Alexander Balfour is David’s father and the elder brother of Ebenezer Balfour. He dies before the novel opens. Alexander and Ebenezer fell in love with the same woman (David’s mother) and made an agreement that Alexander would have the woman and Ebenezer would have the estate of Shaws.
David Balfour is the protagonist of Kidnapped, and the novel follows his fortunes from the time when he leaves his father’s house at sixteen years of age until he comes into his inheritance as the young laird of Shaws. Stevenson’s target readership was young boys, so David provides a character with whom they can identify.
At the novel’s beginning, David is a well-meaning but naïve and inexperienced young man who falls fairly readily into his uncle Ebenezer’s trap. His voyage on the Covenant is a rite-of-passage that marks the end of his childhood and the beginning of adult challenges. David must learn to survive in dangerous and distressing conditions. Under the mentorship of Alan, David learns to defend himself and shoot a pistol. He also gains experience in dealing with the disreputable aspects of human nature exemplified by Hoseason and his crew. After the shipwreck, David has to sustain himself on what appears to be a desert island. During his travels across the Scottish “heather,” some of them with Alan, David becomes steadily more self-reliant, overcoming such obstacles as robbers, cheats, harsh weather, exhaustion, and illness.
By the end of the novel, David is wise enough to be able to overcome Ebenezer and to claim his inheritance.
Ebenezer is David’s miserly old uncle and the younger brother of David’s late father, Alexander Balfour. He is the novel’s antagonist, the character who opposes the protagonist. His life story is only revealed at the end of the novel. He falls in love with the same woman as his brother (the woman is to become David’s mother). Ebenezer makes an agreement with him that he will have the estate of Shaws, in spite of the fact that he is the younger brother, and Alexander can take the woman. Ebenezer prioritizes money over love, and the rest of his life is characterized by his miserliness. He is determined at any cost to hold onto the inheritance that he stole from his brother. He knows that David is the rightful heir of Shaws, so although he has a duty of kinship to help and protect the boy, instead he tries to kill him by sending him up a dangerous stair-tower. When this fails, he has David kidnapped with the aim of having him sold into white slavery in the Carolinas. These actions show his cruelty and ruthlessness.
However, it cannot be said that Ebenezer is completely evil, as in the final confrontation with Alan, he refuses to have David killed on his orders. While earlier in the novel he was able to send him up the stair-tower in the hope that he would die, presumably this was because he would have been able to convince himself that David’s death was an accident rather than a contract killing.
Finally, with Mr. Rankeillor’s help, David is able to overcome Ebenezer, and the latter is allowed to keep one-third of the income of Shaws and to continue living in the house.
Colin Campbell of Glenure (the Red Fox)
Colin Campbell of Glenure, known to his Jacobite enemies as the Red Fox, is a member of the powerful Highland Campbell clan, which is loyal to King George II of England’s government. Colin Campbell is the King’s factor, or agent, whose duty it is to collect rents from the forfeited estates of the Stewarts of Appin and other clans. The murder of Colin Campbell (the “Appin murder”) as he rides through the wood of Lettermore is the event on which the subsequent action of the novel turns. By having David witness this historical event at close quarters, Stevenson makes him a hunted man who must flee the soldiers, thus adding drama to David’s situation.
Mr. Campbell is the kindly Protestant Whig preacher who acts as David’s guardian after the death of his father.
Jennet Clouston is a woman who has been forced out of her home by Ebenezer. When David asks her for directions to the house of Shaws, she curses it and Ebenezer.
Duncan Dhu is head of the house in which David takes refuge when he is ill and exhausted from his long flight through “the heather.” He is a member of the Maclaren clan, which is friendly to Alan’s clan, the Stewarts. Duncan averts a duel between Alan and Robin Oig by persuading them to have a bagpiping contest instead.
James of the Glens (James Stewart)
James of the Glens is the leader of the Stewart clan (the clan of Alan Breck) in the absence of Ardshiel, who is exiled. James has been stripped of his powers by the government of King George II. James is portrayed as a somewhat weak and fearful man. After the murder of Colin Campbell, he is intensely worried about his own safety and that of his family. He wants to appease the Campbells by “papering” (putting out “Wanted” posters for) Alan and David. This does not help him, and he is imprisoned on suspicion of having been involved. At the novel’s end, David plans to testify to James’s innocence to try to clear his name.
Henderland is an old catechist (religious instructor) who befriends David on his travels through Scotland.
Captain Hoseason is the captain of the Covenant. Ebenezer bribes him to sell David into white slavery in the Carolinas. David says of him, “he was two men, and left the better one behind as soon as he set foot on board his vessel” (Chapter VI). Stevenson was interested in such duality and explored it in his novels Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1886) and The Black Arrow (1888). He is polite and friendly to David while they are still on shore at Queensferry, and even warns him against Ebenezer, thereby falsely giving David the impression that he is an ally. As soon as he has David in his power, however, the other side of his nature becomes evident. He is ruthless, caring nothing for David’s predicament. To him, David is merely a commodity from which he can make money. Similarly, his only concern when Shuan kills Ransome is to hide the murder from the authorities. Nevertheless, his more pleasant side occasionally surfaces: he fires a salute to his mother from his ship every time it passes her house. The fact that he is a keen church-goer and never swears shows his hypocrisy: he preserves the appearance of respectability while enabling a murderer (Shuan) to escape justice and selling a young boy into slavery.
Cluny Macpherson is a Jacobite clan chief who has been driven into exile in the forest by King George II’s government after the Jacobite rebellion. While he still fulfils the role of a chief to his clan by solving their disputes, he has developed eccentric habits in his restricted life: he takes an obsessive interest in cookery and likes to play cards with his visitors.
Cluny is Stevenson’s fictional version of the historical personage Ewan Macpherson of Cluny, who was a prominent leader in the Jacobite Risings and helped Charles Stuart, Bonnie Prince Charlie, to escape Scotland.
Robin Oig is Stevenson’s fictional version of the historical personage James More MacGregor, who was popularly known as Robin Oig. Robin was the son of the historical Scottish nationalist and outlaw Robert Roy MacGregor, popularly known as Rob Roy. Robin is a Campbell, which is why Alan is hostile to him. Robin and Alan almost fight a duel, but are persuaded to have a bagpiping contest instead. Robin is portrayed as arrogant and proud. He places so much importance on the clan system that he dismisses David as a nonentity for not knowing his ancestors.
Mr. Rankeillor is a lawyer who was formerly employed by Ebenezer but has fallen out with him. He helps David defeat Ebenezer and claim his inheritance. Mr. Rankeillor is an intelligent man who insists on discussing Alan under a pseudonym so that he can truthfully say, if he should be made to testify in court, that he never heard of him. He also deliberately leaves his spectacles at home when he meets Alan, so that he can truthfully say that he never saw him.
Ransome is the cabin-boy on board the Covenant. A foolish and misguided boy, he understands little of the reality of life on shore, believing, for example, that apprentices are whipped and imprisoned and that trade is slavery. Mr. Riach gives him alcohol, which has damaged his health. One night, Shuan kills Ransome in a drunken rage. As Hoseason shows little real remorse for the boy’s death, Ransome’s role in the novel is to highlight the depth of evil of which the crew of the Covenant is capable and to show, by implication, the danger in which David finds himself.
Mr. Riach is the second officer on the Covenant. He is a pleasant man when drunk, and defies Captain Hoseason when he insists on moving the sick David out of the hold and into the more comfortable forecastle. He acts as the ship’s underbelly, preparing medicine for David. He conspires with Hoseason to attack Alan, but later, when the ship is wrecked, he helps Alan to escape.
Mr. Shuan is the first officer on the Covenant. He is a brutal man when drunk, and inflicts wounds upon the cabin-boy Ransome. Eventually, he kills him in a drunken rage. He is killed by Alan in the battle of the round-house.
Alan Breck Stewart
Alan Breck Stewart is a courageous and flamboyant warrior who has the job of collecting a second rent from tenants to support the clan chief, Ardshiel, who lives in exile in France. He is a Highlander, a Jacobite (one who believes that the Stuarts/Stewarts should reclaim the throne of England) and a Catholic. His loyalties are first and foremost to his clan.
When Alan’s boat is run down by the Covenant, he is taken aboard. David discovers that the crew is plotting to kill Alan and alerts him. Thus Alan becomes David’s ally in fighting and defeating the crew of the Covenant in the battle of the round-house.
Alan is a brilliant swordsman and guide, leading David on their flight through “the heather” and always managing to keep one step ahead of King George II’s soldiers. He is also David’s mentor, teaching him a great deal about survival as well as about Scottish history and clan politics. Although he often taunts David for being a Whig and a Protestant, he comes to love and respect him.
Alan is one of the characters in the novel who is based upon a historical personage. The historical Alan Breck Stewart was a known enemy of the Campbells and became a suspect in the murder of Colin Campbell.
Kidnapped: Character Profiles