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Rosemary Sutcliff (14 December 1920 23 July 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.

Sutcliff's works include examples of:

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    Recurring Tropes 
  • Action Film, Quiet Drama Scene: Her calling-card, too many to list.
  • All First Person Narrators Write Like Novelists:
    • Artos, Sword at Sunset; a dozen narrators in The Flowers of Adonis; Dexius in Swallows in the Spring; six generations of Calpurnii in The Capricorn Bracelet; fourteen citizens in We Lived in Drumfyvie; Jestyn Englishman in Blood Feud; Cadwan and Agricola in Song for a Dark Queen; Quintus in Eagle's Egg; Hugh Herriot in Bonnie Dundee; Prosper in The Shining Company.
  • Animal Motifs: In keeping with her broader focus on nature, lots of people are associated with 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 Description Porn, Undying Loyalty, Heroic Sacrifice, 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.
  • Band of Brothers:
  • Based on a True Story: Most of her Historical Fiction is set in the context of true events. Though 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. Sutcliff was physically disabled from early childhood, and wrote many characters who work around congenital defects, Career-Ending Injury, chronic illnesses, and in a few cases mental illness, as well as the odd disability-adjacent issue like stammering or disfigurement.
    • Congenital physical defects: Adam Hilyarde, The Queen Elizabeth Story; Robert Cecil, Lady in Waiting; Drem, Warrior Scarlet; Vadir Cedricson, Dawn Wind; Gwalchmai, Sword at Sunset; Archibald Campbell, Heroes and History; Lovel, The Witch's Brat; the Emperor Claudius, Song for a Dark Queen.
    • Acquired physical disabilities: Robin, The Chronicles of Robin Hood; John Carey, Simon; Marcus, The Eagle of the Ninth; Talore, Warrior Scarlet; Midir, The Mark of the Horse Lord; Lucian, The Fugitives; Timotheus, The Flowers of Adonis; Lucianus Calpurnius, The Capricorn Bracelet; Rory the Dirk, We Lived in Drumfyvie; Jestyn Englishman, Hakon One-Eye, Bardas Schlerus, Blood Feud; Moon-Eye, Shifting Sands; Hugh Herriot, Bonnie Dundee; Anoud bin Aziz ibn Rashid, Blood and Sand; Conn, The Shining Company; Onund Treefoot, Sword Song.
    • Invisible physical conditions: Sir Thomas Fairfax, The Rider of the White Horse; Aracos, A Circlet of Oak Leaves; Prasutagus, Song for a Dark Queen.
    • Mental irregularities: The Tom-o'-Bedlam, Brother Dusty-Feet; the mazelin, The Shield Ring; Cullen, The Silver Branch; Stripey, Swallows in the Spring; Daft Fergie, Old Nannie, and Geordie Breck, We Lived in Drumfyvie.
  • Call to Agriculture: Part-time occupation or ultimate destiny of many characters, true to their pre-industrial and often rural settings.
    • Robin of Locksley, The Chronicles of Robin Hood; Adam Hilyarde, The Queen Elizabeth Story; Simon Carey, Simon; Marcus et al., The Eagle of the Ninth; Beric and Justinius (as horse-breeders), Outcast; Bjorn and Frytha, The Shield Ring; Flavius, The Silver Branch; Drem, Warrior Scarlet; Aquila (as a slave), The Lantern Bearers; Sir Thomas Fairfax, The Rider of the White Horse; Randal and the d'Aguillons, Knight's Fee; Owain, Dawn Wind; Artos (horse-breeding), Sword at Sunset; Aracos, A Circlet of Oak Leaves; Lovel (physic gardening), The Witch's Brat; Jestyn Englishman (cow herd), Blood Feud; Damaris Crocker and Peter Ballard, Flame-Coloured Taffeta; Bjarni and Angharad, Sword Song.
  • Canine Companion: Heroes Love Dogs, as did their author.
    • Trusty, The Chronicles of Robin Hood; Bran and Peterkin, The Queen Elizabeth Story; Bunch, The Armourer's House; Argos, Roland and Oliver, Brother Dusty-Feet; Jillot and Joram, Simon; Cub, The Eagle of the Ninth; Gelert and Canog, Outcast; Garm, The Shield Ring; Whitethroat, Warrior Scarlet; Cabal, The Lantern Bearers and Sword at Sunset; Math, The Bridge-Builders; Bran and Gerland, Joyeuse, Matilda, Math and Mathonwy, Knight's Fee; Boatswain, Houses and History; Dog, Dawn Wind; Syrius, The Fugitives; Dexius's hound, Swallows in the Spring; Garm, Tristan and Iseult; Brindle, Blood Feud; Caspar, Bonnie Dundee; Gelert, The Shining Company; Astrid and Hugin, Sword Song.
  • Capital Letters Are Magic
  • 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.
  • Childhood Friend Romance: Romance is not a prominent element, so if anyone does get together, it's probably two longtime platonic friends, and frequently via Last Minute Hookup.
    • Robin and Marian, The Chronicles of Robin Hood; Perdita Pettle and Adam Hilyarde in The Queen Elizabeth Story; Tamsyn and Piers Caunter in The Armourer's House; Simon Carey and Susanna Killigrew, and Amias Hannaford and Mouse Carey in Simon; Marcus and Cottia, The Eagle of the Ninth; Frytha and Bjorn, The Shield Ring; Drem and Blai, Warrior Scarlet; Randal and Gisella, Knight's Fee; Owain and Regina, Dawn Wind; Gault and Levin, Sword at Sunset; Hugh Herriot and Darklis Ruthven, Bonnie Dundee; Damaris Crocker and Peter Ballard, Flame-Coloured Taffeta; Conn and Luned, The Shining Company.
  • Coming-of-Age Story: Classic Young Adult growing up, figuring out where you belong, deciding what to do with your life stuff.
  • Conflicting Loyalties: Though their duty is usually clear, 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 Englishman 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.
  • Creator Provincialism: Sutcliff grew up in north Devonshire and later lived in the Down Country in Sussex. She set many of her books in both regions. On a broader scale, almost all of her writing concerns the history or mythology of the British Isles, with few sidetrips elsewhere.
  • Culture Clash: Individuals connecting across cultural barriers is Sutcliff's bread and butter.
  • 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.
  • The Exile: A recurring form of marginalisation, like disability and enslavement.
  • 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.
  • Fiery Redhead:
  • 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.
  • Grey Eyes: Often the mark of a cool head or other Hidden Depths.
  • Heterosexual Life-Partners: If it's not the central relationship of the book, the protagonist probably has one in the background. A frequent source of Ho Yay and a magnet for Anyone Can Die.
    • Robin Hood and Little John, The Chronicles of Robin Hood; Robin Pettle and Adam Hilyarde, The Queen Elizabeth Story; Simon Carey and Amias Hannaford, Simon; Marcus and Esca, The Eagle of the Ninth; Justin and Flavius, The Silver Branch; Drem and Vortrix, Warrior Scarlet; Androphon and Cador, The Bridge-Builders; Randal and Bevis d'Aguillon, Knight's Fee; Artos and Bedwyr, Sword at Sunset; Tristan and Gorvenal, Tristan and Iseult; Amyntas and Leon, A Crown of Wild Olive; Jamie and Johnnie Douglas, Eckie Brock and Donal Dhu, Johnnie Forsyth and Hugh Maitland, We Lived in Drumfyvie; Jestyn Englishman and Thormod Sitricson, Blood Feud; Lubrin Dhu and Dara, Sun Horse, Moon Horse; Alexios and Cunorix, Frontier Wolf; Darklis Ruthven and Jean Cochrane, Bonnie Dundee; Thomas Keith and Tussun Bey, Blood and Sand; Prosper and Conn, The Shining Company; Achilles and Patroclus, Black Ships Before Troy.
  • Historical-Domain Character: Usually limited to cameos, but several novels are based on the lives of real (or allegedly real) people.
    • Alcibiades stars in The Flowers of Adonis and is referred to in Bonnie Dundee.
    • Boudica stars in Song for a Dark Queen and features in The Capricorn Bracelet, and is mentioned in The Eagle of the Ninth. Her Roman opponent Suetonius Paulinus is also mentioned in Outcast.
    • Agricola is wistfully looked back to as the height of Roman Britain in The Eagle of the Ninth, writes home to Mother as a young man in Song for a Dark Queen, and conquers Scotland as Supporting Leader in Eagle's Egg.
    • King Arthur
    • Beowulf, the subject of Beowulf: Dragon Slayer and related by the Saxons in The Shield Ring and Dawn Wind.
    • Queen Elizabeth I features in The Queen Elizabeth Story, Lady in Waiting, and Houses and History, and The Armourer's House and Brother Dusty-Feet also take place during her lifetime.
    • Sir Walter Raleigh, a local hero of Sutcliff's native Devonshire, makes a cameo in Brother Dusty-Feet, enjoys a gratuitous mention in Simon, stars in Lady in Waiting, and has a chapter in Houses and History.
    • Sir Thomas Fairfax is a Supporting Leader in Simon, the protagonist of The Rider of the White Horse, and receives a chapter in Houses and History.
    • Montrose doesn't get a novel of his own, but he's mentioned in Simon and Blood and Sand, is the final "Hero" featured in Heroes and History, is the Supporting Leader in "We Sign the Covenant" and "God Be with You" in We Lived in Drumfyvie, and the kinsman and hero of Dundee in Bonnie Dundee.
    • Montrose's kinsman John Graham of Claverhouse, Viscount Dundee, in Bonnie 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.)
    • Beowulf: Beowulf faces the dragon alone because "he was the King, and for him in the last resort was the duty and the privilege of dying for the life of his people."
    • Knight's Fee: The unexplained death of William II in the New Forest is suggested to have been ditto.
    • Sword at Sunset: Ditto the High King Ambrosius's death
    • 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.
    • The Chief's Daughter: Nessan tags in for the friend who's supposed to be the victim, because she's the king('s daughter)
    • The Flowers of Adonis: Alkibiades who (allegedly) sacrifices himself for Athens is identified with Adonis, a fertility god who symbolically dies every year.
    • 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.
    • Sun Horse, Moon Horse: The horse has to be dedicated with a sacrifice. Of the guy who is sort of king.
  • Intrepid Merchant: From Merchant Venturers in the Age of Exploration, to Viking traders, to wandering blacksmiths and quack doctors.
  • Kill the Ones You Love: Or at least take a stab at it.
  • 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
    • "Sir Gawain and the Loathly Lady" is retold in The Queen Elizabeth Story.
    • A brace of sabres named Balin and Balan appear in Simon.
    • The supposed historical Arthur is the second Hero featured in the "non-fictional" Heroes and History.
    • 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 protagonists or their sidekicks. See also Slave Liberation.
    • Esca, The Eagle of the Ninth; Beric and Jason, Outcast; Aquila and Flavia, The Lantern Bearers; Owain and Regina, Dawn Wind; Dara, The Chief's Daughter; Timandra, and the Athenian prisoners, The Flowers of Adonis; Jestyn Englishman, Blood Feud; the Iceni-Epidi tribe, Sun Horse, Moon Horse; Thomas Keith, Blood and Sand; Conn and Aneirin, The Shining Company; Muirgoed and Erp Mac Meldin, Sword Song.
  • The Medic: One of the professions Sutcliff was most interested in, frequently in conjunction with soldiering.
    • Jonathan Whiteleafe, Brother Dusty-Feet; Brother Ninnias, The Lantern Bearers; Lovel, Brother Eustace, and Brother Peter, The Witch's Brat; Wattie Aiken, We Lived in Drumfyvie; Brother Pebwyr, The Shining Company.
    • Combat Medic: Little John, The Chronicles of Robin Hood; Amias and Odysseus Hannaford, Simon; Marcus (posing as an occulist), The Eagle of the Ninth; Justinius, Outcast; Justin, The Silver Branch; Gwalchmai, Sword at Sunset; Aracos, A Circlet of Oak Leaves; Tethra, The Changeling; Jestyn Englishman, Blood Feud; Donald MacLeod, Blood and Sand.
    • Wise-women: Lizzy Cobbledick, The Queen Elizabeth Story; Tiffany Simcock, The Armourer's House; Mother Trimble, Simon; Rowena, The Lantern Bearers; Ancret, Knight's Fee; Ia, The Changeling; Lovel's grandmother, The Witch's Brat; Iseult of Ireland, Tristan and Iseult; Old Effie and Old Nannie, We Lived in Drumfyvie; Genty Small, Flame-Coloured Taffeta; Old Nurse, the Queen and Princess Niamh, The Shining Company; Angharad, Sword Song.
  • A Minor Kidroduction: The novels are typically loosely-plotted affairs with their opening chapters devoted to minor incidents of youth that happen to set the protagonist onto their path. Most novels that close on a teenage or young adult protagonist open in their childhood.
  • Mixed Ancestry: A lot of people, reflecting the themes of Culture Clash and gradual cultural evolution. They're often a target of Half-Breed Discrimination.
    • Beric and Justinius, Outcast; Bjorn Bjornsson, The Shield Ring; Carausius/Curoi, Serapion, and the Flavius family, The Silver Branch; Blai and the Half People, Warrior Scarlet; the Minnow and Mull, The Lantern Bearers; Artos, Bedwyr, Ygerna, and Cerdic, Sword at Sunset; Randal, Knight's Fee; Uncle Widreth, Dawn Wind; Phaedrus, Sinnoch, and Liadhan, The Mark of the Horse Lord; Tethra (by adoption), The Changeling; Jestyn Englishman and Erland Silkbeard, Blood Feud; Lubrin Dhu, Sun Horse, Moon Horse; Prasutagus and Nessan, Song for a Dark Queen; Alexios, Frontier Wolf; Darklis Ruthven, Bonnie Dundee.
  • Most Writers Are Writers: Sutcliff was both a writer and a painter. Her creative types include draughtsmen, painters, and sculptors; musicians, storytellers, actors, and medieval jesters, and memoirists.
    • Artists: Piers in The Armourer's House; Jason in Outcast; Lucian in The Fugitives; Nick Redpoll and Brother Luke in The Witch's Brat; Lubrin Dhu and Gault in Sun Horse, Moon Horse; Hugh Herriot, his father, and Cornelius van Meere in Bonnie Dundee; Colonel D'Esurier, Blood and Sand.
    • The Bard: Rhiada in Outcast; Bjorn and Haethcyn in The Shield Ring; Cullen in The Silver Branch; Tristan in Tristan and Iseult; Sinnoch, Sun Horse, Moon Horse; Cadwan of the Harp in Song for a Dark Queen; Aneirin in The Shining Company.
    • The Jester: Peterkin, The Chronicles of Robin Hood; Jonathan Whiteleafe, Brother Dusty-Feet; Hunferth, Beowulf; Rahere, The Witch's Brat.
    • Poets and playwrights: Jonathan, Brother Dusty-Feet; Sir Philip Sidney, William Shakespeare, Andrew Marvell, Lord Byron, Houses and History.
    • The Storyteller: Deborah Caunter in The Armourer's House; Jonathan Whiteleafe in Brother Dusty-Feet, Unna in The Shield Ring.
    • Wandering Minstrel: Robin "the Minstrel", The Chronicles of Robin Hood; the Palmer in Brother Dusty-Feet; Pentecost Fiddler in Simon; Rhiada in Outcast; Bjorn and Haethcyn in The Shield Ring; Cullen in The Silver Branch; Herluin in Knight's Fee; Bedwyr in Sword at Sunset; Rahere in The Witch's Brat; Thorn in Blood Feud; Cadwan of the Harp in Song for a Dark Queen; Shadow Mason in Flame-Coloured Taffeta; The Minstrel and the Dragon-Pup.
  • Narrative Filigree
  • Officer and a Gentleman: Most protagonists 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 generally turns out all right, after perhaps a little Belligerent Sexual Tension.
    • Lucilla and Valarius Longus, Outcast; Gille and Gerd, The Shield Ring; Anne de Vere and Thomas Fairfax, The Rider of the White Horse; Aquila and Ness, The Lantern Bearers and Sword at Sunset; Philip de Braose and Aanor, Knight's Fee; Artos and Guenhumara, Sword at Sunset; Phaedrus and Murna, The Mark of the Horse Lord; Boudicca and Prasutagus, Song for a Dark Queen; Thomas Keith and Anoud bin Aziz ibn Rashid, Blood and Sand; Aud the Deep-Minded and Olaf the White, Onund Tree-foot and Aesa, Groa and Dungadr, Sword Song.
  • 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.
  • Prophecies Are Always Right:
    • The Wise Woman in The Armourer's House; Unna in The Shield Ring; Ancret and the Norman crone in Knight's Fee; the Old Woman, Sword at Sunset; the Old Man of the Green Hills in The Mark of the Horse Lord; Cordaella, The Capricorn Bracelet; Old Effie and Old Nannie in We Lived in Drumfyvie; Dark Thorn in Blood Feud; Darklis in Bonnie Dundee; Genty Small, Flame-Coloured Taffeta.
  • 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. While sometimes very important to his motivations or Character Development, they're seldom directly involved in the main events of the plot or shown interacting much with the other main characters. Sutcliff's few female protagonists tend to have Deuteragonist male love interests.
  • 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: See also King Arthur and Celtic Mythology.
    • 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 rowing song ("A long pull for Miklagard!") in Blood Feud is inspired by "Thorkild's Song" ("A long pull for Stavanger!") in Puck.
      • The character of Rahere in The Witch's Brat is influenced by his portrayal in "The Tree of Justice" in Rewards.
      • The phrase "a singing magic", used in Warrior Scarlet, The Lantern Bearers, The Hound of Ulster, and 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".
      • 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".
  • Slave Liberation: With few exceptions, characters who are Made a Slave tend to get out of it again.
  • Supporting Leader: Powerful and high-ranking people, particularly Historical Domain Characters, are almost invariably seen through a Supporting Protagonist.
    • Elizabeth I in The Queen Elizabeth Story; Sir Thomas Fairfax in Simon and The Rider of the White Horse; Jarl Buthar and Aikin the Beloved in The Shield Ring; Carausius in The Silver Branch; Ambrosius in The Lantern Bearers and Sword at Sunset; Philip de Braose in Knight's Fee; Aethelbert and Augustine in Dawn Wind; Alkibiades in The Flowers of Adonis; Rahere in The Witch's Brat; Sir James Douglas and Montrose in We Lived in Drumfyvie; Vladimir of Kiev and Basil "the Bulgar Slayer" in Blood Feud; Constans in Frontier Wolf; Agricola in Eagle's Egg; Claverhouse in Bonnie Dundee; Muhammad Ali Pasha, Ibrahim Pasha, Tussun Pasha, Abdullah ibn Saud, Blood and Sand; Mynyddog, Ceredig, Gorthyn, and Cynan Mac Clydno in The Shining Company; Onund Treefoot, Thorstein the Red, and Aud the Deep-Minded in Sword Song.
  • Supporting Protagonist: Relationships of Undying Loyalty usually involve a leader and a follower. The leader might be a Supporting Leader, The Mentor, or just the more assertive Heterosexual Life-Partner, and is seen from the perspective of the follower, who is often more reserved, lower-ranking in some way, or sometimes the Love Interest or a First-Person Peripheral Narrator.
    • Hugh Copplestone, Brother Dusty-Feet; Simon Carey, Simon; Frytha, The Shield Ring; Justin, The Silver Branch; Bess Throckmorten, Lady in Waiting; Anne Fairfax, The Rider of the White Horse; Randal, Knight's Fee; Timotheus, Arcadius, Timandra et al., The Flowers of Adonis; Jestyn Englishman, Blood Feud; Blue Feather, Shifting Sands; Lubrin Dhu, Sun Horse, Moon Horse; Hugh Herriot, Bonnie Dundee; Prosper, The Shining Company; Bjarni Sigurdson, Sword Song.
  • Tragic Bromance:
    • Randal and Bevis, Knight's Fee; Artos and Bedwyr, Sword at Sunset; Conory and Midir, The Mark of the Horse Lord; Eckie Brock and Donal Dhu, Johnnie Forsyth and Hugh Maitland, We Lived in Drumfyvie; Jestyn and Thormod, Blood Feud; Lubrin and Dara, Sun Horse, Moon Horse; Thomas Keith & Tussun Pasha, Blood and Sand; Achilles and Patroclus, Black Ships Before Troy.
  • Trying Not to Cry: Men Don't Cry, and neither do women or children if they have any self-respect.
  • Turbulent Priest:
    • Allies: Friar Tuck, The Chronicles of Robin Hood; Timothy Pettle, The Queen Elizabeth Story; Peter Copplestone, Brother Dusty-Feet; Zeal-for-the-Lord Relf, Mistress Killigrew, and other Puritans, Simon; Anthonius, The Silver Branch; Midir, Warrior Scarlet; Brother Ninnias, The Lantern Bearers; Priscilla and St. Augustine, Dawn Wind; the Archbishop of Venta, Sword at Sunset; Laethrig, The Chief's Daughter; Rahere, the Benedictines of New Minster, and Lovel, The Witch's Brat; Master Gilliechrist, Master Simon, Andrew Beaton, and John Meikle, We Lived in Drumfyvie; Aneirin, The Shining Company; Aud the Deep-Minded, Brother Gisli, and Brother Ninian, Sword Song.
    • Antagonists: the Abbot of St. Mary's and Abbess Ursula, The Chronicles of Robin Hood; the wandering druid, The Eagle of the Ninth; Merddyn the Druid, Outcast; the Church, Sword at Sunset; Liadhan, The Mark of the Horse Lord; the Covenanters, We Lived in Drumfyvie; Long Axe, Shifting Sands; Morvidd the Oak Priest, Frontier Wolf; the Covenanters, Bonnie Dundee; the Wahabis, Blood and Sand; Asmund and Thara Priestsdaughter, Sword Song.
  • 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.
  • 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

     Young Adult Novels 

Sun Horse, Moon Horse

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."
  • Best Friends-in-Law: Lubrin's Heterosexual Life-Partner Dara is chosen as the future husband of his sister Teleri, the heiress of the tribe. It makes things a little weird for awhile.
  • 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 legitimate chief is his sister Teleri'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 Witch's Brat

Lovel, an orphan with a crooked back and foot, becomes an infirmarian monk and helps found St. Bartholomew's Hospital.
  • Career-Ending Injury: Nick Redpoll was born to be a builder, but he crippled his leg in a fall off a scaffold.
  • The Jester: Historical-Domain Character Rahere is King Henry I's Jongleur or minstrel, a role with which he is not entirely content.
  • The Medic: Lovel learns medicine from his grandmother and then the infirmarian brothers of New Minster. He takes the job when Rahere founds St. Bart's and, not content with splints and herbs, invents physical therapy on the go by experimenting on Nick Redpoll.
  • Patron Saint: After nearly dying of malaria in Rome, Rahere decides to found a hospital for the poor in London. In a dream, St. Bartholomew tips him the nod that if he throws in a priory as well, he can get the devout King Henry to pay for the lot.
  • Taking the Veil: After the loss of young Prince William and the White Ship, Rahere has a religious epiphany and joins the church. Lovel takes his vows mostly because he could never afford secular training as a physician.
  • Witch Hunt: Eleven-year-old Lovel is prime suspect in the case of "Who Put the Evil Eye on My Cow?"

The Chronicles of Robin Hood

  • Action Girl: Marian uses a sword and bow and dies in battle defending her ancestral castle, leading to Robin's return to the Greenwood.
  • An Ass-Kicking Christmas: One Christmastide is spent rescuing Will Stukely from the gibbet.
  • Defeat Means Friendship: Per legend, Robin acquires many of his followers by challenging them to a fight or a shooting contest, including Little John, Will Scarlet, and Friar Tuck. He also duels Marian in disguise.
  • Disguise Tropes: Robin poses as a minstrel and a potter; Marian runs away in drag; Much pretends to be a halfwit; Will Stukely claims to be a thatcher (he hasn't got the hands for it); King Richard disguises himself as a monk; Guy of Gisburne dresses up as the Phantom Horse of Barnsdale, and Robin steals his costume.
  • Turbulent Priest: Friar Tuck is a hard-hitting priest who's been kicked out of his monastery. Robin is first stitched up by the local abbot who wants his land, and spends his career as an outlaw specially targeting rich churchmen. He is finally betrayed by the acquisitive Abbess Ursula, his own cousin.

The Armourer's House

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.
  • Chekhov M.I.A.: Piers's hopes of becoming a sailor went down with his elder brother Kit's ship.
  • Childhood Marriage Promise: Tamsyn and Piers agree to marry so Tamsyn can also sail on Piers's theoretical future ship.
  • Cool Ship: Piers's Dolphin; Tamsyn's Joyous Venture; the royal fleet's Great Harry and Mary Rose, which they tour on a visit to the Dockyard.
  • Christmas Miracle: Kit returns alive and well on Christmas Eve, after a miraculous rescue plus all-expenses-paid two-year round trip to India, no opt-out.
  • Description Porn
  • Fantasy Sequence: Tamsyn and Piers reimagine the attic as the deck of their ship.
  • Historical-Domain Character: Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn make a cameo appearance.
  • Intrepid Merchant: The "merchant venturers" like Tamsyn's uncle Martin who are exploring the New World in search of new profits.
  • Slice of Life
  • Show Within a Show: Most of one chapter is an in-story telling of Tam Lin.

The Queen Elizabeth Story

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.

Brother Dusty-Feet

Hugh Copplestone runs away from home and falls in with a company of strolling players.

Bonnie Dundee

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 MacDonald 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

Two children in the Sussex smuggling country shelter a wounded Jacobite courier.
  • Batman in My Basement: Damaris discovers Tom "Wildgoose" in the woods with a bullet in his leg the day after a smuggling run and stashes him in an abandoned cottage. She enlists her best friend Peter and the local witch doctor Genty Small to perform surgery and feed him. Luckily for Tom, hiding hot goods and dodging the customs officers is in their blood.
  • Exact Words: When Damaris asks Tom whether he's a spy, her new friend replies that the letters he's carrying can't possibly threaten King George's peace.
  • Great Escape: After Tom is arrested and locked up in the squire's barn, Damaris and Genty threaten the stablemaster into arranging a distraction to cover his escape. Then he has to skulk in Genty's secret cellar until it's time to retrieve his secret documents by walking into the middle of a smuggling run intercepted by a police raid.
  • Literary Allusion Title: A Shout-Out to Shakespeare from Henry IV Part 1, in a rather different context.
  • Still Fighting the Civil War: Tom is too romantic to abandon the Jacobite cause, even knowing that Bonnie Prince Charlie is a hopeless prospect in more ways than one.

     Adult Novels 

The Flowers of Adonis

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.

Lady in Waiting

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.

The Rider of the White Horse

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

Blood and Sand

The Napoleonic Wars. Thomas Keith, a British POW, is befriended by Tussun Bey, son of the Ottoman Viceroy of Egypt, and serves their family through a power struggle in Egypt and a war in Arabia, rising to become governor of Medina.
  • Based on a True Story: Thomas and company were Historical Domain Characters.
  • Brave Scot: Thomas is a private of the 78th Highlanders who ends up a general of Arab cavalry.
  • Duel to the Death: Thomas fights a duel of honour with Aziz Bey, a Mameluke rival for Tussun's favour. He's then arrested for murder and has to be rescued by the Vicereine.
  • Mr. Exposition: Thomas's new friends Colonel D'Esurier and Zeid ibn Hussein.
  • Freakier Than Fiction: The author's note highlights the "single-handedly fought off ten assassins" scene as too implausible to invent.
  • The Fundamentalist: The second half of the novel follows the events of the Ottoman-Saud War, in which the Ottoman Egyptians set out to retake Mecca and Medina from the puritan Wahabi sect of the Arabian interior.
  • Going Native: Thomas is sent to train as an officer among the Bedouin cavalry of Upper Egypt. Under the influence of his friend Zeid, he adopts the Bedouin as his "second people" and eventually converts to Islam.
  • I Choose to Stay: When the British prisoners are repatriated, both Thomas and The Medic Donald MacLeod have discovered better career prospects in Egypt.
  • Kill the Ones You Love: Mameluke conspirators contrive to get the impetuous Tussun drunk and enraged against Thomas. He orders his assassination. Paradoxically this brings them closer together by clearing Thomas's sense of debt to Tussun.
  • Last Stand: Thomas leads a small relief force to Tussun's aid at El Rass. He is intercepted by a vastly superior force of Wahabi cavalry. Tussun can't get there in time, and Thomas and his men go out in a Self-Destructive Charge with only the hope of Taking You with Me.
  • Love at First Sight: Thomas and Tussun Bey fall in something rather like it. Platonically speaking.
  • Made a Slave: Thomas and Donald MacLeod are bought from their captors by a Turkish general until their eventual repatriation. This bothers Thomas less than his Slave Liberation at Tussun's expense, for which he feels indebted.
  • Merchant Prince: Muhammed Ali, Viceroy of Egypt and threat to the Ottoman Sultan, started his career as an Albanian tobacco merchant.
  • Rescue Romance: Thomas rescues a murdered merchant's daughter named Anoud from being assaulted in the street during the looting of Medina. She has nowhere to go, so they enter into a Perfectly Arranged Marriage.
  • Sacred Hospitality: Muhammed Ali violates it whenever expedient, notably slaughtering the Mamelukes of Cairo at a banquet, arresting the Grand Shariff at a meeting, and impaling twelve surrendered Wahabis before the gates of Mecca.
  • Sibling Yin-Yang: Hot-headed Tussun and his elder brother, the coldly capable Ibrahim Pasha.
  • Tactical Withdrawal: The disastrous campaign against the hill fortress of Terraba, occupied by a dreaded female sheikh reputed to be a witch, ends in a Run for the Border.
  • Tragic Bromance: Thomas is killed coming to Tussun's relief at El Rass. Tussun ends his campaign, goes home, and dies about a year later.
  • Trap Is the Only Option: On their first attempt to take Medina, the Egyptian force plans to trigger the inevitable ambush in the Jedaida pass, but they weren't expecting the local tribesmen to be massively reinforced by Wahabi cavalry.

     Short Stories 

Shifting Sands

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.

The Chief's Daughter

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.

Flowering Dagger

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 Changeling

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.

The Truce of the Games, or A Crown of Wild Olive

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.

Eagle's Egg

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.

Swallows in the Spring

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.

A Circlet of Oak Leaves

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.

The Bridge-Builders

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 Fugitives

Lucian, an army officer's paralysed son, hides a deserter from the men sent to recapture him.
  • Face Your Fears: Lucian hates acknowleding his disability to other people. The deserter has to decide whether army life is worse than life on the run.
  • Prayer Is a Last Resort:
    The affair was out of his hands now; only the gods could hold back the terrible thing from happening. In desperation, with no time to think, he did the one thing that was left. He made a sacrifice to the gods. It was an odd sacrifice, but strong, for it meant giving up old dreams that he had not known until that instant he was still clinging on to; it meant doing the hardest and bravest thing he had ever done in his life.
  • Throwing Off the Disability: An aversion, which is the whole point. To save the deserter, Lucian has not only to finally accept his Dream-Crushing Handicap, but cheerfully admit it to the Centurion.
  • Would Hurt a Child: The deserter is desperate enough to threaten Lucian, which doesn't work.

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.

We Lived in Drumfyvie

Citizens of a Scottish Royal Burgh witness its social changes and great events over the course of more than seven hundred years. Originally written as radioplays for BBC Scotland.

Sutcliff's list of works:

Historical Novels
Sutcliff's historical fiction isn't a tightly-linked series, but it forms a consistent Continuity.

Short Stories
More historical fiction in shorter form, most originally published as storybooks.

  • Stone Age: Shifting Sands (1977)
  • Bronze Age: The Chief's Daughter (1967)
  • Bronze Age: "Flowering Dagger" (1977, in The Real Thing)
  • Iron Age: The Changeling (1974)
  • 412 BCE: "A Crown of Wild Olive" (1971, originally The Truce of the Games)
  • 60 CE: The Capricorn Bracelet (1973, collection)
  • 80 CE: Eagle's Egg (1981)
  • 130 CE: "Swallows in the Spring" (1970, in Galaxy)
  • 150 CE: A Circlet of Oak Leaves (1965)
  • Roman: The Bridge-Builders (1959)
  • Roman: "The Fugitives" (1964, in Another Six)
  • 1137 CE: We Lived in Drumfyvie (1975, collection, with Margaret Lyford-Pike)

Myths and Legends
Novellas that include the magical and anachronistic elements of their source material.


  • Rudyard Kipling (1960)
  • The Batsford Living History Series:
    • Houses and History (1960)
    • Heroes and History (1965)
  • Blue Remembered Hills (1983)