Places: The Fortunes of Nigel

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: 1822

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Historical

Time of work: Early seventeenth century

Asterisk denotes entries on real places.

Places Discussed*London

*London. Fortunes of Nigel, TheTraditional capital of England and capital of all of Great Britain after the union of England and Scotland in 1707. At the time in which Sir Walter Scott’s story is set, much of what is now “Greater London” lay outside London’s city gates. Thus, the Greenwich described here is a park where the king goes hunting, and Enfield Chase is a heath. The River Thames is the story’s principal thoroughfare; most of its settings are distributed along the river’s banks and can be reached by boat. The protagonist, Nigel Olifaunt, goes by river to visit King James’s court at Whitehall Palace, and returns by the same route when the treacherous Lords Huntinglen and Dalgarno try to inveigle him into heavy losses in Beaujeu’s gambling den. On the other hand, George Heriot goes to Whitehall by passing through Temple Bar (here a mere wooden barrier rather than the stone monstrosity it later became), then riding along the Strand and through Charing Cross, both of which are being built up at the time of the novel. Scott observes that Covent Garden is, at this time, still a garden rather than a cultural center.

Other famous London landmarks featured in the novel include St. James’s Park, where Nigel is accosted by Sir Mungo Malagrowther and encounters the diminutive Prince of Wales (the future Charles I) before quarrelling with Dalgarno; the Tower, where Nigel is imprisoned along with the disguised Margaret Ramsay; and Saint Paul’s Cathedral, on the crown of Ludgate Hill, where the climactic wedding takes place. Hyde Park and the Fortune Theatre are briefly encountered as Nigel passes through.

*Lombard Street

*Lombard Street. Place where the Scottish goldsmith George Heriot lives, in the east of London proper, on the far side of Ludgate Hill from the areas in which most of the novel’s action takes place. It is not surprising that his fine house should have belonged to a baronial Roman Catholic family in the time of Henry VIII, or that it has been divided up in more recent times–although it still retains the so-called Foljambe apartments, where Lady Hermione and Monna Paula take up residence. Had it survived to the present day Heriot’s house would undoubtedly be a business premise. Although Heriot, like David Ramsay, was a real historical figure, the house described as his in Scott’s novel is fictitious.


*Whitefriars. District of London lying between Fleet Street and the River Thames, adjacent to the Temple, so-called because a Carmelite monastery was established there in 1241. It inherited from this monastery certain privileges of sanctuary, which gave it a dubious marginal status–hence the nickname of “Alsatia,” after the Continental region of Alsace, which has been contested by France and Germany since the Middle Ages. It is in Whitefriars, in the house of the ill-fated usurer Trapbois and his daughter Martha, not far from “Duke” Hildebrod’s tavern, that Nigel is forced to take refuge after his rash confrontation with Dalgarno, having been guided there by Lowestoffe (who is imprisoned in the Marshalsea for his pains).

Several other significant settings lie just outside the boundaries of Whitefriars. David Ramsay’s shop is close to Temple Bar, near St Dunstan’s Church. The house of the ship-chandler John Christie, where Nigel originally lodges, is near Paul’s Wharf, in a tortuous maze of narrow lanes destined to be destroyed by the Great Fire of 1666. Fleet Street is the site of Benjamin Suddlechop’s barber shop (Scott was writing before the first appearance of the legend of Sweeney Todd, the “demon barber of Fleet Street,” so he intended no slur on Suddlechop’s reputation) and the establishment of the apothecary Raredrench.


*Edinburgh (EDH-en-behr-oh). Capital of Scotland, a city infinitely preferable to London in the opinion of every true Scotsman. Here, in the dark vaults of a bookshop, the notional introducer of the text, Cuthbert Clutterbuck, engages in sardonic discussion with the anonymous notional author.

BibliographyJohnson, Edgar. Sir Walter Scott: The Great Unknown. 2 vols. New York: Macmillan, 1970. The fullest biography of Scott. Contains one chapter on The Fortunes of Nigel. Notes, index, and bibliography.Lauber, John. Sir Walter Scott. Rev. ed. Boston: Twayne, 1989. A good starting place for study of Scott. Bibliography and index.Shaw, Harry E. The Forms of Historical Fiction: Sir Walter Scott and his Successors. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1983. Begins with an excellent analysis of historical fiction as a genre. There is a thoughtful discussion of some of Scott’s problems with his characterization. Bibliography and index.Sutherland, John. The Life of Walter Scott: A Critical Biography. Cambridge, Mass.: Blackwell, 1995. Puts Scott’s poetry and fiction in their biographical and historical context. Links The Fortunes of Nigel to Scott’s visit to the coronation of 1821 in London and to Scott’s growing indebtedness. Biography and notes.Wilt, Judith. Secret Leaves: The Novels of Sir Walter Scott. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1985. Not an easy book, but with genuine insights into the hidden psychological mainsprings to Scott’s fiction. Notes the fondness for changeling stories, and brings out the variety and richness of his emotional portrayals.
Categories: Places