The Fair Maid of Perth

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The Fair Maid of Perth
Fair Maid of Perth Illustration 1859.jpg
Catharine and Ramorny at the Dungeon 1859 by T Faed & J Andrews
Author Sir Walter Scott
Country Scotland
Language English, Lowland Scots
Series Chronicles of the Canongate; Waverley Novels
Genre Historical novel
Publication date
15 May 1828
Media type Print (Hardback and paperback)

The Fair Maid of Perth (or St. Valentine's Day) is a novel by Sir Walter Scott. Inspired by the strange, but historically true, story of the Battle of the North Inch,[1] it is set in Perth – known at the time as Saint John's Toun, i.e. John's Town ) and other parts of Scotland around 1400.

The book had been intended to include two other stories in the same volume, "My Aunt Margaret's Mirror" and "Death of the Laird's Jock", which was to have been titled St. Valentine's Eve.[2]

Plot introduction

The fair maid of the title is Catharine Glover, daughter of a glovemaker in Perth, who kisses Henry Gow/Smith,[3] the armourer, while he is sleeping, on Valentine's Day. But Catharine has caught the eye of the Duke of Rothesay, and when Gow interrupts an attempted abduction, the armourer is drawn simultaneously into royal intrigue and highland feud.

Plot summary

The armourer, Henry Gow, had excited the jealousy of the apprentice Conachar by spending the evening with the glover and his daughter and was returning to their house at dawn, that he might be the first person she saw on St Valentine's morning, when he encountered a party of courtiers in the act of placing a ladder against her window. Having cut off the hand of one, and seized another, who, however, managed to escape, he left the neighbours to pursue the rest, and was saluted by Catharine as her lover. The citizens waited on the provost, who, having heard their grievance, issued a challenge of defiance to the offenders.

Meanwhile the King, who occupied apartments in the convent, having confessed to the prior, was consulting with his brother, when the Earl of March arrived to intimate his withdrawal to the English Border, followed into the courtyard by Louise, and afterwards by the Duke of Rothesay, whose dalliance with the maiden was interrupted by the Earl of Douglas ordering his followers to seize and scourge her. Henry Gow, however, was at hand, and the prince, having committed her to his protection, attended his father's council, at which it was determined that the hostile Clans Chattan and Quhele ("Kay") should be invited to settle their feud by a combat between an equal number of their bravest men in the royal presence, and a commission was issued for the suppression of heresy. The old monarch, having learnt that his son was one of those who had attempted to force their way into the glover's house, insisted that he should dismiss his Master of the Horse, who encouraged all his follies; and while Catharine, who had listened to the Lollard teaching of Father Clement, was being urged by him to favour the secret suit of the Prince, her other lover, Conachar, who had rejoined his clan, appeared to carry off her councillor from arrest as an apostate reformer.

The Fair Maid's House in Perth

The armourer had maimed the Prince's Master of the Horse, Sir John Ramorny, whose desire for revenge was encouraged by the apothecary, Dwining. An assassin named Bonthron undertook to waylay and murder Henry Gow. On Shrovetide evening old Simon was visited by a party of morrice-dancers, headed by Proudfute, who lingered behind to confirm a rumour that Henry Gow had been seen escorting a merry maiden to his house, and then proceeded thither to apologise for having divulged the secret. On his way home in the armourer's coat and cap, as a protection against other revellers, he received a blow from behind and fell dead on the spot. About the same time Sir John was roused from the effects of a narcotic by the arrival of the Prince, who made light of his sufferings, and whom he horrified by suggesting that he should cause the death of his uncle, and seize his father's throne.

The fate of Proudfute, whose body was at first mistaken for that of the armourer, excited general commotion in the city; while Catharine, on hearing the news, rushed to her lover's house and was folded in his arms. Her father then accompanied him to the town council, where he was chosen as the widow's champion, and the Provost repaired to the King's presence to demand a full inquiry. At a council held the following day, trial by ordeal of bier-right, or by combat, was ordered; and suspicion having fallen on Ramorny's household, each of his servants was required to pass before the corpse, in the belief that the wounds would bleed afresh as the culprit approached. Bonthron, however, chose the alternative of combat, and, having been struck down by Gow, was led away to be hanged. But Dwining had arranged that he should merely be suspended so that he could breathe and during the night he and Sir John's page Eviot cut him down and carried him off.

Catharine had learnt that she and her father were both suspected by the commission; and the Provost having offered to place her under the care of The Douglas's daughter, the deserted wife of the Prince, the old glover sought the protection of his former apprentice, who was now the chieftain of his clan. Having returned from his father's funeral, Conachar pleaded for the hand of Catharine, without which he felt he should disgrace himself in the approaching combat with the Clan Chattan. Simon, however, reminded him that she was betrothed to the armourer, and his foster father promised to screen him in the conflict. At the instigation of his uncle, the Prince had been committed to the custody of the Earl of Errol; but, with the Duke's connivance, he was enticed by Ramorny and the apothecary to escape to the castle of Falkland, and, with the help of Bonthron, was starved to death there. Catharine and Louise, however, discovered his fate, and communicated with The Douglas, who overpowered the garrison, and hanged the murderers.

The meeting of the hostile champions had been arranged with great pomp, with barriers erected on three sides of the Inch, in an attempt to keep spectators off the battlefield, and the Tay forming the natural fourth side to the north. The Gilded Arbour summerhouse of the Dominican Friary, which afforded those inside an excellent view of the Inch, was adapted into a grandstand for the King and his entourage. Henry Gow, having consented to supply Eachin (Conachar) with a suit of armour, volunteered to take the place of one of the Clan Chattan who failed to appear. A terrible conflict ensued, during which Torquil and his eight sons all fell defending their chief, who at last fled from the battle-ground unwounded and dishonoured. On hearing of Rothesay's death, Robert III resigned his sceptre to his wily and ambitious brother, and later died broken-hearted when his younger son James was captured by the English king. Albany transferred the regency to his son; but, nineteen years afterwards, the rightful heir returned, and the usurper expiated his own and his father's guilt on the scaffold. The warrants against Simon and his daughter, and Father Clement, were cancelled by the intervention of the Earl of Douglas, and the Church was conciliated with Dwining's ill-gotten wealth. Conachar either became a hermit, or, legend has it, was spirited away by the fairies. Scotland boasts of many distinguished descendants from Henry Gow and his spouse the Fair Maid of Perth.


The Fair Maid of Perth, a bronze statue by Graham Ibbeson, sits near the east end of Perth's High Street
  • Old Simon Glover, a glove-maker in the Couvrefeu, Perth
  • Catharine Glover, his daughter
  • Conachar, his apprentice, afterwards Eachin M'Ian, Chief of the Clan Quhele ("Kay")
  • Henry Gow/Smith, an armourer and burgess of Perth
  • Father Francis, a Dominican monk
  • Father Clement, a Carthusian monk
  • Oliver Proudfute, a bonnet-maker
  • Bailie Craigdallie
  • Henbane Dwining, an apothecary
  • Sir Patrick Charteris, of Kinfauns, Provost of Perth
  • Kit Henshaw, his servant
  • The Devil's Dick, of Hellgaith, a follower of The Douglas
  • Prior Anselm, of St Dominic's Convent
  • King Robert III of Scotland
  • David, Duke of Rothesay (sic), his son
  • The Duke of Albany, the king's brother
  • The Earl of March
  • Louise, a minstrel from Provence
  • Archibald, Earl of Douglas
  • Sir John Ramorny, the duke's master of the horse
  • Eviot, his page
  • Anthony Bonthron, an assassin
  • Sir Louis Lunden, town-clerk of Perth
  • Lindsey, Earl of Crawford
  • The Earl of Errol, Lord High Constable
  • Torquil of the Oak, Eachin's foster father
  • MacGillie Chattanach, Chief of the Clan Chattan

Historical inaccuracies

North Inch of Perth, today

Walter Scott does not specify the year of the events depicted: a deliberate vagueness. The novel begins on 13 February, a day before Valentine's Day, and events continue to Palm Sunday. In the novel, the Battle of the North Inch and the death of David Stewart, Duke of Rothesay, take place within those few months. Implied to be followed in short order are first the capture of James, younger son of the king, and then the death of Robert III.[4]

Actually, the events depicted took place in different years. The battle took place in September 1396. The murder of Rothesay occurred in March 1402. James was captured by the English in March 1406. Robert III died in April 1406. Scott manipulates the historic record for dramatic effect, concentrating events of a full decade in the span of six weeks.[4]

The Earl of Douglas depicted in the novel is Archibald the Grim, who actually died in 1400 and was not involved in the death of Rothesay. Scott assigns to him the role played by Archibald Douglas, 4th Earl of Douglas, his son and heir.[4]

Sources for the novel

Walter Scott lists his sources for the period (14th and 15th century Scotland) in allusions within the novel and surviving notes.[5] They included (in approximate chronological order):



  • Scott, Walter; Hook, Andrew; Mackenzie, Donald (1999), "Historical notes on the novel", The Fair Maid of Perth, Edinburgh University Press, ISBN 978-0-7486-0585-9


  1. ^ As recorded, for example, by Andrew of Wyntoun, writing a few years after the event: "Qwhen thretty for thretty faucht in barreris, At Sanctjohnstoun, on a day, bysyde the Blackfreris." Andrew of Wyntoun, (c. 1350-c.1420), The Orygynale Chronykil of Scotland, edited by David Laing, (Edinburgh: William Paterson, 1879 – The Historians of Scotland series no. 9), Vol. Three, Book IX, Ch. XVII, p. 63.
  2. ^ The Fair Maid of Perth (Chronicles of the Canongate, Second Series -- Edinburgh University website
  3. ^ Gow is Scottish Gaelic for Smith.
  4. ^ a b c Hook, MacDonald (1999), p. 464-465
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Hook, MacDonald (1999), p. 465-466
  6. ^ Hugh Macdonald: La Jolie fille de Perth Grove Music Online, accessed 10 April 2007.
  7. ^ Fair Maid of Perth titles at IMDB

External links

  • Page on The Fair Maid of Perth at the Walter Scott Digital Archive
  • The Fair Maid of Perth at Project Gutenberg
  • "Perth Magistrates". Scottish Family Heritage. Archived from the original on 21 March 2012.

This article incorporates text from the revised 1898 edition of Henry Grey's A Key to the Waverley Novels (1880), now in the public domain.

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