Source: BBC History Extra

A tabernacle of bakers

Strict laws about the distribution of bread stated that no baker was allowed to sell their bread from beside their own oven. They had to sell their produce from a stall at one of the king’s approved markets. These small, portable ‘pop-up’ shops were known in Middle English as ‘tabernacula’—‘little shops made of boards’.

A stalk of foresters

Foresters in medieval society were respectable and well paid. Their  duties included protecting the forest’s stock of game birds, deer and other animals from poachers. From time to time they also stalked criminals, who took to the forests to evade capture.

A melody of harpers

The medieval period – the age of troubadours and minstrels – was an era defined by its emphasis on knightly tradition. The harp was used to accompany songs about brave deeds and courtly love. Travelling harpists moved from town to town performing instrumental accompaniment at banquets and recitals of madrigal singing.

A sentence of judges

In 1166, Henry II sought to shift power away from individual landowners and bring it more directly under his own control. He crated the courts of assizes, where a national bench of judges travelled around the country for quarterly court sessions. These judges based their decisions on a new set of national laws that were common to all people—hence the term ‘common law’.

A faith of merchants

Merchants formed guilds of fellow traders, which eventually bought charters directly from the king, allowing towns to become independent of the lord of the manor. ‘Faith’ was a reference to the trustworthiness of a person, and in this use was meant ironically, for merchants were rarely trusted. Offences were officially punishable by a stint in the pillory, but because the guilds were self-regulated most perpetrators got off with only a fine.

An abominable sight of monks

Monks were not popular in the 15th century; resentment of the trampling of pagan traditions had been exacerbated by a perception that monks were well fed and comfortable while the general population starved. ‘Abominable’ is defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as “causing moral revulsion”, hence this usage.

A superfluity of nuns

There were some 140 nunneries in England between 1270 and 1536. Many  were severely overcrowded. This noun appeared in print in The Book of St Albans .

A stud of horses

Horses were at the centre of life in the Middle Ages. Medieval horses were classified by the role they played in society. During the Middle Ages, monasteries ran breeding centres called stud farms – ‘stud’ has its roots in the German word ‘stute’, meaning mare.

A cry of hounds

Hunting dogs were important members of the medieval household. Every noble family kept kennels for their dogs, and these were looked after by a team of dedicated servants.‘A cry of hounds’ is thought to derive from the hunting cry that instructs the hounds in their pursuit.

A richesse of martens

The European pine marten was a top prize for hunters in the Middle Ages, because of its valuable pelt. Tudor ‘statutes of apparel’ – strict laws governing the amount of money the people could spend on clothing – dictated the colours, cuts and materials that could be worn by each level of society, and stated which furs could be worn by which tier of the aristocracy. Only those of or above the rank of duke, marquise and earl were allowed to wear sable fur, while ermine, the white winter coat of the stoat, which could only be obtained for a few months of the year, was reserved for royalty.



For 2016 so far the countries that viewers of pages of this blog have come from are:

Countries of Origin of viewers of www.rosemarysutcliff.com blog on writer Rosemary Sutcliff

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Collection of Rosemary Sutcliff covers via Google Images March 2016

Rosemary Sutcliff’s favourite instrument was the bagpipes. At my invitation, Steafan Hannigan, musician and composer, generously composed a fine lament for Rosemary Sutcliff shortly after her unexpected death in 1992. It was played  at the memorial service for her in Novemeber 1992 at St James, Piccadilly— on some uelliann pipes.

Lament for RS


“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 …” (The Eagle of the Ninth)

The Eagle of the Ninth was first published in 1954. Various books are linked by this Dolphin ring of the Aquila family. In TThe Silver Branch from 1957  Flavius, a descendent of Marcus, and his kinsman Justin lead a resistance movement to the Saxon attacks on Britain.Then in Frontier Wolfpublished in 1980,  Alexios (“a scion of Marcus’ blood”) leads the Frontier Wolves who manned an outpost in the far north of Roman Britain. The much earlier (1959) The Lantern Bearers was also set in Roman Britain, during the coming of Anglo-Saxon invaders. The nineteen-year-old Aquila (again, a descendant of Marcus) sees his home and family destroyed by Anglo-Saxon invaders and becomes a slave, before escaping to join the free men in Wales where he meets a young leader Artos the Bear (Rosemary Sutcliff’s interpretation of King Arthur). Sword At Sunset (1963) follows the story of Artos the Bear.

In Dawn Wind, published in 1961, Owain is fourteen when the British war-hosts gather to hold what territory they still had against the Saxons. He hopes that one day ‘the dawn wind might blow and some part of the Britain he had known might be restored.’ Owain too is descended from Marcus. The Dolphin ring turns up again in Sword Song (1991), and finally in The Shield Ring (1956) a group of Vikings, including Beorn – last descendent of the Marcus line, though now with Norse blood, lives in the Fells of Lakeland, trying to hold out against the resources of Norman England.

In summary, chronologically:

The Eagle of the Ninth (1954) – 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 (1997) – 10th century
The Shield Ring (1956) – 11th century
“Angharad wore around her neck a heavy golden ring, much battered and set with some dark green stone……(with a dolphin)  engraved on it” (Sword Song)

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