Rosemary Sutcliff appreciated by one of her editors

Led there by the excellent appreciative but disappeared I found this posted in 2003 to an ancient history website (which I also cannot find now) about Rosemary Sutcliff.

 I knew Rosemary as a friend and, briefly, as her editor…most of her best writing was done in the 50s and 60s, beginning with The Eagle of the Ninth and ending with The Mark of the Horse Lord, which is my own favourite. What she really wanted to do, however, was to write romantic novels full of sex, but here her experience, and imagination, let her down. She was crippled by Still’s disease, contracted as a child – She had no movement in her legs, and hands whose work (including writing and miniature painting) was done with just a forefinger and a tiny, rudimentary thumb.She had, as did Henry Treece, a mystical communion with the past, which enabled her both to recreate tiny details, and to confound military historians with her understanding of the art of battle in any situation she cared to devise. Her sense of place was uncanny, in that she could get no nearer to a site than the seat of a car on an adjacent road. Friends often served as her eyes, and also as her researchers, but it was the conclusions she drew from the evidence, and her re-creations of them, that made her contribution to the literature about the ancient world so distinctive. Where she was simply embellishing recorded history, she was no better than anyone else. She also had one of the rudest senses of humour in anyone I have met.”

I grew up with Rosemary in my life and much rings very true to me. She did indeed have a rude sense of humour (in both senses). I am, however, not so sure about her wanting to be a romantic novelist above all. Nor do I think her finest books were only in the 1950s and 1960s; for example the award-winning Song for a Dark Queen was written in the 1970s. Her autobiography, Blue Remembered Hills points to the romantic love of her life – a rafish RAF pilot who emigrated eventually to Australia.

One thought on “Rosemary Sutcliff appreciated by one of her editors

  1. One of my earliest memories is of hearing ‘The Eagle of the Ninth’ broadcast on the Home Service in 1957 (I was six). I can still hear the song in the introduction. That book and the ‘Sword at Sunset’ have stayed with me all my life and inspired a life-long interest in history and legends.

    The story begins with the song:

    ‘A long march, a long march
    And twenty years in store,
    When I left my girl at Clusium
    Beside the threshing floor.’

    For the last 30 years I have worked in villages in Asia and seen many threshing floors, yards in the centre of clusters of farm-houses.

    In the radio version of the story, Marius Goring plays Marcus Flavius Aquila, a young cohort commander in the Roman Army.

    I recently dicovered that the original meaning of ‘cohort’ is a yard or enclosure, presumably where the famers/soldiers assembled.

    Did Rosemary Sutcliff know this when she wrote the song about the girl in Clusium? I bet she did!

    What an inspiration she was and is!

    Andrew Jenkins,


Do Leave a Response

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s