The Witch’s Brat by Rosemary Sutcliff | One of 10 must-read children’s books | Telegraph

To mark World Book Day 2014 yesterday, Richard Davies of chose ten ‘must-read’ children’s classics that can be bought secondhand for less than £1 each. One was The Witch’s Brat by Rosemary Sutcliff.

Famous for her historical fiction and retelling or myths and legends, Sutcliff transports readers to 12th century England in The Witch’s Brat, the tale of Lovel the outcast.

Lovel, the crippled hero of Rosemary Sutcliff‘s The Witch’s Brat, is driven from his village in a shower of stones after his grandmother’s death. (The) novel (is) … crammed with careful period detail and research, the painstaking catalogues of herb-lore brought grippingly to life by the characters to whom they bring such danger.

Writing for The Guardian in 2011 Imogen Russell Williams explored the enchantments of witch fiction. Of The Witch’s Brat  she wrote:

 … Lovel, the crippled hero of Rosemary Sutcliff’s The Witch’s Brat, is driven from his village in a shower of stones after his grandmother’s death.  Both novels are crammed with careful period detail and research, the painstaking catalogues of herb-lore brought grippingly to life by the characters to whom they bring such danger.

The other titles in the top ten were: Read More »

62 main characters in Rosemary Sutcliff’s historical novels, retellings of legend, and children’s books

  1. Adam is Perdita’s friend in The Queen Elizabeth Story (1950).
  2. Alcibiades, is a warrior in the Peloponnesian War, including in the dreadful battle of Syracuse, who has a complicated relationship with Athens  in The Flowers of Adonis (1969).
  3. Alexios is a Roman army officer who becomes commander of the motley, savage group known as the Frontier Wolves in Frontier Wolf (1980).
  4. Amias Hannaford is the boyhood friend of Simon who fights for the Royalists (the Cavaliers) in Simon (1953).
  5. Anne is the wife of Sir Thomas Fairfax and  mother of Moll who has to trail her husband as he leads his army around the country in The Rider of the White Horse (1959)
  6. Aquila is the young commander of a troop of cavalry who realises that his strongest loyalty is to his native Britain rather than to the legions and a distant empire he has never seen, in The Eagle of the Ninth (1954).
  7. Aracos is a horse-breeder in A Circlet of Oak Leaves (1968).
  8. Artos is the bastard son of Uther, who is raised by his uncle as a cavalryman to lead the Roman-British fight against the invading Saxons, in Sword at Sunset (1963).
  9. Beowulf is the eponymous hero of Beowulf (1961).
  10. Beric is the infant son of a Roman soldier  is shipwrecked; then grows up with a Briton tribe, but is rejected both by them and Rome in Outcast (1955)
  11. Bess Throckmorton is the lady waiting’—Sir Walter Raleigh’s wife— who had to stay home as he travelled the world’s oceans, in Lady in Waiting (1957).
  12. Bevis is the young boy who becomes the knight in Knight’s Fee (1960).
  13. Bjarni Sigurdson is a young sixteen year-old Viking swordsman who is banished from the settlement for five years and  becomes a successful mercenary in Sword Song (1997).
  14. Bjorn, the Bear-Cub, is the foster-son of the old harper, and becomes a harper himself in The Shield Ring (1956).
  15. Blue Feather is a twelve year old girl who is promised to the cruel chief of her people, Long Axe, in Shifting Sands (1977).
  16. Boudicca is the defiant queen of the Iceni who leads her small British tribe in rebellion against the Roman invaders in Song for a Dark Queen (1978).
  17. Carausius is the Emperor served by Justin and Flavius in The Silver Branch (1957).
  18. Cordella is the girl Quintus wishes to marry in Eagle’s Egg (1981) .
  19. Cuchulain is the boy in Ireland who claims the weapons of his manhood and becomes the great warrior and hero, The Hound of Ulster (1963).
  20. Damaris Crocker is  a twelve-year-old girl involved with smugglers in Flame-Coloured Taffeta (1986).
  21. Drem is a boy born with a withered right arm who grows up in a bronze-age settlement on the South Downs in Britain, eventually to become one of the hunters of his tribe, in Warrior Scarlet (1957).
  22. Felix is a legionary in A Circlet of Oak Leaves (1968).
  23. Finn is the hero of The High Deeds of Finn MacCool (1967).
  24. Flavia is Aquila’s sister, kidnapped by Saxon raiders, who marries a Saxon and has a Saxon-child  in The Lantern Bearers (1959).
  25. Flavius is a centurion, friend and colleague of Justin in The Silver Branch (1957).
  26. Frytha is a young orphaned Saxon girl who seeks refuge in the Secret Valley in the Lake District after her home is burnt by the Normans, and joins Jarl Buthar’s Viking band in The Shield Ring (1956).
  27. Godmund is the White King in Chess Dream in a Garden (1993).
  28. Guenhemara is the woman Artos loves in Sword at Sunset (1963).
  29. Hrosmunda is the White Queen in Chess Dream in a Garden (1993).
  30. Hugh Copplestone joins a group of strolling players before going on to university, in Brother Dusty-Feet (1952).
  31. Hugh Herriot is stable-lad then galloper to Claverhouse in 17th Century Scotland, in Bonnie Dundee (1983).
  32. Iseult is the wife of King Marc of Cornwall in Tristan and Iseult (1971).
  33. Jestyn is a young 10th-century English man who is sold into slavery to the Northmen in Blood Feud (1976).
  34. Justin is a young army surgeon who is loyal to the Emperor Carausius in The Silver Branch (1957).
  35. King Odysseus of Ithaca is a traveller who visits the Cyclops, the Island of the Dead and Circe in The Wanderings of Odysseus (1995).
  36. Liadhan is the half-sister of Levin who uses Red Phaedrus to bring back goddess-worship and set herself on the throne in The Mark of the Horse Lord (1965).
  37. Lovel is a boy with physical disabilities, but a deep knowledge of herbs and also a gift for healing, who eventually helps build St Bartholomew’s hospital and priory in The Witch’s Brat (1970).
  38. Lubrhin Dhu is the young man with an unusual talent for drawing in Sun Horse, Moon Horse (1977).
  39. Lucky is the dragon-pup in The Minstrel and the Dragon Pup (1993).
  40. Marcus Flavius Aquila follows in the steps of his disgraced father to join the Roman army, but in his first battle in England he is seriously injured and forced to leave—he sets out to the North to recover the lost Eagle of the Ninth legion (his father’s legion) in The Eagle of the Ninth (1954).
  41. Mordred is a knight who plots against his father, King Arthur, to bring down Arthur’s court and The Round Table in The Road to Camlann (1981).
  42. Nessan is the daughter of a clan chief, who has to deal with her fear of being offered as a sacrifice to the Black Mother in The Chief’s Daughter (1967)
  43. Oisin is Finn’s son in The High Deeds of Finn MacCool (1967).
  44. Owain, the last Roman-British wearer of the dolphin ring, is the only survivor of a Viking raid and the great battle of Aquae Sulis in Dawn Wind.(1961).
  45. Paris in Black Ships Before Troy: The Story of the Iliad (1993).
  46. Perdita from the English county of Devonshire, lives with her  her father the rector in the quiet Broomhill village where she nearly always finds fairies or Pharisees and sees Queen Elizabeth, in The Queen Elizabeth Story (1950).
  47. Piers is a cousin of Tamsyn who shares her feeling for the sea and becomes a close friend in The Armourer’s House (1951).
  48. Prosper becomes second shield-bearer to Prince Gorthyn in the Companions, a 300 strong anti-Saxon-invasion fighting 7th Century brotherhood in The Shining Company (1990).
  49. Randall is a young, ill-treated dog-boy who is wagered and won in a game of chess between a lord and a minstrel in Knight’s Fee (1960).
  50. Red Phaedrus is an enslaved gladiator in northern Britain in the first century; he earns his freedom, and accepts an offer to impersonate the missing Midir, son of a king of a Gaelic Kingdom, which gets him more than he bargained for in The Mark of the Horse Lord (1965).
  51. Robin Hood is the legendary outlaw in Sherwood Forest, fighting tyranny with a small band of followers, in The Chronicles of Robin Hood (1950).
  52. Simon Carey is a farmer’s son who enlists with the Parliamentary forces (the Roundheads) in Simon (1953).
  53. Sir Bors, Sir Galahad, Sir Lancelot, and Sir Percival are four knights who search for the Holy Grail in The Light Beyond the Forest (1979).
  54. Sir Thomas Fairfax is husband of Anne and father of Moll, the impressive soldier in the English Civil War novel, The Rider of the White Horse (1959).
  55. Tamsyn is a girl from Devon who has to grow up with her uncle—a famous armourer—and his family in London, dashing her hopes of setting sail with her seafaring uncle, in The Armourer’s House (1951).
  56. Tethra is the seventh-born child of the Chieftain of the Epidii in The Changeling (1974).
  57. The Minstrel is a down-at-heel minstrel who finds a beautiful egg on the seashore, uses his harp-music to help the dragon-pup hatch—a pup which he then loses to a thief but retrieves, and together they cure the king’s son, in The Minstrel and the Dragon Pup (1993).
  58. Thomas Keith is an apprentice gunsmith from Edinburgh who becomes a young soldier in the Napoleonic wars in Blood and Sand (1987).
  59. Tristan is the warrior lover of Iseult in Tristan and Iseult (1971).

List of 36 Rosemary Sutcliff titles in-print in the UK | Which online bookseller(s) should link to?

(amended 27/2/14)


Here is list of all the 36 Rosemary Sutcliff titles that I think are available new in printed editions in or from the UK. (The original year of publication in the UK is in brackets). These involve 36 different ‘stories’: The Arthurian Trilogy combines three separate titles that are also available separately; and Eagle’s Honour combines two stories which were originally published separately, but are now not separately available.

Is it accurate? Do tell me what should or should not be there, in your view, with evidence! Please also share with others you think know or might be interested – especially those booksellers out there!

Also, I have a question: if I decide to link books mentioned on this list with an appropriate online bookseller, what should I use? I am not minded to help UK-tax-avoiding Amazon, although I do use it myself at times ….

  1. BEOWULF: DRAGON SLAYER (1961), Random House
  2. BLACK SHIPS BEFORE TROY (1993), Frances Lincoln
  3. BLOOD FEUD (1976), Random House (Print on Demand – PoD)
  4. BLUE REMEMBERED HILLS (1983), Slightly Foxed
  5. BONNIE DUNDEE (1983), Random House (PoD)
  6. BROTHER DUSTY-FEET (1952), Random House
  7. CAPRICORN BRACELET (1973), Random House
  8. DAWN WIND (1961), OUP
  9. EAGLE’S HONOUR (1995) (Contains A Circlet of Oak Leaves, and Eagle’s Egg), Random House
  10. FLAME-COLOURED TAFFETA (1986), Random House
  11. FRONTIER WOLF (1980), Random House  (PoD)
  12. KNIGHT’S FEE (1960), Random House
  13. OUTCAST (1955), OUP
  14. SIMON (1953), Random House  (PoD)
  15. SONG FOR A DARK QUEEN (1978), Random House  (PoD)
  16. SUN HORSE, MOON HORSE (1977), Random House
  17. SWORD AT SUNSET (1963), Atlantic Books
  18. SWORD SONG (1997), Random House
  19. THE ARMOURER’S HOUSE (1951), Random House
  20. THE ARTHUR TRILOGY (Binding together 25, 28, 31), Random House
  21. THE CHRONICLES OF ROBIN HOOD (1950), Random House (PoD)
  23. THE HIGH DEEDS OF FINN MACCOOL (1967), Random House
  24. THE HOUND OF ULSTER (1963), Random House
  26. THE LIGHT BEYOND THE FOREST (1979), Random House
  27. THE MARK OF THE HORSE LORD (1965), Random House
  28. THE MINSTREL AND THE DRAGON PUP (1993), Walker Books
  29. THE ROAD TO CAMLAAN (1981, Random House
  30. THE SHINING COMPANY (1990), Random House
  32. THE SWORD AND THE CIRCLE (1979) , Random House
  33. THE WANDERINGS OF ODYSSEUS (1995), Frances Lincoln
  34. THE WITCH’S BRAT (1970), Random House  (PoD)
  35. TRISTAN AND ISEULT (1971), Random House  (PoD)
  36. WARRIOR SCARLET (1957), Random House  (PoD)

Interesting views & titles already from collecting on Twitter and Website views about eminent writer of children’s literature and historical fiction Rosemary Sutcliff‘s best books of fiction & re-telling

Rosemary Sutcliff’s Best Books

So far almost twenty of Rosemary Sutcliff’s books of children and young adults fiction and historical fiction have been cited either here or on Twitter (#BestRosemarySutcliffBook) after my call for choices and rationales. Some people snuck in more than one choice.

Of those, some raised possible distinctions between reading and re-reading, reading as a child and as an adult, reading novels written for adults and those written for children, and those books of fiction versus her re-telling of saga and legend

A Little Dog Like You (first published 1987)
Blood Feud (1976)
Brother Dusty Feet (1952)
Dawn Wind (1961)
Frontier Wolf (1980)
Simon (1953)
Song for a Dark Queen (1978)
Sword at Sunset (1963)
The Armourer’s House (1951)
The Eagle of the Ninth (1954)
The Flowers of Adonis (1969)
The High Deeds of Finn MacCool (1967)
The Hound of Ulster (1963)
The Lantern Bearers (1959)
The Mark of the Horse Lord (1965)
The Shining Company (1990)
The Silver Branch (1957)
The Witch’s Brat (1970)
Warrior Scarlet (1957)

Which book do readers think is award-winning historical novelist and doyenne of children’s literature Rosemary Sutcliff’s best?

Please post in the comments below your choice as the ‘Best Book by Rosemary Sutcliff’, together with your reasons.

On Twitter a good while back (@rsutcliff), and on this site (, which was then at I asked “So, what is your best of the sixty or so books by eminent author Rosemary Sutcliff (#BestRosemarySutcliffBook) and why?

As first choice, there were mentions of: The Eagle of the Ninth, The Mark of the Horse Lord, The Lantern Bearers, Knight’s Fee, The Sword at Sunset, The Shield Ring, The Queen Elizabeth Story. Those who could not resist other mentions pointed also to: Simon, The Rider of the White Horse, Warrior Scarlet,  Frontier Wolf, The Shining Company, Song for a Dark Queen, and, in addition to Sword at Sunset, the later Arthurian trilogy (The Sword and the CircleThe Light Beyond the ForestThe Road to Camlann).

Helen, commented here that the question ‘which is Rosemary Sutcliff‘s Best Book’ is “a bit like the questions in the old Victorian confession books; what is your favourite flower?” However,  she does say that there is nothing “more Sutcliff than The Eagle of the Ninth … Somehow it goes beyond liking — if you have read it, it is, and it is part of you… It contains all of those features which make up the sum of parts that are a Rosemary Sutcliff novel, plus the indefinable minstrel’s magic that makes it all alive”.

These themes are: “the hero, set apart from his peers both by his injury and his past; the landscape and the seasons as living entities in themselves; the friendship; the adventure; the scenes of slow tension and thrilling escape; the flashes of both humour and horror; the sense and quest for justice and fairness; the clash of two worlds and the places where the distance narrows to nothing between them; the relationship between man and dog, and to a lesser degree, man and horse; the slow romance; the understanding of a military world; the hopeful, ‘song of new beginnings’ ending; and Devon—of course, Devon.” Andrew agrees “how excellently put! (The Eagle of the Ninth)…is perhaps her greatest work and has everything which makes her writing her writing. Definitely one of my favourites and I have spent many hours getting to know Marcus, Esca, and Cottia”.

Renne, too, loves The Eagle of the Ninth She recalls her “delight at finding a copy with dust cover at an auction during my late twenties when I needed an old friend”. She speaks of Rosemary Sutcliff particular gifts: “how good she is on the ways horses and dogs link humans to the natural world. Also, how some men find it easier to show tenderness through the medium of their animal companions”.

For Anne, Rosemary Sutcliff‘s best book is The Mark of the Horse Lord. “Sutcliff is at the height of her powers in this magnificent and moving expression of her favourite themes: the land as a potent entity in its own right; discovery of the self and one’s place in the world; love and comradeship; the struggle to maintain the light in dark times; and freely-given sacrifice for the greater good. This story lifts the hair at the back of my neck every time I read it”. Renne too has ” love for The Mark of the Horse Lord (and Warrior Scarlet) for their focus on the isolation of those (people) different from their society and the struggle to make a place of acceptance”.

Alice has “a real fondness for The Lantern Bearers. When I first read it, I was quite disturbed by how dark and unhappy Aquila’s story was, but when I re-read it a few years later, I appreciated it so much—Aquila’s character growth, his emotions and actions seemed so realistic”. She reflected that possibly what she did not like when she was younger was that “it was uncomfortable in a way that eschewed traditional happy endings”. Over at Twitter @KVJohansen finds it “impossible to choose #BestRosemarySutcliffBook” but The Lantern Bearers “lingers powerfully”.

Rosie’s choice is Knight’s Fee “… the clash of cultures and the tugs of different loyalties, plus it’s a period that fascinates me. But there are many others that run it very close!”

Arethusarose writes that “best book is a relative term”, but when she does think of “overall best Sutcliff book”, for her “it has to be Sword at Sunset. There are a lot of Arthurian novels out there, and a lot of myth-like stories, but Sword at Sunset has become ‘the way it was’ for me, right from my first reading. It’s tied into what little history is known of that era, it ties in bits of the early myth, even bits of the ‘courtly love’ stuff which I largely reject as representing the tropes of that time. It carries Sutcliff’s long look at the underdog, the disadvantaged, growth through pain, recovery through human connection that are themes of most of her books. It is satisfying on every level, and it fits into the Dolphin Ring cycle to boot”. On Twitter, @HMGoodchild called The Sword at Sunset the “most hauntingly lovely Arthurian retelling ever”; and @tweetheart4711 said it is  his #BestRosemarySutcliffBook “… (because) it’s about true heroism”.

For Andrew, The Shield Ring is the best, it is his “favourite book ever. I think that is largely because it is the first Sutcliff book I ever read and so I became attached to the characters and it was the first time I had been exposed to the deep emotional palette that is Sutcliff. @gardener_on Twitter the thinks The Shield Ring is #BestRosemarySutcliffBook, with its Vikings, Normans and Cumbria. @naomilpeb too, chooses The Shield Ring: it’s a “great story, of a not-that-well-known moment in history, and wonderfully evocative of the Lakes.”On Twitter, @kanishktharoor thinks The Shining Company, the #BestRosemarySutcliffBook, without citing his grounds; it is   @Angelaroemelt‘s “all time favourite” because of its “commitment theme”.

@louiseansdell points to The Queen Elizabeth Story as #BestRosemarySutcliffBook “for the domestic detail in particular”.

Honourable mentions: as “personal favourites” (Helen) are the two Civil War books Simon (1953) and Rider of the White Horse (?); as “very close seconds”  ( ?) are The Mark of the Horse Lord and Warrior Scarlet. Andrew’s “other favourites” are Frontier Wolf, The Eagle of the Ninth, and Shining Company “for their deep emotional paintings and exciting stories. What an author!”.  Alice supplements her choice of The Lantern Bearers: she speaks of Song For A Dark Queen as well—”I simply love (it), for the prose and the unflinching layered character portraits, and especially the portrayal of Boudicca as a nuanced, very dark, and yet very human and very female character.” She also refers to “Sutcliff’s Arthurian trilogy—those are the versions of the stories that I accept as the default, true ones. The prose is beautiful and compelling, and the knights are so varied and colourful; so much more than the bland do-it-for-honour-and-glory’ cutouts that one often sees. Gawain, especially…”. Moving well beyond just one ‘Best Rosemary Sutcliff Book’ she also writes “I should stop or I’ll go on forever, but also The Witch’s Brat, just because!”