Rosemary Sutcliff

Rosemary Sutcliff CBE (14 December 1920 – 23 July 1992) was an English novelist best known for children's books, especially historical fiction and retellings of myths and legends. Although she was primarily a children's author, some of her novels were specifically written for adults. In a 1986 interview she said, "I would claim that my books are for children of all ages, from nine to ninety."[1]

Rosemary Sutcliff

Rosemary Sutcliff
Rosemary Sutcliff
Born(1920-12-14)14 December 1920
East Clandon, Surrey, England
Died23 July 1992(1992-07-23) (aged 71)
Chichester, West Sussex, England
GenreChildren's historical fiction, myth and legend
Notable works
Notable awardsCarnegie Medal
Horn Book Award
Phoenix Award
1985, 2010

For her contribution as a children's writer Sutcliff was a runner-up for the Hans Christian Andersen Medal in 1974.[2][3]


Sutcliff was born 14 December 1920 to George Ernest Sutcliff and his wife Nessie Elizabeth, née Lawton, in East Clandon, Surrey.[4] She spent her childhood in Malta and various naval bases where her father, a Royal Navy officer, was stationed. She was affected by Still's disease when she was very young, and used a wheelchair most of her life. Due to her chronic illness, Sutcliff spent most of her time with her mother from whom she learned many of the Celtic and Saxon legends that she would later expand into works of historical fiction. Sutcliff's early schooling was constantly interrupted by moving house and her illness. She did not learn to read until she was nine years of age, and left school at age 14 to enter the Bideford Art School, which she attended for three years, graduating from the General Art Course. Sutcliff then worked as a painter of miniatures.

The South Downs near Sutcliff's long-time home in Sussex and the setting of several of her novels.

Inspired by the children's historical novels of Geoffrey Trease, her first published book was The Chronicles of Robin Hood in 1950. In 1954, she published what remains her best-known work The Eagle of the Ninth, part of a series on Roman Britain and its aftermath; they were not written as such or in sequential order but connected by the linking device of an emerald ring, passed down through generations of the same family. Between 1954 and 1958, Sutcliff's works The Eagle of the Ninth, its sequel The Silver Branch, Outcast and Warrior Scarlet were runners-up in the annual Carnegie Medal, given by the Library Association to the year's best children's book by a British subject. She finally won the Medal for her third book in the Eagle series, The Lantern Bearers (1959).[5][6][a] Where the first two books and one subsequent one were set in Roman Britain, The Lantern Bearers immediately follows the withdrawal of the Roman Empire, when the British people are threatened by remaining Germanic troops and by invaders.

Sutcliff was Carnegie runner-up again for her retelling of the Arthurian legend in Tristan and Iseult, which in 1971 won the American Horn Book Award. In 1985, The Mark of the Horse Lord was the inaugural winner of the Phoenix Award, created by the Children's Literature Association to recognise the best English-language children's book that did not win a major award when originally published twenty years earlier. It is named for the mythical bird phoenix, which is reborn from its ashes, to suggest the book's rise from obscurity.[7] The Shining Company won the same award in 2010.

Sutcliff lived for many years in Walberton near Arundel, Sussex. In 1975, she was appointed an Officer of the Order of the British Empire for services to children's literature, and later Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 1992. She wrote incessantly throughout her life and was still doing so on the morning of her death in 1992.[8] Sutcliff never married and had no children.



  • Blue Remembered Hills: A recollection (1983); Sutcliff's memoir of her childhood and young adulthood.

Other nonfictionEdit

Eagle of the Ninth seriesEdit

The series, also referred to as 'Marcus',[9] is linked by the Aquila family dolphin ring and listed here in fictional chronological order. (They were not written as a series by the author.)

  1. The Eagle of the Ninth (1954), illus. C. Walter Hodges
  2. The Silver Branch (1957), illus. Charles Keeping ‡
  3. Frontier Wolf (1980)
  4. The Lantern Bearers (1959)
  5. Sword at Sunset (1963); "officially for adults"[1]
  6. Dawn Wind (1961), illus. Charles Keeping
  7. Sword Song (1997, posthumous)
  8. The Shield Ring (1956), illus. C. Walter Hodges

Three Legions (1980), or Eagle of the Ninth Chronicles (2010), is an omnibus edition of the original Eagle of the Ninth trilogy (The Eagle of the Ninth, The Silver Branch and The Lantern Bearers, 1954 to 1959).

Arthurian novelsEdit

Raymond Thompson credits Sutcliff with "some of the finest contemporary recreations of the Arthurian story" and names these seven works.[1] The first two are also part of the Eagle of the Ninth series (above) that attempt to depict Arthur as an actual historical figure.

King Arthur Stories: Three Books in One (1999), or The King Arthur Trilogy (2007), is an omnibus edition of the Arthurian Trilogy (1979 to 1981).[9]

Other children's novelsEdit

Novels for adultsEdit

Other worksEdit

Plays and screenplaysEdit

  • The New Laird. Radio play (BBC Schools Radio series Stories from Scottish History). Broadcast 7 May 1966.
  • Ghost Story. Screenplay with Stephen Weeks and Philip Norman, 1975.
  • Mary Bedell. Stage play. Produced London, 1986.
  • The Eagle of the Ninth. Stage play with Mary Rensten.


  • "History Is People". A paper distributed at a conference on Children's Literature in Education, Exeter, England, 1971. Reprinted in Children and Literature: Views and Reviews, edited by Virginia Haviland, pp. 305–312 Scott, Foresman 1973, pp. 305–312
  • "Combined Ops". Junior Bookshelf 24 (July 1960):121–27. Reprinted in Egoff, Only Connect: Readings on Children's Literature, 1st ed., pp. 244–48; 2d ed., pp. 284–88. Describes the process of writing Eagle of the Ninth and The Lantern Bearers.

Collected papersEdit

In 1966 Sutcliff made a small donation to the de Grummond Children's Literature Collection at the University of Southern Mississippi in Hattiesburg, Mississippi. (In this she responded to Lena Grummond's international call for original materials to establish the Collection.) The Sutcliff Papers include a manuscript and two typescripts for the radio play The New Laird. That programme was taped 4 April 1966 and broadcast from Edinburgh on 17 May 1966 as part of the Stories from Scottish History series (BBC Radio Scotland). The collection also includes a small red composition book of research notes for The Lantern Bearers and for two unpublished works, The Amber Dolphin and The Red Dragon.[4]

Works about SutcliffEdit

  • Margaret Meek, Rosemary Sutcliff, New York, Henry Z. Walck, (1962), a brief biographical monograph and critical study.
  • John Rowe Townsend, "Rosemary Sutcliff", a critical essay in A Sense of Story: Essays on Contemporary Writers for Children, London, Longman, 1971, pp. 193–99. Reissued as A Sounding of Storytellers (1979).
  • Barbara L. Talcroft, Death of the Corn King: King and Goddess in Rosemary Sutcliff's Historical Novels for Young Adults, Metuchen, New Jersey and London: The Scarecrow Press, 1995.
  • Miriam Youngerman Miller, "The Rhythm of a Tongue: Literary Dialect in Rosemary Sutcliff's Novels of the Middle Ages for Children", Children's Literature Association Quarterly 19:1, Spring 1994, pp. 25–31.
  • Hilary Wright, Shadows on the Downs: Some Influences of Rudyard Kipling on Rosemary Sutcliff. Children's Literature in Education 12, No. 2:90-102 (Summer 1981)
  • The Search for Selfhood: The Historical Novels of Rosemary Sutcliff. TLS : Essays and Reviews from the Times Literary Supplement, 17 June 1965, p. 498. Reprinted in Only Connect: Readings on children's literature, ed. Sheila Egoff et al. Toronto New York: Oxford University Press (Canadian Branch), 1969, pp. 249–255.
  • Abby Mims, Rosemary Sutcliff in British Writers: Supplement 16. Ed. Jay Parini. Detroit: Charles Scribner's Sons, 2010. Web: Gale Literature Resource Center.


The biennial Hans Christian Andersen Award conferred by the International Board on Books for Young People is the highest recognition available to a writer or illustrator of children's books. Sutcliff was one of three runners-up for the writing award in 1974 (and the British nominee in 1968 as well).[2][3]

She won several awards for particular works.

Besides winning the 1959 Carnegie Medal, Sutcliff was a commended runner-up five times.[6][a] Alan Lee, who illustrated Sutcliff's posthumously published retellings of The Iliad and The Odyssey, won the companion Kate Greenaway Medal for the former, Black Ships Before Troy (1993).[10]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b Since 1995 there are usually eight books on the Carnegie shortlist. According to CCSU some runners up through 2002 were Commended (from 1954) or Highly Commended (from 1966). There were about 160 commendations of both kinds in 49 years including six each for 1954, 1956, and 1957; three each for 1958 and 1971 (none highly commended).
  2. ^ The Capricorn Bracelet (1973) is a collection of six inter-connected short stories, following several generations of Roman soldiers serving at Hadrian's Wall from the 1st to the 4th centuries. In the author's note Sutcliff says that they began as scripts about Roman Scotland, written for BBC Radio Scotland as part of a series called Stories from Scottish History. She gives no dates; the series ran from 1947 to 1972.
  3. ^ Thomas Keith was a young Scottish soldier in the 78th Highlanders regiment, captured in Egypt by Turkish forces during the Alexandria expedition of 1807. He converted to Islam, took the name Ibrahim Aga, and became governor of Medina in 1815. (See The Adventures of Thomas Keith in Ch. 12 of James Grant's The Scottish Soldiers of Fortune, pub. 1889)


  1. ^ a b c d e "Interview with Rosemary Sutcliff" (August 1986). Raymond H. Thompson. Taliesin's Successors: Interviews with authors of modern Arthurian literature. The Camelot Project at the University of Rochester. Retrieved 2012-11-19. This interview was undertaken for the periodical Avalon to Camelot; it inspired Thompson to undertake the series of 36.
  2. ^ a b "Hans Christian Andersen Awards". International Board on Books for Young People (IBBY). Retrieved 2013-07-28.
  3. ^ a b "Candidates for the Hans Christian Andersen Awards 1956–2002". The Hans Christian Andersen Awards, 1956–2002. IBBY. Gyldendal. 2002. Pages 110–18. Hosted by Austrian Literature Online ( Retrieved 2013-07-28.
  4. ^ a b "Rosemary Sutcliff Papers". de Grummond Children's Literature Collection. University of Southern Mississippi. Retrieved 2013-07-28.
  5. ^ a b (Carnegie Winner 1959) Archived 30 January 2013 at the Wayback Machine. Living Archive: Celebrating the Carnegie and Greenaway Winners. CILIP. Retrieved 2012-08-16.
  6. ^ a b "Carnegie Medal Award". 2007(?). Curriculum Lab. Elihu Burritt Library. Central Connecticut State University (CCSU). Retrieved 2012-08-16.
  7. ^ a b c "Phoenix Award Brochure 2012"[permanent dead link]. Children's Literature Association. Retrieved 2012-12-11.
    See also the current homepage "Phoenix Award" Archived 20 March 2012 at the Wayback Machine.
  8. ^ Barbara Carman Garner. "Sword Song as her "Swan Song": A Fitting Culmination of the Rosemary Sutcliff Legacy?" (PDF). Carleton University, Ottawa. Retrieved 29 May 2015.
  9. ^ a b c Rosemary Sutcliff at the Internet Speculative Fiction Database. Retrieved 2012-08-16.
  10. ^ (Greenaway Winner 1993) Archived 29 January 2013 at the Wayback Machine. Living Archive: Celebrating the Carnegie and Greenaway Winners. CILIP. Retrieved 2012-08-16.

External linksEdit