Sir Walter Scott's 1817 novel

Rob Roy



Main Characters

William Osbaldistone - A wealthy London merchant.
Francis (Frank) Osbaldistone - William's son and heir.
Mr Owen - Head clerk at Osbaldistone and Tresham.
Morris- An agent of the Hanoverian government.
Andrew Fairservice - A gardener at Osbaldestone Hall and later Frank Osbaldistone's servant.
Sir Frederick Vernon - A senior Jacobite.
Diana Vernon - Sir Frederick's daughter.
Sir Hildebrand Osbaldistone - Brother of William and uncle to Frank Osbaldistone and Diana Vernon.
Archibald, Percival, Thorncliffe, John, Dick, Wilfred, and Rashleigh - The six sons of Sir Hildebrand.
Anthony Syddall - The butler to Sir Hildebrand and family.
Squire Inglewood - A Justice of the Peace.
Joseph Jobson - The justice's clerk.
Dougal Gregor - One time jailor at the Glasgow toll booth.
Baillie Nicol Jarvie - A Glasgow merchant.
Jean MacAlpine - Landlady of the inn at Aberfoil.
Major Duncan Galbraith of Garshattachin - A militia officer.
Captain Thornton - An English officer.
Rob Roy MacGregor (Campbell) - A Jacobite and outlaw.
Helen MacGregor - The outlaw's wife.
Robert and Hamish MacGregor - Their two sons.


Introduction

pic Scott's story of Rob Roy is set mainly in central and the highlands of Scotland and the border area of Northumberland in the uncertain political times of the early eighteenth century leading up to and in the aftermath of the Jacobite rebellion of 1715, on the accession of the Hanoverian George I to the throne of England, Ireland and Scotland. The novel revolves around the adventures of the main character Francis Osbaldistone as he sets out to seek his fortune in a brave new world of opportunity, without knowing where his future lies except that, despite the thorough education and business training he has received, he has no wish to agree to his father's plan that he should join the family firm of Osbaldistone and Tresham. What follows is a surprisingly murky tale of adventure, mystery and intrigue beginning with Frank's first visit to the family home, Osbaldistone Hall in Northumberland to become acquainted with his uncle and cousins and learns a lot about life in the process. This really interesting historical page turner and thoroughly good read comes highly recommended but don't be put off by one or two difficult passages where Scott uses obscure dialect for some of his characters, not least Baillie Nicol Jarvie and Andrew Fairservice, it all adds to the authenticity and colours the narrative.


Synopsis

pic As Frank Osbaldistone, a reasonably accomplished and confident young man, sets off from his London home with an open mind and no fixed plans for a future career, to meet his extended family in Northumberland, he is blissfully unaware of the dangerous territory he is venturing into and the threats lurking around every corner. William, his father, although disappointed in his son's determination to plough his own course in life offers the position in his company to his brother's youngest son Rashleigh, a very clever but a secretive, scheming and devious character with rather dubious credentials.
         On his journey to the north Frank stays at several inns and for a short time accompanies a fellow traveller who we later learn is the government agent Morris carrying cash resources for the English garrison stationed in Scotland. Morris is later robbed and Frank identified as the prime suspect for the crime which will bring him into contact with Squire Inglewood the local magistrate sometime later. Meanwhile the adventurer meets up with his relatives at Osbaldistone Hall and finds he has nothing in common with his cousins but he is rather attracted to a female resident at the hall, later identified as Diana Vernon another cousin of the Northumberland Osbaldistones. With the exception of Rashleigh, most of the male cousins are hard drinking country types and rather dull, Rashleigh is a clever, nasty jealous type and a devious schemer, definitely not to be trusted. However he has been chosen to join uncle William in the family firm in London and eventually departs to take up his new post. Diana is supposedly betrothed to another brother, Thorncliffe and there are rumours of mysterious comings and goings in the house and allusions to Rashleigh's secret activities, the northern Osbaldistones being staunch Catholics and Jacobites, it's all very intriguing but nobody's being specific.
         Even though everyone knows it was the work of the Jacobites, when it becomes public knowledge that Frank is wanted by the authorities accused of the robbery, he presents himself to the magistrate to plead his innocence and luckily he is believed and left at liberty, much to the disgust of the magistrates clerk who is more zealous in the pursuit of justice than his more liberal boss. Frank's troubles are not all over though, he soon receives news that whilst his father is abroad on business the firm of Osbaldistone and Tresham is in financial trouble, apparently Rashleigh has disappeared with the firm's funds and some important documents. On receiving an urgent message to meet his father's chief clerk in Glasgow, our reluctant hero feels obliged to act in his father's absence to investigate and resolve the situation and sets off at speed. Arriving in Glasgow he meets up with a contact of his father's, Baillie Nicol Jarvie, only to find Owen being held in jail for the debts of Osbaldistone and Tresham. With the financial help and good offices of the Baillie, Owen is released from prison and the plucky trio head off north in search of Rashleigh and the assets of the family firm.
pic         Diana Vernon, who is no great fan of cousin Rashleigh, has directed Francis to Aberfoil and given him a letter of introduction to someone who can be of assistance, but on arrival the presence of English troops and covenanters in the area prevents them meeting. The trio at this time didn't know who they were to meet but it soon becomes clear it is Rob Roy MacGregor a dispossessed outlaw in the mould of Robin Hood who Frank has already had contact with in the guise of Campbell over the incident on the road with Morris. Whilst at the inn at Aberfoil the unlucky trio are arrested under warrant by Captain Thornton and taken under escort to face justice. Whilst negotiating a particular precarious route over a mountain pass the group are intercepted by a party of highlanders led by the fearsome Helen MacGregor,Rob's wife. The military escort is powerless to resist and the party is taken prisoner, the civilian's liberators still suspicious of their identities. The highlanders are later reinforced by the return of MacGregor son's Robert and Hamish and their group who report that their father Rob has been taken by troops and will soon be on his way to Stirling Castle and a certain death sentence. Frank offers to help and given directions by the outlaw's sons, is allowed to go alone to seek the whereabouts of Rob and advocate for his release. Unfortunately the military procession is underway, Frank's representations fall on the deaf ears of the commander and the prisoner is on horseback bound to a local yeoman. However Rob's reputation as a local hero and benefactor is about to serve him well, few of the soldiers in the escort are anxious to see him suffer at the hands of the law and when the party approach a ford in the river down a narrow track requiring single file, Rob's restraints are released by his companion and he dismounts into the river and disappears, evading recapture with just a little help from one or two mis-directed musket balls. Observing this the young Osbaldistone thinks it wise to make a quick exit amid the chaos and quickly sets out on foot back to Aberfoil.
         On the long journey back he is overtaken by two riders Diana Vernon and a mysterious older person, with news that she has recovered the important Osbaldistone papers and assets from Rashleigh, no doubt using threats to expose him to force his compliance. After returning the bills and documents to Frank the pair, obviously in a hurry, speed off into the distance. Further along young Osbaldistone is pleasantly surprised to be overtaken by the fugitive Rob and together they arrive at the inn at Aberfoil to find Frank's father, returned from his trip abroad, and Owen and Baillie Nicol Jarvie already in residence. After imparting the good news to all concerned, the party are escorted by Rob and his merry men back to Glasgow by circuitous route across Loch Lomond by boat, to avoid further trouble. Still anxious about the ever present threat of becoming involved in the long expected Jacobite uprising the Englishmen return to London at the earliest opportunity.
         During the inevitable Jacobite rebellion which ensues five of the Osbaldistone cousins are slain at various battles with the Hanoverian forces in the north, the traitorous Rashleigh the only survivor. Shortly after peace is restored Sir Hildebrand dies and it transpires he has disinherited his one remaining son in favour of his nephew Frank. Full of trepidation for the expected adverse reaction from Rashleigh who will surely contest the will and resist Frank taking possession of Osbaldistone Hall, the beneficiary travels north with his rather unpredictable servant Andrew Fairservice to secure his inheritance. His arrival is unexpected and Syddall seems on edge and reluctant to open the gate to let them in, but after some delay the butler relents but continues to behave a little oddly towards the newcomers, for reasons which will no doubt become clear later. The new lord of the manor wastes no time in introducing himself to the estate manager who lives off site and arranging some local muscle for extra security, should Rashleigh make an appearance. Later in the day as Francis is settling down in the library, he is astonished when Diana Vernon emerges from the concealed door behind the tapestry which leads to Rashleigh's old room with its alternative exit to the garden. Her father Sir Frederick has been a senior figure in the failed Jacobite rebellion and after the heavy defeat at Preston in Lancashire, had escaped from the battlefield by sea, with the help of friends to seek refuge in the familiar surroundings of Osbaldistone Hall. With complete strangers still in the house, at least one an untrustworthy character and a loose tongue, the new laird is worried he may have been overheard talking to his clandestine visitors and could be betrayed. Sure enough they are awakened early next morning by clerk Jobson and Rashleigh accompanied by a troop of militia demanding entry in the name of King George with a warrant for the arrest of Sir Frederick and Diana Vernon and Francis Osbaldistone accused of treason. The scene is set for an exciting climax....
         Frank stalls the intruders as long as he can until forced to open the gate, Jobson going immediately to the Library and the secret door to find the fugitives have fled via the garden and making for the woods. Rashleigh however anticipating an escape through the alternative route was on hand in the garden with guards to arrest the couple trying to slip away. As the family coach is prepared to take them into custody, there is movement in the woods outside the hall where highlanders have set up camp whilst grazing their cattle overnight, not by accident as it happens, MacGregor's team are keeping watch. When the arrival of troops signals imminent danger for the Jacobite fugitives, their whereabouts betrayed by Rashleigh's treachery, cattle are driven into the avenue leading from the hall and supplemented with a barrier of felled trees. On leaving the Hall, the gate is closed immediately behind the coach and guarded by a highlander to prevent retreat, while the rest, with weapons at the ready descend on the vehicle, overwhelming the military escort by sheer force of numbers. His plans apparently thwarted, Rashleigh leaps into the fray, in a furious rage confronting the outlaw chieftain with sword drawn, however, despite his obvious skill and determination, he is no match for the outlaw, and is mortally wounded in the fight which ensues. Sir Frederick Vernon and Diana, now released are escorted by the highlanders to the coast and exile in France and the scurrilous trumped-up charges brought by Rashleigh against cousin Francis are dropped. Some time later when news arrives that Sir Frederick has died and Diana is living in a convent, Francis once again sees his opportunity to fulfil his dream and seek the love he has been denied for so long, he travels to France to propose marriage, and if previous encounters are anything to go by, his proposal will surely be accepted.

Palfreyman April 2024

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