Rosemary Sutcliff (1920-92)

Image: Bateman’s, Burwash, East Sussex, Jacobean house, former home of Rudyard Kipling, now under the National Trust.


“For award-winning, internationally-acclaimed author Rosemary Sutcliff (1920-92). By Anthony Lawton: godson, cousin & literary executor. Rosemary Sutcliff wrote historical fiction, children’s literature and books, films, TV & radio, including The Eagle of the Ninth, Sword at Sunset, Song for a Dark Queen, The Mark of the Horse Lord, The Silver Branch, The Lantern Bearers, Dawn Wind, Blue Remembered Hills.

Yesterday’s article by Imogen Russell Williams in The Guardian about monks in children’s fiction sent me back to my copy of Rosemary Sutcliff’s The Witch’s Brat, which features Imogen Russell’s favourite, Rahere. I was reminded that the historical novel is dedicated to “Margaret” – my mother, I believe, who trained and worked at Barts, the modern Saint Bartholomew’s hospital. Rosemary Sutcliff’s foreword points out that you can visit the tomb of Rahere in the Church of Saint Batholomew the Great, in Smithfield, London.

His figure lies there carved in stone, in the dress of an Austin Canon, and at his head and feet kneel two small figures in the same dress, reading from Latin Bibles: ‘For the Lord shall comfort Zion: he will comfort all her waste places; and he will make her wilderness like Eden, and her desert like the garden of the Lord; joy and gladness shall be found therein, thanksgiving, and the voice of melody.”

From Wikipedia:

“Rahere (pronounced [ɹaˈhɪə(ɹ)]), or Raher or Raherius, was an Anglo-Norman priest and monk. He was a favourite of King Henry I and is most famous for having founded the Priory of the Hospital of St Bartholomew in 1123.
Many of the details of Rahere’s life have become confused, having been variously described as a cleric, a courtier, a minstrel and a jester, but undoubtedly Rahere existed and did many of the things in the legends about him. He may at different times in his life have been all of these.
Rahere is listed as a canon of St Paul’s Cathedral in a document of 1115. On a pilgrimage to Rome, he fell ill and had a reputed vision of St Bartholomew, who directed him to establish a religious hospital. Upon his return to England, he followed this calling and founded a priory at Smithfield in London, being installed as its prior, a position he held until his death. An ornate tomb in his memory can be found inside the Priory Church of St Bartholomew the Great.
He is the subject of Rudyard Kipling’s poem “Rahere”, collected in Debits and Credits, as well as being a major figure in Kipling’s story “The Tree of Justice”, featuring in Rewards and Fairies. He is also a significant character in Rosemary Sutcliff’s historical novel for children, The Witch’s Brat (1970). It seems likely that Sutcliff was first introduced to Rahere by reading Kipling’s Rewards and Fairies as a child and later chose him as a character for one of her own books: Kipling’s works are a significant and openly acknowledged inspiration for Sutcliff.”

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