Violet Needham

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Amy Violet Needham (5 June 1876 in Mayfair – 8 June 1967) was the author of 19 popular children's books.[1] She was the daughter of Colonel Charles Needham and Henriette Amélie barones van Tuyll van Serooskerken. Her father Charles was the biological son of Francis Needham, 2nd Earl of Kilmorey

She came to writing late in life, publishing her first book, The Black Riders, in 1939, at the age of 63. She was born in England to a privileged but chaotic family. Her father was a gambler and their finances fluctuated considerably.[2] They spent summer holidays in Europe, and lived there for six years when Needham and her sister were young women.

In her lifetime Violet Needham published 19 novels. They can be divided into three groups: Ruritanian,[3] historical, and contemporary. The eleven Ruritanian novels, sometimes known as the Empire series or the Stormy Petrel series, are set in three fictional countries in Eastern Europe: the Empire, Flavonia, and Ornowitza, the latter being a small duchy between the other two.

Her first novel, The Black Riders, introduces the hero Dick Fauconbois, known as the "Stormy Petrel". He lives in the Empire, although he visits Flavonia during the course of the novel. It is the story of an orphan boy who becomes a member of a secret rebel movement led by a saint-like figure called Far-Away Moses. Their chief enemy is Count Jasper, known as Jasper the Terrible, the chief of the paramilitary Black Riders. The villain Jasper is described as a darkly attractive character, whose allure is felt by the main female heroine, Wych Hazel. The novelist and poet Michele Roberts described how her childhood reading of The Black Riders "both turned me on and made me feel guilty. Secret pleasure reading it; secret guilt."[4]



  • The Black Riders (1939)
  • The Emerald Crown (1940)
  • The Stormy Petrel (1942)
  • The Woods of Windri (1944)
  • The House of the Paladin (1945)
  • The Changeling of Monte Lucio (1946)
  • The Betrayer (1950)
  • Richard and the Golden Horse Shoe (1954)
  • The Great House of Estraville (1955)
  • The Secret of the White Peacock (1956)
  • The Red Rose of Ruvina (1957)


  • The Horn of Merlyns (1943)
  • The Bell of the Four Evangelists (1947)
  • Pandora of Parrham Royal (1951)
  • How Many Miles to Babylon? (1953)


  • The Boy in Red (1948)
  • The Avenue (1952)
  • Adventures at Hampton Court (1954)
  • Adventures at Windsor Castle (1957)


  1. ^ See for the dates of her birth and death.
  2. ^ Biography at Violet Needham Society
  3. ^ The Ruritanian genre takes its name from Anthony Hope's novel The Prisoner of Zenda which was set in a fictional country called Ruritania.
  4. ^ Roberts, M. "The Mystery of the Man in Black", Children's Literature in Education 28:1 1997

Further reading[edit]

  • The Password is Fortitude: an evaluation of some children's books by Violet Needham by Judith Crabb, Hermit Press, South Australia (1992)