Sir Brian de Bois-Guilbert is a character from Sir Walter Scott’s novel, Ivanhoe. Bois-Guilbert is a member of the nobility and of the Knights Templar. The Knights Templar are the most powerful military and religious order in all of Europe and some say throughout all of history.
The period is the twelfth century and Sir Brian de Bois-Guilbert is considered by some to be the greatest knight in all of Christendom. Bois-Guilbert is a conflicted man and one of the most complex villian/anti-heroes we shall ever encounter. As a member of the Norman nobility and the Knights Templar, Bois-Guilbert is an extremely proud man. In the story of Ivanhoe, when Bois-Guilbert returns from the Crusades where apparently he betrayed King Richard The Lionheart, he fights in a tournament against Sir Wilfred Ivanhoe where he is defeated by Ivanhoe but where he catches a glimpse of the Lady Rebecca. He falls deeply in love with Rebecca the most beautiful woman he has ever seen (in the 1956 film version of Ivanhoe, Rebecca was played by Elizabeth Taylor).
Rebecca’s love is forbidden to Bois-Guilbert because he is not only a Christian but a member of the Knights Templar, a Christian religious order, and Rebecca’s faith is Jewish. To further complicate matters, Rebecca has fallen in love with Ivanhoe after tending his wounds from the tournament. Although, Ivanhoe won the tournament, he suffered life threatening wounds at the hands of Bois-Guilbert and comes very close to death. Bois-Guilbert’s passion and desire for Rebecca knows no bounds. He must possess Rebecca no matter the cost. Bois-Guilbert kidnaps Rebecca, throws he father in prison and comes close to forcing himself on her despite her protest.
Although Bois-Guilbert is as evil and power crazed as they come in the end he cannot take Rebecca’s virtue and leaves her untouched. Instead he tells Rebecca that with her by his side and with the knights of Knights Templar following him he could conquer all of Europe and they could rule a huge empire as king and queen. He promises that if she will run away with him he will give up everything of importance including renouncing his faith and his pledge to the Knights Templar.Rebecca rejects Bois-Guilbert because she knows in her heart he is evil and she is really in love with Ivanhoe although she is hesitant to admit her love for Ivanhoe to Bois-Guilbert. Rebecca senses that Ivanhoe may also love her, but knows that it is hopeless as Ivanhoe is betrothed to the Saxon princess, Lady Rowena whom he loves above all others.
The Knights Templar eventually capture Rebecca and Bois-Guilbert for running off with her and accuse Rebecca of being a witch. They say that Rebecca used witchcraft to heal Ivanhoe’s wounds from his fight in the tournament with Bois-Guilbert. During this time in the middle ages witches were burned at the stake unless they have a champion who can defend them and be victorious in a trial by combat. Because Bois-Guilbert is so deeply in love with Rebecca he tells her of the chance that she might be spared as a result of trail by combat hoping that he will be her champion.
In a strange twist of fate, the Knights Templar choose Bois-Guilbert as their champion and plan to force Bois-Guilbert to fight and prove Rebecca’s guilt not her innocence as he had hoped. The Knights Templar know that Bois-Guilbert loves Rebecca, but he is their greatest knight. Left with only one option Rebecca chooses the man she really loves, Ivanhoe as her champion. Ivanhoe truly loves the Lady Rowena whom is to be his wife, but he also has strong feelings for Rebecca and owes her his life for mending his wounds from the tournament so he agrees to be her champion. The stage is set for the trail by combat between these two great knights Bois-Guilbert and Ivanhoe for a battle to the death. If Ivanhoe wins the trail by combat defending Rebecca’s honor she is to be set free. If Bois-Guilbert representing the Knights Templar wins, Rebecca is to be burned at the stake as a witch.
The Knights Templar of course know that Rebecca is not a witch, however, they want her to die to get their hands on Rebecca’s father’s fortune, and to free their greatest knight, Bois-Guilbert from the hold she has over him. The irony for Bois-Guilbert is if he wins the woman he so desperately loves, Rebecca, will burn as a witch and if he loses he will most certainly die in the trail by combat which is a battle to the death. Just before the trial by combat begins, Bois-Guilbert explains to Rebecca that while he loves her and is willing to renounce his faith, his nobility, the Knights Templar and is even willing to die for her there is one oath he cannot break. its the one thing he simply cannot do.
Bois-Guilbert explains that while he has been a proud, arrogant and sinful man all his life and admits that he has raped and killed, lied to and betrayed others there is one sacred promise he made to himself and to God many years ago that he has never broken. This is the one promise he has never broken and cannot break now not even for his love for Rebecca. That sacred oath is that when in single combat he must summon all his strength, all his courage and use all his fighting skill to utterly destroy his enemy showing no mercy and giving no quarter in order to be victorious no matter the cost.
So now he must fight Ivanhoe and use all his strength to kill Ivanhoe in single combat knowing that his victory means the love of his life, Rebecca will burn in the flames as a witch. (While we love the 1952 version of the film Ivanhoe starring Robert Taylor and Elizabeth Taylor, to get a deeper glimpse of the complex nature of Bois-Guilbert and to see how this story ends we recommend the 1997 version of the mini-series with Ciaran Hinds as Sir Brian de Bois-Guilbert).