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, the quality and depth of her writing also appeals to adults. In a 1986 interview she said, "I would claim that my books are for children of all ages, from nine to ninety." Some of her novels were specifically written for adults.
14 December 1920
East Clandon, Surrey, England
|Died||23 July 1992
Chichester, West Sussex, England, UK
|Genre||Children's historical fiction, myth and legend|
|Notable awards||Carnegie Medal
Horn Book Award
Sutcliff was born 14 December 1920 to George Ernest Sutcliff and his wife Nessie Elizabeth, née Lawton, in East Clandon, Surrey. She spent her childhood in Malta and various naval bases where her father, a Royal Navy officer, was stationed. She was stricken with Still's Disease when she was very young, and thus used a wheelchair most of her life. Due to her chronic illness, Sutcliff spent most of her time with her mother—a tireless storyteller—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 disabling condition. 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.
After being inspired by the children's historical novels of Geoffrey Trease, Sutcliff's first published book was The Chronicles of Robin Hood (1950). Her best-known book may be The Eagle of the Ninth (Oxford, 1954), which inaugurated a series sometimes called Marcus or simply The Eagle of the Ninth. For that first book and for its sequel The Silver Branch (1957), she was a commended runner-up for the annual Carnegie Medal from the Library Association, recognising the year's best children's book by a British subject. She was also both a 1956 and a 1958 runner up (thus four times in five years) before winning the Medal for the third Marcus book, The Lantern Bearers (1959).[a] Where the first two books and one later 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 Tristan and Iseult (1971), retelling the Arthurian story of the same name; for that work she won the annual Horn Book Award in the United States. The Mark of the Horse Lord won the inaugural Phoenix Award in 1985, named by the Children's Literature Association the best English-language children's book that did not win a major award when it was originally published twenty years earlier. The Shining Company won the same award in 2010. It is named for the mythical bird phoenix, which is reborn from its ashes, to suggest the book's rise from obscurity.
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 was promoted to be a Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 1992. She wrote incessantly throughout her life and was still writing on the morning of her death in 1992. Sutcliff never married and had no children.
- Blue Remembered Hills: A recollection (1983); Sutcliff's memoir of her childhood and young adulthood.
- Houses and History (London: Batsford, 1960), illustrated by William Stobbs
- Rudyard Kipling (1960), a monograph
- Heroes and History (1965), illus. Charles Keeping
- A Saxon Settler (People of the Past, 1965), illus. John Lawrence
Eagle of the Ninth seriesEdit
The series 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.)
- The Eagle of the Ninth (1954), illus. C. Walter Hodges ‡
- The Silver Branch (1957), illus. Charles Keeping ‡
- Frontier Wolf (1980)
- The Lantern Bearers (1959)
- Sword at Sunset (1963); "officially for adults"
- Dawn Wind (1961), illus. Charles Keeping
- Sword Song (1997, posthumous)
- 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).
Raymond Thompson credits Sutcliff with "some of the finest contemporary recreations of the Arthurian story" and names these seven works. The first two are also part of the Eagle of the Ninth series (above) that attempt to depict Arthur as an actual historical figure.
- The Lantern Bearers (1959)
- Sword at Sunset (1963)
- Tristan and Iseult (1971); retells the story of Tristan and Iseult
- The Arthurian Trilogy (Inspired by Malory's Le Morte d'Arthur.)
- The Shining Company (1990); retells the Y Gododdin story (the earliest mention of Arthur's name)
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).
Other children's novelsEdit
- The Chronicles of Robin Hood (Oxford, 1950), illus. C. Walter Hodges — Sutcliff's first published book
- The Queen Elizabeth Story (1950) illus. C. Walter Hodges
- The Armourer's House (1951) illus. C. Walter Hodges
- Brother Dusty-Feet (1952), illus. by C. Walter Hodges
- Simon (1953), illus. Richard Kennedy, cover art by William Stobbs; set during the 17th-century English Civil War
- Outcast (1955), illus. Richard Kennedy
- Warrior Scarlet (1958), illus. Charles Keeping
- Knight's Fee (1960), illus. Charles Keeping
- Bridge Builders (1960), illus. Douglas Relf, about the building of Hadrian’s Wall. Originally published as a short story in Another Six (Another 6): Stories by Richard Armstrong, William Mayne, Noel Streatfeild, Patricia Lynch, A. Philippa Pearce, Rosemary Sutcliff. UK: Blackwell, 1959.
- Beowulf: Dragonslayer (1961) illus. Charles Keeping; retells the Beowulf story
- The Hound of Ulster (1963), illus. Victor Ambrus; retells the story of Cúchulainn
- The Mark of the Horse Lord (1965), illus. Charles Keeping
- The Chief's Daughter (1967), illus. Victor Ambrus
- The High Deeds of Finn MacCool (1967), illus. Michael Charleton
- A Circlet of Oak Leaves (1968), illus. Victor Ambrus
- The Witch's Brat (1970), illus. Richard Lebenson
- The Truce of the Games (1971), illus. Victor Ambrus
- Heather, Oak, and Olive (1972), illus. Victor Ambrus; a collection of three dramatic stories: "The Chief's Daughter", "A Circlet of Oak Leaves", and "A Crown of Wild Olive" (originally published as "The Truce of the Games")
- The Capricorn Bracelet (1973), illus. Charles Keeping (later, Richard Cuffari); six stories, linked by a Roman armilla (military decoration), that originated as radio scripts[b]
- The Changeling (1974), illus. Victor Ambrus
- We Lived in Drumfyvie (1975), by Sutcliff and Margaret Lyford-Pike. "The authors combine their talents to recreate 700 years in the life of an imaginary Scottish burgh. The folk of Drumfyvie tell their own stories. "
- Blood Feud (1976), illus. Charles Keeping. Adapted as a TV movie in 1990, titled Sea Dragon.
- Sun Horse, Moon Horse (1977), illus. Shirley Felts
- Shifting Sands (1977), illus. Laslzo Acs
- Song for a Dark Queen (1978); retells the story of Queen Boudica
- Eagle's Egg (1981), illus. Victor Ambrus
- Bonnie Dundee (1983), the story of John Graham, 1st Viscount of Dundee, and the Jacobite rising of 1689
- Flame-coloured Taffeta (1986), illus. Rachel Birkett
- The Roundabout Horse (1986) illus. Alan Marks
- A Little Dog Like You (1987) illus. Jane Johnson
- The Best of Rosemary Sutcliff (1987), illus. Charles Keeping — omnibus edition of Warrior Scarlet, The Mark of the Horse Lord, and Knight's Fee (1958–1965)
- The Minstrel and the Dragon Pup (1993, posthumous), illus. by Emma Chichester Clark; also serialised in Cricket
- Black Ships Before Troy (1993, posth.), illus. Alan Lee; retells the Iliad story; also serialised in Cricket
- Chess-dream in a Garden (1993, posth.), illus. Ralph Thompson A fantasy for children inspired by the Lewis Chessmen.
- The Wanderings of Odysseus (1995, posth.), illus. Alan Lee; retells the Odyssey story
Novels for adultsEdit
- Lady in Waiting (1957); set in Tudor England, the story of Bess Throckmorton, wife of Sir Walter Raleigh
- Rider on a White Horse (1959); set during the 17th century English Civil War, about Parliamentarian general Sir Thomas Fairfax and his wife Anne who travelled on campaign with him
- Sword at Sunset (1963); set in sub-Roman Britain, a story of King Arthur as the Romano-Celtic warrior prince he may have been; part of The Eagle of the Ninth series
- The Flowers of Adonis (1969); set in ancient Greece, about the brilliant but erratic Athenian general Alkibiades and the Peloponnesian War
- Blood and Sand (1987); set during the Napoleonic Wars, based on the life of Thomas Keith.[c]
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.
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.
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).
She won several awards for particular works.
- 1959 Carnegie Medal, The Lantern Bearers
- 1971 Zilveren Griffel (the Dutch Silver Pencil)
- 1972 Boston Globe-Horn Book Award, Tristan and Iseult
- 1978 The Other Award, Song for a Dark Queen
- 1985 Phoenix Award, The Mark of the Horse Lord (1965)
- 2010 Phoenix Award, The Shining Company (1990)
Besides winning the 1959 Carnegie Medal, Sutcliff was a commended runner-up five times.[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).
- 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).
- 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.
- 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)
- "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.
- "Hans Christian Andersen Awards". International Board on Books for Young People (IBBY). Retrieved 2013-07-28.
- "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 (literature.at). Retrieved 2013-07-28.
- "Rosemary Sutcliff Papers". de Grummond Children's Literature Collection. University of Southern Mississippi. Retrieved 2013-07-28.
- Rosemary Sutcliff at the Internet Speculative Fiction Database. Retrieved 2012-08-16.
- (Carnegie Winner 1959). Living Archive: Celebrating the Carnegie and Greenaway Winners. CILIP. Retrieved 2012-08-16.
- "Carnegie Medal Award". 2007(?). Curriculum Lab. Elihu Burritt Library. Central Connecticut State University (CCSU). Retrieved 2012-08-16.
- "Phoenix Award Brochure 2012". Children's Literature Association. Retrieved 2012-12-11.
See also the current homepage "Phoenix Award".
- Barbara Carman Garner. "Sword Song as her "Swan Song": A Fitting Culmination of the Rosemary Sutcliff Legacy?" (PDF). www.childlitass.org. Carleton University, Ottawa. Retrieved 29 May 2015.
- (Greenaway Winner 1993). Living Archive: Celebrating the Carnegie and Greenaway Winners. CILIP. Retrieved 2012-08-16.
- Official website – books, TV scripts, films, TV versions and life; by her literary executor Anthony Lawton
- Works by or about Rosemary Sutcliff in libraries (WorldCat catalog)
- Rosemary Sutcliff at the Internet Speculative Fiction Database
- Rosemary Sutcliff at Library of Congress Authorities, with 88 catalogue records
- Rosemary Sutcliff on IMDb
- "Rosemary Sutcliff: An Appreciation" by Sandra Garside-Neville, first published in Solander (Journal of the Historical Novel Society), No. 8, pp. 2–6, December 2000
- "Of the Minstrel Kind" by Margaret Meek, a tribute to Rosemary Sutcliff at seventy published in Books for Keeps No. 64, September 1990
- "Rosemary Sutcliff 1920–1992" at HistoricalNovels.info
- Sutcliff's Roman Britain novels reviewed by Eric Eller at The Green Man Review – provides synopses and discusses the series in the context of place and chronological setting
- Interview with Sutcliff on the Arthurian novel Sword at Sunset by Raymond H. Thompson, 1986], The Camelot Project, Robbins Library Digital Projects, University of Rochester
- "Obituary: Rosemary Sutcliff", Julia Eccleshare, The Independent, 27 July 1992