Rosemary Sutcliff commended and highly commended for The Carnegie Medal for The Eagle of the Ninth, The Shield Ring, The Silver Branch, and Tristan and Iseult

In earlier times The Carnegie Medal used to have “commended” and “highly commended” books each year, as well as a winner—I do not think it does now.

Rosemary Sutcliff was awarded the medal in 1959 for The Lantern Bearers. But she was several times commended too. In:

1954 for The Eagle of the Ninth
1956 for The Shield Ring
1957 for The Silver Branch

And highly commended in:

1971 for Tristan and Iseult


Summary of Rosemary Sutcliff historical novel, children’s book The Shield Ring (1956)

In England  just after the Norman Conquest, high up among the fells of the Lake District is a secret valley where the Northmen (or Vikings as they are sometimes loosely called) have their last stronghold – or shield ring – struggling to keep the Lake District free. The Normans want to crush this last group of Northmen, so they build a castle in Carlisle and an army is sent north under Ranulf de Meschin. Frytha a young, orphaned Saxon girl seeks refuge in the valley after her home is burnt by the Normans. She witnesses the waning power of the Norse as she  joins Jarl Buthar’s Viking band after her family are slaughtered by the Normans.

Bjorn, the Bear-Cub, is the foster son of the old harper. He  longs to be allowed to play the ‘sweet-singer’, the special harp owned by his foster father which is smaller than the hall harp and strung with Irish white bronze, not horse hair. The old harper realises that one day Bjorn will indeed be a harper and he starts to teach him how to play it.

Life goes on in the valley – lambing, shearing, spinning, harvesting, and singing and story telling in the great hall in the evenings. But always there is the need to prepare for a Norman attack and Bjorn has a secret fear. Several times in the past the Normans have captured Northmen and  tortured them to try to force them to reveal where the hidden valley is – but no Northman has ever betrayed the vital secret. Bjorn wonders how he would act if he were ever in that position and fears he would not be able t keep silent.

The outnumbered Northmen try to outwit the Normans by building the Road to Nowhere – a road which will lead the Normans into an ambush. But they also need intelligence about  the Norman army. They need to send someone into the Norman camp. Bjorn volunteers; he speaks enough Norman to get by, and a harper  can go anywhere. So Bjorn sets out for the Norman camp knowing that if he is found to be a spy he will be tortured – his secret fear from childhood. But he does not go alone. Frytha follows him.

The Dolphin Ring appears in eight award-winning books by Rosemary Sutcliff, world-renowned writer of historical fiction for children and adults

Careful reading of the historical fiction for adults and children of Rosemary Sutcliff (1920-92) reveals that the same Dolphin Ring with a dolphin design on a flawed emerald was the Flavius family signet ring which threads through eight of her novels: The Eagle of the Ninth, The Silver Branch, Frontier Wolf, The Lantern Bearers, Sword at Sunset, Dawn Wind, Sword Song, & The Shield Ring.

A Dolphin Ring belonging to the Aquila family provides a thread through several of the historical fiction novels of Rosemary Sutcliff


“Marcus took it from him and bent to examine it. It was a heavy signet-ring; and on the flawed emerald which formed the bezel was engraved the dolphin badge of his own family …” (The Eagle of the Ninth)

The Eagle of the Ninth was first published in 1954. Various books are linked by this Dolphin ring of the Aquila family. In TThe Silver Branch from 1957  Flavius, a descendent of Marcus, and his kinsman Justin lead a resistance movement to the Saxon attacks on Britain.Then in Frontier Wolfpublished in 1980,  Alexios (“a scion of Marcus’ blood”) leads the Frontier Wolves who manned an outpost in the far north of Roman Britain. The much earlier (1959) The Lantern Bearers was also set in Roman Britain, during the coming of Anglo-Saxon invaders. The nineteen-year-old Aquila (again, a descendant of Marcus) sees his home and family destroyed by Anglo-Saxon invaders and becomes a slave, before escaping to join the free men in Wales where he meets a young leader Artos the Bear (Rosemary Sutcliff’s interpretation of King Arthur). Sword At Sunset (1963) follows the story of Artos the Bear.

In Dawn Wind, published in 1961, Owain is fourteen when the British war-hosts gather to hold what territory they still had against the Saxons. He hopes that one day ‘the dawn wind might blow and some part of the Britain he had known might be restored.’ Owain too is descended from Marcus. The Dolphin ring turns up again in Sword Song (1991), and finally in The Shield Ring (1956) a group of Vikings, including Beorn – last descendent of the Marcus line, though now with Norse blood, lives in the Fells of Lakeland, trying to hold out against the resources of Norman England.

In summary, chronologically:

The Eagle of the Ninth (1954) – 2nd century
The Silver Branch (1957) – 3rd century
Frontier Wolf (1980) – 4th century
The Lantern Bearers (1959) – 5th century
Sword At Sunset (1963) – 5th century
Dawn Wind (1961) – 6th century
Sword Song (1997) – 10th century
The Shield Ring (1956) – 11th century
“Angharad wore around her neck a heavy golden ring, much battered and set with some dark green stone……(with a dolphin)  engraved on it” (Sword Song)

Eight historical novels by Rosemary Sutcliff feature the same dolphin signet ring

I think I now have correct the list correct of books by Rosemary Sutcliff that feature the signet ring with a dolphin design. Her signature also featured a dolphin. In chronological order the books are (click on the titles to find posts on this blog about each book; click here to find summaries of each one):

The Eagle of the Ninth (1954) – 129 AD
The Silver Branch (1957) – 284 AD
Frontier Wolf (1980) – 343 AD
The Lantern Bearers (1959) – 410+ AD
Sword At Sunset (1963) – 5th century
Dawn Wind (1961) – mid-late 6th century
Sword Song (1991) – early 10th century
The Shield Ring (1956) – 11th century