Brother Dusty-Feet
Brother Dusty-Feet
First edition cover







Historical era



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"All your life you'll know things that respectable folk in houses can never know; and all your life you'll be one of us, because you were given Seisin of the Road."

Brother Dusty-Feet is a novel for younger children published by Oxford University Press in 1952, with illustrations by C. Walter Hodges. It has an episodic plot that follows eleven-year-old protagonist Hugh Copplestone as he tours Elizabethan England with a company of strolling players.

Plot Edit

When his cruel, spiteful Aunt Alison decides to have his beloved dog Argos knocked on the head, nearly eleven-year-old Hugh Copplestone escapes with him in the night from her farm in Devonshire. They set out for Oxford, the seat of the New Learning, where his father once attended the university (1). After a day of walking and a night slept in the open, they meet a Company of strolling players breakfasting in a hedge-tavern. Hugh begs to join them, fascinated in particular by their fifth member Jonathan Whiteleafe the tumbler, who takes Hugh under his wing (2). That afternoon in the inn-yard at South Molton, they act the True and Noble History of Saint George in the Elizabethan manner, without admission and nearly without props or scenery (3).

Their tour continues. On a July day in the Cotswolds they meet the Palmer, a pilgrim who shows Hugh his power of calling the wild animals to the sound of his pipe, but Hugh chooses not to become his apprentice (4). In September, at Stourbridge Fair, they meet their friend Zackary Hawkins the Quack Doctor, and Hugh is given the Seisin of the Road by a Tom-o'-Bedlam (5).

Three days before Christmas on the Pilgrim's Way to Canterbury, Argo strays off and is nowhere to be found. That night in the stable of the Fountain Inn, Jonathan tells the story of how Pan followed the three shepherd to the Nativity and left his panpipes there in tribute (6). On the morning of Christmas Eve, the Piper discovers Argos in a leg trap and releases him, and Argos makes his way to Canterbury, where, not finding Hugh at the Fountain, he follows the crowds to the Cathedral service and is reunited with the Company, taking his place in the Nativity play that evening (7).

In February they lose themselves in the mist while crossing Romney Marsh and find themselves on the estate of the loud and eccentric squire Thomas Trumpington, where they perform for his household of pets and servants (8). In spring they head for the New Forest, and are put in the stocks for performing without a permit. A gallant young traveller springs them in the night and tells them of his plans to transmute base metals into gold and conquer the New World for the Queen: Walter Raleigh (9). In Shaftesbury, they pick up Paolo, a Genoan sailor with an injured foot. They carry him to Glastonbury, where Jonathan tells him the story of St George defeating the Raven knight who tried to steal St Peter's sword from the monks of Avalon (10). In May, a year since Hugh's escape, they perform at the Exeter Wool Fair, where Hugh is spotted by Uncle Jacob. The players fob him off with a tale of plague, but leave Devon in a hurry next morning (11).

In July they play in Sherborne, where Jonathan tells the story of the singing bishop, St Anselm, and Hugh encounters a lively little girl whose father seems to recognise Hugh (12). That evening after the performance, Hugh is summoned to meet Anthony Heritage, his father's old Oxonian friend, who offers to send Hugh to Oriel College as servitor to his son Martin. Deeply torn, Hugh refuses out of loyalty to the Players – who can't believe his luck. Jonathan, though sad to lose his protégé, persuades Hugh to accept, promising that the company will return to visit him in Sherborne (13). The next morning they say their farewells and Mr. Heritage brings him home to his friendly, old, and idyllic house, where he meets Antigone, Martin, Meg, and Mistress Heritage once more, and knows that, however he will miss the road and the Company, he will also be happy there (14).

Chronology Edit

Brother Dusty-Feet takes place over the course of about a year in the reign of Elizabeth I. It is probably 1581-2, dated by a cameo appearance, in the spring after Hugh joins the Company, by the young Captain Walter Raleigh, lately returned (in December 1581) from campaigning in Ireland (9).

  • Nearly 3 years ago, when Hugh was 8 (1): Peter Copplestone died and Hugh went to live with Jacob and Alison.
  • May (1): Day 1 (1), Hugh and Argos run away from Aunt Alison's farm; Day 2 (2), They walk eastward; Day 3 (2), They join the Company and see their first play.
  • July (4): They meet the Palmer in the Cotswolds
  • September (5): Stourbridge Fair
  • Autumn (6): they tour the Home Counties
  • Three days before Christmas (6): Argos gets lost outside Canterbury
  • Christmas Eve (7): the Piper rescues Argos and he arrives at the Cathedral.
  • February (8): they cross Romney Marsh
  • Spring (9): they meet Walter Raleigh in the New Forest
  • March or April (10): they bring Paolo to Glastonbury
  • May (11): they meet Uncle Jacob in Exeter
  • July (12): they meet Anthony Heritage in Sherborne

Characters Edit

Near Torrington:

  • Hugh Copplestone (1), orphan of nearly eleven.
    • Argos (1), Hugh's dog.
    • The periwinkle (1), an adventurer
  • Aunt Alison (1), Jacob's wife, "not a nice woman."
  • Uncle Jacob (1), Hugh's mother's brother.
  • Ammiel (1), Jacob and Alison's shepherd
    • Ship and Lusty (1), the sheep-dogs
  • Jenny (1), the farm maid
  • Peter Copplestone (1), Hugh's dead father, Vicar of a Cornish village.
  • Hepzibah (1), his Cornish housekeeper

The Joyous Company

  • Tobias Pennifeather (2), "a tall, dark, swashbuckling sort of person who seemed to be the leader", romantic villains
  • Benjamin Bunsell (2), "a square, merry-looking man with sparkling rings in his ears", comic relief
  • Jasper Nye (2), "had a melancholy expression and seemed very proud of his legs", leads
  • Nicholas Bodkyn (2), "the fourth, who seemed only a few years older than Hugh", heroines
  • Jonathan Whiteleafe (2), the Fifth Man, "the most splendid of them all", devil and tumbler
    • Saffronilla (2), the tilt-cart mare

Encounters on the road

  • Posy (2), a recalcitrant donkey
  • The Palmer (4), "a tatterdemalion creature; green and grey and russet rags fluttered about him, and he carried a long staff in his hand, and walked with a strange free lilt that made Hugh think of a wild animal."
  • Zachary Hawkins (5), quack doctor
    • The Archduke of Tuscany, Califf Haroud El Mohamid, Helen of Troy, Julius Caesar (5), his loyal customers
  • The Tom-o'-Bedlam (5), like "the king of a lost country."
  • Thomas Trumpington (8), marsh-dweller
    • Timothy and Araminta, his servants
    • Silly-Billie, serving-man, ferret-keeper
    • Ned Trumpington, parrot-monger, serving in Ireland under Lord G de W
    • Roland and Oliver, mastiffs
    • Nimminy-Pimminy, cat
    • Arthur, Lord Grey de Wilton, parrot
  • Parson Treadgold (8), Trumpington's chess partner
  • Will Squance (9), the Fine Gentleman's gentleman
  • Captain Walter Raleigh (9), a young Devonshire gallant bound for Plymouth; the Fine Gentleman. An alchemist.
  • the Constable (9), of a New Forest village, a stickler
  • Paolo (10), sailor of Genoa
  • Anthony Heritage (1), friend to whom Peter Copplestone was servitor at Oxford
    • Antigone Heritage (12), the starry little girl
    • Martin Heritage (12), Hugh's new schoolmate
    • Mistress Heritage (12), the lady who smells nice
    • Meg Heritage (14), the baby


  • Queen Elizabeth (1), reigning monarch
  • Master Thomas Bodley (1), lecturer
  • Henry VIII (1),
  • Rahere (2), Henry I's jester, of whom Jonathan reminds Hugh
  • Pan (6), the fourth visitor at the Nativity
  • William Rufus (9), New Forest hunter
  • Walsingham (9), Secretary-of-State, a shady employer
  • Philip of Spain (9), cruel tyrant of the West Indies, as opposed to Gloriana of England, their rightful possessor
  • St George (10), native of Coventry and definitely not Cappadocia
    • Kalyb, an enchantress
    • Bayard, his horse;
    • Meribah, the sword with which St Peter defended Christ
    • the Raven, an evil knight
  • Sir Huon of Bordeaux (11), a knight of Charlemagne
  • Esclaramonde (12), the Emir of Babylon's daughter
  • St Aldhelm (12), a singing Saxon monk, abbot of Malmesbury, Bishop of Sherborne
  • King Ina of Wessex (12)
  • Oberon the Fairy King (12)

Places Edit

  • Devon (1)
    • Jacob and Alison's farm, by a village in a coomb near Torrington
    • Torrington (1), where the farmhands have gone for May Fair
    • Bideford (1), gateway to the Spanish Main and the glories of Cathay; Long Bridge (2); The Pool (2)
    • South Molton (2), the Company's next port of call
    • Exeter (11); the Black Lion; the Wool Fair
  • Cornwall (1)
    • Peter Copplestone's vicarage
  • Oxford (1),
    • Oriel College (1), Peter Copplestone and Anthony Heritage's alma mater
    • Bocardo Prison (1), debtor's gaol
    • Crosse Inn (1), theatrical venue
    • Magdalen Tower (1), the Foot of the Rainbow
  • Somerset (4), not fond of theatre
  • The Cotswolds (4); Lillingfold Village
  • Glastonbury (4); shrine of Walsingham; Avalon; the Pilgrim Inn (10)
  • Malmesbury, Newbury, Maidenhead (5)
  • Cambridgeshire (5)
    • Stourbridge Fair (5) "loud as a thunderstorm, glorious as a rainbow, and huge as the Four Cities of Fairyland rolled into one."
  • St. Albans (6), the Eleanor Cross
  • Guildford Town, Sevenoaks, Tonbridge, Tenterden (6)
  • The Pilgrim's Way (6) to Canterbury
  • Canterbury (6): the Fountain Inn; the Bell Harry Tower; the Fighting Cocks Tavern; Mercery Lane; the Buttermarket; the Cathedral
  • the Kentish marshes (8): Rye, Burmarsh, Dymchurch, the Rhee Wall, Romney Marsh
  • Southampton (9): the Westgate: Windwhistle Tower & Catchcold Tower
  • the New Forest (9)
  • Shaftesbury to Bristol (10), Paolo's itinerary
  • Blackmoor Vale (12), once the White Hart Vale
    • Sherborne: the Abbey; the Sun Inn; Great Tom; Sherborne School
    • Bulbarrow Down, Jonathan's birthplace
    • Prior's Caundle, the Heritages' village

Plays Edit

  • The True and Noble History of Saint George
  • The Martyrdom of Saint Edmund
  • The Life and Martyrdom of St Alban
  • The Life of St Nicholas
  • The Shepherds' Play
  • The Maryrdom of St Sebastian
  • The Martyrdom of St Cecilia
  • Sir Huon of Bordeaux

Background and references Edit

Publication history Edit

In English:

  1. Oxford University Press, 1952, 1961, 1968, 1971, 1979.
  2. Red Fox, 1995.
  3. RHCP Digital [Random House Children's Publishers UK], 2013. E-book.


  1. German: Bruder Staubfuss, 1959, 1961, 1984, 1995, 2007.
  2. French: Le Frère Pieds-Poussièrieux, 1961.
  3. Croatian: Prašni bratac, 1961.
  4. Japanese: Hokorimamire no kyōdai, 2010.

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