The Champion of Virtue

The Champion of Virtue: A Gothic Story

Author: Clara Reeve
Publisher: A. Cleugh, W. Phorson
Publication Year: 1795
Language: English
Book Dimensions: 10.5cm x 16cm
Pages: 192
University of Virginia Library Catalog Entry, Sadleir-Black Collection: PZ2.R44 C 1795s

Material History

A chestnut brown faded cover surrounds the dark yellow pages. The reinforced cardboard blend is brittle, with slight rips and a flaky paper layer. With 192 pages, this book measures 10.5cm by 16cm. The cover is worn and without a title, but upon opening the title page appears. The Champion of Virtue: A Gothic Story is printed in a large blocky font, and the title page has slight blue ink staining, signs of wear from a previous owner. The author is identified as “by the Editor of the Phoenix” with “A translation of Barclay’s Argenis” imprinted below. This is a reference to Reeve’s first published work, The Phoenix (1772), which was a translation of John Barclay’s Argenis, an allegory of religious conflict set in France, which was originally published in Latin in 1621.  

The thick, unevenly cut paper is sewn together, and the faint lines of glue can be seen from the underside. There are no decorations or illustrations within the book, but there is a preface: an “Address to the Reader.” The book emphasizes the fact that it is a translation from a manuscript at many points within the book, particularly at the ends of chapters where the author notes something akin to “From this place the characters in the manuscript are effaced by time and moisture” (Reeve Champion of Virtue [1795] 32). These notes also often reveal an important name or action that happens in the story to close the chapter.  

The book was printed for A. Cleugh and Gutcliff Highway. There is little white space on the pages, and the text is closely spaced. The font is small, and the books title is printed in the header on every other page. Each chapter begins with a drop cap letter, that takes up two lines of the text. There are no ink blots or stains on most of the book, and the book is well maintained and in good condition. The book was printed with the long S that looks more like a lowercase cursive “f.” To ensure accurate printing, about every four to eight pages there is a printer signature at the bottom to ensure the correct page order. The book starts at “A” and ends at “Aa2.” This technique was commonly used to print books during the gothic period. The book has many weathered pages and appears as though it was kept in near mint condition, cherished, and well preserved by its previous owners.

Textual History

The Champion of Virtue: A Gothic Story was first published anonymously in 1777 by Clara Reeve. The story, a unique blend of action, adventure, and gothic romance, quickly started to garner attention across England. Initially published by W. Keymer, a small publisher, Reeve’s intricate storytelling and well-developed plot drew attention to the title. The next year, the author republished the story as The Old English Baron: A Gothic Story, and Reeve cited the urging of her friends and family as the key reason for her renaming of the novel. In her preface to the third edition of The Old English Baron, she explains, “The work has lately undergone a revision and correction, the former Edition being very incorrect; and by the earnest solicitation of several friends, for whose judgment I have the greatest deference, I have consented to a change of the title from the Champion of Virtue to the Old English Baron:— as that character is thought to be the principal one of the story” (“Preface” viii). Along with Horace Walpole’s Castle of Otranto (1764), Reeve’s Champion of Virtue/The Old English Baron heavily influenced Ann Radcliffe’s debut novel, The Castles of Athlin and Dunbayne (1789). 

The 1777 edition of The Champion of Virtue: A Gothic Story was published anonymously. Yet Reeve is credited as author in the reprintings of 1778 under the new title of The Old English Baron. Gary Kelly notes that Reeve “received £10 from the London firm of Dilly, who republished it a year later, with her name on the title-page, as The Old English Baron: A Gothic Story, though she retained the copyright [letter to Walker, 25 April 1791]. The text was supposedly revised by her friend Martha Bridgen, daughter of Samuel Richardson; in fact, most changes merely correct the carelessly printed Colchester edition” (Kelly). Reeve explains in her third edition preface that she did not want her name to appear as author but ultimately consented to the change: “I have also been prevailed upon, though with extreme reluctance, to suffer my name to appear in the title-page; and I do now, with the utmost respect and diffidence, submit the whole to the candour of the Public” (viii).

Despite the fact that Reeve’s name was already firmly associated with The Old English Baron by 1778, when A. Cleugh and W. Phorson published their edition in 1795 under the original title of The Champion of Virtue: A Gothic Story, they do notidentify Reeve’s name on the title page or anywhere within the novel; instead, the author is referred to as “the Editor of the Phoenix,” a reference to Reeve’s first publication in 1772. In every subsequent edition of The Champion of Virtue: A Gothic Story,Reeve is referred to as the “Editor of the Phoenix.”

While the 1777 publication contains a beautiful frontispiece depicting Edmund’s encounter with his romantic interest before he leaves the Baron’s house, the 1795 version does not contain any illustrations.

The Champion of Virtue is mentioned in A Gothic Bibliography by Montague Summers, with Reeve credited as the author. Summers also notes that the book was “Issued the following year as The Old English Baron” (271). Furthermore, Summers also details that the 1777 edition contains an “Engraved frontispiece by J. Caldnall” (495). Caldnall was a prominent artist at the time, and is famous for his portrait of John Howe, which is preserved in the National Portrait Gallery in London. 

The original 1777 publication of the Champion of Virtue: A Gothic Story is only found in seventeen libraries across the world, each of them institutions of higher education. The University of Virginia Special Collections Library is one of four libraries that possess both the 1777 and 1795 editions of the story. The 1795 edition was reprinted by Kessinger Reprints in 2010 and is available on Amazon for purchase. The Old English Baron remains Reeve’s most famous text and was reprinted in 2008 by Oxford World Classics. 

Narrative Point of View

The Champion Of Virtue is recounted from a third-person omniscient point of the view. The reader can firmly grasp the emotions and underlying feelings of almost every character in the book. The narration is concise but descriptive, often avoiding complex language or drawn-out dialogue for more relaxed and conversational prose. The strong verbs and connotative language convey emotion as well as the palpable power differentials between characters. In addition to revealing emotions, the narration emphasizes the intentions of characters and the underlying thought processes behind characters’ actions. Additionally, the narration’s fast pace augments the quick-paced plot’s sense of thrill and adventure.

Sample Passage:

“Again fear attacked him, but he resisted it, and boldly cried out, who is there? — A voice, at the outer door answered it is I, Joseph your friend! — What do you want, said Edmund? — I have brought you some wood to make a fire, said Joseph. — i thank you kindly, said Edmund, but my lamp is gone out, I will try and find the door however. After some trouble, he found and opened it, and was not sorry to see his friend Joseph with a light in one hand and a flaggon of beer in the other, and a faggot upon his shoulder. I come, said the good old man, to bring you something to keep up your spirits, the evening is cold, I know this room wants airing, and beside that my master, I think your present undertaking requires a little assistance. My good friend, said Edmund, I never shall be able to deserve or requite your kindness to me. — My dear sir, you have always deserved more than I could do for you, and I think I shall yet live to see you defeat the designs of your enemies, and acknowledge the services of your friends.” (Reeve Champion of Virtue [1795] 79)

Within this excerpt, quick description effectively establishes the scene. The vagueness of the “voice at the door” supplements the sense of uncertainty conjured within the story, while the comradery of Joseph, a servant, coming to assist Edmund develops a deep emotional attachment amidst the thrill of adventure. The dialogue in this scene remains quick-paced, keeping the narrative fast and concise, while also illustrating the reverence and power differential, as well as the caring and kinship, between servant and master.


The Champion of Virtue: A Gothic Story begins with an “Address to the Reader.” The author explains the background of the story, and then asks, “are you familiar with the Castle of Otranto?” (Champion of Virtue 1). The author also references Robinson Crusoe (1719) and Pilgrims Progress (1678). By referring to Horace Walpole’s 1764 gothic novel and well-known texts depicting adventure and travel, the unnamed author establishes expectations for the reading experience to come, suggesting that a gothic, adventurous, and action-driven novel awaits.

The narrative opens with a seasoned knight, Sir Philip, who stops by to visit his dear friend Lord Lovel, on the way back from thirty years of travel. Tired from his journey from France to England, Sir Philip stops by a peasant’s house near the town of Lovel for some refreshments. The peasant’s name is John Wyatt, and as custom during the time, he opens his house to the knight. As it comes up in conversation, Philip finds out his dear friend Arthur Lovel has passed away during a fight with Welch rebels. John sends his son to deliver news to the Baron who now lives in the castle and is a relative of Arthur Lovel, that Sir Philip has arrived. Baron Fitz-Owen now owns the manor, and invites Sir Philip to stay, Sir Philip, very humbly, explains that he does not desire to stay at the Baron’s estate for the night, and he is happy to stay in the house of a peasant and he rewards John Wyatt handsomely for his accommodations. Later that evening after talking with Wyatt, he finds out that the Baron has many sons in the castle, but the most outstanding of them is his adopted son of a poor laborer, named Edmund. Edmund was threatened by his father and abused, but his close friendship with the Baron’s son William becomes the reason he becomes an adopted son. The next day, after meeting the Baron and Edmund, Sir Philip offers to adopt Edmund. The Baron agrees but says that Edmund must decide himself. After laying out the offer, Edmund passionately emphasizes that he owes the Baron everything, and would like to politely decline the offer. Sir Philip, respecting Edmund even more, takes in John, one of Wyatt’s sons, as his new servant.

Four years later, word of Edmund has spread throughout the country. He is revered by many but also envied by many. The author elaborates that Wenlock and Markham, members of the Baron’s family, have a deep ill will that is well concealed. During their time with Edmund in France, Thomas and Wenlock set up a surprise attack on Edmund, and desire to have him be killed by the French forces. They purposely flee the battlefield, leaving Edmund outnumbered and surely dead. Surprisingly, Edmond and the young nobles defeat the French, taking the spoils and receiving medals of honor. The plan backfires on Wenlock and he is forced to find another way to hurt Edmund.

After Edmund returns from France, Wenlock devises a plan to get Edmund dismissed from the Fitz-Owen Family. If he is not a nobleman anymore and returns to his peasant roots, then he will not be a problem for Markham and Wenlock. Back in the Fitz-Owen castle, Edmund finds out a new apartment is under construction on the east side, even though the west side apartment is beautiful and unoccupied. Upon further inquisition, Edmund finds out that the west side apartment is haunted by Lady Lovel’s ghost after she passed away from grief during Lord Lovel’s death. Meanwhile, the plot to remove Edmund unfolds, and brother Robert brings accusations to the Baron. It is heard that Oswald the servant and Edmund had a conversation about the absurdity of the new apartment, and by criticizing the head of the Fitz-Owen house, Edmund is sentenced to sleep three nights in the haunted apartment.

After a few hours in the apartment, the servant Joseph comes up to give Edmund firewood and supplies to stay warm. The author elaborates that most of the servants look up to Edmund and Joseph has a special admiration for the man. It is revealed that the Baron still loves Edmund along with William, but all the jealous older sons and members of the family want Edmund removed and disowned.

Later in the night, Edmund travels with Oswald and Joseph to visit his birth mother, who upon deep questioning explains to Edmund that she is not his mother, but he was instead adopted by his father to the house after his mother suffered a stillborn. Armed with this knowledge, Edmund realizes he must flee the Baron’s household if he desires not to cause any more distress to the family and fully figure out his identity. He remembers Sir Philip, after meeting his servant on the road to the castle, and asks the servant (John Wyatt’s son) to send Sir Philip a letter to request his adoption. Edmund leaves the Barons castle immediately, and travels to stay with Sir Philip. While the Baron and Fitz-Owen family question where Edmund has gone and start to search for him, Sir Philip is briefed on the situation regarding Edmund’s place within the family. Philip, extremely irate that someone would falsely accuse Edmund and question his honor, drafts a plan to ensure that the men responsible for these evils are punished.

Sir Philip sends a letter to the Baron, questioning the honor of the Baron and requesting he come to trial with his family, in a ploy to draw out the full Fitz-Owen family to the tribunal. Unsure of the accusations and not knowing that they are related to Edmund, the Baron’s family obeys, and an intriguing trial ensues. During the trial it is revealed that Wenlock and Walker Graham, relatives of the Baron, covered up the murder of Lord Lovel. The servants outline how Wenlock and Graham had a deep envy for his power and go on to expose Wenlock’s actions in France. The suit of armor belonged to the Late Sir Lovel, with Graham and Wenlock utilizing the same plan that they implemented when trying to kill Edmund. Upon hearing this, the Baron instantly banishes them from the family, and Edmund appears behind Sir Philip during the sentencing. Baron Fitz-Owen, although ashamed to disown one of his sons and another relative, is relieved to see his adopted son alive.

After the trial, it seems all is well. Edmund marries his lover, a friend of the Baron named Lady Emma. With his honor restored and name cleared, he slowly starts a family with Emma. He rises through nobility and maintains his strong relationship with Sir Philip. The story ends with Edmund’s daughter marrying Baron Fitz-Owen’s son, and the reunion the two men to live their lives in amiable peace with each other. Even though the father-son dynamic was painfully dissolved by the Baron’s family, Edmund and the Baron remain in each other’s lives as father-in-laws to their newly wed children.


Kelly, Gary. “Reeve, Clara (1729–1807), Novelist and Poet.” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 27 May. 2010,

Reeve, Clara. The Champion of Virtue. A Gothic Story. Printed for the Author, 1777

Reeve, Clara. The Champion of Virtue. A Gothic Story, A new edition. A. Cleugh and W. Phorson, 1795.

Reeve, Clara. Preface to The Old English Baron: A Gothic Story, third edition. John Exshaw, 1778, pp. iii-viii.

Summers, Montague. A Gothic Bibliography. Russell & Russell, 1964.

Researcher: Nathan S Ferns

How to cite this page:

The Champion of Virtue.” Project Gothic, University of Virginia, 2024,