Is Prime Minister David Cameron’s approach to Europe informed by reading Rosemary Sutcliff?

In my more fanciful moments I find myself wondering whether, in his dealings with Europe, David Cameron may have taken some inspiration from Carausius in Rosemary Sutcliff‘s historical novel The Silver Branch?  (Rosemary Sutcliff’s uncle Harold Lawton did live out his later years in Peasemore, the Berkshire village Cameron grew up in … but then we would all do well, politicians in particular, to remember that in all matters correlation is not cause ! )

“If I can make this one province strong—strong enough to stand alone when Rome goes down, then something may be saved from the darkness. If not, then Dubris light and Limanis light and Rutupiae light will go out. The lights will go out everywhere”. Carausius stepped back, dragging aside the hanging folds of the curtain, and stood framed in their darkness against the firelight and lamplight behind him, his head yet turned to the grey and silver of the starry night.

More posts about The Silver Branch on this site, and a summary of the story here

Rosemary Sutcliff selling well | Bestselling books of 2011 | The Guardian

The Guardian newspaper has presented the aggregate information on physical book sales in Britain in 2011.

Three already elderly Stieg Larsson thrillers topped last year’s all-year bestsellers table, followed by Jamie’s 30-Minute Meals (the Christmas No 1) and Guinness World Records, with One Day and The Help just outside the top 10. Glance at 2011’s chart, and you could be forgiven for wondering if 12 months have really passed.

For this was a year when old books saw off new ones, and paperbacks sent hardbacks packing. The same seven titles merely change places, with Larsson’s musty trio and David Nicholls’s and Kathryn Stockett’s two-year-old novels all given renewed sales muscle by movie versions.

Interestingly – to me – the combined sales (some 23,500 books) of the two versions of Rosemary Sutcliff‘s 1950s historical novel The Eagle of the Ninth, whilst way down in the full charts, put her in the top twenty (by volume) of the historical and mythological fiction category. On top of that about her publisher Oxford University Press sold about 6,700 copies of The Eagle of the Ninth Chronicles (which also includes The Silver Branch and The Lantern Bearers). Highest seller by volume in historical fiction was Philippa Gregory’s The Red Queen, with nearly 200,000! And in there  in the top ten is Rosemary Sutcliff fan Ben Kane. Congratulations!

In children’s fiction, which embraces The Wimpy Kids books as well as J K Rowling, Enid Blyton and Alex Scarrow, (to highlight some very different genres of children’s book), such a volume of sales only allows Rosemary to creep in to the top hundred in about 90th place for The Eagle of the Ninth (although I have not looked to see if there are any duplicate versions of the same title in those above or below her ‘position’).

Historical Fiction Top Twenty

Title Author Volume Binding
The Red Queen Philippa Gregory 193,263 Paperback
My Last Duchess Daisy Goodwin 108,176 Paperback
Death of Kings Bernard Cornwell 64,876 Hardback
The Confession of Katherine Howard Suzannah Dunn 63,259 Paperback
Empire of Silver Conn Iggulden 62,737 Paperback
the Lady of the Rivers Philippa Gregory 51,994 Hardback
The Road to Rome: Forgotten Legion Chronicles Ben Kane 50,137 Paperback
The White Queen Philippa Gregory 46,840 Paperback
The Captive Queen Alison Weir 42,783 Paperback
Heresy S. J. Parris 42,029 Paperback
Insurrection Robyn Young 38,654 Paperback
Wolf Hall Hilary Mantel 35,516 Paperback
Conqueror Conn Iggulden 33,909 Hardback
Rome: The Emperor’s Spy M. C. Scott 26,650 Paperback
Revelation:Shardlake C. J. Sansom 25,711 Paperback
Praetorian Simon Scarrow 24,282 Hardback
Secrets of the Tudor Court Darcey Bonnette 24,020 Paperback
The Sisters Brothers Patrick deWitt 23,740 Paperback
The Eagle of the Ninth Rosemary Sutcliff 23,397 Paperback

Source: Bestselling books of 2011 – Commentary | Books | The Guardian

Click here for spreadsheet of full Guardian-Nielsen data, if you want to play …


Rosemary Sutcliff’s Dolphin Ring and fictional Roman Aquila family

In a comment on a recent post yesterday Robert Vermaat points me to a blog post from a few years ago which explores how Rosemary Sutcliff passed a dolphin ring down many generations of  the Aquila family over several books. Thus:
“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 … ”
As to why this was a dolphin, he’s not sure it was ever explained? Does anyone know? The books, by the way, in order of century setting, not order of writing, are:
The Eagle of the Ninth (1954) – set in the 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 (1991) – 10th century
The Shield Ring (1956) – 11th century

Rosemary Sutcliff’s Dolphin Ring books | The sequence

A Twitterer, who is “reading Knight’s Fee now” asks “is there a chronology of (Rosemary Sutcliff) books re the family with the dolphin ring?”. I think it goes like this – but do put me right any of you Rosemary Sutcliff experts out there … And does anyone know or recall WHY a dolphin is the image on the ring?

The Eagle of the Ninth (AD 133),
The Silver Branch (about AD 280),
Frontier Wolf (AD 343),
The Lantern Bearers (AD 450),
Sword at Sunset (immediately follows the time of The Lantern Bearers)
and Dawn Wind (AD 577).

The  sequence of stories of the descendants of Marcus Flavius Aquila, hero of The Eagle of the Ninth, continues with Sword Song (about AD 900) and The Shield Ring (about AD 1070).

Web book chat on Rosemary Sutcliff’s novel The Silver Branch

Rosemary Sutcliff's  The Silver Branch 1957 book coverThe Silver Branch  by Rosemary Sutcliff was chatted about on the web on June 15 (2011). Commenting on the advance notice of this discussion (see below) ‘Annis’ (“The Silver Branch is the bridesmaid of The Eagle of the Ninth trilogy, but my personal favourite”) noted that “there was a recent discussion about the novel at the Historical Fiction Online forum “.  That discussion was kicked off by ‘Parthianbow’, aka historical novelist Ben Kane. He concluded his review (first published here):

The Silver Branch has a much larger list of characters than The Eagle of the Ninth, and this adds to its appeal. As well as Justin and Flavius, we have the genial Carausius, the cold, calculating Allectus, Evicatos, the brooding warrior, and Cullen, the faithful King’s Hound. Last but not least, there is the fierce old matriarch, Great-Aunt Honoria. Every one of these protagonists is simply but splendidly drawn, and their presence successfully enlarges the tale for the reader. Rich images from the first book also reappear: the Aquila signet ring with the carved green dolphin at its heart and the eagle standard that Marcus retrieved in Scotland.

Themes of comradeship and loyalty ― to family and friends, as well as to ideals ― are central to the plotline, and appeal to us all. As always, Sutcliff’s descriptions of the time are vivid and for the most part, extremely authentic. It is this rare ability to draw us completely into ancient times that makes The Silver Branch and her other works such a joy to read. Be sure to read The Eagle of the Ninth first, however!