Sir Walter Scott

Arthurian legends

The famous poem draws on medieval poetry not only in its narrative style, but in its content as well, telling stories of chivalry and romance. It is no small coincidence that the poem shares its name with a key character form Arthurian legend, which was a popular medieval theme from the 12th century, when it cropped up in the publication of Geoffrey of Monmouth’s History of the Kings of Britain, right through to the 15th century with Thomas Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur.

The Lady of the Lake is the character who allegedly gave Arthur his Excalibur. She was the ruler of Avalon, an island where Arthur was taken after his final battle. Through all the various Arthurian accounts and adaptations, the Lady of the Lake, who goes by the name of Nimue in different texts, changes very little. She has always played a key role in the stories of Arthur and Merlin.

The Lady of the Lake (1810)

Beyond the name of the title character, the poem shares reasonably little with the Arthurian tales. It tells the story of different characters, but the themes remain very similar. The poem is about three men competing for the hand of a beautiful woman who lives on an island in the centre of Loch Katrine in the Trossachs.

In the narrative there is conflict between King James V and the Douglas Clan, which has been banished from the realm. Ellen and her father James of Douglas have taken refuge in a castle on the island. There is a love triangle, battles, knights, romance and a case of mistaken identity – all very reminiscent of the medieval tales of Arthur and his knights.

At the time, the poem was hugely popular with the public and critics alike. It is thought to have been influential in the Highland Revival. Mentions of King Arthur can be traced back right to the early medieval period, but it was Geoffrey of Monmouth who provided the first narrative account of the legendary king. Following the Medieval period in Britain, medievalism and Romanticism later enjoyed a revival in the 19th century and writings by Tennyson and Wordsworth followed after Scott’s, drawing once more upon the familiar characters. They were influential in the way the genre and the characters have been interpreted and represented in more modern adaptations. Even today Scott’s poem is known and loved, and stories of legendary knights are still being told.

Luci Ackers

Luci Ackers

Luci loves getting out and about for a good cycle ride or easy-going walks in the countryside, and thoroughly enjoyed the time she previously spent working for the National Trust. Her love of writing started from a young age and on rainy days nothing beats curling up in a secret corner with a good book.

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