Geoffrey Trease

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(Robert) Geoffrey Trease FRSL (11 August 1909 in Nottingham – 27 January 1998 in Bath)[1] was a prolific British writer who published 113 books, mainly for children, between 1934 (Bows Against the Barons) and 1997 (Cloak for a Spy). His work has been translated into 20 languages. His grandfather was a historian, and was one of the main influences on his work.[citation needed] He is best known for the children's novel Cue for Treason (1940).

Trease is best known for writing children's historical novels, whose content reflects his insistence on historically correct backgrounds, which he meticulously researched. His ground-breaking study Tales Out of School (1949) pioneered the idea that children's literature should be a serious subject for study and debate.[2] When he began his career, his radical viewpoint was a change from the conventional and often jingoistic tone of most children's literature of the time, and he was one of the first authors who deliberately set out to appeal to both boys and girls and to feature strong leading characters of both sexes.

Life and work[edit]

Trease was born in Nottingham in 1909. His family were wine merchants, but from an early age he decided to become a writer. During his school days at Nottingham High School[2] he wrote stories, poems, and a three-act play which the school performed. He won a Classics scholarship to Oxford University and, although he loved university life, he found the tuition dull. After a year he resigned his scholarship and left Oxford for London, intent on becoming a writer. In London, Trease worked at helping slum children. He also joined a left-wing group called the "Promethean Society" whose other members included Hugh Gordon Porteus and Desmond Hawkins.[3][4]

Trease started to fulfil his ambition to be a writer with the publication of the children’s book Bows Against the Barons in 1934. This was the first of his many historical novels and heralded an approach to writing for young people that was quite radical. Through exciting plots, strong characters (female as well as male), and meticulous attention to detail, he introduced his readers to a historical event or period, enabling them to absorb history effortlessly.[2] His sense of fairness and belief in equality for all is a theme explored in many of his books and, within their historical settings, the discerning reader will recognize many parallels with contemporary issues.

Trease's stories range from Ancient Greece (The Crown of Violet) to more recent times and cover (amongst others) the Middle Ages: (The Red Towers of Granada); Elizabethan England: (Cue for Treason and Cloak for a Spy); Restoration: London (Fire on the Wind and Popinjay Stairs); the French Revolution: (Thunder of Valmy); the Bolshevik Revolution (The White Nights of St Petersburg); and World War II: (Tomorrow Is a Stranger and The Arpino Assignment). Other exciting historical events of the 20th century are covered in Bring Out the Banners, Shadow Under the Sea, Calabrian Quest and Song for a Tattered Flag.[2]

Trease also wrote modern school stories, e.g., the five Black Banner novels set in the Lake District: (the first was No Boats on Bannermere), adult novels, history, plays for radio and television, and biographies. Trease authored a guide aimed at teaching creative writing to young adults, The Young Writer: A Practical Handbook.[2] He wrote three books of autobiography: A Whiff of Burnt Boats (1971), Laughter at the Door (1974), and in the last year of his life, the final part, Farewell the Hills. This was written for his family and friends, and published privately after his death.

Trease published 113 books before "deciding to call it a day" at the age of 88 because of illness. Many were translated for foreign markets, including Asia and Europe. In the United States he won the New York Herald Tribune Book Award for the Children’s Spring Festival 1966 for This is Your Century.

In 1933 Geoffrey married Marian Boyer and they had one daughter, Jocelyn. Geoffrey and Marian lived in Colwall, very near the Downs School, Great Malvern, but moved to Bath shortly before Marian's death.


Children's writing[edit]

Junior novels[edit]

  • Bows Against the Barons (Lawrence) (1934)
  • Comrades for the Charter (Lawrence) (1934)
  • The New House at Hardale (Boys Own Paper - 2 installments) (1934)
  • Call to Arms (Lawrence) (1935)
  • Missing from Home (Lawrence & Wishart) (1937)
  • Mystery on the Moors (Black) (1937)
  • The Christmas Holiday Mystery (Black) (1937)
  • Detectives of the Dales (Black) (1938)
  • In the Land of the Mogul (Black) (1938)
  • Cue for Treason (Blackwell) (1940)
  • Running Deer (Harrap) (1941)
  • Grey Adventurer (Blackwell) (1942)
  • Black Night, Red Morning (Blackwell) (1944)
  • Trumpets in the West (Blackwell) Revised Edition 1994 (Piper) Paperback only (1947)
  • Silver Guard (Blackwell) (1948)
  • The Hills of Varna (Macmillan) US title: Shadow of the Hawk (Vanguard Press) (1948)
  • No Boats on Bannermere (Heinemann) (1949) (1st in Bannermere series)
  • The Secret Fiord (Macmillan) (1950)
  • Sir Walter Raleigh: Captain and Adventurer (Vanguard) (1950)
  • Under Black Banner (Heinemann) (1951) (2nd in Bannermere series)
  • The Crown of Violet (Macmillan) US title: Web of Traitors (Vanguard) (1952)
  • Black Banner Players (Heinemann) (1952) (3rd in Bannermere series)
  • The Barons' Hostage (Phoenix House) Revised Edition 1973 (Brockhampton Press) (1952)
  • The Silken Secret (Blackwell) (1953)
  • The Island of the Gods (Children's Newspaper - Serial 14 parts) (1954)
  • Black Banner Abroad (Heinemann) (1954) (4th in Bannermere series)
  • Word to Caesar (Macmillan) US title: Message to Hadrian (Vanguard) (1955)
  • The School Beyond the Snows (Children's Newspaper) (1955)
  • The Gates of Bannerdale (Heinemann) (1956) (5th in Bannermere series)
  • Mist over Athelney (Macmillan) US title: Escape to King Alfred (Vanguard) (1958)
  • Thunder of Valmy (Macmillan) US title: Victory at Valmy (Vanguard) (1960)
  • The House of Blue Dragons (Children's Newspaper - Serial 16 parts) (1960)
  • The Maythorn Story (Heinemann) (1960)
  • Change at Maythorn (Heinemann) (1962)
  • Follow my Black Plume (Macmillan) (1963)
  • A Thousand for Sicily (Macmillan) (1964)
  • The Red Towers of Granada (Macmillan) (1966)
  • The White Nights of St Petersburg (Macmillan) (1967)
  • Horsemen on the Hills (Macmillan) (1971)
  • Popinjay Stairs (Macmillan) (1972)
  • The Iron Tsar (Macmillan) (1975)
  • Violet for Bonaparte (Macmillan) (1976)
  • The Seas of Morning (Puffin) Paperback only (1976)
  • The Field of the Forty Footsteps (Macmillan) (1977)
  • Mandeville (Macmillan) (1980)
  • Saraband for Shadows (Macmillan) (1982)
  • The Cormorant Venture (Macmillan) (1984)
  • Tomorrow is a Stranger (Heinemann) (1987)
  • The Arpino Assignment (Walker) (1988)
  • Shadow Under the Sea (Walker) (1990)
  • Calabrian Quest (Walker) (1990)
  • Song for a Tattered Flag (Walker) Paperback only (1992)
  • Fire on the Wind (Macmillan) (1993)
  • Bring Out the Banners (Walker) (1994)
  • No Horn at Midnight (Macmillan) (1995)
  • Curse on the Sea (Hodder Children's Books) Paperback only (1996)
  • Cloak for a Spy (Macmillan) Paperback only (1997)
  • Danger in the Wings (Hodder Children's Books) (1997)

For younger readers[edit]

Other children's books[edit]

  • Red Comet: A Tale of Travel in the USSR (Lawrence) (1937)
  • Fortune, My Foe: The Story of Sir Walter Raleigh (Methuen) (1949)
  • The Mystery of Moorside Farm - also contains The Secret of Sharn and In the Blood (Macmillan) (1949)
  • The Young Traveller in India and Pakistan (Phoenix House) (1949)
  • Enjoying Books (Phoenix House) (1951)
  • The Young Traveller in England and Wales (Phoenix House) (1953)
  • Seven Queens of England (Heinemann) (1953)
  • Seven Kings of England (Heinemann) (1955)
  • The Young Traveller in Greece (Phoenix House) (1956)
  • Edward Elgar, Maker of Music (Macmillan) (1960)
  • The Young Writer (Nelson) (1961)
  • Wolfgang Mozart : The Young Composer (Macmillan) (1961)
  • Seven Stages (Heinemann) (1964)
  • This is Your Century (Heinemann) (1965)
  • Seven Sovereign Queens (Heinemann) (1968)
  • Byron, A Poet Dangerous to Know (Macmillan) (1969)
  • D.H. Lawrence, The Phoenix and the Flame (Macmillan) (1973)
  • Days to Remember, A Garland of Historic Anniversaries (Heinemann) Short Stories (1973)
  • Britain Yesterday (Basil Blackwell) (1975)
  • A Wood by Moonlight and other Stories (Heinemann) Short Stories (1981)
  • Timechanges: The Evolution of Everyday Life (Kingfisher) (1985)
  • Looking through History: The Edwardian Era (Batsford) (1986)
  • Hidden Treasure (Evans) (1989)

Adult writing[edit]



  • A Whiff of Burnt Boats (Macmillan) (1971)
  • Laughter at the Door (Macmillan) (1974)
  • Farewell the Hills (Privately Printed) (1998)

Other adult works[edit]

  • The Supreme Prize (Arthur H Stockwell) Poems (c1926)
  • The Unsleeping Sword (Martin Lawrence) (1934)
  • Walking in England (Fenland Press) (1935)
  • North Sea Spy (Fore) (1939)
  • Clem Voroshilov: The Red Marshall (Pilot Press) (1940)
  • Army without Banners (Fore) (1945)
  • Tales Out of School (Heinemann) Revised Edition 1964 (1948)
  • The Italian Story: From the Earliest Times to 1946 (Macmillan) (1963)
  • The Grand Tour (Heinemann) (1967)
  • Matthew Todd's Journal (Editor) (Heinemann) (1968)
  • Nottingham: A Biography (Macmillan) (1970)
  • The Condottieri: Soldiers of Fortune (Thames and Hudson) (1971)
  • Samuel Pepys and his World (Thames and Hudson) (1972)
  • London: A Concise History (Thames and Hudson) (1975)
  • Portrait of a Cavalier (Macmillan) Biography (1979)

Published plays[edit]

  • After the Tempest (published in Best One Act Plays of 1938) (Muller) (1938)
  • The Dragon Who Was Different and Other Plays for Children (Muller) (1938)
  • The Shadow of Spain and Other Plays (Blackwell) (1953)


  • New York Herald Tribune Award for This is Your Century[5]

See also[edit]


  1. ^
  2. ^ a b c d e Humphrey Carpenter and Mari Prichard, The Oxford Companion to Children's Literature Oxford University Press, 1998. ISBN 978-0-19-860228-6 (pp. 541-2).
  3. ^ Desmond Hawkins, When I was: a memoir of the years between the wars Macmillan, 1989 ISBN 0333489683 (pp. 73-4)
  4. ^ The Promethean Society's key influences included Marx, Freud, Trotsky, Wells and Gandhi. Trease noted wryly: "We did not worry unduly about reconciling the contradictions". Carpenter and Pritchard, (p.541).
  5. ^ Bernice E. Cullinan; Diane Goetz Person (2005). The Continuum Encyclopedia of Children's Literature (reprint). A&C Black. p. 784. ISBN 978-08-2641778-7. Retrieved 23 August 2015. 

External links[edit]