The Mark of the Horse Lord by Rosemary Sutcliff – The 1965 Club

The Mark of the Horse Lord cover

Participating in The 1965 Club encouraged me to read The Mark of the Horse Lord by Rosemary Sutcliff which I’ve had in the house for at least a couple of years. I would have read it sooner if I had realised that the setting is mainly in the exact place that I grew up – albeit some 2000 years or so earlier than when I was stravaiging about the land around Dumbarton Rock or Theodosia as the Romans called it, and Are-Cluta which is an ancient name for Dumbarton although it was more widely known locally as Alclutha. There is a handy map and glossary in my 1967 reprint of the book.

The Romans are in control of most of Britain and Phaedrus is a young red haired gladiator hoping to win his freedom after spending seven years as a gladiator. He does gain his freedom but a drunken night of celebration leads him into big trouble and imprisonment again.

He’s confused when he’s unexpectedly sprung from prison by a group of strangers, they had spotted how similar in looks Phaedrus is to Midris, their missing king. Eventually they talk Phaedrus into taking the king’s place and to try to eject the usurperer Queen Liadhan from Are Cluta (Dumbarton). Phaedrus will have to make the rest of the tribe believe that he is really King Midris. The real king has been blinded by Liadhan to make sure that he can never be accepted as their king again and he’s earning a living as a leather worker in the south.

While travelling north of the Antonine Wall to Dumbarton Phaedrus works hard at learning the history of all of the tribe so that he won’t be discovered as a fake Midris, and eventually a brutal battle ensues.

As you would expect of Rosemary Sutcliff this book is beautifully written, she does take some liberties with the geography of the area but not many readers would realise that. I was particularly pleased that she included an unusual character in the shape of a young warrior who just happened to be in touch with his feminine side when it came to clothes and jewellery. He was a bit of a fashion icon but the inclusion of Conory seems to have riled up the fundamentalist religious types one of whom cut her Goodreads rating right down to one star!!! for what she kept calling ‘content’. Honestly there is nothing in the least bit sexual in this book. Some people just go around their lives scouring everything for something they can object to, and if it isn’t there then they make up something that will feed their homophobia. I suppose it makes them feel superior somehow.
But we all know better don’t we?!

I’ll give it four stars on Goodreads. If you want to know what Dumbarton Rock (Theodosius) looks like have a keek at some of the posts on this link here.

I read this one for The 1965 Club.

1965 club

Bonnie Dundee by Rosemary Sutcliff

Bonnie Dundee cover

Bonnie Dundee by Rosemary Sutcliff was first published in 1983 and it’s a Puffin book. Previously I’ve enjoyed quite a few of Rosemary Sutcliff’s books for adults and I found this one to be well written and informative, very early on in the book I learned that a lorimer was a maker of spurs and horse accoutrements. I had just thought of lorimer as being a surname.

Young Hugh Herriott is an orphan and is living in the Highlands with his mother’s family. His mother had more or less been cast off by her family as she had married a travelling artist against their wishes. Hugh’s grandfather had taken him back into the family but Hugh was very much an outsider, just tolerated by the rest of his relatives. It is a turbulent time in Scotland (when isn’t it?) and religious zealots in the shape of Covenanters are being hunted down by government soldiers. A close encounter with some redcoats makes Hugh realise that he’s happier on the side of the redcoats than with his Covenanting family. If you thought that ‘redcoats’ were always English think again, there were plenty of Lowland Scots in that army.

In truth it’s seeing Claverhouse (Viscount Dundee) that pushes Hugh to leave his family and eventually he finds himself as part of Claverhouse’s household which leads him to follow him into battle. Things had come to a head when the Catholic King James succeeded to the throne on his brother Charles’s death. When James’s wife gives birth to a son the Protestants at court are determined to bring William of Orange over from Holland to push James out, William’s wife is a Stewart and of course they are Protestants. Some deluded people are still fighting this religious mess – it’s what has caused all the trouble in Ireland.

So begins the Jacobite cause with James eventually legging it to France after Claverhouse or Bonnie Dundee as he was nicknamed pays the ultimate price. If you want to learn a bit of Scottish history painlessly then this is an ideal read, a bit of an adventure tale woven into historical fact, and very atmospheric.

I’m fairly sure that Sutcliff’s mother must have been Scottish as she’s very good at writing Scots dialect, and her mother’s name was apparently Nessie – another clue I think. Rosemary Sutcliff spent most of her life in a wheelchair which makes her ability to write such great descriptive scenes all the more impressive as her own experiences must have been sadly narrow, especially as she lived at a time when access for disabled people was not great.

This is one of those books that you continue to read, knowing what the outcome must be – but daftly hoping for a better one.

Flame – Coloured Taffeta by Rosemary Sutcliff

Flame-Coloured Taffeta cover

Flame – Coloured Taffeta by Rosemary Sutcliff is a Puffin book which was published in 1986. It was probably aimed at pre-teen children, but I intend to work my way through all of the author’s books – eventually.

The setting is the mid eighteenth century and the coastal south-west of England between Chichester and Selsey Bill. It was a time of on and off war with France and just five years after the failed attempt by Charles Edward Stewart to get the Jacobites back on the throne of Britain.

Damaris is a twelve year old girl who lives with her father and aunt on a coastal farm, an area which sees lots of smuggling activity, not that they call themselves smugglers, they’re known as Free Traders. Damaris is sure that she heard a gunshot during the night and she’s afraid that one of her local friends might have been shot, so she goes out searching her father’s farmland and discovers a young man, a stranger who has been shot in the leg.

She needs the help of her friend and neighbour Peter to get the wounded man draped across her horse and they take him to their hideout in a tumbledown cottage nearby. He’ll have to share the place with the wounded fox that they’re nursing back to health.

But have they done the right thing, is he a smuggler or is he perhaps a spy from France?

This is a very quick read with just 120 pages and it also has well detailed illustrations by Rachel Birkett.

I enjoyed this one, but then I do like stories featuring smugglers as many people do. I’m not sure if that’s a particularly British penchant/weakness or if it’s more universal. What do you think? Pirates are another weakness of course, maybe it’s just that ‘bad guys’ seem more interesting!

Book Purchases

We were in Edinburgh on Tuesday, right in the middle of the city – Princes Street, we don’t often go there but I wanted to visit the Habitat store. It was a bit of a shock to discover that Habitat has gone from Edinburgh, I knew the one in Glasgow had closed. I suppose we have the internet to blame for that, apparently it closed about five years ago and I’ve only just found out, so obviously they never made much money from me.

Anyway, we rarely go to Edinburgh without visiting Stockbridge, the secondhand bookshops are far more my cup of tea than the shops in Princes Street, or Shandwick Place for that matter. Stockbridge is about a 20 minute walk from the centre of Edinburgh and it’s like a wee separate town, with lots of independent shops – and charity shops of course. You can see some images of parts of Stockbridge here.

I was lucky bookwise as you can see.

books

A lot of them are childrens books, but I like to catch up on what I missed out on as a child. I don’t think I’ve ever read a Nancy Drew book, but I know that Joan @ Planet Joan is a big fan so I couldn’t resist buying:

The Secret of the Old Clock by Carolyn Keene.

The Marvelous Land of Oz by Frank Baum. I’ve yet to read The first Oz book although I have the second.

The Lantern Bearers by Rosemary Sutcliff. It’s about Britain just after the Romans left, a dark time of change and upheaval. (Does it remind you of anything?!)

Once Upon a Time by A.A. Milne. This book was first published in 1917 but my copy is a 1962 reprint. It’s a series of hilarious adventures apparently – involving a cloak of darkness, magic swords and seven league boots. It sounds like fun – for children of all ages.

A Folly of Princes by the Scottish author Nigel Tranter is set in Fife where I live and involves some of the local castles and King Robert III, it should be interesting as although Tranter wrote fiction his books were well researched.

Crime at Christmas by C.H.B. Kitchin was first published in 1934 but this one is a 2015 reprint by Faber and Faber. I’m going to keep this one fro Christmas reading.

Lament for a Maker by Michael Innes – another Scottish author – was first published in 1938 and it was recommended to me by a blogger yonks ago. I have read a lot of his books, including the ones he wrote under the name J.I.M. Stewart and I always enjoy his writing.

I think you’ll agree that I had quite a successful day in Edinburgh – despite not being able to do my planned shopping in Habitat.

Tristan and Iseult by Rosemary Sutcliff

Tristan and Iseult

This story is one of those things which was a bit of a cultural blindspot as far as I was concerned, because I really didn’t know much about it, apart from the fact that Wagner wrote an opera around the story. So when I saw this Puffin book in a charity shop I decided to buy it and rectify matters. Obviously this was written for children, as it’s a Puffin, not a Penguin, and I have previously read and enjoyed The Eagle of the Ninth by Rosemary Sutcliff, which was made into the film The Eagle fairly recently. She does have a lovely way of painting the pictures for you.

Basically the story is very similar to the Arthur-Guinevere stories but Tristan and Iseult predates those ones. As with Arthur, the tales have been told and set in most European countries, with slight variations and in the foreword of this version Sutcliff explains that she decided to leave out the love-potion part of the storyline, as she thinks that that was added in medieval times as an excuse for Tristan and Iseult falling in love with each other.

It was a time when kings could give their sisters away in marriage to any chap who had pleased them, as a reward, and that’s exactly what King Marc of Cornwall did. That poor Cornish princess didn’t even seem to have a name, never mind a say in her future. Anyway, Rivalin King of Lothian took her back to his home in the north, but within a year his queen died, just after producing a son, who was named Tristan, which means sorrow.

Suffice to say that 16 years later Tristan asks his father the king if he can travel to Cornwall and so begin his adventures, including dragon slaying in Ireland and a quest to find a particular red-haired woman for King Marc, who is planning to marry again. Of course it turns out that the red-head is none other than Iseult the King of Ireland’s daughter. Unfortunately Tristan and Iseult fall for each other so it all ends in tears.

I enjoyed this old legend and as this is a children’s version it’s a very quick read at just 138 pages. It involves all the Celtic areas of Britain and Brittany too.

I don’t know if it was because of David Bowie being all over the news whilst I was reading this book, but that word ‘sorrow’ is mentioned right at the beginning of the book and I had his version of ‘Sorrow’ going through my head a lot of the time I was reading this, except it should have been long red hair and not blonde!

A lot of the story takes place in Tintagel, Cornwall which is one of my favourite places. It’s positively magical, have a look at the images here. They don’t give you the correct colour of the sea around there though, which is a beautiful deep jade green.

The Eagle – the film

Amazingly, we actually went to the cinema in Dunfermline last night to see The Eagle which is based on the Rosemary Sutcliff book which I enjoyed reading years ago. Mind you it was SO long ago that I’m not sure how true to the book the film is. I don’t remember there being so much fighting and goriness but as that seems to be what most people want then they’re obviously going to add in as much as possible.

It’s set in Roman Britain and Marcus Aquila has been given command of a fort on Hadrian’s Wall and he is determined to gain back his family’s honour which was lost when his father and the Ninth Legion which he had command of, disappeared along with their golden eagle standard. The only way he can do it is to find the standard and take it back to Rome.

I quite enjoyed it but the battle scenes were so loud, they shook the whole place and it’s positively painful on my ears. Marcus and his slave Esca travel north into Caledonia/Scotland and some of the Scottish scenery is quite spectacular, the best part of the film for me really. It turned out to have a bit of a Romano-British Brokeback Mountain flavour to it, I think.

We hadn’t been to the flicks for ages, since we saw Tamara Drew actually because we didn’t get around to seeing The King’s Speech. I think we’re the only people in the western world who haven’t seen it. We did try when it was at the wee local cinema but we couldn’t get in as everybody else had booked their tickets! You live and learn!