Sir Walter Scott

15 August 1771 – 21 September 1832


Sir Walter Scott (Henry Raeburn /

One of Scotland’s finest writers, Sir Walter Scott has had significant influence on British literature, so much so that today a literary prize bearing his name is awarded each year to a writer of historical fiction, whilst Edinburgh’s central railway station is named after his novel Waverley.

Unlike several other literary figures who achieved recognition after their death, Scott was highly regarded as a writer during his lifetime, affording him worldwide success.


Walter Scott was born in Edinburgh in August 1771, the son of Walter Scott, a solicitor, and Anne Rutherford. When he was two years old he caught polio, which left him with numerous health problems, and his family sought to address these by sending him to live in the Scottish Borders with his family. It was here that he became familiar with the tradition of oral story-telling in the area, and this would later inspire much of his literary work.

Scott studied law at Edinburgh, following in his father’s footsteps, and eventually became a lawyer. However, he was still drawn to the stories of his childhood, and began writing when he was 25 years old. He started by translating German ballads into English, before progressing onto writing his own ballads, and published “Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border” in 1802. Scott spent the next ten years writing and publishing narrative poems, and quickly became one of Scotland’s most popular writers.

However, growing tired of poetry, and perhaps spurred on by the thought of his position as most popular poet being usurped by Lord Byron, Scott turned to novels, and published the historical fiction novel Waverley in 1814, anonymously at first. A succession of novels followed, and Scott’s status as Scotland’s most popular writer was secured.

In addition to his literary career, Scott maintained his work in law, and became a senior clerk in the Scottish judiciary. He also served as president of the Royal Society of Edinburgh. In 1818, at the bequest of George IV, Scott rediscovered the lost Scottish Honours (the Scottish Crown Jewels) and was rewarded for his efforts with the title of Baronet, making him Sir Walter Scott. Scott continued to have a successful literary career, however, poor investment decisions led to him getting into a considerable amount of debt. He died in 1832, having contracted Typhus.


A prolific writer, Scott published over 25 novels and numerous ballads and poems. He is widely credited with having created the new genre of historical fiction. His first novel, Waverley, was set during the Jacobite uprising in 1745, and imagines the role that a young soldier may have played. This novel, and those that followed, gave readers a new insight into the culture and history of Scotland, previously regarded as somewhat barbaric. The novels were so popular, that Waverley was later used as the name of Edinburgh’s central station, whilst the greatly admired author’s portrait adorns the front of all Scottish bank notes.

Links to the Lake District

Walter Scott’s first love, Williamina Belsches, rejected him in 1796 in favour of another. Thus in 1797 Scott visited the Lake District, reportedly in search of love. It was here that he met Charlotte Charpentier. The pair briefly courted and was wed on Christmas Eve in 1797 at Carlisle Cathedral. The marriage was reportedly a happy one, producing five children, and the pair remained together in Edinburgh until Charlotte’s death in 1826.

Scott was friends with the Lakes Poets, William Wordsworth and Robert Southey. After turning down the position of Poet Laureate Scott recommended that Southey be appointed, and Southey accepted the role. Scott and Wordsworth were frequent visitors to one another, sharing common interests in literature and romanticism.

Sites of Interest

"I climbed the dark brow of the mighty Helvellyn, Lakes and mountains beneath me gleamed misty and wide; All was still, save by fits, when the eagle was yelling, And starting around me the echoes replied."

Scott wrote his haunting poem Helvellyn, after learning of the mysterious death of artist Charles Gough on Striding Edge and being taken to the site by his friend William Wordsworth. The summit of Helvellyn offers breathtaking views, but the ascent via Striding Edge is not to be taken lightly.

Outside of the Lake District National Park, the village of Gisland in north-east Cumbria is where Scott met his wife Charlotte, and allegedly proposed at the “Popping Stone” in the grounds of Gisland Hall, now a hotel. In Carlisle, you can visit the cathedral where the couple was wed.