The Castle of Otranto is deeply concerned with paternity and its relation to political rule. The novel presents three major revelations about lineage, the consequences of which drive the plot forward. The first revelation is that of Theodore’s paternity. Shortly before Theodore is to be executed, Jerome recognizes him as his son and thus as a member of the noble house of Falconara. Not only does this new information determine many of Jerome’s decisions regarding Isabella and Manfred but it also legitmizes the noble qualities of speech, piety, bravery, and heroism that Theodore possesses. Frederic, who has been posing as a knight, reveals himself as Isabella’s father and the only known blood relative (and thus, legitimate heir) of Alfonso the Good. It is Isabella’s connection to Alfonso, and thus her claim over Otranto, that first motivates Manfred to arrange a marriage between Isabella and Conrad, and it is Frederic’s distant relation to Alfonso and attraction to Matilda that almost precipitates a marriage between Manfred and Isabella. At the end of the novel, it is Jerome’s revelation that Theodore’s grandfather is Alfonso that causes Otranto to be passed into the hands of its rightful ruler.
In the preface to the first edition of the novel, Walpole comments upon the relative uselessness of the story’s supposed moral: a quote from the Bible that claims “the sins of fathers are visited on their children to the third and fourth generation.” This moral proves literally true for Manfred’s family: Though Ricardo’s sin of poisoning Alfonso for power does not result in the punishment of either Ricardo or his son Manuel, the third and fourth generations of Ricardo’s line meet disaster: Manfred kills his daughter and is himself forced to abdicate, Conrad is crushed to death by a giant helmet, and Matilda is murdered by her father.
In fact, Walpole’s criticism that the story does not have a “more useful” moral may actually be an ironic hint that it does have a more useful moral, one concerned with bloodlines and rulership. The novel’s intense occupation with the will of heaven, in conjunction with its concern with lineage, emphasize the importance of “rightful” rulership — rulership determined by blood and endorsed by heaven. Though Theodore was for most of his life a slave and a peasant, his noble lineage renders him fit to reign in the eyes of God, or in the novel’s case, St. Nicholas. This privileging of certain bloodlines both suggests class distinctions between nobility and peasantry, and recalls a justification rulers traditionally used to defend their power, that of the divine right of kings, a political doctrine in which monarchs claimed that their rule was ordained by God. However, as Horace Walpole was a Whig, and as Whigs generally did not support absolute monarchy or the divine right of kings, the story’s endorsement of these ideas likely belong to Walpole’s fictional Catholic priest, Onuphrio Muralto. Walpole’s speculation about Muralto’s agenda in the first preface is perhaps a veiled criticism of Muralto’s belief in the divine right of kings.
Lineage and Leadership ThemeTracker
Lineage and Leadership Quotes in The Castle of Otranto
The Castle and Lordship of Otranto should pass from the present family whenever the real owner should be grown too large to inhabit it.
In vain did Manfred’s friends endeavour to divert him from this savage and ill-grounded resolution. The generality were charmed with their lord’s decision, which, to their apprehensions, carried great appearance of justice; as the magician was to be punished by the very instrument with which he had offended: nor were they struck with the least compunction at the probability of the youth being starved; for they firmly believed, that, by his diabolical skill, he could easily supply himself with nutriment.
“O that dear mother! yes, Bianca, ‘tis there I feel the rugged temper of Manfred. I can support his harshness to me with patience; but it wounds my soul when I am witness to his causeless severity towards her.” “Oh! madam,” said Bianca, “all men use their wives so, when they are weary of them.” “And yet your congratulated me but now,” said Matilda, “when you fancied my father intended to dispose of me!” “I would have you a great lady,” replied Bianca, “come what will. I do not wish to see you moped in a convent, as you would be if you had your will, and if my lady, your mother, who knows that a bad husband is better than no husband at all, did not hinder you—”
Know then, that I have long been troubled in mind on my union with the princess Hippolita…for we are related within the forbidden degrees. My only difficulty was to fix on a successor, who would be tender of my people, and to dispose of the Lady Isabella, who is dear to me as my own blood. I was willing to restore the line of Alfonso, even in his most distant kindred…. I would submit to anything for the good of my people—were it not the best, the only way to extinguish the feuds between our families, if I was to take the Lady Isabella to wife—you start—but, though Hippolita’s virtues will ever be dear to me, a prince must not consider himself; he is born for his people.
Arriving there, he sought the gloomiest shades, as best suited to the pleasing melancholy that reigned in his mind. In this mood he roved insensibly to the caves which had formerly served as a retreat to hermits, and were now reported round the country to be haunted by evil spirits. He recollected to have heard this tradition; and being of a brave and adventurous disposition, he willingly indulged his curiosity in exploring the secret recesses of this labyrinth…He thought the place more likely to be infested by robbers than by those infernal agents who are reported to molest and bewilder travelers.
“Come, come,” resumed the friar, “inconsiderate youth, this must not be; eradicate this guilty passion from thy breast.”—“Guilty passion!” cried Theodore, “Can guilt dwell with innocent beauty and virtuous modesty?”—“It is sinful,” replied the friar, “to cherish those whom heaven has doomed to destruction. A tyrant’s race must be swept from the earth to the third and fourth generation.”
The moment Theodore appeared, the walls of the castle behind Manfred were thrown down with a mighty force, and the form of Alfonso, dilated to an immense magnitude, appeared in the centre of the ruins. “Behold in Theodore the true heir of Alfonso!” said the vision: and having pronounced these words, accompanied by a clap of thunder, it ascended solemnly towards Heaven, where, the clouds parting asunder, the form of St. Nicholas was seen, and receiving Alfonso’s shade, they were soon wrapt from mortal eyes in a blaze of glory.
“Thou guiltless, but unhappy woman! unhappy by my crimes!” replied Manfred, “my heart, at last, is open to thy devout admonitions. Oh! could—but it cannot be—ye are lost in wonder—let me at last do justice on myself! To heap shame on my own head is all the satisfaction I have left to offer to offended Heaven. My story has drawn down these judgements: let my confession atone—but ah! what can atone for usurpation, and a murdered child! a child murdered in a consecrated place!—List, sirs, and may this bloody record be a warning to future tyrants!