finest point

Kenilworth (novel)

Kenilworth. A Romance is a historical novel by Sir Walter Scott. First published on January 8, 1821, the novel tells the story of the secret, tragic marriage of Amy Robsart to Robert Dudley and Robsart's eventual death.

Explanation of the novel's title

The Kenilworth of the title refers to Dudley's Kenilworth Castle in Kenilworth, Warwickshire.

Plot summary

The plot of Kenilworth centers on the secret marriage of Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, and Amy Robsart, daughter of Sir Hugh Robsart. The tragic series of events begins when Amy flees her father and her betrothed, Tressilian, to marry the Earl. Amy passionately loves her husband, and the Earl loves her, but is driven by ambition. He is courting the favour of Queen Elizabeth I, and only by keeping his marriage to Amy secret can he hope to rise to the height of power he desires. At the end of the book, the queen finally discovers the truth, to the shame of the Earl. But the disclosure has come too late, for Amy has been murdered by the Earl's even more ambitious steward, Varney.

Perhaps the finest point of this work is its characterization. The Earl is shown as an ambition-driven man who will stoop to deceit and almost anything else in order to attain his goals, but with one saving grace--he loves Amy, and in the end gives up his pride and ambition to confess their marriage. Amy Robsart is a pretty, spoiled child whose tragic circumstances teach her maturity and determination, although such lessons come too late to save her. Tressilian is the serious, steadfast lover of Amy, and continues to try to save her from herself throughout the book and finally dies of a broken heart. Varney is the chief villain of the work. His greed and ambition know no bounds. It is he that pushes the Earl beyond what he would normally do to secure power, and it is he that finally murders Amy Robsart.

Major themes

Kenilworth is a novel of selfishness versus selflessness and ambition versus love. Amy and the Earl both struggle internally with selfishness and love, while Varney and Tressilian each typify the extremes of the two qualities. In Kenilworth Sir Walter Scott created a novel of conflicting characters and passions.

Historical inaccuracies

Whilst much of the novel is a true telling of the events at Elizabethan court, the depiction of Robsart's death from a fall and also many other events are a product of Scott's imagination.

The reception at Kenilworth providing the backdrop to the novel took place in 1575, and frequent references to how many years have passed since other events such as the Queen's accession, the deposition of Mary, Queen of Scots, and so forth, indicate that the novel is set in that year, but Amy Robsart died in 1560.

Leicester's marriage was not, in fact, a closely guarded secret.

William Shakespeare, who was not even born until 1564, is in this novel an adult and known at court, and even quotes The Tempest, which was written c. 1611.


In keeping with its many Walter Scott references, Rose Street in Edinburgh has a bar called the "Kenilworth".


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