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Waverley is set during the Jacobite uprising of 1745c., which sought to restore the Stuart dynasty in the person of Charles Edward Stuart (or 'Bonnie Prince Charlie'). It relates the story of a young dreamer and English soldier, Edward Waverley, who was sent to Scotland in 1745. He journeys North from his aristocratic family home, Waverley-Honour, in the south of England, first to the Scottish Lowlands and the home of family friend Baron Bradwardine, then into the Highlands and the heart of the 1745 Jacobite uprising and aftermath.

The eponymous English protagonist, Edward Waverley, has been brought up in the family home by his uncle, Sir Everard Waverley, who maintains the family Tory and Jacobite sympathies, while Edward's Whig father works for the Hanoverian government in nearby London. Edward Waverley is given a commission in the Hanoverian army and is posted to Dundee, then promptly takes leave to visit Baron Bradwardine, a Jacobite friend of his uncle, and meets the Baron's lovely daughter Rose.

When wild Highlanders visit the Baron's castle Waverley is intrigued and goes to the mountain lair of Clan Mac-Ivor, meeting the Chieftain Fergus and his sister Flora who turn out to be active Jacobites preparing for the '45 Rising. Waverley has overstayed his leave and is accused of desertion and treason, then arrested. Highlanders rescue him from his escort and take him to the Jacobite stronghold at Doune castle then on to Holyrood Palace where he meets Bonnie Prince Charlie himself. Encouraged by the beautiful Flora Mac-Ivor, Waverley goes over to the Jacobites and takes part in the Battle of Prestonpans, where he saves the life of a colonel who turns out to be a close friend of his uncle. Thus he escapes retribution and marries the Baron's daughter, Rose Bradwardine.

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