Rob Roy (novel)

Rob Roy

A Dalziel Brothers engraving. Rob Roy (left) gives a mysterious warning to Francis Osbaldistone (right) in the crypt of Glasgow Cathedral, promising to tell him more if he meets him later on. This leads to Francis being pulled in with the rebels. Frontispiece to an 1886 edition of the novel.
Author Sir Walter Scott
Country Scotland and England simultaneously
Language English, Lowland Scots, anglicised Scottish Gaelic
Series Waverley Novels
Genre Historical novel
Publisher Archibald Constable, Edinburgh; Longman, Hurst, Rees, Orme and Brown, London
Publication date
Media type Print (Hardback & Paperback)
Pages 501 (1995 edition)
Preceded by The Antiquary
Followed by Ivanhoe

Rob Roy (1817) is a historical novel by Walter Scott. It is narrated by Frank Osbaldistone, the son of an English merchant who travels first to the North of England, and subsequently to the Scottish Highlands, to collect a debt stolen from his father. On the way he encounters the larger-than-life title character, Rob Roy MacGregor. Though Rob Roy is not the lead character (in fact, the narrative does not move to Scotland until halfway through the book), his personality and actions are key to the novel's development.

Plot introduction

The story takes place just before the Jacobite rising of 1715, with much of Scotland in turmoil.

Frank Osbaldistone, the narrator, quarrels with his father and is sent to stay with an uncle, Sir Hildebrand Osbaldistone, in Northumberland. Frank falls in love with Diana Vernon, Sir Hildebrand's niece, whose father has been forced to go into hiding because of his Jacobite sympathies. Frank's cousin, Rashleigh, steals important documents vital to the honour and economic solvency of Frank's father, William, and Frank pursues Rashleigh to Scotland. Several times his path crosses the mysterious and powerful figure Rob Roy MacGregor, known as Rob Roy, an associate of Sir Hildebrand. There is much confusion as the action shifts to the beautiful mountains and valleys around Loch Lomond. A British army detachment is ambushed and there is bloodshed. The eponymous Rob Roy is badly wounded at the Battle of Glen Shiel in 1719, in which a British army of Scots and English defeat a Jacobite and Spanish expedition that aimed to restore the Stuart monarchy. All of Sir Hildebrand's sons but Rashleigh are killed in the Jacobite rising, and Rashleigh, too meets a bloody end. Following this, Frank inherits Sir Hildebrand's property and marries Diana.

Robert Louis Stevenson loved the novel from childhood, regarding it as the best novel of the greatest of all novelists.[1]

The novel is a brutally realistic depiction of the social conditions in Highland and Lowland Scotland in the early 18th century. Some of the dialogue is in Scots, and the novel includes a glossary of Scottish words.


Rob Roy was written from the spring of 1817 and published on Hogmanay of that year. Like Scott's novel Waverley, it was published anonymously and came in three volumes. The demand for the novel was huge and a whole ship from Leith to London contained nothing but an entire edition of it.[2] Furthermore, Rob Roy was written at a time when many Europeans started regretting colonialism and imperialism, as reports circulated back of horrendous atrocities towards indigenous cultures. It was also a time when debates raged about the slave trade, the British occupation of India, and, more relevant to the novel, the disastrous effect of the Highland Clearances. During this era, William Wordsworth wrote The Conventions of Cintra, praising Spanish and Portuguese resistance to Napoleonic force; Lord Byron would go on to praise Amazonian women in Childe Harold's Pilgrimage, inverting the "polite" norms of femininity that the modern "civilized" world placed on them; and, finally, Scott would write about similar events in The Vision of Don Roderick. The term "guerrilla" came about during this period, due to the influence of the Peninsular War.[3]

Plot Summary

Francis "Frank" Osbaldistone tells the story of his adventures as a young man at the beginning of the 18th century, wherein he falls in love with a beautiful young woman, gallantly rides to Scotland to save his estranged father’s reputation and business, and becomes involved with the remarkable Highlander, Rob Roy, even as a Jacobite rebellion breaks out in Scotland and northern England.

His tale begins with his return to his father William's merchant house of Osbaldistone and Tresham in Crane Alley, London, from an apprenticeship in a French associate's business. There, he meets with his business-minded father's anger and disappointment, since he has been more preoccupied with writing poetry than learning the business, much to his father's disgust.

William was originally disinherited (for reasons unknown) in favor of his younger brother Sir Hildebrand Osbaldistone, who has inherited both the family fortune and the family seat of Osbaldistone Hall instead. William, turned out of the house to make his own way, has built a successful business with his trading company in the City.

Owen, the Head Clerk of Osbaldistone and Tresham and a long time friend of the family, attempts to persuade Frank to follow his father's wishes and succeed in the business. In spite of this, Frank decides to follow his own way, assuming his father will support him. Instead, William decides to send him to stay with his uncle Hildebrand in Northumberland, near the border with Scotland.

Frank sets out and joins a group of travellers both for protection and company. During the long journey, he observes that one of the travelers is nervous and protective of a box that he carries. Frank begins to tease the traveler, Morris, pretending to assume an interest in the mysterious box.

Soon, the party is joined by a confident and sociable Scottish "cattle dealer", Campbell. They eat and drink and discuss politics together at an inn and then part ways, not without Morris entreating Campbell to travel with him to provide protection, since Campbell has recounted how he thwarted two highwaymen singlehandedly.

After Frank parts from the company and approaches his destination, he encounters a fox hunt in full flight. A lovely young huntress, dressed and mounted like a man, greets him and guesses his identity. Frank is immediately smitten by the young woman, noting her intelligence and beauty along with her independent manner. She introduces herself as Diana "Die" Vernon, a relative by marriage of Sir Hildebrand, and takes him to Osbaldistone Hall, a large, rambling and run-down old manor-house, filled with massive old furniture, rusted suits of armor, hunting trophies, and containing secret stairways and hidden rooms.

Frank meets old Sir Hildebrand, a former Cavalier, and his five dissolute older sons, all described by Die as given entirely to drinking and sporting. At dinner, he meets the youngest brother, Rashleigh, who, unlike his father and brothers, is sober, charming and erudite. Frank notes a connection between Die and Rashleigh. Die explains that Rashleigh, a scholar intended for the priesthood, is her tutor.

Later, after encountering Andrew Fairservice the gardener, a rustic and loquacious Scotsman, Frank is warned by Die that he has been charged with robbery and that the local Justice of the Peace, Squire Inglewood, has a warrant for his arrest. Rather than flee to Scotland as suggested by Die, he determines to visit the Squire to protest his innocence.

Die guides him there and they encounter Rashleigh, who claims to have been pleading Frank's case. After meeting the convivial old squire and declaring his innocence, Frank confronts his accuser, who is none other than Morris. Morris, actually a government paymaster, has been robbed of his mysterious box, which contained gold specie with which to pay the English troops in the area. The implications of Frank’s prior interest in Morris’ box on the journey north become apparent.

Upon Frank’s vehement declaration of innocence, and the Judge’s sympathetic acquittal, Morris immediately abandons his suit against Frank, but Jobson, the Squire's pedantic and officious clerk, wants to pursue the matter on legal principle. After diverting Jobson by sending him on wild-goose chase, Rashleigh departs and quickly returns with the cattle-dealer, Campbell. Campbell witnesses truthfully that he was at the scene of the robbery and did not see Frank.

Freed by the Squire, but under a cloud of suspicion, Frank returns to Osbaldistone Hall. Consumed with jealousy after discovering that Rashleigh was in serious consideration for Die's hand in marriage, Frank recklessly gets drunk with the family after Die exits, and strikes Rashleigh during an argument. In the morning, Frank apologizes sincerely but thinks that Rashleigh's too-quick forgiveness rings false.

Rashleigh leaves Osbaldistone Hall to take Frank's place at Osbaldistone and Tresham, but not before Diana warns Frank that Rashleigh is a subtle and dangerous conniver, and has her under his power. However, she will not reveal why.

With Rashleigh gone, Frank begins to tutor Die and falls even more deeply in love with her. In between hours in the library with Die, he converses with Andrew Fairservice and learns much about goings on at the Hall: there are suspicious visitations by shadowy persons unknown; the servants fear a ghost which resembles Die's grandfather and haunts the library; and a mysterious Catholic priest, Father Vaughan, is said to visit often but is never seen.

Frank receives a letter from Owen and, only then, realizes that none of his letters have reached London, including one warning of Rashleigh's dubious character. His worst fears are realized when Die informs him that while William has been on the continent, Rashleigh has absconded with financial instruments vital to Osbaldistone and Tresham's solvency.

Frank determines to leave immediately for Scotland to find Owen and track down Rashleigh. He parts with Diana, thinking he is never to see her again, since she is destined to live in a convent due to a family compact (in which she has no say), as a result of refusing to marry any of Sir Hildebrand’s sons. He enlists Andrew Fairservice as his servant and guide and hurries to Glasgow to find Owen and catch Rashleigh, who has now been revealed to be a Jacobite agent and agitator.

They lodge in Glasgow, and during a visit to a famous kirk recommended by Andrew, an unseen stranger presses a note into Frank's hand telling him he is in danger and to meet him on a well-known bridge at midnight for information. Frank meets the stranger, who conveys him to the tolbooth (jail), which they enter without being challenged. Inside they find Owen, who is overjoyed to see Frank. Owen has been thrown in jail due to the actions of Osbaldistone and Tresham's favored Scottish trading partner, MacVitie, who has maliciously made him a debtor on behalf of his now insolvent employer.

Bailie Nicol Jarvie, a Glasgow magistrate who is also a Scottish partner of Osbaldistone and Tresham, arrives at the jail. The mysterious stranger finally reveals himself to be Campbell, whom Jarvie recognizes as his kinsman, Rob Roy McGregor. On Rob's promise to repay Jarvie 1000 Scots pounds that he owes him, Jarvie frees Owen, and allows Frank and Campbell to leave. It turns out that the absent turnkey (jailer), who has let them pass in freely, is Rob Roy's man, Dougal. Before disappearing with Dougal, Rob tells Frank to meet him in his Highland home and suggests that Bailie Jarvie should accompany him to collect his gold.

While Jarvie prepares for the journey, Frank takes a walk to the University grounds, where he spies Rashleigh walking with Morris and MacVitie. Frank confronts Rashleigh and they duel, but before the fight becomes deadly, Rob Roy breaks it up. After Rob sends Rashleigh away, he tells Frank to meet him at the Clachan of Aberfoyle in the Highlands, and that he will have information for him there. Frank now realizes that Rob's affairs are deeply entwined with his own and that Rob has had a long association with Osbaldistone Hall, particularly with Rashleigh and Die.

Frank, Jarvie and Andrew ride to the Clachan, where they find a rude country inn. Tired, cold and hungry, they insist on entering, despite the objections of the landlady and the other guests, particularly three men in plaids, drinking brandy at a table. A brief brawl ensues between the two parties, which is broken up by a fourth Highlander who has been sleeping on the floor. This man disappears, but not before Frank recognizes him as Dougal, Rob's man. Frank and Jarvie begin to converse with the men in plaid, and find they are the leaders of bands of armed men. Two are Highlanders; the second is a Lowland chief, Duncan Galbraith, who heads the Lennox militia. All have been enlisted by the English army to find and arrest Rob Roy.

Called outside to speak with Andrew, Frank is passed a note by the landlady. The note is from Rob, who has wisely avoided the Clachan. In it, he again tells Frank to meet him at his home.

Suddenly, an English patrol enters the inn, dragging Dougal with them. Frank and Jarvie are arrested as they fit the descriptions of the two people whom the patrol is looking for. The soldiers force Dougal to lead them to Rob's lair, bringing Frank, Jarvie and Andrew along. However, they are soon ambushed by Highlanders, and the patrol is disarmed. Dougal, playing the frightened fool, has led them into a trap.

The leader of the Highlanders is a fierce, proud noblewoman, armed like a man. Her band is composed mostly of old men, women and children. The lady declares herself to be Helen, Rob's wife. After declaiming the wrongs done to her and her clan, she produces the unfortunate Morris, now a hostage, and he is callously thrown into the nearby loch. The fighting men of the band, armed for battle, and led by Rob's two sons arrive. They report that Rob has been captured by the Duke's army.

After Jarvie successfully appeals for clemency for them from the lady, pleading kinship, Frank is sent as emissary to the Duke's camp. He finds Rob is tied up and is to be executed. The Duke's army sets off, but Rob easily escapes, as does Frank in the confusion that ensues.

Frank begins to walk in the dark night along a path through the forest back to the Clachan. To his great surprise, he meets Diana and a stranger, a much older nobleman, riding on the path. Die gives him the missing papers that Rashleigh had held, and bids him one final adieu.

Frank assumes that the man is Diana's husband, and sadly continues on. Frank is then overtaken by Rob, who takes him to his home, after expressing anger at Morris' murder. There, Jarvie and Andrew are already ensconced. Accounts are settled all around, with Jarvie declaring Osbaldistone and Tresham to be cleared of debt, due to the recovered papers, and Rob repaying Jarvie with 1000 pounds of gold louis d'or.

During the night, while the others sleep, Rob tells Frank of how he and Rashleigh robbed Morris - a lark for Rob as an accomplished cattle-thief and blackmailer, but serious business for Rashleigh as a Jacobite agent. But by now, Rashleigh has become a turncoat to save his skin and fled to Stirling as a traitor to the Jacobite cause. More importantly for Frank, Rob reveals that the older man travelling with Diana is not her husband, but her father, Sir Richard Vernon, a notable supporter of the Pretender, King James.

Frank and Jarvie are sent on their way homeward to Glasgow, after an emotional farewell from Rob, Helen, and their clansmen. There, Frank is greeted with delight and forgiveness by his father, who has come north to settle accounts, having prospered while on the continent. In gratitude for his assistance and even-handedness, William rewards Bailie Jarvie with the commercial accounts that he has promptly stripped from McVitie.

After returning to London, Frank levies a company of soldiers and rides north to support King George's cause as the Jacobite rebellion breaks out into war. But the Rebellion is quickly suppressed and, in London again, Frank learns of the downfall and deaths of Sir Hildebrand and his older sons through extravagance and misfortune, and finds himself heir to Osbaldistone Hall. Rashleigh, the only remaining son, has been disinherited in favour of Frank as punishment by his father.

With Andrew Fairservice, Frank takes possession of Osbaldistone Hall. Nostalgically selecting the library to sleep in, he finds Diana and her father hiding there. They request sanctuary as they are being hunted due to the failure of the Jacobite uprising. They tell Frank how Sir Richard had been hidden at the Hall, pretending to be a ghost to the superstitious servants, and a Catholic priest to the neighbours. Somehow, Rashleigh had gained knowledge of his presence and used it to gain control over Diana.

They plan to escape, but it is too late, as Rashleigh arrives with Jobson and the local constables, bringing a warrant to take possession of the Hall and arrest the Vernons. Frank and the Vernons are easily captured and prepare to be taken away in a carriage. But barely have they started before Rob Roy springs an ambush, freeing them all and killing Rashleigh, as Jobson flees with his reputation ruined. That is the last they see of Rob Roy, as Frank, the new Lord of Osbaldistone Hall, returns to London to take up his career at Osbaldistone and Tresham, and marry his beloved Diana, while Sir Richard escapes to safety on the Continent.

Notable Characters (in order of appearance)

Francis "Frank" Osbaldistone: The narrator and protagonist. He is an educated young man in his early twenties, wilful and impetuous. Although he is quick to argument, both verbally and physically, he is sensitive and kind-hearted by nature. He falls deeply in love with Die Vernon and comes to respect and admire Rob Roy.

William Osbaldistone: Frank's father, who has been disinherited in favour of his younger brother, Sir Hildebrand Osbaldistone. He has built a successful merchant house, Osbaldistone and Tresham (with his silent partner, Tresham) in Crane Alley in the City of London.

Owen: Head Clerk of Osbaldistone and Tresham, and an old family friend. As one of Frank's mentors, he despairs of Frank's attitude at the start of the novel, but later joins Frank in the Highlands, hoping to save Osbaldistone & Tresham.

Morris: Government agent and paymaster, first encountered by Frank on the road to Osbaldistone Hall from London. He is weak and easily influenced. His cowardly and dishonest actions precipate him to his doom, and influence the course of the plot.

Robert "Rob Roy" McGregor Campbell: The titular hero of the novel, initially appearing only briefly and mysteriously and almost always to assist Frank in some way. Leader of a band of Highlanders, he is an honest and upright highland gentleman, who has been forced into a life of blackmailing and reiving, at which he excels, being strong, bold, crafty, and fearless. Notorious throughout the Western Highlands, he is either loved or hated by other clans. He is married to Helen, and has two sons, young men of about 20 years old.

Diana "Die" Vernon: The beautiful, intelligent and unconventional teen-aged niece and ward of Sir Hildebrand with whom she resides with at Osbaldistone Hall, along with his seven sons, her cousins. Of the sons, she has most in common with Rashleigh in terms of education and nobility, although she frequently joins Sir Hildebrand and the other sons in their sporting activities. She is the daughter of Sir Frederick Vernon. She is very canny, often warning Frank of developments that affect him. She loves Frank in return, but warns him off due to reasons disclosed to him late in the narrative.

Sir Hildebrand Osbaldistone: Holds both the title and ancestral manor of the Osbaldistones, long-established Catholic nobility in Northumberland. He is a retired Cavalier, mildly sympathetic to the Pretender's cause and a Catholic. Along with his five older sons he is devoted to a life of sport and drinking. Although he is jovial, kind and hospitable by nature, the family estate is falling into decay and ruin due to his lack of attention.

Rashleigh Osbaldistone (later Sir Rashleigh): Sir Hildebrand Osbaldistone's youngest son, completely unlike his brothers. He is highly educated, sensitive and intelligent and is ostensibly preparing for the Catholic priesthood. He is sober, learned and courtly in manner but his humble appearance and discourse belie a cunning and rapacious nature. Rashleigh quickly becomes Frank's nemesis, acting secretly as a Jacobite agent and conniving to plunder Osbaldistone and Tresham in order to support his political ambitions. His treacherous actions help dictate the course of the plot.

Andrew Fairservice: First the gardener at Osbaldistone Hall, then Frank's guide and man-servant in the Highlands, Andrew is a pretentious, superstitious and ostentatiously Protestant Scottish Lowlander, who, along with Baillie Jarvie, provides much of the novel's comic relief. Cowardly and foolish, he becomes an object of irritation and contempt to Frank and Jarvie as the plot progresses.

Justice Inglewood: Like Sir Hildebrand, Squire Inglewood is a retired Catholic Cavalier, and lover of revelling. He is a neighbour of Sir Hildebrand and friend to the Osbaldistones. He is the local Justice of the Peace, being the only suitable candidate. He prefers to uphold the spirit of the law and detests its legalities as much as he detests his Clerk, Jobson.

Joseph Jobson: Law Clerk to Squire Inglewood. He speaks only in obscure legalities. Like Morris, he eventually becomes a tool of Rashleigh's cabal.

Dougal: A wild, uncouth Highlander, devoted to Rob and a very effective agent for him.

Baillie Nicol Jarvie: Magistrate and businessman in Glasgow and a relative of Rob Roy. Although garrulous and self-important, he is a very upright and respectable burgher of that city. He becomes involved with Frank's arrangements with Rob Roy and accompanies Frank to visit Rob in the Highlands. A client of Osbaldistone and Tresham, he is very prudent financially - a caricature of smug Lowland gentry, in contrast to the casting of Andrew Fairservice as a caricature of a Lowland Scots working man.

MacVitie: William's foremost Scottish business agent. In spite of this favored position, MacVitie quickly turns against Osbaldistone and Tresham when they become insolvent, as an accomplice to Rashleigh's machinations. Thus, when Owen arrives asking for forbearance, MacVitie has him thrown in jail instead, as a debtor.

Major Duncan Galbraith: A Lowland gentleman, leader of the Lennox Militia.

Garschattachin: A Highland gentleman, who along with Galbraith, provides a band of militia in support of the Duke.

Captain Thornton: The honorable leader of a squad of English infantry who mistakenly arrests Frank, Jarvie and Andrew, and with them, unsuspectingly falls into Helen and Dougal's trap.

Helen: Rob's wife, who commands the band, consisting of old men, women and children, in Rob's absence and who easily overpowers Captain Thornton's platoon after laying a cunning trap.

The Duke: Never named, he is leader of the English Army in the Highlands, in pursuit of Rob Roy to arrest him for his illegal activities.

Sir Frederick Vernon: Diana's father, fugitive ally of the Pretender. In hiding at Osbaldistone Hall when Frank first arrives, he is reliant on Rashleigh's complicity. In hiding there at the end of the narrative, he is the turncoat Rashleigh's target along with Die and Frank.

Cultural references


  1. Stevenson, Robert Louis (1871–1879). "Random Memories: rosa quo locorum". Essays of Travel. The University of Adelaide. Retrieved 26 May 2010.
  2. Scott, Walter (2010) [1829]. Andrew Lang, ed. Rob Roy. Norwalk, CT: Easton Press. p. 69. It is an event unprecedented in the annals either of literature or of the custom-house that the entire cargo of a packet, or smack, bound from Leith to London, should be the impression of a novel[...]
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