In the opening chapter, Scott describes the setting and gives a historical account of England during the reign of Richard I.
With the captivity of King Richard, the nobles had resumed the practice of making vassals and serfs of their less powerful neighbors. The hostility of the Saxons, which began with the victory of Duke William of Normandy at the Battle of Hastings, was kept smoldering by the Norman French, who reduced many of the Saxons to servitude, and seized, or threatened to seize, their lands.
French became the official language and, although a common dialect emerged, each faction spoke the other's language as little as possible.
As Gurth, with the aid of his dog, gathers the swine, he and Wamba discuss the Norman-Saxon community. Just as they are leaving to avoid the approaching storm, they hear a party of horsemen approaching.
Wamba and Gurth show two aspects of the bondsman. Wamba is dressed richly and lives by his wits. Gurth wears coarser garb and tends swine as a menial. Both wear the slave collar.
Several instances point up the Norman-Saxon conflict. The dog, Fangs, whose foreclaws have been clipped by the ranger of the forest in accord with the Forest Laws enacted by the ruling Normans, symbolizes by his name and description the stripping of power from the Saxons.
Wamba refers to the language: specifically, the word "swine" is of Saxon origin and used when the animals are being tended and fed, but becomes "pork," a French word, when it is ready for the table. "Alderman Ox" is a Saxon term, which becomes "beef," a French word, when it is ready for consumption.
Gurth is a second "Eumaeus." Eumaeus was the swineherd in Homer's Odyssey who chafed under tending the swine for the consumption of the wooers of Penelope while Odysseus was absent.
hauberk a coat of mail developed into a long tunic of chain mail; part of medieval armor
druidical having to do with members of a religious order in ancient Gaul, Britain, and Ire land
harlequin a character in a comedy and pantomime having shaven head, masked face, parti-colored tights, and a sword of lath
St. Dunstan Saxon saint and archbishop of Canterbury in the tenth century
King Oberon fairy king in Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream
murrain a pestilence or plague
Eumaeus swineherd in Homer's Odyssey