The Queen Elizabeth Story







Historical era



C. Walter Hodge

The Queen Elizabeth Story is a novel for younger children published by Oxford University Press in 1950, with illustrations by C. Walter Hodges. Its episodic plot follows eight-year-old Perdita Pettle through small adventures of rural Elizabethan childhood as she anticipates the visit of the Queen on progress. The story is the only one of Sutcliff's historical novels to include a strong fantasy element, the garden "Pharisees".

Sutcliff briefly described the pleasure of writing The Queen Elizabeth Story in the 1975 essay "Lost Summer":

"For me, there have been two, among my published books, written with this effortless delight. The first was The Queen Elizabeth Story. I had already written The Chronicles of Robin Hood, but that was a re-telling, an adopted child, while the Q.E.S. was the first book born out of my own being." [1]
The book is dedicated "For Susan".

Plot Edit

Perdita Pettle, a little girl living in her father's Devonshire rectory early in the reign of Elizabeth I, is able to see the fairies, or "Pharisees", of the garden and woods because she was born on Midsummer's Eve. She is very fond of stories, most of all her mother's tale of how the news of Queen Elizabeth's succession to the throne came to their village of Broomhill, a few years before Perdita was born (1). On her eighth birthday, the Pharisees call Perdita out of her bed to make a wish on the nearby standing stone called the Grey Maiden, which will be granted in a year and a day. Perdita wishes to see the Queen (2).

Perdita's elder brother Robin takes her to Bideford for St. Margaret's Fair in July, where they meet his friend Adam Hilyarde, the young owner of Broomhill's manor house, whom she discovers is very nice. They encounter a boy maltreating a puppy, and Robin fights (and then pays) him for it, which they take home and name Bran (3).

On a night in October later to be remembered as the Great Gale, the Rector tells Perdita "The Tale of Sir Gawaine and the Loathly Lady." King Arthur is held for ransom by the knight of Tarn Wathelan, unless he can answer the riddle, "What thing is it that all women desire?" The hideous Loathly Lady gives the answer, Their Own Way, in exchange for marriage with one of Arthur's knights. Only Sir Gawaine is gallant enough to volunteer. She tells him that his courtesy has half-lifted the curse on her and her brother the knight of Tarn Wathelan, so she can now become beautiful either by day or night. Gawaine leaves the choice with her, and having given her Her Own Way, the curse is broken (4).

On Christmas Eve, Robin comes home from school with Adam, who has been left alone by his guardians, and the family enjoys their Christmas feast and a mummers' play of St. George and the Dragon. Robin tells Perdita a rumour from Court, that the Queen is to visit Devonshire the next summer (5). When their Twelfth Night plans are defeated by bad weather, Adam invites Perdita to at party at his empty house, where he conjures up for her the Lords and Ladies of a great tapestry, with whom he once consoled his own childhood loneliness (6).

In March, Mistress Pettle's Irish Great-Aunt Phoebe descends on them, and tells Perdita the story of "The Children of Lir": Lir, a chieftain of the immortal Danaans of Ireland, remarried his wife's sister, who cursed her step-children, Fionula and her younger brothers, to live as talking swans for nine hundred years, until the Woman of the South should marry the Man of the North. When the nine hundred years are up, the Swan Children return to their father's palace, but the Danaans have hidden themselves since the conquest of the mortal Milesians. The Swan Children take shelter with a Christian priest, but are stolen as a betrothal gift for the Woman of the South. They return to human form, but having become Christians and therefore mortals, they instantly age, die, and go to Heaven (7).

In May, as Broomhill is preparing for the Queen to pass through, Mistress Pettle takes Perdita to Bideford to buy silks for new dresses from old Master Trebilcock, an enthusiast (8). Then Perdita is allowed to inspect the Rose of Sharon, the greatest tall ship in Bideford, whose master spins her wonderful yarns about his adventures all over the world (9).

Just before Midsummer, the Queen passes through Broomhill on her way to the great house of Adam's uncle, but Perdita, who has eaten herself sick on gooseberries the day before, cannot go to see her pass after all. Robin helps her to watch from her bedroom window, and they are both deeply moved by the sight of the Queen, even at a distance (10). But this is small consolation, and next day Robin asks Adam to contrive the means by which Perdita might be presented to the Queen. Adam sneaks into the private garden to retail Perdita's woes to the Queen and beg her to have Perdita invited to the next evening's ball, and the amused Elizabeth makes it so (11).

The next evening Perdita accompanies her family to Brendon Hall, where the Queen receives her with Adam and Robin before her appearance at the ball. She gives Perdita a knot of ribbons from her dress to wear as a favour, and promises the same to Robin and Adam when they meet her again as successful sailor and farmer. Many years later, when Perdita has married Adam and they have two children, she has two Queen Elizabeth stories to tell them: her mother's, and her own (12).

Chronology Edit

The Queen Elizabeth Story takes place from June 1569 to June 1570. It can be dated by the relative age of Robin Pettle, who is 14 in the present year when Perdita turns eight (2), was three at Elizabeth's accession to the throne in November 1558, and was born the year of Sir Hugh Willoughby's death in the Arctic, over the winter of 1553-4 (1)[2]. He was presumably born in December 1554 and turned 14 in December 1568, with the main plot of the novel opening on Midsummer's Eve 1569.

  • 1510 (7), Great-Aunt Phoebe came to England
  • 1553 (1), Anthony Jenkinson travels in Asia
  • 1554 (1), Sir Hugh Willoughby died in the Arctic
    • Late November or December, Robin Pettle born
  • 1558, November (1), Queen Mary dies and Queen Elizabeth succeeds to the crown
  • 1561, Midsummer's Eve (1), Perdita born
  • 1569
    • Midsummer's Eve (2), Perdita's birthday wish
    • Late July (3), St. Margaret's Fair
    • Late October (4), the Great Gale
    • 24 December (5), Robin and Adam come home for Christmas
  • 1570
    • Twelfth Day (6), party at Whinworthy-Samarkand
    • March (7), Great-Aunt Phoebe's month-long visit
    • Early May (8), visit to Bideford
    • 3 days before Midsummer (10), the Queen's visit
    • 2 days before Midsummer (11), Adam petitions the Queen
    • Midsummer's Eve (12), Perdita's ninth birthday and the Queen's ball
  • "Years and years afterwards" (12), Perdita and Adam marry, and live at Whinworthy with their two children

Characters Edit

The Rectory family

  • Perdita Jane Pettle (1), who can see Pharisees because she was born on Midsummer's Eve (1). A "small, brown-skinned, pointed face, fluffy brown hair under a trim little coif, and eyes like two speedwell flowers, so blue that it did not seem quite possible that they could belong to such a little brown mouse." A "sensible person" (2), and soft-hearted (3). "She always took her sorrows quietly" (6).
  • Timothy Pettle (1), Perdita's father, the Rector, a quiet, reading man
  • Judith Pettle (1), her mother, "lovely to look at and always laughing" (1), a native of London (2).
  • Robin Pettle (1), her brother, future Merchant Venturer, with a secret ambition to be master of his own ship (1). "Big and slow and golden" (3). A particularly loyal subject (10).
  • Tryphena-the-Kitchen, Billie's wife, a connoisseur of horror stories (1)
  • Billie-the-Garden, Tryphena's husband, once a soldier under Henry VIII (1), the Doctor at Christmas mumming (5)
  • Uncle David (1), Mistress Pettle's brother, a Merchant Venturer
  • Great-Aunt Phoebe (1), Mrs. Pettle's Irish great-aunt, an outrageous person (1) of nearly eighty (7)
    • Great-Uncle Richard (1), Phoebe's English husband
    • Phoebe's depressed groom (7)
  • Peterkin, an otter-hound
  • Linnet, the Rector's horse
  • Jessica (2), Perdita's wooden doll
  • Tansie (3), Robin's bay pony
  • Bran (3), a rescued puppy (3), "something that looked rather like a badly stuffed heraldic leopard" (7)


  • Adam Hilyarde (1), Robin's school-fellow and the orphan owner of Whinworthy (1). "Slight and quick and dark", with an excitable stutter, a crooked foot, and a laughing manner of which Perdita has always been shy (3).
    • Bathsheba (3), Robin's goshawk
  • Sir John Annersly (1), Adam's uncle and guardian (1), does not foster a warm family life (5)
  • Lady Annersly (5), Sir John's wife
  • George Prettyjohn (1), Whinworthy's steward
  • Sibly Prettyjohn (1), Whinworthy's house-keeper
  • Tommy (1), captain of the Broomhill church bell ringers
  • Johnnie-the-Sexton (5), a little old man and a woodcarver
    • Deborah, Johnnie's grey cat
  • Martin-Blacksmith (5), alias St. George
  • The Saracen, the Dragon, the Black Prince, the King of Egypt's daughter, et. al (5), Christmas visitors
  • Harry Maitland (5), a schoolfellow of Robin's, whose father is at Court
  • Lizzy Cobbledick (7), the witch of Pidwidgeon Wood
  • Jeremy-the-Pedlar (7)
  • Farmer Yeo (8) at the Barton
    • Benny (8), his grey cart-horse
  • Jimmy Darch (10), the young farmer with the fastest horse in the parish
  • Diggery-Mole-Catcher (10)
  • Samuel Kent (11) Brendon Hall's steward
  • Job the Falconer (11) of Brendon Hall
    • Grim, the spar hawk
    • Clyte, Lady Annersly's merlin
  • St Ledger, Stucley, Carey, Grenville (12), great families of North Devon

Citizens of Bideford

  • Rose Heard (6), Mistress Pettle's friend in Bideford
  • Master Heard (6) her husband, a merchant
  • the Rose of Sharon (8), a Tall Ship of the Flemish wool trade
    • Her master (9), whose ears were trimmed on the Inca death-stone
  • Master Truscott (8), Bideford spice merchant
  • Dame Honeyset (8), Bideford thread merchant
  • Master Humphrey Trebilcock (8), Bideford cloth merchant, a treasurer of silks
  • Master Braund (9), a colleague of Master Heard
    • San Domingo, Joyous Venture, ships
  • Jenny-the-Kitchen (9), Mistress Heard's maid
  • Henry Heard (9), a son in Holland


  • Queen Elizabeth I, Gloriana
  • King Henry VIII (1), old King Hal (1), who may have composed "Greensleeves" (2)
  • Anthony Jenkinson (1), a traveller in Asia
  • Sir Hugh Willoughby (1), dead on an Arctic expedition, Robin Pettle's particular hero (1). Now resident in Adam's tapestry (6).
    • Bona Esperanza (1), his ship
  • Strongbow (1), Richard de Clare, Norman invader of Ireland, Phoebe's forefather's boss
  • Bloody Queen Mary (1), died November 1558
  • Lady Anne Boleyn (2), Elizabeth's mother (2), resident of Adam's tapestry (6)
  • Fingal (3), Fionn mac Cumhaill, or Finn Mac Cool, an Irish giant
    • Bran the White-breasted (3), his hound
  • King Arthur Pendragon (4)
    • Queen Guenevere, his kind wife
    • the Knight of Tarn Wathelan, a ransomer
    • the Loathly Lady, his sister
    • Sir Gawaine, Arthur's nephew
    • Sir Kay, Arthur's foster-brother
  • The Lords and Ladies of the tapestry (6):
    • Seignor Leonardo Franchesco Del Buonarotti [sic], the Italian Ambassador
    • Princess Mary Rose, Henry VIII's favourite sister
      • King Louis of France, her old first husband
    • Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk, her young second
    • the Dowager Duchess of Devonshire, a martyr to indigestion
    • Gwyn Ap Nudd, the Ambassador from Elfand
    • Mistress Joyeuse Tamlyn, who may go away with him
    • the white hart, Jesus
  • the Danaans (7), immortal inhabitants of Ireland
    • Lir, a chieftain
    • Lir's first wife, killed by a hunting spear
      • Fionula, their daughter, turned into a swan
      • Conn, Fiachra, and Hugh, their sons, likewise
    • Oife, her elder sister, his second wife, turned into a demon
    • King Bov the Red, their neighbour
  • the Milesians (7), mortal conquerors
    • Deoca, "Woman of the South", a princess of Munster
    • Lairgnen, a chieftain of Connaght, her betrothed
  • the Shee (7), the Lordly Ones, who are not the Danaans
  • Czar Ivan the Terrible of the Cossack Court of Moscow (9), well known to the master of the Rose of Sharon

Places Edit


  • Broomhill (1), village in a valley ten miles from the sea
    • Five-Oak Spinney
    • the Rectory
      • Parson's Platt, a patch of grass and cobbles in front of it
    • the church
      • Halcyon, Hautclere, Douce, John, and Gabriel, the bells
    • the Green
    • Whinworthy (1), the manor house, friendly but uninhabited during Adam Hilyarde's minority (1). Alias Samarkand the Golden (5).
    • the Tithe Barn (7), where the village will feast after the Queen passes by
  • Pidwidgeon Wood (1), infested with Pharisees
  • the Broomhill (2), steep and gorse-patched, beyond the river meadow from the Rectory. Bideford Bay can be seen from the crest.
    • the Grey Maiden (2), the standing stone on the Broomhill
  • the Barton (8), Yeo's farm
  • Black Brendon (1), neighbouring parish
    • Brendon Hall (11), Sir John Annersly's new and formal red-brick house
      • the Long Gallery (12), which looks towards the Channel
      • the Sola (12) in the old stone house, which looks towards Exmoor
  • Wear Abbott (1), neighbouring parish, whose bells are audible in Broomhill
  • St. Giles (1), neighbouring parish, whose bells are audible in Broomhill
  • Bideford Bay (2), ten miles from Broomhill
    • Lundy (1), island in the offing
    • The Torridge and the Taw (8), rivers that join and flow into the Golden Bay
    • Bideford (3), port that hosts St. Margaret's Fair (3), then a great sea-port (8)
      • the Long Bridge
      • Bideford Quay
      • the Mermaid Inn
      • the Pool
      • the Fair-ground
      • St. Mary's Church
      • the High Street
  • Appledore (8), downstream and out of sight from Bideford
  • South Molton (5), the overnight stop on Robin's way home from school
  • Dartmoor (6), a source of flood water
  • Exmoor (12), to be seen from Brendon Hall

London (1)

  • Whitehall, the Queen's seat of government
  • the City, Great-Aunt Phoebe's abode
  • Westminster (12), the Queen's Palace

Oxford (7), once held a pageant for Elizabeth

The Border country (4)

  • Carlisle, Cumbria, King Arthur's court
  • Tarn Wathelan

Ireland (7)

  • Tara
  • Lake Derryvaragh, the Straits of Moyle, Erris and Inisglora, where Fionula & Co. are cursed to live
  • the Hill of the White Field, Armagh, Lir's palace

The wider world

  • the Cape of Good Hope (1), the route to India
  • India (1), destination of the Portuguese trade
  • Turkey, Bokhara, Samarkand (1), visited by Anthony Jenkinson
  • The North-East Passage to Russia, via Norway (1), route of Hugh Willoughby
  • Gascony, Africa, Persia, Muscovy (9), ports of call
  • the New World (9), a strange place
    • The Inca City (9), where the master of the Rose of Sharon was nearly sacrificed
    • The Royal Lake (9), where the Inca kings throw their golden chocolate cups

Background and references Edit

Perdita shares her Midsummer Eve birthday, which gave her the power to see the fairies, with Sutcliff's mother Nessie Lawton. (Sutcliff also said her mother had a touch of the second sight, notably in the 1967 anecdote "The Man Who Died at Sea".) Sutcliff herself also celebrated her "official birthday" on Midsummer's Eve, though she was actually born on December 14th.[3]

Myths and legends referenced in the text:

  • Fingal
  • Sir Gawain and the Loathly Lady
  • Gwyn Ap Nudd
  • The Children of Lir

Publication history Edit

  1. Oxford University Press, 1950, 1952, 1958, 1964, 1967, 1972. Illus. C. Walter Hodges.

References Edit