The Lantern Bearers
First edition cover






Young adult

Historical era

Dark Ages


Charles Keeping


1959 Carnegie Medal


The Dolphin Ring

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Sword at Sunset

The Lantern Bearers is a novel first published in 1959 by Oxford University Press, illustrated by Charles Keeping. It was the winner of the Carnegie Medal for 1959[1].

A Roman Briton and his beloved sister are taken captive by Saxon raiders, and after his escape he joins the forces of Ambrosius Aurelianus against the Saxon invasions of Britain. It is the fourth novel about the Flavius Aquila family in both chronological and publication order. Its direct sequel is Sword at Sunset.


Aquila, an eighteen-year-old officer of Auxiliary cavalry, comes home on leave to find his father Flavian and sister Flavia involved in a Romano-British conspiracy to invite the Roman general Aetius to come to the aid of Ambrosius, son of the assassinated High King Constantine, against his uncle king Vortigern the Red Fox and his Saxon mercenary settlers led by Hengest (1). Aquila is suddenly recalled to the Saxon Shore fortress of Rutupiae, where the Auxiliaries have been summoned to withdraw permanently to Gaul. He decides that his loyalty is to Britain and deserts, lighting the Rutupiae beacon one last time before the fortress is abandoned (2).

A few nights after his return, Aquila's home is raided by Saxons who kill Flavian and the rest of the household, abduct Flavia, and leave Aquila for dead, but he is found by another band of raiders and taken as a thrall by Thormod as a gift for his grandfather Bruni (3). He spends almost three years as a thrall in Ullasfjord, a poor settlement in Juteland, where he hears that his father was betrayed to Vortigern and Hengest by his messenger (4). In spring of the third year, Bruni dies (5), and Thormod is one of the Ullasfjord settlers who answer Hengest's call to settle the island of Tanatus, granted to him by Vortigern after the Auxiliaries' departure; he takes Aquila with him, who still hopes to find Flavia and kill the traitor (6). In Hengest's settlement, he meets Flavia, who has a son and is married to her captor, to Aquila's betrayed horror (7). On the night of his escape, he sees Hengest hosting Vortigern and his son Vortimer, and Hengest's daughter Rowena publicly ingratiates herself with Vortigern. Flavia gives him their father's signet ring and arranges his escape from the camp, but says she cannot go with him, to his bitter resentment (8).

Aquila has his thrall ring removed by Brother Ninnias, a monk who tells him that he nursed Flavian's messenger, who had been tortured by Vortigern's agents, on his deathbed (9). Without either rescue or revenge to occupy him, Aquila turns westward to seek out Ambrosius in the Arfon mountains of northern Cymru, to whom he swears his service (10). The next spring, Vortigern puts his wife aside to marry Rowena, and his three sons come to offer their fealty and that of the southern Cymric chieftains to Ambrosius (11). Ambrosius orders Aquila to marry a daughter of one of the chieftains to foster their alliances, and Aquila reluctantly takes the equally unwilling Ness (12). Aquila's bitterness and defensive reserve make his close relationships nonexistent, and he and Ness ignore each other as much as possible (13).

With the Young Foxes' defection to Ambrosius, Vortigern flees north to the protection of Hengest's son Octa, and Ambrosius finally has enough men to take the field against Hengest in the southeast. Ambrosius reestablishes Constantine's capital in the lowland city of Venta (14), and Aquila returns to Arfon for the women and children to find that Ness has given birth to their son, whom he names Flavian. After two years of indecisive fighting, Rowena poisons Vortimer, and Guitolinus, the new pro-Celtic leader of the southern Cymric chieftains, induces them to desert Ambrosius (15). Ness chooses to remain with Aquila instead of returning to her own people, and he tells her (the only person whom he has told) that his sister made the same choice. Vortigern courts the support of the south Cymric and the Saxons, and Hengest takes him hostage at a feast and ransoms him for vast grants of land in southeast Britain, whence Aquila meets Brother Ninnias for a second time, heading westward with the British refugees (16).

Vortigern dies, and six years pass in uneasy peace. Ambrosius's illegitimate nephew Artos has come of age as a dynamic and beloved cavalry commander, idolised by Flavian, to his unapproachable father's secret hurt. He allows Flavian to ride his cavalry mount for the first time, and the boy is thrown and nearly killed. Their rapprochement during his recovery is interrupted by Hengest's advance to the head of the Thamesis valley (17), a battle which only Artos's cavalry can scrape into a stalemate, and Ambrosius and Hengest unwillingly sit down to armistice talks, drawing a border across southern Britain. Five years later, Hengest, newly allied with Guitolinus, invades across the border (18).

The British meet the Saxons in battle, Aquila commanding the left wing that crushes Hengest's shield-ring, where he glimpses a young Saxon warrior who looks disturbingly like Flavia (19). The British finally win the decisive victory that has eluded them, with Guitolinus killed and Hengest routed and fled, and when the chase is called off, Aquila meets Brother Ninnias for the third time attending the wounded (20). Escorting him back to his hermitage, they stumble over Flavia's wounded son Mull, to whom Aquila gives his signet ring for safe passage and a message of reconciliation for Flavia (21). On the day of Ambrosius's coronation as High King, Aquila receives back his ring in signal of Mull's safe escape. He explains to Ambrosius and his assembled comrades that he violated his oath by protecting a Saxon, for the sake of keeping faith with his sister, and is pardoned (22).

Note: The Lantern Bearers is followed immediately by Sword at Sunset, where the perspective shifts to Artos.


Many of the events and characters of The Lantern Bearers are factually and chronologically uncertain, but it refers to three definitive dates:

  1. The first sack of Rome in 410 CE.[2]
  2. The consulship of Aetius in 446 CE.[3]
  3. The second sack of Rome in 455 CE.[4]

The time between these dates in The Lantern Bearers is slightly inconsistent with reality and each other, 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.

Sutcliff's article "Combined Ops" (The Junior Bookshelf, July 1960; see summary below) 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)[5], its climax. It also states that Aquila is nineteen years old when the story opens and forty-three at its close. These dates are not explicit in the novel.

Timeline Edit

Given the time discrepancy between the 446 and 455 dates (7 years in-story, 9 in reality) the timeline has been dated by year of the story, not by calendar year. Quotations establishing the passage of time have been included. Events with accepted dates have been put in bold.


  • 296, defeat of Allectus[6] (17): Calleva burned down
  • 367-8, the Pict War[7] (1): Aquila's great-grandfather's time; Theodosius in Britain
  • 383[8] (1): Maximus takes British troops to fight Gratian
  • 410, (1): the Legions left Britain,[9] first sack of Rome. Constantine defeated the Saxons.
  • 10 years ago (1): Constantine killed after "upwards of thirty" year reign. Ambrosius is 9 (12). "for ten years Vortigern has held virtually all power in the province" (1).
  • "six years ago" (1): Vortigern settled Hengest's Saxons in the east.
  • 2 years ago (1): "General Aetius, he who was consul two years ago, was campaigning in Gaul"
  •  1 year ago (1): Aquila left home ("Almost a year had gone by"). Utha died ("a year or so since").
  • "last autumn" (1): appeal to Aetius in Gaul[10]

Year 1

  • mid-July (1): Aquila recalled after a day from 2 weeks' home leave. Flavia is 16, Aquila two years older.
    • Next day (1): Aquila reports to Rutupiae
    • 3 days later (2): the Auxiliaries withdraw from Britain.
    • A few days later (9): the bird-catcher tortured and dies
    • 8 days later (3): Aquila returns home
    • 2 days later: Flavius farm raided
  • Autumn (4) : Hengest settles on Tanatus.

Year 2

  • next spring-summer (4): Thormod's second raiding season. "Harvest [2] came...Winter [2-3] passed..."

Year 3

  • Mull born: "a man child of about a year old" (7)
  • Autumn (5): "...and then seed-time, and then it was harvest again". Ullasfjord harvest is very poor.

Year 4

  • Late winter (6): spring is late. Ullasfjord decides to follow Hengest.
    • Next day (6) : Bruni falls ill.
    • Days later: Bruni dies.
    • Bruni's Arvale: Thormod decides to take Aquila to Britain
  • Spring (7): 7 days' sailing to Britain, 3 days down the coast to Rutupiae.
    • 3 days later: Aquila meets Flavia
    • 2 nights later: Hengest and Rowena feast Vortigern. Aquila escapes (8).
    • 3 days later (9): Aquila meets Ninnias
    • The next day: Ninnias shows him the bird-catcher's grave
  • Autumn (10): Aquila meets Eugenus in Uroconium
    • A week later: Meets Ambrosius in Dynas Ffaraon

Year 5

  • Spring (11): Vortigern marries Rowena.
    • 3rd day at Aber: the Young Foxes defect to Ambrosius. Aquila saves Cradoc.
  • Summer (12): Aquila trains cavalry. Vortigern deserted, flees to Octa.
  • Autumn (12): Ambrosius meets South Wales chiefs. "They said the Vandals were pressing down Italy again."
    • ("It was almost a year since he had come up with Eugenus the Physician to take service with the Prince of Britain.")
    • Ambrosius orders Aquila to marry Ness. Ness is 16.
    • A month or more later: Aquila collects her on the way back to Dynas Ffaraon

Year 6

  • Winter, 5-6 (13): Preparations for war.
  • Spring (13): Ambrosius sends out the Cran-tara.
    • 4 days before the hosting: Lowland envoys bring "word that for the second time Rome had fallen" [in June 455]
    • 9 days earlier: The guy Ness liked died
    • Battle on the Durobrivae River. Catigern killed.
    • 9 days later: Ambrosius arrives, combined force attacks the Saxons.
  • Autumn (15, 19), Minnow born.

Year 7

  • Winter, 6-7 (14): Britons encamp at Durobrivae and Noviomagus. Ambrosius makes Venta his capital.
    • 6, winter (14): ("Aquila, riding through the streets that he had known as a boy, saw how far the grass had encroached into the roadways in five years.")
  • Spring (15): Aquila collects the families from Dynas Ffaraon; meets Minnow.
    • ("It was almost a year since he had ridden down from Dynas Ffaraon behind Ambrosius, almost a year since he had seen Ness.")

Years 7-8

  • (15): Fighting fighting fighting two years of indecisive fighting ("Again and again in the next two years they hurled the Saxons back into the southeast corner of the province")

Year 9

  • Spring (15): Vortimer poisoned. ("A day came when they were plowing on the hills above Venta...")
    • "What happened a few days later" (15): Vortimer's Welsh leave Ambrosius. Ness stays with Aquila (16).
    • (16): "today he noticed the decay [of their house in Venta] as he seldom did, for he had grown used to it in two years."
  • Summer (16): Vortigern treats with the Saxons. 'Treachery of the Long Knives'. Vortigern grants southeastern lands as ransom.
    • (16): "All that summer there was a long, uneasy hush... At summer's end they heard how that gathering had ended."

Year 10

  • Summer (16): Artos is 14. Aquila meets Ninnias after 7 years.
    • (16): "So almost another year went by, and it was full summer again."
    • (16): "four years and almost forty miles towards the sunrise, Vortimer had held the [Durobrivae] river line against Hengest."
    • (16): Ninnias: "It must be five or six years..." Aquila: "It is seven."

Year 11

  • Spring (17): "News of Vortigern's death reached Venta in the spring, and with it news that Guitolinus the trouble-maker had taken his place as leader of the Celtic party." (Party on, Wales! Party on, Guitolinus!)

Years 11-16

  • Saxons migrate eastward, "and so six summers [11-12-13-14-15-16] went by and a seventh winter [16-17] came." (17)

Year 17

  • Winter, 16-17 (17): Aquila is Captain of a cavalry Wing. Artos is a cavalry leader. Minnow is 9. Inganiad is 15.
    • (17): "A day came that was not spring as yet, but poised on the edge of spring": Minnow hurt. "For three days there was no change, and then, halfway through the fourth night, Flavian stirred."
    • "not so many days later" (17): Saxons encamp at Pontes; Britons ride out.
    • "A few days later" (18): battle at the Thamesis valley. Brychan killed. Inganiad killed.
    • "five days later still" (18): Calleva peace talks
    • ("a hundred and fifty years ago" (18): Calleva burned down at the end of Allectus's reign, 296 CE)

Year 18

  • Border dyke built. ("Five years ago that bank had been bare, chalky earth, raw with newness") (18)

Year 22

  • Late summer (18): Hengest allies with Guitolinus and Scots. Valarius killed.
    • (18): "Summer was nearly gone, the sixth summer [17-18-19-20-21-22] since Hengest and Ambrosius had faced each other across the council table at Calleva Atrebatum". Various contradictory references to "five years ago" indicate that the date is meant to be Year 21, five years after the treaty. Difficult to reconcile 5 years with "the sixth summer", counting the first summer as the year of the treaty, which was made in early spring.
    • Saxon incursion below Cunetio (19)
    • Flavian a month short of 15. 5-year-old scar (19).
    • 3 days later (19): battle of Guoloph. Guitolinus killed. Hengest routed.
    • 2 days later (20): End of the mopping up. Aquila meets Ninnias after 12 years. They rescue Mull.
  • Early winter: Ambrosius crowned High King.

Chronological inconsistencies with Sword at Sunset Edit

The Lantern Bearers ends in c.472, and Sword at Sunset explicitly begins only days afterwards. But the chronological references within Sword at Sunset – e.g., that the Romans departed thirty years before the novel's opening – imply that it begins in c.479, a seven year discrepancy. Moreover, The Lantern Bearers has Vortigern dead eleven years before its conclusion, but Sword at Sunset has his son Cerdic, aged 14 in the tenth year of the story, another discrepancy of seven years.


The Flavius family

  • Aquila (1), commander of Lower Rhenus Horse Auxiliaries, galley-prow nose, an inexpert dolphin shoulder tattoo (1), "a cheerful and easy-going lad who made friends easily" (2) "a thick-set, brown-skinned man" (7) "you have a very bitter face" "he turned away from all things that were friendly now" (10). One of Ambrosius's Companions (11). "The man with the scarred forehead and the frown always between his eyes had no friends. He went always in a kind of armour...They called him Dolphin...and they called him the Lone Wolf." (12) "he hated every Saxon with a sickening hate" (14). "he had lost something–lost it so completely that he did not even really know what it was, so completely that it was only now...that he knew he had lost it. He knew he was a different man than he would have been" (16). Captain of a wing of cavalry (17), with a dolphin banner (19).
    • Inganiad (11), Aquila's red mare. Killed aged 15 in the battle at the Thamesis valley (18).
    • Falcon (17), Aquila's spare mount.
  • Flavia (1), Aquila's younger sister, a fast runner; black-haired; "fierce" (1). "never in her life put anything away". Captured by a Saxon raider (3), eldest son of Wiermund; married him and had Mull (7).
  • Flavian (1), father of Aquila and Flavia. Blinded by a Saxon arrow to the temple (1). "thin, scarred face". Killed by a Saxon chieftain (3).
    • Margarita (1), Flavian's old wolf-hound (1). Killed by Saxons (3).
  • Flavian (15), Pilcod the Minnow, Aquila and Ness's son, born during the first year of Ambrosius's campaigns. Dark-haired and beaky like Aquila (15). Has "little use for books." Idolises Artos. Uneasy relationship with Aquila. Resembles Flavia. Gets a forehead scar to match Aquila's (17). "feathery hair", "as tall as his father already; a tall, grave boy with level eyes." (19)
    • Argos (16), Flavian's brindled dog
    • Whitefoot (19), Flavian's horse at Guoloph
  • Ness (12), Cradoc's younger daughter, "a little fierce, nut-brown creature", less nice (12). Married unwillingly to Aquila. Loved someone else (13). Chooses to remain with Aquila when Vortimer's followers leave Ambrosius (16). "Contented", eventually (23).

People of the Flavius farm and their neighbours

  • Demetrius (1), Greek tutor; never smiles (1). "Demetrius judged no man but himself", old, a "long upper lip", "a beautiful voice" "grey and gentle features". A freed slave, Flavian's steward, and a nominal stoic. Killed by the Saxons. (3)
  • Finn (3), Flavius shepherd. Killed by the Saxons.
    • Bran (3), Flavius sheepdog
  • Old Gwyna (1), woman on the Flavius farm (1). "little, shrivelled, valiant Gwyna" (3).
  • Kuno (1), the oldest man on the Flavius farm
  • Regan (3), member of the Flavius household with a young baby
  • Sabra (1), Flavius farm or neighbour; cat owner
  • Old Tiberius (1), seaward neighbour of the Flavii burnt out a year earlier
  • Vran (1), stable hand on the Flavius farm
    • Lightfoot (1), a Flavius horse

Auxiliaries of Rutupiae garrison

  • Aemilius (2), veteran optio who taught Aquila
  • Clytemnestra (2), 3-banked galley of Rutupiae, the garrison's transport to Gaul
  • Felix (2), Aquila's particular friend, commander of another troop of horse. British-born.
  • Nestor (2), Aquila's horse, went to Gaul aboard Clytemnestra
  • Titus Fulvius Callistus (2), Commandant of Rutupiae

Family of Hengest

  • Hengest (1), Saxon warband-leader settled by Vortigern in Norfolk (1). Not a chieftain. (4). "a greying-golden giant" (7). Vortigern's father-in-law (11). Swears peace with Ambrosius at Calleva. Defeated at Guoloph (19).
  • Horsa (7), Hengest's brother, with him on Tanatus (7). Killed at Durobrivae Ford (14).
  • Octa (7), Hengest's son, war-leader on the continent (7). Invited to hold the north against the Picts and Saxons. Vortigern fled to him (11).
  • Rowena (7), Hengest's daughter, "A tall, red-gold girl, fiercely proud" (7); a harper; Aquila thinks a witch (8). Vortigern's second wife (11). Poisons Vortimer (15).

Family of Thormod

  • Thormod (3), son of Thrand, finds and enslaves Aquila. "a mere stripling...with a skin that was clear red and white like a girl's under the golden fuzz of his beard." In his first raiding season (3). Takes Aquila to Tanatus with the settlers (7).
  • Bruni (3), Thormod's grandfather, to whom dolphins are lucky (3). "an old, bent giant with hair and beard as fiercely white as a swan's feathers, and eyes that were mere glints of blue ice" (4) Over 70 (6).
  • Hunfirth (3), Saxon chieftain, Thormod's maternal uncle
    • Storm-Wind (4), Hunfirth's longship
  • Aude (4), Thormod's mother, Hunfirth's sister
  • Thorkel (4), Thormod's kid brother
  • Gunda (4), Bruni's last thrall, killed by a bear
  • Edric (5), Hunfirth's eldest son, leader of the emigration to Britain
  • Old Haki (6), Hunfirth's uncle, "wise as a grey seal in the ways of the sea"

Family of Wiergyls and Wiermund

  • Wiergyls (3), Jutish chieftain who killed Flavian and was killed by Aquila. (3)
  • Wiermund of the White Horse (3), brother of Wiergyls. Took Flavian's ring, left Aquila to the wolves (3). Eldest son captured Flavia and married her after his death (7).
  • Wiermund's eldest son (3), a "laughing, fair-haired giant" who carries Flavia off (3). He gives her Flavian's ring for a bride-gift after Wiermund's death (7). Flavia has conflicted feelings about him, but considers him brave and trusts him not to beat her (8).
  • Mull (7, 19), Flavia's son, "A dark, fine-boned like to Flavia's as a man's can be to a woman's." At Hengest's last stand (19). Rescued by Aquila and Ninnias (21).

Other Jutes

  • Brand Erikson (4), trader, old friend of Bruni. "a wily, sideways, sly, and daring face"
  • Cynegils (3), bull-necked, red-headed member of Thormod's raiding party
  • Guthrum (4), captain of Sea-Witch
    • Sea-Witch (4), Guthrum's trading ship; Brand Erikson is a crewmember
  • Ulf (3), dead member of Thormod's raiding party
  • Wulfnoth (4), captain of Sea-Snake
    • Sea-Snake (4), Thormod's longship

Royal family of Britain and Wales

  • Ambrosius Aurelianus of Arfon (1), Elder son of Constantine (1). "a man belonging to two worlds" "A slight, dark man...about Aquila's own age", eyes "a pale, clear grey lit with gold", "swiftness and control were in all he did" (10).
  • Utha (1), Constantine's younger son, died a year before the story begins
  • Artorius, Artos the Bear (11), Utha's bastard son, "silvery-mouse colour" hair (11). Sent to Aquila for training. "great physical strength, and he had something of the clumsiness of a bear cub in his movements, though not on horseback." Empathetic to a fault (16). "Artos, who had begun to gather to him all the best and most gallant of the young warriors; Artos, who rode like a flame in battle, a superb leader of mounted men and a rebel against the old established order." (17). "Artos was already one whom men would feel they were following into the light". Critical in the battle of the Thamesis (18).
    • Cabal (11), Artos's dog
    • Cabal (19), son of Cabal
  • Constantine of Arfon (1), son of Maximus and Cymric princess. King of Britain after Legionary withdrawal 410-440.
  • Severa (1), sister of Constantine married to Vortigern (1). Put away in favour of Rowena. Mother of three sons, the Young Foxes (11).
  • Vortigern the Red Fox (1), a clan Chieftain of the Ordovices, married Constantine's sister Severa, suspected of his assassination. King of Britain. Invited Hengest into Britain. Opposed to Rome (1). "a long, lean, red-haired man with a thin beard", restless (7). Marries Rowena. Three sons by Severa (11). "a dreaming fool" (15). Betrayed by Hengest and forced to cede the southeast to the Saxons. Dies.
  • Vortimer (7), Vortigern's son, "a white, proud face"; carries a falcon (7). Eldest of the Young Foxes; defects to Ambrosius after Vortigern's secong marriage (11). "the only thing that really holds the Celts to our banner" (15). Poisoned by Rowena.
  • Catigern (14), red-haired (11), the second of the Young Foxes. Killed at Durobrivae Ford (14).
  • Pascent (14), red-haired (11) youngest of the Young Foxes (14). "He's no leader–too good a follower. He is the stuff that the very best household warriors are made of, brave as a boar and faithful as a hound" (15). Commands the left wing at Guoloph (19).

Ambrosius's companions

  • Brychan (10), "a very tall young man... with a smooth cap of darkly golden hair and a laughing, insolent face." (10). Keeps two dogs, plays the harp well, quarrelsome (11). Volunteers for the Durobrivae mission and hauls Aquila from the river (14). "He was bright with the special flame that always woke in him at the approach of fighting." (17). Killed in the battle at the Thamesis valley (18).
  • Eliphias (11), "the lean and fiery little priest, with his prophet's eye", one of Ambrosius's Companions (11). Schoolteacher (17).
  • Eugenus (10) the Physician, "a plump, pale face". Physician to Constantine and Ambrosius (10). "his dark, bulging eyes were extraordinarily kind" (17).
  • Finnen the Harper (10), Ambrosius's Companion, old (11).
  • Valarius (10), Ambrosius's advisor. "pouchy face" "drilled shoulders" "watery blue eyes" (10). Constantine's bodyguard (11). Rescued Ambrosius (12) and feels he failed Constantine. Drinks too much (13). Hengest's hostage. Warns Ambrosius of the peace breaking, killed by Saxons (18).

People of Wales and Roman Britain

  • The bird-catcher (1): "a small, earth-coloured man with a sharply pointed face like a water-rat's", Flavian's messenger to Ambrosius (1). Betrayed the Roman party to Vortigern (4) under torture and was buried by Brother Ninnias (9).
  • Guitolinus (7), kinsman of Vortigern, "a face like a dark dagger-thrust" (7). Follows the Young Foxes; blue eyed (11). Accuses Ambrosius of poisoning Vortimer (14). Leader of the Celtic party. "Young and fiery and something of a fanatic" (17). Killed at Guoloph.
  • Brother Ninnias (9), beekeeper and sole survivor of a monastery in the Great Forest. Meets Aquila again 7 years later (16). And again 12 years later (20).
  • Amlodd (10), Dynas Ffaraon doctor in Eugenus's absence
  • Belarius (10), Arfon man gored by a boar
  • Dogfael (11) the Chieftain, host of the talks with the Young Foxes
  • Cordaella (13), Cenfirth's wife, who pours for Aquila instead of Ness in the Hall at Dynas Ffaraon
  • Cenfirth (13), Cordaella's husband
  • Calgalus (14), Vortimer's follower
  • Cunefa (16), cart-owning refugee with Ninnias
  • Brother Drusus (16) of Ninnias's Community, of a martyric disposition
  • Kylan (19), Artos's standard-bearer

People of Cradoc's household

  • Cradoc (11), a chieftain of Powys, "a middle-aged man", "sandy hair" (11). Father of Ness and Rhyanidd (12).
  • Rhyanidd (12), Cradoc's elder daughter, fair-haired, pretty, "gentle dignity", nice (12).
  • Kilwyn (12), Cradoc's smith
  • Vran (12), Cradoc's stable hand, whose ankle is broken

Aquila's troopers

  • Amgerit (14), man of Aquila's squadron, wounded at Durobrivae
  • Capell (20), Aquila's cavalryman, wounded at Guoloph
  • Dunod (20), Aquila's cavalryman, wounded at Guoloph
  • Glevus (14), member of Aquila's squadron killed at the Durobrivae bridge
  • Owain (14), "grim little" man of Aquila's squadron, survivor of Durobrivae (14). Unwilling escort 2IC, Welsh, "narrow, windburned face"  (15). Aquila's second through the battle of Guoloph (20).
  • Priscus (18), cavalryman of Aquila's
  • Struan (14), man of Aquila's squadron, survivor of Durobrivae bridge


  • Theodosius (1), put down the Pict invasion in 367-8
  • Magnus Maximus (1), Spaniard lieutenant of Theodosius; married a princess of North Wales, fathered Constantine of Arfon.
  • Gratian (1), emperor who fought Maximus
  • The Picts (1), northern tribes who killed Constantine. Hengest's Norfolk settlement was in defense (7).
  • Xenophon (1), 5-4th century Greek writer. Flavian sends passages with the bird-catcher to verify that the network is still clear.
  • Odysseus (1), returned prodigal
  • Ran the Mother of Storms (3), Saxon goddess
  • Homer (4), poet of The Odyssey
  • Odin (4), Saxon god
  • Thor (5), Saxon god
  • The Grey Hag (5), Saxon death goddess
  • The Horned One (9), Celtic god
  • The Scots (11), sea-raiders from Erin. Ally with Hengest to break the treaty with Ambrosius (18).
  • Thracian Horse (12), Auxiliaries stationed at Venta under Constantine
  • Horatius (14), bridge-holding Roman hero
  • The Brigantes (15), Celtic tribe of mid-northern Britain, not allied with Ambrosius
  • The Dumnonii (15), Celtic tribes of southwest Britain, not allied with Ambrosius, until (), fight under Pascent at Guoloph.


Roman Britain

  • Forest of Anderida (7) (the Weald), southeast Britain; the Great Forest (9)
  • Aquae Sulis (13), lowland Roman city
  • Calleva (13), lowland Roman city
  • Cunetio (19), lowland Roman city below which the Saxons invade.
  • Deva (14) (Chester), Roman city; the Young Foxes come into Ambrosius's hosting
  • Durobrivae (14), deserted Roman city, one of two crossings of Durobrivae River below the Forest of Anderida. British winter camp (14).
  • Flavius farm (1), under the South downs; on a stream with a mill, pasture, ex-vineyard
  • Glevum (14) (Gloucester), Ambrosius leads the infantry through it. Its rulers are unaligned.
  • Ninnias's house (9), on a ridge 40 miles east of Rutupiae in the Great Forest, near his destroyed Community
  • Noviomagus (14), British winter camp after Durobrivae
  • Pontes (18), where Hengest encamps before Thamesis battle
  • Regnum Harbour (4), where Sea-Snake put in to raid the Down Country
  • Rutupiae (1), Saxon Shore fort, Aquila's post
  • Sorviodunum (13), lowland Roman city. British encamp at Guoloph, an ancient turf hill fort a few miles to the east (19).
  • Uroconium [sic] (10) (Viriconium, Uriconium), inland city on the eastern edge of Cymru
  • Vectis (4), island outside Regnum, Sea-Snake and Storm-Wind's rendezvous
  • Venta Belgarum (1), city near the Flavius farm; the bird-catcher's code word (1). Constantine's capital. Aquila meets Eugenus at the Golden Grapevine inn (10). Ambrosius's capital after the first year of his campaigns (14). Aquila's family shares a house next to the Governor's Palace with Eugenus and three other married officers (15), with a mosaic of Ganymede, a dolphin fountain, a damson tree.

Cymru (1), mountainous western Britain; Wales

  • Aber of the White Shells (11), where the Canovium road comes to the coast
  • Arfon (1), mountains of North Cymru (1). "Eryri, the Home of the Eagles", the tallest Yr Widdfa (10).
  • Canovium (11), Roman fort in North Wales
  • Dynas Ffaraon (1), in the Arfon mountains (1). Fortress on a hill overlooking a lake. Ambrosius's winter quarters. Older than the Roman conquest. Seat of the lords of Arfon, "the Fortress of the High Powers" (10).
  • Geronwy (16), Vortigern's fortress
  • Mon (11), Anglesey
  • Powys (11), south Wales. Cradoc rules a valley there, where Ness grew up.
  • Segontium (10), Roman fort on the Welsh coast. Ambrosius's summer quarters (10). Grey stone fortress above the straits of Mon (Anglesey), abandoned early by the Legions. Now used against Scots raids (11).

Saxon territory in Britain

  • Tanatus (2), island off Rutupiae, given to Hengest by Vortigern. Hengest's burg, Tanatus (7), main Saxon settlement on Tanatus.

Juteland (4), Denmark

  • Ullasfjord, Western Juteland (4), Hunfirth's settlement. Its burial ground is the Long Howe by the Gods' House Follows Hengest to Tanatus in Aquila's third year there (5).
  • Gundasfjord (5), Western Juteland settlement who follow Hengest the year before Ullasfjord
  • Hakisfjord (5), Western Juteland settlement who follow Hengest the year before Ullasfjord
  • High Ness (5), Western Juteland settlement who follow Hengest the year before Ullasfjord
  • Sunfirth (7), Western Juteland settlement south of Ullasfjord

Elsewhere in Europe

  • Gaul (1), where Aetius is campaigning
  • Rome (2), sacked again
  • The Great Forests (5) of central-eastern Europe, whose tribes drove the Jutes to Juteland
  • Erin (11), Ireland

"Combined Ops" Edit

Sutcliff outlined the inspiration, preliminary research, and story development of The Lantern Bearers in "Combined Ops", a short article published in The Junior Bookshelf, Vol. 24 No. 3 (July 1960).[11] It was reprinted in Only Connect: Readings on children's literature, ed. Sheila Egoff et al. (1969).[12]

The initial idea for the story was the reflection that after four hundred years in Britain, the Roman forces were so deeply integrated into British society that some must have deserted when ordered to abandon the province. The hero would come of a service family, in order to make his choice as difficult as possible. Sutcliff's personal collection of history books soon revealed that the final Roman withdrawal from Britain was not the departure of the legions in c. 410 but that of the auxiliary forces forty years later, which pushed the beginning of the story to 449 and opened the possibility of overlap with the historical King Arthur. Further research through the county library provided two books by T. Dayrell Reed that supplied a usable picture of British-Saxon warfare in the period and a theory of the identity of Arthur. (Sutcliff would also characterize Dayrell Reed as an "inspired crackpot" in a 1986 interview with Avalon to Camelot.[13]) The story would conclude at a "turning of the tide" for the Romano-British, the Battle of Wallop in 472.

Because this children's novel would therefore follow its Flavian protagonist Aquila from the age of nineteen to forty-three, a next generation would be introduced "to carry on the interest" and entail a partner to produce it with, who became Ness and the Minnow. The tragic loss of Flavia was brought in "because it was the kind of the thing that must have happened so often", and its effect would be "the hard defensive shell of bitterness and the fear of being hurt more than he could bear a second time that would maim his relationships with other people, especially anyone he loved, from that time forward; and it would take the rest of the book, and the help of most of the other characters in it, for him to work out his salvation." With this much of the story worked out, Sutcliff began the first draft.

Sutcliff names the following sources consulted in her initial research:

  • Trelawney Dayrell Reed, The Battle of Britain in the Fifth Century (1944)
  • Trelawney Dayrell Reed, The Rise of Wessex (1947)
  • Arthur Weigall[14], Wanderings in Roman Britain (1926)
  • Arthur Weigall, Wanderings in Anglo-Saxon Britain (1927)
  • Bertram Windle[15], The Romans in Britain (1923)
  • R.G. Collingwood[16], Roman Britain (1923)
  • Ian Richmond, The Pelican History of England[17], vol. 1: Roman Britain (1955)
  • Arthur Bryant[18], The Story of England: The Makers of the Realm (1953)
  • Gildas[19], presumably De Excidio et Conquestu Britanniae (On the Ruin and Conquest of Britain)
  • Nennius[20], presumably Historia Brittonum (The History of the Britons)
  • William of Malmesbury[21], presumably Gesta Regum Anglorum (Deeds of the Kings of the English)
  • Geoffrey of Monmouth[22], presumably Historia regum Britanniae (The History of the Kings of Britain)

Other background and referencesEdit

"The Lantern Bearers" is also the title of a 1888 essay by Robert Louis Stevenson and 1908 painting by Maxfield Parrish.

The "singing magic" that Flavia (3) and Rowena (8) make is a phrase borrowed from Rudyard Kipling's "The Cat Who Walked By Himself" in the Just So Stories for Little Children. The term "oar-thresh", used by Bruni, is likewise a Kipling coinage from " "The Finest Story in the World" ".

Margarita, the senior Flavian's wolfhound, may be named in tribute to Margarita's gravestone at the British Museum.

Lindsey Davis's fifth "Marcus Didius Falco" novel Poseidon's Gold, published in 1992, the year of Sutcliff's death, was dedicated to her "on behalf of all the children who know how far it is from Venta to the mountains", a reference to the bird-catcher's code-phrase beginning, "It is all of two hundred miles..."

Adaptations Edit

The Lantern Bearers has been adapted twice by BBC Radio.

  • "The Lantern Bearers", ad. Felix Felton, Children's Hour, BBC Home Service, 1961
    • Part 1: The Sea Wolves (BBC Home Service Basic, 19 February 1961)[23]
    • Part 2: The Dolphin (BBC Home Service Basic, 26 February 1961)[24]
    • Part 3: The Forest Sanctuary (BBC Home Service Basic, 5 March 1961)[25]
    • Part 4: The Young Foxes (BBC Home Service Basic, 12 March 1961)[26]
    • Part 5: The Hostage (BBC Home Service Basic, 19 March 1961)[27]
    • Part 6: The Dark Warrior (BBC Home Service Basic, 26 March 1961)[28]
  • "The Lantern Bearers", ad. Monica Grey, Story Time, BBC Radio 4, 1984
    • Part 1 (BBC Radio 4 FM, 6 August 1984)[29]
    • Part 2 (BBC Radio 4 FM, 7 August 1984)
    • Part 3 (BBC Radio 4 FM, 8 August 1984)
    • Part 4 (BBC Radio 4 FM, 9 August 1984)
    • Part 5 (BBC Radio 4 FM, 10 August 1984)
    • Part 6 (BBC Radio 4 FM, 13 August 1984)
    • Part 7 (BBC Radio 4 FM, 14 August 1984)
    • Part 8 (BBC Radio 4 FM, 15 August 1984)
    • Part 9 (BBC Radio 4 FM, 16 August 1984)
    • Part 10 (BBC Radio 4 FM, 17 August 1984)[30]

Publication history Edit

References Edit