This page summarises the evidence for the dating of each work of historical fiction.
2000-1000 BCE – Shifting SandsEdit
"In the winter of 1850, a great storm swept across Orkney. It uprooted the few stunted trees that the winds of other winters had allowed to grow. It hurled fishing-boats far up the beach, and smashed them like broken-backed sea-beasts on the rocks. It tore the roofs from cottages - and it stripped the binding grass from the great dune on Mainland, that the folk of those parts called Skara Brae, and set the sand dune moving. And there, as the sand drifted away, laid open to the sky for the first time in three or maybe four thousand years, were the remains of stone huts. Cold stone huts that had once made up a village, where people had lived and died and loved and hated, and told stories round the fire."
Wikipedia suggests that the Skara Brae village was actually abandoned sometime between 3180-2500 BCE.
900 BCE – Warrior ScarletEdit
From the Historical Note: "It is the story of a boy called Drem, who lived with his Tribe on what is now the South Downs, nine hundred years before the birth of Christ. His land and his people were not cut off from the world; the Baltic amber and blue Egyptian beads that the archaeologists find today in Bronze Age grave mounds show that clearly enough. But probably he never heard much of what went on in the world beyond his own hunting-runs; a world in which Troy had already fallen three hundred years ago, and Egypt was already past its greatest days, and a hollow among the hills by the ford of a rather muddy river had still more than a hundred years to wait before wild Latin herdsmen pitched their tents there and founded Rome."
Warrior Scarlet takes place over the course of seven years, following the protagonist from ages nine to sixteen.
Bronze Age – The Chief's DaughterEdit
The Chief's Daughter, a short story written for young children and set in prehistory, includes very little evidence for dating, except the presence of "A fine spear, its butt ending in a ball of enamelled bronze; an Irish spear!" Set amid a pagan Welsh clan during an era of overseas trade and warfare, when the Welsh and Irish speak different but mutually intelligible languages.
Early Iron Age – Flowering DaggerEdit
The eponymous iron blade is a recognisable but rare import to the High Chalk of southern Britain in "Flowering Dagger". It was inspired by a bronze blade from Mycenae.
415-404 BCE – The Flowers of AdonisEdit
The Flowers of Adonis spans the later phase of the Peloponnesian War, from the departure of the Sicilian Expedition in 415 to the death of Alkibiades in 404 BCE.
The Truce of the Games or "A Crown of Wild Olive" is set during the late summer of 412 BCE, the year following the renewal of the Peloponnesian War in 413 after the Peace of Nikias: "the long and weary war which, after a while of uneasy peace, had broken out again last year between Athens and Sparta." An Olympics in 420 mentioned by Thucydides supports a date of 412, two four-year Olympic cycles later.
100 BCE – Sun Horse, Moon HorseEdit
Sun Horse, Moon Horse's Author's Note explains that "nobody knows for sure how long ago [the White Horse] was made, but probably about a hundred years before Christ." The main events of the story span fourteen years, protagonist Lubrin Dhu's life from ages five to nineteen.
The principal events of the book are the creation of the Uffington White Horse and migration to Scotland of the Epidii, driven by the Attribates, driven in turn by the Romans. None of these things probably happened in 100 BCE. This story is a reimagining of the Epidii in 1977 based on a work of speculative non-fiction written in the 1960s, so as the foreword acknowledges, the proto-Epidii here don't closely resemble the Epid(a)ii of The Eagle of the Ninth (1954) (or The Changeling, 1974), who theoretically are their descendants.
Iron Age, or post-100 BCE – The ChangelingEdit
The Changeling takes place at an unspecified point in the British Iron Age. If Sutcliff's historical fiction is regarded as a series, The Changeling takes place sometime after 100 BCE, the date given in Sun Horse, Moon Horse for the arrival of the Epidii in Scotland. Sutcliff significantly revised her ideas of the Epidii/Iceni after reading T.C. Lethbridge's The Witches, as seen in Sun Horse, Moon Horse (1977) and Song for a Dark Queen (1978). She had presumably not yet read Lethbridge when she wrote The Changeling, as its Epidii more closely resemble their first appearance in The Eagle of the Ninth (1954) and the description of "magic grey fire-metal" is closer to the treatment of iron in Warrior Scarlet at 900 BCE than in the firmly Iron Age tribe in Sun Horse, Moon Horse in 100 CE.
33-61 CE – Song for a Dark QueenEdit
Song for a Dark Queen follows Boudicca over the course of "more than five and twenty summers", from age six to the uprising of 60 or 61 CE. This timeline uses 61 CE according to the eighteen years cited in the text between the Roman conquest and the rebellion, and in conformity with the date given for the overlapping story "Death of a City" in The Capricorn Bracelet .
61 CE – Death of a City (The Capricorn Bracelet)Edit
Dates for The Capricorn Bracelet are given in the chapter headings. The principal scenes take place in 60 and then 61, when Boudicca destroyed Londinium, framed by a narrator recounting the story sometime after the campaigns of Agricola.
80-83 CE – Eagle's EggEdit
Eagle's Egg takes as historical backdrop Agricola's Caledonian campaigns of 79-83 CE, framed by the narrator addressing his grandchildren two generations later, apparently sometime before the loss of the Ninth Legion in 117 CE (see The Eagle of the Ninth).
123 CE – Rome Builds a Wall (TCB)Edit
Dates for The Capricorn Bracelet are given in the chapter headings. The story takes place on Hadrian's Wall as it nears completion, as framed by the narrator in later life.
126-129 CE – The Eagle of the NinthEdit
"Sometime about A. D. 117, the Ninth Legion, which was stationed at Eburacum, where York now stands, marched north to deal with a rising among the Caledonian tribes, and was never heard of again." – Author's note
The Eagle of the Ninth opens when protagonist Marcus is 19, a year after he joined the army and nine years after the disappearance of the Ninth Legion. The events of the novel span three years.
c.130 CE – Swallows in the SpringEdit
Swallows in the Spring's central incident takes place "a dozen years or more" since the disappearance of the Ninth Legion in 117 CE (as specified in The Eagle of the Ninth), within a frame set an indeterminate number of years later, after the narrator has graduated from a new decurion to a veteran centurion.
Outcast is perhaps the most ahistorical of the Roman novels. No historical figures appear in it, and the building of the Rhee Wall of Romney Marsh, which takes place in the later chapters, is now thought to have been of Norman date at the earliest.
Two conflicting clues to its place in Sutcliff's chronology appear in the early chapters: chapter 1, the year of Beric's birth, is "sixty winters" in Merddyn the Druid's memory since the Roman destruction of the Druids, presumably Suetonius Paulinus's destruction of the stronghold of Mon (Anglesey) in 61 CE. This puts the chapter at about 120 CE and the main events of the book, when Beric is 16-20, around 136-140 CE.
The second possible timeframe is given in chapter 4, with the remark that Isca Dumnoniorum, at which sixteen-year-old Beric has just arrived, revolted against the Roman garrison "a few years before he had been born" and was burned down in reprisal, which occurred in the early chapters of The Eagle of the Ninth in 126 CE. This puts chapter 1 at about 130 CE and the central events, when Beric is 16-20, around 146-150 CE.
150 CE Outpost Fortress (TCB)Edit
Dates for The Capricorn Bracelet are given in the chapter headings. The story takes place in Trimontium, with a later frame narration, after the building of the Northern (Antonine) Wall:
"Background for this story: AD 142. Lollius Urbicus built the Antonine Wall, largely on the line of Agricola's old Clyde-Forth string of forts. He also rebuilt the big Outpost stations such as Newstead [Trimontium], and turned the country between the Walls – roughly speaking, Lowland Scotland – into a sort of buffer territory to take the main shock of troubles in the North from Hadrian's Wall."
Late 150s CE – A Circlet of Oak LeavesEdit
A Circlet of Oak Leaves takes place near Trimontium during a tribal revolt while the "Northern" (Antonine) Wall is still being held. The Wall wasn't finished until about 154 CE and was largely abandoned after 164 CE, and the late 150s saw a period of tribal unrest. Trimontium was abandoned in 211 CE. The frame story is set ten years after the flashback.
180s CE – The Mark of the Horse LordEdit
The Mark of the Horse Lord takes place something over forty years after the building of the Antonine (Northern) Wall in 142 CE by Lollius Urbicus. (The wall took twelve years to build, but was begun by Lollius Urbicus, governor of Britain in the early 140s.) The Northern Wall is still being held in this story after two uprisings. In reality the Antonine Wall was abandoned in the early 160s and not reoccupied until 208-211 under Septimius Severus. The events of the story span slightly over a year.
196 CE – Traprain Law (TCB)Edit
Dates for The Capricorn Bracelet are given in the chapter headings. The principal action takes place in "the year Clodius Albinus the Governor of Britain took so many troops overseas to make himself Emperor" and the conclusion two years later under the emperor Severus, with a frame a generation later.
? Roman Britain – The Bridge-BuildersEdit
The Bridge-Builders is set near Canovium in North Wales, a fort established in the late 1st century CE and used until the late 3rd. No historical events or persons are mentioned in the text.
? Roman Empire – The FugitivesEdit
"The Fugitives" takes place in a legionary headquarters in a province of the Roman Empire, but no historical or geographical details are mentioned in the text.
? Roman Empire – The Hundredth Feather Edit
"The Hundredth Feather" apparently takes place in the pagan era of the Roman empire, presumably in Britain. No historical events are mentioned.
280 CE – Frontier Scout (TCB)Edit
Dates for The Capricorn Bracelet are given in the chapter headings. "Frontier Scout" takes place at the beginning of the Saxon incursions into Britain.
292-5 CE – The Silver BranchEdit
The Silver Branch is set at the end of the Carausian Revolt of 286-296. Its protagonist arrives in Britain in 292, a year before Carausius's death in 293. The revolt ends in June of 295 in the novel, rather than 296 as in reality.
341-3 CE – Frontier WolfEdit
Frontier Wolf takes place over approximately a year and a half leading up to the visit of Constans to Britain in the winter of 342-3, which Sutcliff places just after Midwinter of 342.
383 CE – The Eagles Fly South (TCB)Edit
Dates for The Capricorn Bracelet are given in the chapter headings. "The Eagles Fly South" takes place during Magnus Maximus's 383 bid for the imperial throne.
c. 450-472 CE – The Lantern BearersEdit
Many of the events and characters of The Lantern Bearers are factually and chronologically uncertain, but it refers to three definitive dates:
- The first sack of Rome in 410 CE.
- The consulship of Aetius in 446 CE.
- The second sack of Rome in 455 CE.
The time between these dates in The Lantern Bearers is slightly inconsistent, making the dating of the fictional events uncertain. Chapter 1 is said to take place "upwards of" forty years (Constantine's over-30-year reign followed by Vortigern's 10-year reign) since the Roman withdrawal and the destruction of Rome in 410, i.e. 450 or later, yet two years since Aetius's consulship in 446. News of the second sack of Rome in June 455 arrives in spring of the sixth year of the story (13), presumably spring 456, putting chapter 1 in 450.
"Combined Ops" (1960), Sutcliff's article on the writing of The Lantern Bearers, specifies that she used the dates 449 CE for the Auxiliary withdrawal from Britain at the beginning of the novel and 472 CE for the Battle of Wallop (Guoloph), its climax. It also states that its protagonist Aquila is nineteen years old when the story opens and forty-three at its close. These dates are not explicit in the novel.
470s-510s CE – Sword at SunsetEdit
Sword at Sunset spans forty years, twenty years on either side of the battle of Badon Hill, traditionally dated around 500 CE. It begins three days after the final scene of The Lantern Bearers, which spans roughly 22 years from the final Roman withdrawal from Britain circa 450 CE to the Battle of Wallop circa 472 CE.
The opening of Sword at Sunset, however, appears to take place around 480 CE. It is thirty years since the Roman withdrawal of circa 450 CE; seventy since the 410 CE sack of Rome; and "close on" a hundred since the Gothic defeat of the legions at the Battle of Adrianople in 378 CE.
If calculated strictly from Sword at Sunset's internal historical references, the novel can be roughly dated from late 479 to 519 CE, with the Battle of Badon falling in 500 CE. If consistent with the dates of The Lantern Bearers, Sword at Sunset takes place from late 472 to 512 CE.
Dawn Wind spans twelve years leading up to the arrival of St. Augustine of Canterbury in England, traditionally 597 CE. The novel opens on the aftermath of the Battle of Dyrham or Deorham, traditionally the end of British resistance to the Saxon conquest about 577 CE, but in the non-fiction volume Heroes and History Sutcliff cited a gap of fourteen years between Dyram [sic] and Augustine, so her intended date for either event is unclear.
595-600 CE – The Shining CompanyEdit
The Shining Company opens five years before the Battle of Catraeth eulogised in the Welsh poem Y Gododdin, and takes place largely over the year leading up to the battle. It is narrated by the protagonist from a point some considerable number of years after the events of the novel.
? Dark Ages – A Saxon Settler Edit
A Saxon Settler takes place during or after the Saxon conquest of Britain.
886-891 CE – Sword SongEdit
Sword Song takes place over the course of five years against the background of the unification of the kingdom of Norway by Harald Finehair and the early settlement of Iceland, notably by Aud the Deep-Minded and the Vikings of the Western Isles. Aud the Deep-Minded's settlement of the Dales in the spring after her immigration to Iceland is given as A.D. 892 in T. Ellwood's notes to his 1898 translation of Ari the Learned's The Book of the Settlement of Iceland. This puts the conclusion of Sword Song in the autumn of 891 CE and its beginning in spring of 886.
c. 986-992 CE – Blood FeudEdit
The most solidly dated historical event in the book is the death of Bardas Phocas in 989 CE; other events can be calculated forward and backward from this point. The main action of the book begins in 986 CE, when Jestyn is taken captive, and ends in 992 CE. The framing narration of an older Jestyn looking back on his life seems to take place some decades later.
The real Varangian Guard was founded in 988 CE rather than 989 CE, and Khan Vladimir's marriage to Princess Anna may also have taken place this year, but precise timing of many of the historical events mentioned in the novel is uncertain.
1090-1103 CE – The Shield RingEdit
The Shield Ring takes place over thirteen years, beginning ten years before the death of "Red" William II in 1100 CE.
1094-1106 CE – Knight's FeeEdit
Knight's Fee spans twelve years, from the year before the Mowbray revolt of 1095 to the Battle of Tenchebrai in 1106.
1116-1127 CE – The Witch's BratEdit
When the main character, Lovel, is seventeen, Prince William dies at sea in 1121, a little before Christmas. The book thus begins when Lovel is eleven, in October of 1116, and ends in autumn of 1127. The majority of the book takes place between 1123, when construction of St. Bartholomew's Hospital and the associated priory began, and 1127.
Discrepancies from history: In the book, Rahere is still the king's minstrel when Lovel first meets him in 1119; the real Rahere was already listed as a canon of St. Paul's Cathedral in a record from 1115. Also, Sutcliff refers to the wreck of the White Ship and Prince William's death being "a little before Christmas" in 1121; the real wreck took place on November 25, 1120.
1137 CE – Duncan the Red (We Lived in Drumfyvie)Edit
Dates for We Lived in Drumfyvie are given in the chapter headings. "Duncan the Red" takes place in 1137 CE, 12 years after the accession of David I of Scotland.
1139 CE – The Red Sheriff (WLID)Edit
Dates for We Lived in Drumfyvie are given in the chapter headings. "The Red Sheriff" takes place two years after "Duncan the Red".
1160 CE – Midsummer Fair (WLID)Edit
Dates for We Lived in Drumfyvie are given in the chapter headings. "Midsummer Fair" takes place a generation after "The Red Sheriff".
1184-1225 CE The Chronicles of Robin Hood Edit
The Chronicles of Robin Hood is set chiefly during the reigns of Richard I and John of England, though it perhaps begins in the reign of Henry II, and extends into that of Henry III. Reference is made to the captivity and ransom of King Richard (Dec 1192-Feb 1194), his death at Chalus (April 1199), the signing of the Magna Carta in June 1215 (the only date specified in the text), and the death of King John (Oct 1216).
Fictional events in the text are dated relative to these. Though the passage of time between fictional plot points is not always definite, the characters' observation that a little over 40 years have passed in the story corresponds well with the historical dates.
1314 CE – The Man Who Liked a Peaceful Life (WLID)Edit
Dates for We Lived in Drumfyvie are given in the chapter headings. "The Man Who Liked a Peaceful Life" features the capture of Roxburgh Castle by the Black Douglas on the eve of Lent 1314.
1360 CE – A Burgess Builds His House (WLID)Edit
Dates for We Lived in Drumfyvie are given in the chapter headings. "A Burgess Builds His House" takes place over the course of a year.
1450 CE – The Pest Comes to Drumfyvie (WLID)Edit
Dates for We Lived in Drumfyvie are given in the chapter headings. The main action of the story takes place in 1443, so 1450 seems to be the narrative frame.
1513 CE – The Man-at-Arms (WLID)Edit
Dates for We Lived in Drumfyvie are given in the chapter headings. "The Man-at-Arms" is narrated by a survivor of the Battle of Flodden Field.
1534-5 CE – The Armourer's HouseEdit
The Armourer's House takes place during the reign of Henry VIII, when the future Elizabeth I, born 1533, is a year old.
1550s-1618 CE – Lady in Waiting Edit
Lady in Waiting dramatises the life of Sir Walter Raleigh, opening on an episode at twelve years old and closing at his death in 1618. The real Raleigh's year of birth is uncertain, but usually given as 1552 or 1554. His stated age at various points in the novel is not entirely consistent with either year. His age is mentioned four times:
- Chapter 2: Sixteen during the St. Bartholomew's Day Massacres of 1572 (born 1556)
- Chapter 2: Twenty-two in April 1576, when Bess is about to turn eleven (born 1554)
- Chapter 4: Forty (estimated) in May 1592, when he marries (born 1552)
- Chapter 17: Sixty-one in December 1612, when he has a stroke (born 1551)
1563 CE – A House with Glass Windows (WLID) Edit
Dates for We Lived in Drumfyvie are given in the chapter headings. "A House with Glass Windows" takes place in 1562-3, narrated from almost thirty years later.
1569-70 CE – The Queen Elizabeth Story Edit
The Queen Elizabeth Story takes place from Midsummer's Eve of 1569 to Midsummer's Eve 1570. It can be dated by the relative age of Robin Pettle, who is fourteen years old in July of the present year (2), was born the year of Sir Hugh Willoughby's death in the Arctic, over the winter of 1553-4, and was not yet four at Elizabeth's accession to the throne on 17 November 1558 (1). He was presumably born in late November or December 1554 and turned 14 in 1568, with the main plot of the novel opening in June 1569.
1581-82 CE – Brother Dusty-FeetEdit
Brother Dusty-Feet takes place over the course of a year early in the 1580s, probably 1581-2. In chapter 9, Hugh and the Company cross paths with a young Captain Walter Raleigh, "lately returned [in December 1581] from service in Ireland".
1589 CE – Witch Hunt! (WLID)Edit
Dates for We Lived in Drumfyvie are given in the chapter headings. "Witch Hunt!" takes place a generation after "A House with Glass Windows", when its main character is a middle-aged woman.
1637-1642 CE – We Sign the Covenant (WLID) Edit
Dates for We Lived in Drumfyvie are given in the chapter headings, but the 1648 date given for "We Sign the Covenant" is incorrect, possibly an error for 1638 (the signing of the Covenant) or 1642. The events of the story begin with the introduction of the New Revised Prayer Book in 1637 and end with the beginning of the first phase of the English Civil War in 1642.
1642-1645 CE – The Rider of the White HorseEdit
The Rider of the White Horse opens in January 1642 during the buildup to the English Civil War and deals chiefly with the first two years of the war, culminating in the Battle of Marston Moor in July 1644. The last two chapters cover the end of 1644 and into February 1645.
Simon's first three chapters take place in 1640, 41, and 42, while the central events of the story begin with the Battle of Lostwithiel in September 1644 and close on the Battle of Torrington in February 1646, with an epilogue in 1650.
1644-1650 CE – "God Be with You" (WLID)Edit
Dates for We Lived in Drumfyvie are given in the chapter headings. ""God Be with You"" takes place during Montrose's campaigns in Scotland in 1644-5 in the first phase of the English Civil War, with a coda in 1650.
1683-1695 CE – Bonnie DundeeEdit
Bonnie Dundee opens with John Graham of Claverhouse's campaigns against the Covenanters of 1683-4, covers the Glorious Revolution of 1688, culminates in the Battle of Killiecrankie in 1689, and resolves with the death of Jean Cochrane in 1695. The frame story takes place sometime during the 1714-27 reign of George I, when the narrator is a grandfather.
1740 CE – Anderson Brothers (WLID)Edit
Dates for We Lived in Drumfyvie are given in the chapter headings. The principal scenes of "Anderson Brothers" take place in 1740, with some introduction in 1738, and are told from many years later.
1750 CE – Flame-Coloured Taffeta Edit
Flame-Coloured Taffeta takes place over the course of a few days in March 1750, five years after Bonnie Prince Charlie's failed '45 uprising. A brief epilogue jumps ahead to 1755.
1785 CE – Drumfyvie Elects a Provost (WLID)Edit
Dates for We Lived in Drumfyvie are given in the chapter headings. "Drumfyvie Elects a Provost" is set during the earliest establishment of tax-funded social services for the poor, when "There's not a half a dozen Burghs the length and breadth of Scotland that pays a Poor Rate".
1807-1815 CE – Blood and SandEdit
Blood and Sand opens on the evening of April 20th, 1807 and ends in 1815, dates given in the first chapter and the afterword.
1897 CE – The Jubilee Wing (WLID)Edit
Dates for We Lived in Drumfyvie are given in the chapter headings. "The Jubilee Wing" takes place during the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria and the 700th anniversary of the founding of Drumfyvie burgh in "Duncan the Red."