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CHAPTER SUMMARIES WITH NOTES
The novel begins in England during the reign of King Richard I, also known as Richard the Lion-Hearted (1157-1199). Scott provides some historical background for the politics of the time and places the action somewhere near the end of Richard's reign when he is returning from the Crusades. England's Saxon population is under the control of Norman royalty. French has become the forced official language, a fact which both angers and demeans the Saxons, and many landowners have been forced to give their lands to their Norman rulers. When the action of the novel begins, the Norman King Richard I has been captured and held for ransom in Europe. His brother John has assumed power. Though both men are Norman rulers in Saxon populated England, Richard is more popular among the people he rules, known as both fair and courageous; John is aggressive, encouraging his men to steal or destroy everything Saxon. John is content to rule, and even hopes his brother remains imprisoned so that he can become king. Richard's loyal subjects despair of ever seeing him again, and are angry that John and his greedy nobles have been aggressive and relentless in seizing whatever Saxon land they can.
A swineherd named Gurth is talking with a jester, Wamba, about the increasing hostility between the native Saxons and the Norman rulers. Both servants work for a loyal Saxon named Cedric. When a storm approaches, they head for home. On their way, they hear horsemen riding toward them.
Scott begins his narrative by describing the state of England. The Saxon country is under the rule of Norman royalty. Furthermore, the Norman King Richard I, who was at least fair to his Saxon subjects, has been kidnapped and detained in Europe. His ruthless and aggressive brother John has taken over and encouraged the Norman nobles in their cruel and limitless plunder of Saxon property and possessions. The Saxon people are totally dissatisfied and have a smoldering hatred of the Normal ruling class. French has been imposed as the national language, creating an even larger rift between the Saxons and Normans.
The conversation between Wamba and Gurth masterfully reveals the state of discontent in England. The two servants discuss the changes to their language. The word "swine", Anglo-Saxon in origin, can now be used for grazing animals only; when the swine is killed and served as a meat, it becomes "pork" (a French word). Similarly, "Alderman Ox" and "deer" become "beef" and "venison" respectively. The dog, Fangs, has had his front claws removed according to some cruel Norman law that has been newly imposed. The changes seem silly to the two men, and they clearly resent the Norman presence in their homeland.
Although Gurth and Wamba are both Saxon servants, they are very different from one another. Samba is well dressed, while Gurth is clad in coarse attire. Wamba's job is to entertain; Gurth's job is to tend to pigs in the field. Both, however, are united in their apparent dislike of the Norman rulers; when they hear Norman horsemen coming toward them, they try to avoid contact.