Creator / Rosemary Sutcliff
Armchair warrior

Rosemary Sutcliff (1920-1992) was a British writer of Young Adult Historical Fiction, who published some fifty books between 1950 and 1997. She is best-known for her novels set in Roman Britain, particularly The Eagle of the Ninth. She was appointed a Commander of the Order of the British Empire for her services to children's literature.

Sutcliff was the daughter of a Royal Navy commander, and much of her work focuses on military officers and the life of the service. At two years old, she developed juvenile arthritis which partially crippled her; she spent much of her childhood in and out of hospital and used a wheelchair in later life. Medicine and disabled characters play a prominent role in her fiction. She was educated largely at home by her mother, who introduced her to literature, especially Celtic Mythology and the Matter of Britain. She also became a great admirer of Rudyard Kipling, who strongly influences her prose, settings, and themes. As a young adult, she trained as an artist, working as a painter of miniatures. A vivid evocation of visual detail later translated to her writing.

She published her first books, The Chronicles of Robin Hood and The Queen Elizabeth Story, with Oxford University Press in 1950. They were followed by three more novels before her breakout bestseller The Eagle of the Ninth, which as School Study Media became the Trope Codifier of the Lost Roman Legion for generations of children, and has inspired several adaptations including the 2011 film The Eagle. It was eventually followed by seven loosely linked sequels sometimes known as "The Eagle of the Ninth Chronicles" or "the Dolphin Ring series", after the signet ring passed down through the generations of a Roman British family.

Sutcliff was commended six times for the UK's most prestigious award for children's writing, the Carnegie Medal. The Eagle of the Ninth (1954), The Shield Ring (1956), The Silver Branch (1957), and Warrior Scarlet (1958) were shortlisted before The Lantern Bearers won in 1959. After a rule change that allowed repeat winners, she received her final commendation for Tristan and Iseult in 1971.

The official site of her literary estate is A 1983 BBC Radio Desert Island Discs interview with Sutcliff can be heard here; a 1986 interview can be read here.

Works with their own pages:

Other works include examples of:

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    Recurring Tropes 
  • Action Film, Quiet Drama Scene: Her calling-card, too many to list.
  • Animal Motifs: In keeping with her broader focus on nature, lots of people get compared to symbolic animals:
  • Anyone Can Die: Protagonists, best friends, dads, mentors, dogs, horses, one is safe.
  • Author Appeal: Every trope in this folder, pretty much, but Heroic Sacrifice, Undying Loyalty, Description Porn, Heterosexual Life-Partners and a Canine Companion are a good start.
  • Author Catchphrase: Lots, including the coinages "woodshore" (the edge of the woods) and "house-place" (pointless alliteration).
    • The North "went up in flames" about once per book
    • "It is in my heart that" this is a long way to say "I think"
    • Leaf-buds are like green flame or smoke, fire is like a flower, white flowers are like curds, and sea-foam is like cream
    • "stirabout": because "stew" is cliche
    • "wave-lift": the shape a hill reminds one of, usually the Downs of southern England
    • A Celtic woman invariably "carried herself like a queen". She may also wear braids "as thick as a swordsman's wrist" and her love interest may be able to "warm my hands at you". If she's really into him it's probably a case of "whistle and I'll come to you my lad" (a line stolen from Robert Burns' poem.)
    • The green plover is always calling. Always.
      • To say nothing of the curlew.
    • Young men and dogs who "plunge joyfully" into fights.
    • "Juicy" wounds.
  • Based on a True Story: Most of her Historical Fiction is set in the context of true events. Though her protagonists are usually fictional characters on the ground, they often cross paths with a real Historical-Domain Character.
    • Shifting Sands dramatises the abandonment of Orkney's prehistoric Skara Brae site.
    • The Flowers of Adonis and A Crown of Wild Olive: the career of Alkibiades and the Peloponnesian War.
    • Sun Horse, Moon Horse is the story of the Iron Age artist who designs the White Horse of Uffington.
    • Song for a Dark Queen: the Roman conquest of Britain and the rebellion of Boudicca.
    • Eagle's Egg: Agricola's Caledonian campaigns and the Battle of Mons Graupius.
    • The Silver Branch: the Carausian rebellion.
    • Frontier Wolf is reportedly an incident from the 3rd Anglo-Afghan War Recycled In Space
    • The Lantern Bearers and Sword at Sunset: the Anglo-Saxon settlement of Britain and the possible historical King Arthur
    • Dawn Wind: the landing of Augustine of Canterbury, apostle to the English.
    • The Shining Company: the Battle of Catraeth.
    • Sword Song: the unification of Norway and Viking exodus to Scotland and Iceland.
    • Blood Feud: the foundation of Russia and Byzantine conquest of Bulgaria.
    • The Shield Ring: the Norse resistance against the Normans.
    • Knight's Fee: the battle of Tenchebrai.
    • The Witch's Brat: the founding of St. Bartholomew's Hospital.
    • Lady in Waiting: the career of Walter Raleigh
    • The Rider of the White Horse and Simon: the Civil War campaigns of Sir Thomas Fairfax.
    • Bonnie Dundee: the campaigns of Lord Dundee in the Covenanter and Jacobite rebellions.
    • Blood and Sand: Ottoman campaigns in Arabia and the career of Thomas Keith.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Victory is fleeting, but Heroic Sacrifice is forever. They'll Earn Their Happy Ending at the least; at worst The Hero Dies. And the dog dies. And the horse.
  • Bury Your Disabled: Averted, along with other disability tropes. This is Reality Subtext - Rosemary Sutcliff used a wheelchair for most of her life. Her soldier protagonists are prone to Career-Ending Injury.
    • Warrior Scarlet: Drem was born with an undeveloped right arm.
    • A Circlet of Oak Leaves: Aracos has a heart murmur that disqualifies him from the Roman cavalry.
    • The Fugitives: Lucian's legs were crippled by a childhood epidemic, probably polio.
    • Dawn Wind: Clubfooted Vadir Cedricson is perhaps her only disabled antagonist.
    • The Shining Company: Conn walks with a limp.
    • Sword Song: The warrior Onund Treefoot is named for his wooden leg.
    • The Witch's Brat: Lovel is born with a crooked back and foot, becomes an infirmarian monk, and more or less invents physiotherapy to help a man who crippled his leg in a fall.
    • The Queen Elizabeth Story
    • Lady in Waiting: Bess's friend and Historical-Domain Character Robin Cecil is hunchbacked.
    • Sword at Sunset: Artos's Companion Gwalchmai is clubfooted, but it doesn't stop him from being a cavalryman and a surgeon.
  • Cadre of Foreign Bodyguards: The bodyguard of the Byzantine emperor is featured in several novels as a kind of French Foreign Legion analogue. Jestyn, Thormod, and Anders are part of the founding of the Varangian Guard in Blood Feud; Prosper and Cynan ride off into the sunrise to join it at the end of The Shining Company; and Bedwyr is on his way to join it when he meets Artos and takes up with him instead in Sword at Sunset. Sir Everard d'Aguillon says he'd join it if he were young in Knight's Fee.
    • Allectus has a Saxon bodyguard/secret police/private army in The Silver Branch.
    • Thomas Keith, the Brave Scot servant of the Albanian rulers of Ottoman Egypt, in Blood and Sand. Considering he once fought off ten assassins single-handed and became a general and the governor of Medina, he might count as a cadre.
  • Canine Companion: Sutcliff Heroes Love Dogs, as she did. Besides most of her protagonists having one, several human characters are explicitly identified with dogs, and many Celtic characters have names including the word for dog, cu.
    • The Queen Elizabeth Story: Perdita and her friends rescue a puppy.
    • Brother Dusty-Feet: Big Friendly Dog Argos, whom Hugh runs away from home with to protect. Roland and Oliver are apparently each other's.
    • The Eagle of the Ninth: Cub, the tame wolf pup caught by Esca.
    • Outcast: Canog, a mistreated mongrel like her owner Beric; his childhood dog Gelert.
    • The Lantern Bearers: Artos's dog(s) Cabal, original to King Arthur mythos.
    • Warrior Scarlet: Whitethroat, for whose sake Drem fights a duel.
    • The Bridge-Builders: Math the Hibernian wolfhound
    • Knight's Fee: Joyeuse, named for a sword, to Bevis.
    • Dawn Wind: Dog the Post-Apocalyptic Dog, the other Sole Survivor of Owain's Last Stand.
    • Swallows in the Spring: Dexius's dim-witted hound, who crossed a warzone to find him.
    • Blood Feud: Brindle the cattle dog, whose death Jestyn tries to avenge on Vikings who then capture him.
    • Bonnie Dundee: Caspar the rescue dog is instrumental in reuniting the hero with his love interest.
    • The Shining Company: Gelert the loyal but dim
    • Sword Song: Astrid, whom Bjarni murders a man for kicking, and Hugin, who follows him home from Dublin.
  • Capital Letters Are Magic
  • Career-Ending Injury
    • The Eagle of the Ninth: Marcus is discharged from the army for a maimed leg.
    • The Mark of the Horse Lord: Midir was blinded to make him ritually unfit for kingship.
    • The Capricorn Bracelet: Lucius Calpurnius is invalided out of the legions.
    • Blood Feud: Jestyn's leg is maimed; he becomes a physician.
    • Simon: Simon's dad loses a leg in battle.
    • Bonnie Dundee: Hugh loses an arm; becomes a one-armed painter.
  • Celtic Mythology: Most of Sutcliff's fiction is set in the British Isles and Ireland, in a period when most of the population is Celtic. She wrote two volumes of Celtic legends, and referenced elements of Celtic mythology in many of her novels.
    • The Hound of Ulster: retells the life of Cú Chulainn, including the Táin Bó Cúailnge.
    • The High Deeds of Finn Mac Cool: retells the life of Fionn Mac Cumhail, including the Exile of the Sons of Uisnech.
    • The Shining Company is based on the semi-historical Welsh epic Y Gododdin.
    • In The Queen Elizabeth Story, an Irish great-aunt retells "The Children of Lir".
    • The Washer at the Ford, a forerunner of death, appears (or is thought to appear) in The Hound of Ulster, Song for a Dark Queen, Frontier Wolf, and Bonnie Dundee, and is perhaps alluded to in Flowering Dagger and The Changeling.
    • The Roman and Viking heroes of Frontier Wolf and Sword Song are familiar with Cuchulainn, and the Viking also hears about Fionoula and Iseult.
  • Childhood Friend Romance: Romance is not a prominent element in most of Sutcliff's stories, so if anyone does get together, it's probably two longtime platonic friends, and it's probably via Last Minute Hookup.
  • Conflicting Loyalties: Though their duty is usually clear, Sutcliff's characters are often challenged with personal ties to enemy friends or the other side of a Mixed Ancestry.
    • The Chief's Daughter: Ness arranges the escape of a captive she's befriended.
    • The Truce of the Games: Athenian Amyntas befriends Spartan Leon and debates whether To Be Lawful or Good.
    • The Changeling: Tethra chooses between his adopted father's and his birth mother's peoples.
    • The Eagle of the Ninth: Esca, a British rebel, owes his life and personal service to Marcus, a Roman soldier.
    • The Bridge-Builders: Androphon and Cador force a truce between Roman garrison and Celtic tribe.
    • Frontier Wolf: Alexios fights his best friend in a blood feud and the Arcani desert to the tribes.
    • The Lantern Bearers: Flavia and Ness marry into the enemy and Aquila spares the life of his Saxon nephew.
    • Sword at Sunset: Bedwyr and Guenhumara leave Artos over their Triang Relations.
    • Dawn Wind: British thrall Owain serves a Saxon family.
    • Blood Feud: Christian and doctor Jestyn swears a pagan blood feud.
    • The Rider of the White Horse and Simon: the English Civil Wars.
    • Bonnie Dundee: Hugh fights his rebel family as a redcoat.
    • Blood and Sand: Thomas Keith converts to Islam.
  • Culture Clash: Individuals connecting across cultural barriers is Sutcliff's bread and butter.
    • Briton vs. Briton: The Changeling, Warrior Scarlet, The Mark of the Horse Lord
    • Celts vs. Romans: Song for a Dark Queen, Eagle's Egg, The Eagle of the Ninth, Frontier Wolf, The Bridge-Builders
    • Roman Britons vs. Anglo-Saxons: The Silver Branch, The Lantern Bearers, Sword at Sunset, Dawn Wind
  • Dated History: Not all of her research has held up against later discoveries and interpretations – most egregiously, the Ninth Legion might or might not have been lost.
  • Did The Research: Nevertheless.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: The colonization of Roman Britain (or Norman England) and the crumbling of the Roman Empire evoke The British Empire, particularly The Raj, to the point of anachronism. Most of these novels were written during the dismantling of the British Empire and following in the footsteps of Rudyard Kipling.
    • The looming threat of the Saxon invasions and the imminent Dark Ages also evokes the Battle of Britain, which Sutcliff lived through in her early twenties.
  • End of an Age: The decline and fall of the Roman Empire in Britain, with the Dark Ages in the role of After the End.
  • Failure Is the Only Option: For the Celts against the Romans; the Britons against the Saxons; and the Saxons against the Normans. Versus history, basically.
  • Gray and Grey Morality: Despite frequently using light versus dark as shorthand for Order Versus Chaos, most stories acknowledge that the protagonists and antagonists are just people with opposing goals or incompatible worldviews, and the cultural perspective shifts from Roman to Celt to Saxon to Viking to Norman from book to book.
  • The Great Wall: Hadrian's Wall ("the Wall") and the Antonine Wall ("the Northern Wall") hold off the Picts and allow the Romans to monitor traffic between Roman Britain and the semi-lawless territory of Valentia. In narrative terms, many a Sutcliff protagonist crosses the Wall to have adventures beyond the pale, and the Wall is a refuge/plot goal that they must reach or prevent someone else from reaching.
  • Heterosexual Life-Partners: If it's not the central relationship of the book, the protagonist probably has one in the background. (Inevitably leads to Ho Yay.)
    • Simon: Simon and Amias are are symbolised by a pair of sabres and compared to David and Jonathan.
    • The Eagle of the Ninth: Marcus and Esca, whose eyes met across a crowded gladiatorial arena.
    • The Silver Branch: Justin and Flavius, long-lost cousins.
    • Warrior Scarlet: Drem and Vortrix
    • The Bridge-Builders: Androphon and Cador
    • Knight's Fee: Randal and Bevis, a squire and knight.
    • Sword at Sunset: Artos and Bedwyr
    • Blood Feud: Jestyn and Thormod, blood-brothers, compared to Achilles and Patroclus.
    • Sun Horse, Moon Horse: Lubrin and Dara
    • Blood and Sand: Historical Domain Characters Thomas Keith and Tussun Bey
    • The Shining Company: Prosper and Conn
    • We Lived in Drumfyvie: Jamie and Johnnie Douglas; Eckie Brock and Donal Dhu; Johnnie Forsyth and Hugh Maitland
    • Frontier Wolf: Alexios and Cunorix
    • A Crown of Wild Olive: Amyntas and Leon
  • Historical Domain Characters: Usually limited to cameos, but several novels are based on the lives of real (or allegedly real) people.
    • Lady in Waiting: Sir Walter Raleigh
    • The Rider of the White Horse: Sir Thomas Fairfax
    • Sword at Sunset: Artos
    • The Flowers of Adonis: Alcibiades
    • Song for a Dark Queen: Boudicca
    • Bonnie Dundee: John Graham of Claverhouse, Viscount Dundee
    • Blood and Sand: Thomas Keith
  • Honor Before Reason: Ubiquitous, usually in a heady combination of Undying Loyalty, Heroic Sacrifice, Because Destiny Says So, and Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death!
    • The Eagle of the Ninth: "Let's search the entirety of Scotland for the symbol of my father's lost honour!"
    • Sun Horse, Moon Horse: "I shall dedicate my masterpiece with my ritual suicide"
    • Sword at Sunset: "I can't possibly assassinate him, it's his destiny to kill me, for my sins. Also I shall let the vengeful children of my defeated enemies go free."
    • Blood Feud: "I will nurse my sworn enemy though tuberculosis"
    • Bonnie Dundee: "We must fight to the death for our rightful king, who has abdicated"
  • Human Sacrifice: A common thematic and plot point in pagan settings, often as a form of Heroic Sacrifice associated with kingship (an idea borrowed from Sir James Frazer's influential The Golden Bough.)
    • The Changeling: Tethra was saved from ritual infanticide by being switched with Murna's son.
    • Flowering Dagger: Brychan was conceived for the purpose of ritual infanticide.
    • The Flowers of Adonis: Alkibiades who (allegedly) sacrifices himself for Athens is identified with Adonis, a fertility god who symbolically dies every year.
    • The Mark of the Horse Lord: the Horse Lords are expected to commit some form of Heroic Suicide if hard times require a Human Sacrifice.
    • Sword at Sunset: Ditto the High King Ambrosius's death
    • Knight's Fee: The unexplained death of William II in the New Forest is suggested to have been ditto.
    • The Chief's Daughter: Nessan tags in for the friend who's supposed to be the victim, because she's the king('s daughter)
    • Sun Horse, Moon Horse: The horse has to be dedicated with a sacrifice. Of the guy who is sort of king.
  • Kill the Ones You Love: Sutcliff heroes, always making the hard choices.
    • Heterosexual Life-Partners Roundhead Simon and Cavalier Amias try and fail to kill each other in battle in Simon.
    • Roman Marcus kills his British might-have-been friend Cradoc in battle in The Eagle of the Ninth.
    • Owain euthanises his injured Canine Companion, Dog, in Dawn Wind.
    • Gladiator Phaedrus fights his only friend Vortimax to the death in the arena in The Mark of the Horse Lord.
    • Heterosexual Life-Partners Cuchulainn and Ferdia duel to the death in The Hound of Ulster, as in the legends on which it's based.
    • Lubrin Dhu is sacrificed by Cradoc, who would have been his friend if he hadn't conquered his tribe, in Sun Horse, Moon Horse.
    • We Used to Be Friends Thormod and Anders swear a blood feud over the deaths of their fathers in Blood Feud.
    • Alexios mercy-kills his best friend Cunorix's brother Connla, then fights Cunorix to the death in Frontier Wolf.
    • Redcoat Hugh kills his rebel cousin Alan, whom he had once idolised, and later puts down his wounded horse Jock, in Bonnie Dundee.
    • Cynan Mac Clydno mercy-kills his youngest brother, Cynran at the battle of Catraeth in The Shining Company.
    • Killing the wounded is considered more merciful than leaving them to the enemy by most of her soldier characters.
  • King Arthur: Sutcliff wrote four volumes of Arthurian legends, as well as making him a real person in her historical continuity, who is nostalgically invoked by characters of later ages.
    • Tristan and Iseult
    • The Sword and the Circle: Excalibur and the Round Table
    • The Light Beyond the Forest: the quest for the Holy Grail
    • The Road to Camlann
    • The Lantern Bearers: the young Artos appears as a secondary character.
    • Sword at Sunset: the adult Artos unites Britain against the Saxons.
    • The Shining Company: Artos's unified Britain has broken into smaller kingdoms.
    • Dawn Wind: Artos's last successors are defeated by the Saxons.
  • Made a Slave: Happens with some regularity to her protagonists or their sidekicks.
    • The Eagle of the Ninth: Esca
    • Outcast: Beric, Jason
    • The Mark of the Horse Lord: Midir
    • Blood Feud: Jestyn
    • The Shining Company: Conn
    • The Flowers of Adonis: Timandra; the entire (surviving) Sicilian expedition
    • Sun Horse, Moon Horse: the entire (surviving) Epidi tribe
    • The Lantern Bearers: Aquila in Jutland.
    • Dawn Wind: Both Owain and Regina in separate Saxon households.
    • Sword Song: Muirgoed and her son Erp Mac Meldin were royalty, enslaved by Jarl Sigurd.
    • Blood and Sand: Thomas Keith is taken prisoner and sold to Tussun Bey.
  • The Medic: One of the professions Sutcliff was most interested in, along with soldiers and artists. Several of her protagonists are medics, usually the Combat Medic:
    • The Silver Branch: Justin the Roman army surgeon
    • A Circlet of Oak Leaves: Aracos is a Roman army orderly.
    • The Witch's Brat: Lovel is an infirmarian monk.
    • We Lived in Drumfyvie: Wattie Aiken trains as an apothecary during a plague.
    • Blood Feud: Jestyn is a cow-doctor who becomes a physician.
  • Mixed Ancestry: As Britain is made of intermingled peoples, so too are Sutcliff's protagonists. (Or they might be adopted, giving them a mixed cultural heritage.) Rarely does anyone let them forget it.
    • Outcast: Beric is of indeterminate Roman and British ancestry, raised by Britons and then by Romans; each side considers him to be the other.
    • The Shield Ring: Bjorn is a Norseman with a Romano-Welsh ancestress.
    • The Silver Branch: Carausius is Romano-Hibernian; his Irish name is Curoi. The Flavius family are naturalised Romano-British.
    • Warrior Scarlet: Blai's mother was Irish, and there are people of mixed parentage among the Half People.
    • The Lantern Bearers: Flavia's son Mull is a Saxon who looks Roman like her, while Aquila's son Minnow is half-Welsh.
    • Sword at Sunset: Artos is half-Romano-British, half-Celtic, which is one of the reasons he's able to unite the two peoples.
    • Knight's Fee: Randal is the son of a Breton soldier and a Saxon lady.
    • The Mark of the Horse Lord: Phaedrus is the son of a Greek merchant and his British slavewoman, while Liadhan is the daughter of a Dalriad king and a Caledone princess.
    • The Changeling: The title character is an indigenous Little Dark Person raised in a Celtic tribe.
    • Blood Feud: Jestyn Englishman is the son of a Celtic father and an Anglo-Saxon mother.
    • Bonnie Dundee: Darklis Ruthven is the descendant of a Scottish noblewoman and a Romani king.
    • Dawn Wind: Uncle Widreth is the illegitimate son of a Saxon father and a British mother. He likes to claim she was a selkie.
  • Most Writers Are Writers: Sutcliff was both a painter and a writer. Though not nearly as numerous as soldier characters, several of her protagonists or narrators are The Storyteller or an artist.
    • The Armourer's House: draftsman Piers and storyteller Aunt Deborah
    • Brother Dusty-Feet: Playwright and storyteller Jonathan Whiteleafe
    • The Shield Ring: Warrior Poet Bjorn
    • Knight's Fee: Herluin the minstrel
    • Sword at Sunset: Bedwyr is a harper.
    • The Fugitives: Crippled sculptor Lucian.
    • Sun Horse, Moon Horse: Artist Lubrin Dhu
    • Song for a Dark Queen: Cadwan of the Harp, bard and First-Person Peripheral Narrator
    • Bonnie Dundee: Hugh Herriot, painter and memoirist
    • The Shining Company: Historical-Domain Character Aneirin the bard
  • Narrative Filigree
  • Officer and a Gentleman: Most of Sutcliff's heroes are their culture's equivalent, be it Roman army officers, chieftains' sons, or English knights. This is unsurprising, as Sutcliff's father was an officer and she grew up on Royal Navy bases (what is perhaps surprising is that she never wrote about Wooden Ships and Iron Men).
  • Order Versus Chaos: Romans and Roman Britons representing order and the Celts and Saxons representing chaos. Since the Sympathetic P.O.V. is usually on the Romans, order is generally seen as a good thing, but they're also shown to be at fault for inflexibility in dealing with their Celtic subjects.
  • Our Fairies Are Different: The Little Dark People are demythtified aboriginal Britons in her Historical Fiction. The Sidhe appear in her myth retellings like The Hound of Ulster and The High Deeds of Finn Mac Cool.
  • Perfectly Arranged Marriage: Truth in Television compels some characters into Arranged Marriage, but it inevitably turns out all right, after perhaps a little Belligerent Sexual Tension.
    • The Shield Ring: Gille to Gerd
    • Outcast: Lucilla to Valarius Longus
    • The Lantern Bearers: Aquila to Ness
    • The Rider of the White Horse: Anne to Thomas
    • Knight's Fee: Philip de Braose to Aanor
    • Sword at Sunset: Artos to Guenhumara
    • The Mark of the Horse Lord: Phaedrus to Murna
    • Song for a Dark Queen: Boudicca to Prasutagus
    • Sword Song: Aud to Olaf the White, Aesa to Onund Tree-foot, Groa to Dungadr
  • People Of Hair Colour: Romans, Picts, and Little Dark People are (you guessed it) mostly dark, while Celts, Saxons, and Norsemen are fair, and characters of Mixed Ancestry tend to look tellingly like the side of their parentage they identify less with.
  • Proud Warrior Race: Celts, Romans, Irish, Saxons, Vikings, Normans, Scots. . . all of them, in fact.
  • The Queen's Latin: There are no accents in text, but Roman characters clearly speak British English... in contrast to British characters.
  • Satellite Love Interest: To a degree. Female love interests are rounded characters, but their story function is to be the hero's female friend – they're seldom involved in the main events of the plot or connected to main characters other than the hero. Sutcliff's few female protagonists tend to have Deuteragonist male love interests.
    • Simon: Simon meets Susanna Killigrew for a single chapter. She doesn't come into contact with the rest of the cast until the epilogue.
    • The Eagle of the Ninth: Marcus literally forgets about Cottia while he's off on his quest, and she is completely absent from The Film of the Book.
    • The Lantern Bearers: Ness is a critical part of Aquila's Character Development, but has no scenes with other main characters.
    • Knight's Fee: Gisella appears in three scenes and interacts only with Randal.
    • Dawn Wind: Regina is off-screen for most of the book and interacts only with Owain.
    • Sword at Sunset: Guenhumara is a vital component of Triang Relations, but not of the rest of the plot and seldom interacts with anyone but her love interests.
    • Blood Feud: Alexia has no involvement in the A-plot and interacts primarily with Jestyn.
    • Blood and Sand: While the rest of the cast are based on real people, Thomas's wife Anoud was invented as a Standard Hero Reward.
    • The Shining Company: Princess Niamh's role in the story is to have an unrequited crush on Cynan Mac Clydno.
    • Sword Song: The other plot arcs are based on real people and events, but Angharad's arc is invented to introduce a love interest for Bjarni.
  • Scenery Porn: Prone to Description Porn of all kinds, especially in her most Slice of Life stories, but Scenery Porn is most abundant. Usually involves British Weather. Consider a typical description of Scotland in late winter:

    "They mounted the waiting ponies, and with hounds loping on in front, headed down the steep slope to the river crossing, where the black stone that the troops called the Lady stood in the sere winter grass beside the ford. They splashed across it and headed on up the estuary, past the faint track that Alexios had ridden with the old Commander on their courtesy visit to the Lord of Six Hundred Spears, and still on towards the ruins of Credigone and the eastern end of the old Northern Wall. Presently they turned inland, with no track to follow this time, leaving the narrowing estuary with its gulls and its crying and calling shore-birds behind them, and heading up a side glen where alder and hazel crowded the banks of a small fast burn. The burn was coming down in spate, running green with melting snow-water from the high moors, so that they must follow the bank a good way before they could come to a good crossing-place; but between the darkly sodden wreck of last year's bracken and the soft grey drift of the sky, the catkins were lengthening on the hazel bushes, making a kind of faint sunlight of their own, and in one especially sheltered place, as the two young men brushed past, the first pollen scattered from the whippy sprays so that they rode through a sudden golden mist. Even here at the world's end, spring was remembering the way back, and for a moment a sense of quickening caught almost painfully at Alexios somewhere below the breastbone." – Frontier Wolf, ch. 5

  • Shout-Out:
    • The Eagle of the Ninth's Esca is borrowed from George Whyte-Melville's The Gladiators.
    • To Rudyard Kipling alone:
      • Sutcliff reused several of the settings visited in Kipling's Puck of Pook's Hill and its sequel Rewards and Fairies (in which two children are told stories of England's past by various ghosts) in her novels, and directly lifted several of his turns of phrase. She also wrote a monograph about his writing for children (condensed version here).
      • Marcus Flavius Aquila of The Eagle of the Ninth was inspired by Parnesius, the similarly bushy-browed young Romano-British officer of auxiliaries from Puck of Pook's Hill.
      • Outcast's Justinius is inspired by "The Roman Centurion's Song".
      • The Dacian Cavalry, who appear in The Eagle of the Ninth, The Capricorn Bracelet, A Circlet of Oak Leaves and Swallows in the Spring, was not a historical unit. It's the outfit Parnesius wanted to join in "A Centurion of the Thirtieth".
      • Parnesius and Pertinax's participation in the cult of Mithras, which Kipling treats like his beloved Freemasonry, is probably the reason why Marcus, Justinius, Flavius, Alexios, and Ambrosius are Mithrans.
      • "The Men's Side" and "the Women's Side", which appear in all Sutcliff's British tribes, are inspired by "The Knife and the Naked Chalk"'s accompanying verse, "Song of the Men's Side", from Rewards and Fairies.
      • "Seisin", a ritual dedication that appears in Brother Dusty-Feet and Knight's Fee, is performed by the children in Puck.
      • The phrase "a singing magic", used by Flavia and Aquila in The Lantern Bearers and Ia in The Changeling, is taken from "The Cat Who Walked By Himself" in the Just So Stories.
      • "Oar-thresh", a word used by Bruni in The Lantern Bearers, is coined by a character in "The Finest Story in the World".
      • Jestyn's rowing song ("A long pull for Miklagard!") in Blood Feud is inspired by "Thorkild's Song" ("A long pull for Stavanger!") in Puck.
      • Sutcliff's The Bridge-Builders, in which no literal bridges are built, is presumably named in tribute to Kipling's The Bridge-Builders, in which one is.
  • Shown Their Work: Most of her stories are situated quite precisely in time and geography, though this is usually indicated via Cryptic Background Reference in her work for children. Her five adult novels are much more explicit about "kings, dates, and battles" (sometimes at the expense of character and plot, which may explain why they're generally less beloved.)
  • Supporting Protagonists: Heterosexual Life Partnerships are often seen from the perspective of the less dynamic (or socially inferior) of the pair. Historical Domain Characters are almost invariably presented through a Supporting Protagonist.
    • Shifting Sands: Blue Feather is the Damsel in Distress over which her love interest and the villain clash.
    • The Flowers of Adonis: the entire novel is narrated by characters who cross paths with protagonist Alkibiades.
    • Sun Horse, Moon Horse: Lubrin is the Black Sheep best friend of the future chief.
    • Song for a Dark Queen: the life of Boudicca and her family as witnessed by her harper.
    • The Silver Branch: Justin is The Lancer to his cousin Flavius
    • The Shining Company: Prosper is shield-bearer to knight Cynan
    • Sword Song: Bjarni is a hired sword to various real-life Viking lords
    • Blood Feud: Jestyn follows his blood brother to Constantinople
    • The Shield Ring: Frytha follows Bjorn around
    • Knight's Fee: Randal is squire to the d'Aguillons
    • Lady in Waiting: Elizabeth Throckmorten supports the career of her husband Sir Walter Ralegh
    • The Rider of the White Horse: Anne Fairfax follows her husband Sir Thomas through the English Civil Wars
    • Simon: Simon is the follower to Amias's leader
    • Bonnie Dundee: Hugh and Darklis are attendants to Lord and Lady Dundee
    • Flame-Coloured Taffeta: two children shelter a Jacobite adventurer
  • Trying Not to Cry: Men Don't Cry, and neither do women or children if they have any self-respect.
  • Turbulent Priest: There's a palpable aversion to religious fanaticism in many of Sutcliff books. Though there are as many good religious figures as not, the inimical ones are, unsurprisingly, more likely to affect the plot.
    • Simon: Though the Puritans are on the hero's side of the English Civil War, the extremely pious Zeal-for-the-Lord Relf uses scripture as an excuse for his private vendetta, and the ascetic Mistress Killigrew has rather crushed her daughter Susanna.
    • The Eagle of the Ninth: A wandering druid stirs up the tribal revolt at Isca Dumnoniorum.
    • Outcast: The village druid objects to the adoption of a Roman foundling because the Romans destroyed the druids.
    • Warrior Scarlet: The druid Midir, though eccentric, is highly respected and instrumental in reestablishing Drem in his tribe.
    • The Lantern Bearers: Brother Ninnias, a monk, helps Aquila on his escape and the rescue of his nephew, and helps him put his emotional problems into perspective.
    • Dawn Wind: The defeated Britons cling stubbornly to their Christian faith, unbeknownst to St. Augustine of Canterbury, the rather arrogant apostle to the Anglo-Saxons.
    • Sword at Sunset: Artos clashes with the landowning Church, who object to paying him to defend God (partly because they're already supporting the local people.) The Archbishop, however, is instrumental in appointing Artos leader of the Britons.
    • The Fugitives: Lucius makes a personal sacrifice to put the fugitive's fate in the hands of the gods.
    • The Chief's Daughter: The priest, though he initially requires a Human Sacrifice, reinterprets the signs so that Nessam doesn't have to die.
    • The Truce of the Games: Amyntas solves his moral dilemma by remembering his duty to the gods.
    • The Witch's Brat: Lovel becomes an infirmarian brother of the order that took him in as an orphan; Rahere changes careers from jester to monk.
    • We Lived in Drumfyvie: One Drumfyvie priest faces down the Sheriff to plead for a condemned prisoner; another nurses his flock through the plague; another loses his ministry for refusing to impose the Anglican ritual on his Presbyterian parishoners.
    • Shifting Sands: The despotic priest-king uses supernatural threats to keep the village in line.
    • Song for a Dark Queen: Boudicca's druid advisors encourage her to reject an alliance with the Catuvellauni out of revenge.
    • Frontier Wolf: Morvidd the druid encourages the Votadini to rebel against the Romans.
    • Bonnie Dundee: The Scottish Covenanters are a fanatical insurgency against King James, who unhesitatingly kill defenseless soldiers and perceived collaborators. Dundee himself, however, marries into a Covenanter family.
    • Sword Song: Bjarni kills an arrogant Christian missionary who kicks his dog. He also runs afoul of a priest of Thor whose daughter has a grudge against him. He later works for the Christian Aud the Deep-Minded and meets his pagan chief's Christian foster-brother, and accepts prime-signing out of respect for them. Aud ends a blood feud by refusing to exact further revenge on her son's killers.
  • The Verse: Despite a dearth of direct sequels, Word of God has it that "it is all part of the same series, really", as borne out by consistent world-building and a few recurring details.
    • The Dolphin Ring: The Flavius family's signet ring, a dolphin on a flawed emerald, is passed down through The Eagle of the Ninth, The Silver Branch, Frontier Wolf, The Lantern Bearers, Sword at Sunset, Dawn Wind, Sword Song, and The Shield Ring.
    • Artos, or King Arthur, in The Lantern Bearers, Sword at Sunset, Dawn Wind, and The Shining Company.
    • Frontier Wolves in The Mark of the Horse Lord, The Capricorn Bracelet, Frontier Wolf, and The Shining Company.
    • A song called "The Girl I Kissed At Clusium" in The Eagle of the Ninth, A Circlet of Oak Leaves, and Eagle's Egg.
    • Knight's Fee takes place in the same valley as Warrior Scarlet, featuring the Hill of Gathering. Lewin the shepherd's left-handed flint hand-axe is implied to have belonged to one-handed Drem.
  • Vestigial Empire: Britain, where most of her books are set, is of course cut loose from the crumbling Western Roman Empire and its inhabitants left to fend for themselves. The Lantern Bearers, Sword at Sunset, The Shining Company, and Dawn Wind are set in the immediately post-Roman period, but even 400 years later the Viking protagonist of Sword Song can recognise Roman ruins.
  • Undying Loyalty: A major source of Author Appeal.
    • The Eagle of the Ninth: "I am the Centurion's hound, to lie at the Centurion's feet."
    • The Silver Branch: "I am the Hound of Curoi"
    • The Lantern Bearers: "I never had a sister, but if I had, I hope I would be as loyal to her after twenty years"
    • Sword at Sunset: "I ran off with your wife but left her to come back to you"
    • Knight's Fee: "along with most of their faults he has learned the hound's chief virtue of faithfulness"
    • Blood Feud: "he had whistled me to heel like a hound; and like a hound I had followed"
    • Blood and Sand: "My boss sent an assassination squad after me, but we're still best friends"
  • White Stallion: A favourite symbol of leadership (and therefore Heroic Sacrifice)
    • The Rider of the White Horse: Sir Thomas Fairfax, Parliamentarian general, rides them
    • Dawn Wind: the Saxons set white stallions as the 'kings' of the horse herds and sacrifice them in place of men
    • Sword at Sunset: Artos rides white stallions and is crowned on the White Horse of Uffington
    • The Mark of the Horse Lord: Phaedrus sacrifices a white stallion at his coronation
    • Sun Horse, Moon Horse: a prince ransoms his tribe with the White Horse of Uffington

    Prehistoric Britain 

Shifting Sands (short story)

Orkney, 2000-1000 BCE. A twelve-year-old girl is promised to the tyrannical chief of her prehistoric village, who proposes to sacrifice the boy she prefers to the gods who protect the great sand dune on which the village sits.

Warrior Scarlet

Britain, 900 BCE. Drem must pass a warrior initiation ceremony with an atrophied right arm, or be cast out of his tribe to live among the people they conquered.

Flowering Dagger (short story)

Bronze Age Britain. A chief's daughter and a hostage from another tribe fall in love, before discovering an even more insurmountable obstacle.
  • Fourth Date Marriage: After being distantly acquainted for more than a year, Saba and Brychan suddenly notice each other for the first time, then immediately acknowledge a powerful sense of connection. They pledge their devotion to each other and make plans to elope during their second conversation.
  • Moses in the Bulrushes: Brychan was a Doorstop Baby. The titular dagger is his Orphan's Plot Trinket, which combined with his Distinguishing Mark leads to the revelation of his parentage.
  • Suddenly Suitable Suitor: Subverted. Yes, they're from the same tribe after all. That's not all they're both from!
  • Surprise Incest: Whoops.
  • Together in Death: Good thing they've got this dagger handy.
  • Foreshadowing: Pervasive. Aside from the characters' conscious hints in dialogue, we have:
    • The first paragraphs describe what the scene doesn't yet look like so early in the year, with full growth and beauty still to come, just as Saba and Brychan aren't yet mature (and never will be.)
    • Cuckoos aren't just a sign of spring
    • The women washing at a ford in the first scene is probably another of Sutcliff's references to the Washer at the Ford, a harbinger of death from Celtic Mythology.
    • The observation that Cordaella's husband was of the correct degree of kinship to marry, and that Saba is more free to choose, is ironic. Cordaella and Garim's sibling interaction is a marked contrast to Saba and Brychan in the same scene.
    • The death of the bee by the sting that's compared to the dagger, the superstitious associations of the elder flower the bee is sitting on, and Saba's remark that she doesn't care if Brychan hurts her removing the sting.
    • The observation that Brychan's parents' relationship didn't get enough time for "flowering and fruiting", just as his won't.
    • The symbolism of flowering dagger, whose blade holds both life (the flower design) and death, and which is both beautiful and fatal, like Saba and Brychan's love for each other.

The Chief's Daughter (short story)

Bronze Age Wales. Nessan frees a prisoner intended for human sacrifice and volunteers to take his place.
  • The Chief's Daughter: Averted; the protagonist is the chief's daughter. And she's ten.
  • Cargo Cult: Nessan's people worship a standing stone called the Black Mother. The negotiation of sacred debt that causes the characters so much mental agony is all done in the name of a rock.
  • Equivalent Exchange: Nessan initially saved Dara from Human Sacrifice by offering a glass bracelet to the Black Mother. When the stream dries up and the priest decides they need to sacrifice him after all, she engineers his escape knowing that someone will have to take his place. His guard knows he'll have to take the fall, until Nessan volunteers in his place. When Dara comes upon the Black Mother and finds a spear left as an offering, he takes it in exchange for all his food, inadvertently undamming the stream. When the water returns, the priest concludes that Nessan's willingness to die was an acceptable sacrifice.
  • Ridiculously Difficult Route: Nessan sends Dara down the cliff face that's usually covered by the water of the stream.

Sun Horse, Moon Horse

100 BCE. Lubrin Dhu, the Iceni chief's Black Sheep artist son, finds himself the spokesman of his clan when they are conquered by the Attribates. He ransoms his Slave Race with the design and construction of a great boundary marker and his own Heroic Sacrifice.
  • Because Destiny Says So: As Lubrin puts it, "it is the pattern of things."
  • Friendly Enemy: Lubrin and Cradock might have been friends, if Cradock hadn't conquered his tribe and enslaved him.
  • Human Sacrifice: The White Horse must be dedicated with a death, and a chieftain must die for the good of his people.
  • Landmark of Lore: The Iceni's building project is the famous prehistoric chalk drawing the White Horse of Uffington.
  • Matriarchy: Almost. The patriarchal Attribates assume Lubrin, the chief's surviving son, is the new chief of the Iceni. They're actually matrilineal, so the rightful leader is his sister's husband Dara.
  • The Migration: The novel purports to explain the coincidence of both the Scottish Epidi tribe's and the East Anglian Iceni's names meaning "horse people" by having Lubrin's conquered Iceni depart for greener pastures in Argyll that Lubrin and Dara once heard of from a wandering trader.
  • Solar and Lunar: The Iceni worship a moon goddess and the Atribates a sun god. The White Horse secretly symbolises both.
  • White Stallion: What the White Horse was supposed to be. Cradock remarks after it's finished that he may not be an artist, but he can recognise a mare when he sees one.

The Changeling (short story)

Prehistoric Argyll. Tethra, a changeling child adopted by the chief of the Epidi, is driven out to rejoin the Little Dark People. When his father is mortally wounded, he must choose between his two tribes.

     Classical Greece 

The Flowers of Adonis (adult novel)

Greece, 415-404 BCE. The rise and fall (and rise and fall and rise and fall) of Alkibiades, the notorious Athenian politician - and of Athens - through the eyes of his companions as he sets out on the Sicilian Expedition, reignites The Peloponnesian War, seduces the queen of Sparta, escapes to the Persians, is welcomed back with open arms by the Athenians, and then loses it all again.
  • Historical-Domain Character: Alkibiades; Antiochus; Timandra (loosely); Timea; Agis; Endius; Pharnobazus; Socrates; many others.
  • Supporting Protagonist: At least eleven, including one from beyond the grave: the Citizen, the Soldier, the Seaman, the Dead, the Priest, the Queen, the King, the Spartan, the Rower, the Whore, the Satrap.
  • Protagonist-Centered Morality: Sympathetic character = forgives Alkibiades anything.
  • But Not Too Gay: Alkibiades is said by Antiochus to be strictly a ladies' man, though he was noted for his beauty in a society where bisexuality was normal (this is consistent with Plutarch's remark that he spurned all his admirers but Socrates.) Arcadius ("The Soldier") falls in love with a comrade who dies before they can do anything about it, and then is never interested in another man.

The Truce of the Games / A Crown of Wild Olive (short story)

Greece, 412 BCE. A young Athenian runner befriends his Spartan competitor at the Olympic Games in the middle of The Peloponnesian War.
  • To Be Lawful or Good: Amyntas is torn between his duty to represent his city and honour the gods, and his feeling that No Challenge Equals No Satisfaction after Leon is injured.
  • Don't You Dare Pity Me!: It's The Spartan Way. Leon refuses to acknowledge to Amyntas that his injury might affect his performance. Leon is trying to validate the race for Amyntas, as Amyntas did for him by competing in earnest.
  • Suck Out the Poison: In a gratuitous, poison-free example, Amyntas washes the dirt out of Leon's cut foot, then sucks it just to be sure.
  • My Country, Right or Wrong: After the Olympic truce expires, Athens and Sparta will resume their war and Amyntas and Leon will return home and enter opposing armies. There is no third option, and they have no realistic hope of meeting again without bitterness.

     Roman Britain 

Song for a Dark Queen

20s-61 CE. Boudicca, young queen of the Iceni, eventually makes her peace with her bitterly-resented requirement of a male chieftain and a political marriage. But when the Roman authorities plan to annex her entire kingdom, she leads the British tribes in a bloody uprising.
  • Anti-Hero: She killed seventy or eighty thousand people, most of them civilians, in real life.
  • Based on a True Story
  • Belligerent Sexual Tension: Boudicca is the only belligerent, because Prasutagus is a patient Dogged Nice Guy.
  • Defiled Forever: The Princesses Essylt and Nessan are part of the line of sacred and untouchable priest-queens, so when there's a danger of the tribe perceiving them this way after they're raped (off-screen) by the Romans, their mother Boudicca stamps down hard. The tactless young warriors who try to take liberties with them narrowly escape Human Sacrifice.
  • Deliberate Values Dissonance: The Iceni have uncongenial attitudes to murder. Killing someone completely harmless without making them suffer too much or mounting a Worthy Opponent's head on a stick are noted as gestures of mercy and respect. In the most marked example, Boudicca kills some Roman women in a way that even the narrator finds unspeakable, then is horrified. . . that she might have profaned the ritual because she got some political gain out of it.
  • Divided We Fall: The Iceni and other surrounding tribes choose not to support the Catuvellauni, the powerful tribe embattled by the Romans, because they've already suffered the Catuvellauni's expansionist policy. It turns out The Roman Empire is worse than the devil you know.
  • Elective Monarchy: The Iceni head of state is the hereditary Queen, but her husband the King is chosen for her by her parents' Council of chieftains and priests (all of whom seem to be men).
  • Epistolary Novel: Partially – starting about halfway through the novel, the chapters are ended by letters written by Gnaeus Julius Agricola to his mother, explaining events from the Roman perspective. The main body of the text is narrated off the cuff by the Iceni's official historian, Cadwan of the Harp, as he lies dying under a tree at the end of the story.
  • Heir Club for Men: Inverted. Prasutagus won't come into his full power as King until he provides the Queen with a female heir, another reason to be frustrated that Boudicca is having none of him.
  • Historical-Domain Character: Boudicca, Prasutagus, their daughters; Caratacus; Agricola, Suetonius Paulinus, Claudius, and other Roman officials and officers.
  • Human Sacrifice: Boudicca has the captured women of Camulodunum sacrificed to her mother goddess in some manner too brutal for the narrator to describe. She's also interrupted in sacrificing a couple of presumptuous young warriors who hit on her daughters.
  • Incurable Cough of Death: The first sign of Prasutagus's heart defect and the fever that kills him.
  • Rape as Drama: Boudicca's teenage daughters are raped by the Romans as punishment for the death of a Roman who harassed them, while Boudicca is given A Taste of the Lash. The incident is part of the Roman traditions about Boudicca's motivations for the uprising.
  • Rescue Romance: Boudicca rejects Prasutagus until he nearly dies protecting her during a stampede, whereupon she suffers a Love Epiphany and nurses him back to health, and it turns out they have a Perfectly Arranged Marriage after all.
  • Roaring Rampage of Revenge: In return for Roman offenses, Boudicca reduced Camulodunum, Verulamium and Londinium to smoking ruins, before Suetonius delivered a No Holds Barred Beat Down.
  • Supporting Protagonist: The two narrators, a bard with an avuncular relationship to Boudicca who reveals virtually nothing about himself otherwise, and a Roman observer who doesn't affect the plot in any way.
  • Tagalong Chronicler: The narrator Cadwan of the Harp has the useful function of following the protagonist Boudicca around on campaign as her official historian, but also of witnessing moments with Prasutagus and Nessan that Boudicca isn't present for. Other than serving as a camera, he is self-effacing.
  • This Is My Side: Boudicca divides her marriage-bed. The line is her drawn sword. Prasutagus has no intention of forcing her to do anything, so this state of affairs continues for months.
  • Young Future Famous People: Agricola, later the Governor and conqueror of the farthest extent of Roman Britain, happens to have also been around during the Boudiccan Revolt, but not doing too much and free to narrate some of the novel for us.

The Capricorn Bracelet

Six short stories of a Romano-British family, linked by an heirloom military decoration, from the Boudiccan Rebellion to the end of the Roman occupation.

Eagle's Egg (short story)

80-83 CE. Quintus, a standard-bearer, can't marry Cordaella without a promotion to Centurion, but it will take Agricola's three-year Caledonian campaign, a mutiny, and the battle of Mons Graupius to get it.

The Bridge-Builders (short story)

Androphon, the son of a fort commander on the western border of Roman Britain, is held hostage by Britons during a territorial dispute.
  • I Have Your Son: Kyndylan the Chief plans to use Androphon as leverage for persuading the Commander to abandon the construction of the signal tower.
  • She Will Come for Me: Androphon threatens Kyndylan with his father's Disproportionate Retribution, but he's bluffing, as the Romans don't know where Kyndylan's village is, and Kyndylan is planning to move him somewhere better hidden anyway.
  • Shame If Something Happened: The story is bookended by two indirectly threatening conversations. Kyndylan claims that his hotheaded young warriors will be upset by the building of a signal tower in the tribe's lands, leading the Commander to predict a series of fatal accidents during the construction. Then Androphon pointedly doesn't accuse his "host" of kidnapping him, so that the Commander can spare the British village and Kyndylan can cooperate in return.

The Eagle of the Ninth

126-9 CE. Marcus and Esca search Caledonia for the eagle standard of the lost Ninth Legion.

"Swallows in the Spring" (short story)

Circa 130 CE. A survivor of the Ninth Legion returns to Eburacum.
  • Lost Roman Legion: The vanished Ninth Legion casts a long shadow over their replacements the Sixth Victrix, even a dozen years after their disappearance. No one knows whether they were really destroyed, or worse, deserted.
  • Shell-Shocked Veteran: Fulvius, who was left behind by the Ninth and then kept in the same fort as part of the Sixth; Stripey; and to some extent the narrator, Dexius, who claims that a lifetime in the frontier garrisons would drive anyone mad.
  • Stranger in a Familiar Land: Stripey was one of Fulvius's men from the Ninth Legion, but he's so covered in Pict tattoos he's unrecognisable, and so traumatised that he can't tell anyone.


140s CE. Beric, a Roman foundling, is cast out of his adoptive British tribe and enslaved in Rome.

A Circlet of Oak Leaves (short story)

150s CE. Aracos, a medical orderly, turns a battle against British tribesmen while disguised as a standard bearer.
  • Emergency Impersonation: Aracos takes the place of nearly-Identical Stranger Felix, a Shell-Shocked Veteran, so Felix won't be charged with desertion.
  • Battle Amongst the Flames: The valour of the auxiliary cavalry is at issue in the tavern because they stampeded when the Picts fired the heather. Only the Dacian cavalry, which Aracos led, rode through the flames because they train their mounts to charge through fire in a trick riding display. Aracos collapses afterward from smoke inhalation.
  • Scrap Heap Hero: Aracos, two or three times over – rejected from the cavalry for a heart defect, left to join the medical corps; invalided out of the army, ending up an obscure horse-breaker in Britain; and by the end of the story, believed to have lied about winning the Corona Civica by everyone in his local pub.
  • Slave Galley: Beric spends two years in the army's Rhenus fleet, chained to a rowing bench alongside his oar-mate Jason.

"The Fugitives" (short story)

Lucian, an army officer's paralysed son, hides a deserter from the men sent to recapture him.

The Mark of the Horse Lord

180s CE. Phaedrus, a freed gladiator, plays the role of lost heir to the patriarchal Dalriads in their war of succession against the matriarchal Caledones.

The Silver Branch

290s CE. Justin and Flavian stumble upon a conspiracy to assassinate the emperor Carausius and join La Résistance against the Saxon-allied usurper of Britain.

Frontier Wolf

340s CE. Alexios, a disgraced officer, is Reassigned to Antarctica to command the irregular Frontier Scouts in a precarious border outpost.

     The Dark Ages 

The Lantern Bearers

450-470s CE. Aquila deserts from the departing legions and devotes his life to holding off the Saxons from Roman Britain.

Sword at Sunset (adult novel)

480-510s CE. A generation after the withdrawal of Roman forces from Britain, King Arthur struggles to unite Romano-Britons, Celtic tribes, and the elusive Little Dark People against the Saxon invasions.

Dawn Wind

585-597 CE. Owain, a Briton, becomes a Saxon thrall and is drawn into the affairs of a Saxon family.

The Shining Company

595-600 CE. Prosper, a Welsh shieldbearer, recounts the mustering and destruction of the Gododdin host against the Saxons of Catraeth.
  • All First Person Narrators Write Like Novelists: The Company's has a Tagalong Chronicler, Historical-Domain Character Aneirin the bard, who will eventually compose the elegiac poem Y Gododdin in its memory. It is therefore somewhat amusing that an anonymous shieldbearer like Prosper is apparently equally capable of writing a novel about it.
  • Alliterative Family: Cynan, Cynran, and Cynri Mac Clydno, who originate in Welsh legend.
  • An Asskicking Christmas: Mynyddog's second equipment-giving feast is at Midwinter. The Company and the Teulu, the king's bodyguard, fall to arguing about the Champion's portion of the roast and end up in a mead-fuelled brawl and nearly burn down Dyn Eidin.
  • Cadre of Foreign Bodyguards: Prosper and Cynan ride off into the sunrise to join the Emperor of Constantinople's Varangian Guard, on the pretext of a Macguffin Escort Mission.
  • Calling the Old Man Out: Aneirin and Prosper's account of the battle in the Hall in Dyn Eidin turns into calling Mynyddog to account for his failure to reinforce them.
  • Continuity Nod: Prosper and Co. spend their wakefulness test in the wolf-haunted ruins of Castellum in a Shout Out to Frontier Wolf. The various references to King Arthur are also specifically to Sword at Sunset.
  • Defeat Means Friendship: Zig-zagged. Prosper accidentally shames a shieldbearer named Faelinn during a Trust-Building Blunder, and Faelinn resents it until another test exposes the same weakness in Prosper to him. They fall together during the siege of Catraeth and become Cynan's replacement shieldbearers, and though still not exactly friends, they'd rather go into the Last Stand together than not.
  • Divided We Fall: Mynyddog of the Gododdin is trying to unite a warhost of the kingdoms of the northwest, in the tradition of Artos, to check the expanding Saxon kingdom of Deira. His fellow rulers decline to send troops to his support, and the Shining Company is sacrificed in the hope of killing the dynamic king of Deira.
  • Due to the Dead: The earlier dead are buried in mass graves, stripped of their precious equipment but left their personal ornaments. There's no one left to bury the last of the Company, but their memorial will be the song of Aneirin, Y Gododdin.
  • Everybody's Dead, Dave: Prosper and Cynan are the Sole Survivors of the Shining Company, and that's by accident.
  • Fog of War: The ability to conjure a concealing fog is said to be an ability of druids, of which Aneirin is one. He actually manages to do it on the night of the Last Stand.
  • Heroic Bastard: Ceredig the Fosterling, captain of the Teulu and the Company. Prosper speculates that Mynyddog may never have publicly acknowledged him as his son until sending him off on his Suicide Mission.
  • It Has Been an Honor: Part of Ceredig the Fosterling's Rousing Speech.
  • King Arthur: Artos (as seen in Sword at Sunset) is the optimistic precedent for the effectiveness of a Company of three hundred. The other precedent is the Spartans at Thermopylae. Y Gododdin happens to be the earliest record of Arthur.
  • Last Stand: When two-thirds of the Company are dead and their reinforcements fail to materialise, the Fosterling decides on a Self-Destructive Charge in the hopes of Taking You with Me, since they have no chance of escaping the encircling Saxons.
  • Line in the Sand: The Fosterling offers everyone (still alive) the chance to Opt Out of the Self-Destructive Charge, judgement-free. No one does, of course.
  • The Marvelous Deer: Prosper, Conn, and Luned are the first to sight the white hart that they decide to protect from the prince Gorthyn's hunting. Gorthyn calls off the hunt himself on seeing the deer and thereby wins Prosper's loyalty and his services as shieldbearer.
  • Shell-Shocked Veteran: Cynan is one part concussion, one part the deaths of his brothers, and one part betrayal.
  • The Siege: The Company takes Catraeth to hold it in advance of the British war hosts' arrival. The Cavalry doesn't come, and they find themselves trapped in their ruined fortress.
  • Single Girl Seeks Most Popular Guy: Ladies' man Cynan and his very devoted old friend, the Princess Niamh. He's too damaged to requite her, but he rides away wearing The Lady's Favour.
  • The Storyteller: Aneirin, the poet of Y Gododdin, whose job it is to immortalise the Company in song.
  • Suicide Mission: Mynyddog knows almost as soon as the Company has left that no help is coming from his neighbours and he can't afford to waste the rest of his war host rescuing them. He doesn't recall them, on the off chance that they might manage to kill the expansionist Saxon king. They have no idea.
  • Two Guys and a Girl: Prosper's two childhood friends are his cousin Luned with whom he's Like Brother and Sister, and his bondservant Conn. Prosper thinks at one point that his father might marry him to Luned, but Conn and Luned are more attracted to each other, and in the end he sends Conn home as a free man to marry her if he can.
  • Very Loosely Based on a True Story: The novel is based on Y Gododdin, an elegiac poem allegedly written by an eyewitness of the battle, but since the major drama of the poem is that all the heroes die, the novel focuses on their unnamed supporters, the shieldbearers like Prosper.
  • We Have Reserves: Subverted. Mynyddog is forced to cut his losses with the Shining Company precisely because, lacking reinforcements from his neighbours, he can't afford to commit the Gododdin host to bail them out and leave his territory defenseless.

Sword Song

890s CE. Bjarni Sigurdson, a Norwegian Viking, is exiled from his British settlement for killing the man who kicked his dog and sells his sword as a mercenary, embroiling himself in the feuds of Viking earls from Dublin to the Orkneys.

Blood Feud

985-990 CE. Jestyn, an English Christian, joins his Viking blood brother on a pagan feud that takes them to the Byzantine Empire.
  • All First Person Narrators Write Like Novelists
  • Aluminum Christmas Trees: Hunting with tame cheetahs. It was a thing, apparently.
  • Blood Brothers: Jestyn makes Thormod make them blood brothers so that Thormod won't leave him behind on his blood feud. This has the downside that Jestyn actually has to carry out Thormod's blood feud.
  • Cadre of Foreign Bodyguards: Jestyn, Thormod, Anders, and the rest of their crews are part of the founding of the Byzantine emperor's Varangian Guard.
  • Combat Medic: Jestyn starts his career as a cow doctor, then becomes a Viking and a mercenary, then becomes a physician's orderly who's vowed to kill somebody.
  • Conveniently an Orphan: Jestyn's parents die when he's a child, which makes the decision to follow Thormod to Denmark and settle in Byzantium simple. He says that his wife worries he's nostalgic for England, but he has no reason to ever return there.
  • Cycle of Revenge: Thormod and Jestyn return home to find that Thormod's father has accidentally killed a neighbour, and his sons, Thormod's best friends, have duly killed him, and expect Thormod to hunt them down in Miklagard for a Duel to the Death. Jestyn's blood brotherhood with Thormod obligates him to carry on the feud, and the conflict with his beliefs as a Christian and a doctor is the ethical crux of the novel.
  • For Want of a Nail: Jestyn goes east from his village instead of west because the wind is behind him. It affects the whole outcome of his life.
  • Historical-Domain Character: Khan Vladimir of Kiev, Basil II and Anna of Byzantium
  • Loophole Abuse: Though he's put off his Inconvenient Hippocratic Oath for just this moment, when Anders staggers to his door to assassinate him, Jestyn can't bring himself to murder a guy who's already dying of tuberculosis. He does his best to save him, but assures Anders that Thormod already killed him when he stabbed him in the lung and pushed him into the river – it just took longer than they thought it would.
  • Mixed Ancestry: Jestyn Englishman has a Saxon mother and a wandering Celtic blacksmith father. Erland Silkbeard is an early Russian, half Scandinavian and half easterner.
  • Never Learned to Read: Jestyn speaks Cornish, English, Norse, and Greek, but can't read, so Alexia teaches him with The Iliad as setup for an Achilles and Patroclus metaphor.
  • Pragmatic Adaptation: Blood Feud was adapted into a 1990 mini-series called The Sea Dragon, a British and Scandinavian co-production. The scenes in Greece and Russia were revised to take place in Scandinavia.
  • Rescue Romance: When Jestyn meets Alexia, he doesn't just save her from a marauding cheetah, he proceeds to deliver her pet gazelle's fawn by caesarian section. She then takes him in off the street when he's out of a job.
  • Shout-Out: Jestyn's rowing-song, with the chorus "A long pull for Miklagard!" is a riff on Rudyard Kipling's "Thorkild's Song" in Puck of Pook's Hill.

     Norman England 

The Shield Ring

1090-1103 CE. Tomboy Frytha and Warrior Poet Bjorn defend the last hidden Norse stronghold against the Normans.

Knight's Fee

1094-1106 CE. Randall, a half-Saxon dog-boy, is raised as a squire by the Norman lords of a feudal manor.

The Witch's Brat

12th century CE. Lovel, an orphan with a crooked back and foot, becomes an infirmarian monk and helps found St. Bartholomew's hospital.

     Tudor England 

The Armourer's House

1534 CE. Tamsyn Caunter, who desperately wishes she could be a merchant venturer, must instead go to live with her uncle in London. She settles into the colourful life of the household and city while sharing the secret of their mutual seafaring ambition with her quiet cousin Piers.

Brother Dusty-Feet

1580s CE. A runaway headed for Oxford joins a troupe of strolling players.

The Queen Elizabeth Story

16th century CE. Perdita Pettle, who can see "Pharisees", is granted her wish to see the Queen's Grace in a year and a day. The year passes through the adventures of Elizabethan country childhood.

Lady In Waiting (adult novel)

1566-1618 CE. Sir Walter Ralegh spends his life courting royal support for his expeditions to the New World, and his wife Bess spends hers supporting her husband's all-consuming dream.
  • Happily Married: Despite the fact that their whole family life revolves around Ralegh's dangerous, time-consuming career, they love each other and she doesn't resent it.
  • Historical-Domain Character: Elizabeth Throckmorton, Sir Walter Raleigh, their family; Elizabeth I; Sir Robert Cecil; Henry Stuart; many others.

     Stuart & Hanover 

The Rider of the White Horse (adult novel)

English Civil War. Sir Thomas Fairfax, followed by his wife Anne, commands Parliamentarian forces in the northern campaign of the war, culminating in the battle of Marston Moor.


1640s. Heterosexual Life-Partners Simon Carey and Amias Hannaford join up on opposite sides of the English Civil War. Simon's estrangement from Amias, and his corporal Zeal-for-the-Lord Relf's vendetta against a treacherous friend, are ultimately tested in the battle of Torrington.
  • Fighting the Lancer: Simon is The Lancer to Amias, and their years-long estrangement forces Simon to become independent of him and weighs their personal against their political loyalties.
  • Roaring Rampage of Revenge: The novel's major subplot. Zeal-for-the-Lord Relf, though a fanatical believer in the Puritan cause, goes AWOL from the the Parliamentarian army to avenge himself on a former friend and neighbour who has stolen from him, deserts again after being recaptured and given A Taste of the Lash, and then joins the Royalist army in order to get close enough to the traitor to kill him. He genuinely doesn't understand why he isn't allowed to do any of this.
  • Serious Business: The thing that the neighbour stole from Zeal-for-the-Lord is... a fancy tulip bulb he'd bred.
  • Very Loosely Based on a True Story: The church really did blow up, and no one knows who did it.
  • Contrived Coincidence: Much of the plot depends on improbable reunions and Infallible Babble, though admittedly it all takes place in Devon.
  • Historical-Domain Character: Sir Thomas Fairfax, Col. Ireton, Maj. Disbrow, Sir Philip "Daddy" Skippon, Oliver Cromwell, Dr. David Morrison, Chaplain Joshua Sprigg, and other Parliamentarian officers and pastors; Royalist commanders

Bonnie Dundee

1680s Scotland. Hugh Herriot becomes galloper to Claverhouse, leader of government forces against the Scottish Covenanters. When William of Orange takes the English throne, Claverhouse's men become rebels in turn.
  • An Arm and a Leg: Hugh retires from soldiering in France when he loses an arm. So the obvious thing to do is take up painting instead.
  • Conflicting Loyalties: Young Hugh initially wavers between his extremist Scottish Covenanter family and the forces of law and order, which his Fiery Redhead cousin Alan quickly resolves for him by executing a wounded Government soldier in front of him. He feels some misgivings about following Claverhouse back into his native country in a red coat, but quickly resolves that for himself by killing Alan in battle.
  • For Want of a Nail: Happens with great regularity to Hugh – the news of his grandfather's death on a particular day sends him into Jean's household; replacing a sick rider one day makes him Claverhouse's galloper; the sight of a beggarwoman's hands holding a flower leads him to his second career and his reunion with Darklis.
  • Freakier Than Fiction: "Roof falls; everybody dies"
  • Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death!: The Scottish Covenanters complain about Claverhouse attacking poor farmers who only want freedom of religion. Claverhouse's men retort that if they want to be left in peace, they should stop shooting at government troopers.
  • Heterosexual Life-Partners: Jean and Darklis, an unusual female example for Sutcliff.
  • Historical-Domain Character: John Graham of Claverhouse, Viscount Dundee; other lords and officers.
  • I Should Write a Book About This: Hugh writes his account of the career of his beloved commander Bonnie Dundee at the behest of his wife, who wants to defend the reputation of their erstwhile employer. Dundee also has a Tagalong Chronicler, real person James Phillip of Amryclose, who wrote The Graemiad on which the novel is partly based.
  • The Lady's Favour: The pin Darklis gives to Hugh for a token is also what shows the Tinklers that he's under her protection.
  • Literary Allusion Title: The title and epigraph come from the version of the folk-song Bonnie Dundee written specifically about Claverhouse by Walter Scott.
  • Man in a Kilt: Highlander Coll Mac Donald of Keppoch, an anachronism even in 1689.
  • Mixed Ancestry: Darklis's family background is based on a ballad about a Scottish noblewoman who ran off with a Tinkler (gypsy). Though she lives with her kinswoman Jean, her Tinkler kinsman Captain Faa keeps a protective eye on her.
  • Prophecies Are Always Right: Darklis has a vision of the collapse of the Castle of Antwerp Inn in a pool under an elder tree on Midsummer's Eve about a decade before it happens. Given the freak nature of the accident, which really happened, the novel needed something to set it up.
  • Supporting Protagonist: Hugh and his Love Interest Darklis are both the Side Kick to Claverhouse and his Love Interest Jean respectively. Darklis needles Hugh about being too much of a follower, and he retorts that she's no different. They don't commit to each other until their prior obligations to the first objects of their loyalty are moot.

Flame-Coloured Taffeta

18th century. Damaris and Peter shelter a wounded Jacobite smuggler.

Blood and Sand (adult novel)

The Napoleonic Wars. Thomas Keith, a Scottish prisoner of war, is befriended by Tussun, son of the governor of Egypt, and serves them through a deadly power struggle in their court and a war in Arabia, rising to become governor of Medina.

    Myths and Legends 
  • Black Ships Before Troy: The Trojan War.
  • The Wanderings of Odysseus: The Odyssey.
  • The Hound of Ulster: the exploits of Cuchulainn.
  • The High Deeds of Finn Mac Cool
  • Beowulf: Dragonslayer
  • Tristan and Iseult
  • The Sword and the Circle: King Arthur
  • The Light Beyond the Forest: King Arthur
  • The Road to Camlann: King Arthur
  • The Chronicles of Robin Hood

    Picture Books 
  • People of the Past: A Saxon Settler
  • The Roundabout Horse
  • A Little Dog Like You
  • Little Hound Found
  • The Minstrel and the Dragon Pup
  • Chess-dream in a Garden

  • Blue Remembered Hills: Autobiography of her life up to the beginning of her writing career.
  • Rudyard Kipling: A monograph on Kipling's works for children.
  • Houses and History
  • Heroes and History