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The Flower of Nature (MS 11390) is a natural encyclopedia and bestiary in Middle Dutch verse newly put into its digitised manuscripts collection by The British Library. In addition to its fantastical drawings, it also provides rare evidence of a medieval lending library. An oath is written on the last page, which states that its borrower swears on the cross drawn next to the text that he or she will return the manuscript or die! The oath is signed by a woman, in a 14th- or 15th-century hand, who identifies herself as ‘abstetrix heifmoeder’ (‘obstetrix’ means midwife).

http://blogs.bl.uk/digitisedmanuscripts/2017/02/the-flower-of-nature.html

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One Alan Myers once compiled an ‘A to Z of the many writers of the past who had a significant connection’ with the North-East of England. It seems now to have disappeared from the web . He writes of Rosemary Sutcliff:

“One of the most distinguished children’s writers of our times, Rosemary Sutcliff wrote over thirty books , some of them now considered classics. She sets several of her best-known works in Roman and Dark Age Britain, giving her the opportunity to write about divided loyalties, a recurring theme. The Capricorn Bracelet comprises six linked short stories spanning the years AD 61 to AD 383, and Hadrian’s Wall features in the narrative.

The Eagle of the Ninth (1954) is perhaps her finest work and exemplifies the psychological dilemmas that Rosemary Sutcliff brought to her novels. It is a quest story involving a journey north to the land of the Picts to recover the lost standard of the Roman Ninth Legion. A good part of the book is set in the North East around Hadrian’s Wall (a powerful symbol) and a map is provided. The book has been televised, and its sequels are The Silver Branch (1957) and The Lantern Bearers (1959), which won the Carnegie medal. Sutcliff returned to the Romano-British frontier in The Mark of the Horse Lord (1965) and Frontier Wolf (1980).

Northern Britain in the sixth century AD is the setting of The Shining Company (1990), a retelling of The Goddodin (v. Aneirin) a tragedy of epic proportions. The story, however, is seen from the point of view of the shield-bearers, not the lords eulogised in The Goddodin, and treats themes of loyalty, courage and indeed political fantasy.”

How relevant are Rosemary Sutcliff’s novels to contemporary politics and society?

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John Fitzgerald writes a piece about the referendum, about which he himself says (in his own words, in a comment elsewhere here)

It’s written from a pro-Leave standpoint and is quite religious in its outlook … So, it won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but I hope it goes to show just how relevant RS’s novels are to contemporary politics and society.

Source: Londinium: The Fourth Rome? Guest Post by John Fitzgerald

Rosemary Sutcliff's mother Nessie Lawton

Rosemary Sutcliff always remarked on Midsummer’s Eve (June 23rd) in her diary. She called it her official birthday; so she had two birthdays a year, like Paddington Bear and the Queen. It was also the birth day of her mother. Here in the UK we largely missed Midsummer’s Eve this year, with the EU Referendum looming, and the turmoil in the wake of the resul

1988 June 23rd Thursday … There’s another blackbird’s nest in the front garden, in place of the one the ginger cat took.

1989 June 23rd Friday … Started to watch last day of Ascot, but of course it disappeared – industrial action …

1991 June 23rd Sunday. Midsummer’s Eve—Cold as winter, and pouring with rain all day.

1992 June 23rd Tuesday. Midsummer’s Eve. My Official Birthday. Mummy’s birthday … Went and stood out in the garden for a few minutes before bed. Was lovely, smelling of grass & night scented flowers.

June 23rd 1992 Diary entry Rosemary Sutcliff

Hawthorn or may tree blossomMay 10th Tuesday. Went along for the ride when Ray took Mrs Prosser home. The may all coming out along the lanes. Joan collecting my earrings and a white shirt for dying grey in Chichester today. Should be back in half-an-hour or so.
© Anthony Lawton 2012

The may refers to the  ‘may tree’, or hawthorn. The blossom appears on the tree at the beginning of May in the south of England. According to the Royal Horticultural Society, “until the calendar was changed in 1752, hawthorn would be in flower for May Day, which used to be 11 days later than it is now”.

At  the May Day celebrations people and houses used to be decked with may blossoms or boughs (‘bringing home the may’) which were traditional decorations, associated with the woodland spirit known as the Green Man.

I think of her writing this always in bed at night – I sometimes sat there when she did, as I recall. However, maybe my memory plays tricks, for this entry is apparently written during the day (‘Joan will be back’, from shopping, ‘in half-an-hour or so).

April 23rd Saturday. The most lovely day. Joan and I wearing our red roses for St George went for a run and the first picnic tea of the year under Amberley Castle, heard the first cuckoo of the year. Walked around the garden after we got back.

© Anthony Lawton 2012

Sutcliff families lived mainly in the North in the 1890s in England and Wales. (Courtesy Ancestry). With an ‘e’, Sutcliff is a place-based name from any of the three places in West Yorkshire called Sutcliffe. The name is  from the Old English suð ( = ‘south’) + clif ( = ‘riverbank’, ‘slope’, and ‘cliff’).

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