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Synopsis

The story recounts the tragic love of Edgar, Master of Ravenswood, and Lucy Ashton, the daughter of Ravenswood's enemy, Sir William Ashton. Sir William's wife, Lady Ashton, is the villain and evil perpetrator of the whole intrigue, haughty and manipulative in her objective to cancel the initial happy engagement between Edgar and Lucy and forcing the latter to a speedily arranged marriage with the Laird of Bucklaw. In the climax, when the intrigue takes its full course and the wedding celebrations have been held, Lucy stabs the bridegroom, severely wounding him, and descends quickly into insanity and dies. In the story, Caleb Balderstone, an eccentric old Ravenswood family retainer, provides some comic relief.

The story is fictional, but was based (Scott tells us) on an actual incident in the history of the Dalrymple family.

In the mid-17th century, Janet, the eldest daughter of Sir James Dalrymple was betrothed to David Dunbar, heir of Sir David Dunbar of Baldoon. As was the custom, the marriage was arranged by her parents but Janet loved Archibald, third Lord Rutherford, even though his family was virtually penniless. Janet's parents had no use for poor Archibald. They forbade the relationship, insisting that she marry David. Out of duty to the tradition, Janet married David in the church of Old Luce, two miles from her home at Carsecleugh Castle. It was a hot summer day, but her brothers both recollect that Janet's hands were "cold as ice," as she walked down the aisle. "I don't want to be with him," Janet said to them. The same night, after the married couple entered the bedchamber at Baldoon Castle, screaming was heard from the room. When the door was forced open, the staff found Dunbar stabbed and nearly dead. Young Janet was bloodied and clasping a knife, raving and crying. She was judged to be insane and died within a month.

Several versions of the story are told that describe the events that occurred in the bedchamber at Baldoon Castle. In the first, the bride stabbed her bridegroom in the bridal chamber and died of insanity. The second version sees a disappointed Archibald concealed in the chamber who stabs the bridegroom and escapes through the window into the garden. Local tradition adds a third take on the tale, that it was the Devil who killed Dunbar and who tormented Janet until she became demented.

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