Rafael Sabatini

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Rafael Sabatini
Portrait of Rafael Sabatini.jpg
Born (1875-04-29)29 April 1875
Iesi, Italy
Died 13 February 1950(1950-02-13) (aged 74)
Adelboden, Switzerland
Occupation Novelist
Nationality Italian / English
Genre romance, adventure
Notable works Scaramouche, Captain Blood

Rafael Sabatini (29 April 1875 – 13 February 1950) was an Italian-English writer of romance and adventure novels.[1]

He is best known for his worldwide bestsellers: The Sea Hawk (1915), Scaramouche (1921), Captain Blood (a.k.a. The Odyssey of Captain Blood) (1922), and Bellarion the Fortunate (1926).

In all, Sabatini produced 31 novels, eight short story collections, six non-fiction books, numerous uncollected short stories, and several plays.


Rafael Sabatini was born in Iesi, Italy, to an English mother (Anna Trafford) and Italian father (Vincenso Sabatini). His parents were opera singers who then became teachers.[1]

At a young age, Rafael was exposed to many languages, living with his grandfather in England, attending school in Portugal, and, as a teenager, in Switzerland.[2] By the time he was 17, when he returned to England to live permanently, he had become proficient in five languages. He quickly added a sixth language – English – to his linguistic collection. He consciously chose to write in his adopted language, because, he said, “all the best stories are written in English".[3]

After a brief stint in the business world, Sabatini went to work as a writer. He wrote short stories in the 1890s, and his first novel came out in 1902. In 1905, he married Ruth Goad Dixon, the daughter of a Liverpool merchant. It took Sabatini roughly a quarter of a century of hard work before he attained success with Scaramouche in 1921. The novel, an historical romance set during the French Revolution, became an international bestseller. It was followed by the equally successful Captain Blood (1922). All of his earlier books were rushed into reprints, the most popular of which was The Sea Hawk (1915). Sabatini was a prolific writer; he produced a new book approximately every year and maintained a great deal of popularity with the reading public through the decades that followed.[1]

Several of his novels were adapted into films during the silent era,[which?] and the first three of these books were made into notable films in the sound era, in 1940, 1952, and 1935 respectively.[which?] His third novel was made into a famous "lost" film, Bardelys the Magnificent (1926), directed by King Vidor, starring John Gilbert, and long viewable only in a fragment excerpted in Vidor's silent comedy Show People (1928). A few intact reels have recently been discovered in Europe. The fully restored version premièred on TCM on 11 January 2010.[citation needed]

Two silent adaptations of Sabatini novels which do survive intact are Rex Ingram's Scaramouche (1923) starring Ramón Novarro, and The Sea Hawk (1924) directed by Frank Lloyd and starring Milton Sills. The 1940 film The Sea Hawk, with Errol Flynn, is not a remake but a wholly new story which just used the title.[citation needed] A silent version of Captain Blood (1924), starring J. Warren Kerrigan, is partly lost, surviving only in an incomplete copy in the Library of Congress. The Black Swan (1942) was filmed starring Tyrone Power and Maureen O'Hara.

Personal life

Sabatini's only son, Rafael-Angelo (nicknamed Binkie), was killed in a car crash on 1 April 1927. In 1931, Sabatini and his wife Ruth divorced. Later that year he moved from London to Clifford, Herefordshire, near Hay-on-Wye. In 1935, he married the sculptor Christine Dixon (née Wood), his former sister-in-law. They suffered further tragedy when Christine's son, Lancelot Dixon, was killed in a flying accident on the day he received his RAF wings; he flew his aeroplane over his family's house, but the plane went out of control and crashed in flames right before the observers' eyes.[1]

By the 1940s, illness forced Sabatini to slow his prolific method of composition, though he did write several works during that time.[citation needed]

Sabatini died in Switzerland February 13, 1950. He was buried in Adelboden, Switzerland. On his headstone his wife had written, "He was born with a gift of laughter and a sense that the world was mad", the first line of Scaramouche.[4]




Captain Blood

  • Tales of the Brethren of the Main (a series of short stories first published in Premier Magazine from 1920–1921)[lower-alpha 1]
  • Captain Blood (also known as Captain Blood: His Odyssey, 1922), in which the title character escapes from unjust slavery to become admiral of a fleet of pirate ships.[5]
  • Captain Blood Returns (also known as The Chronicles of Captain Blood, 1931)[lower-alpha 2][lower-alpha 3]
  • The Fortunes of Captain Blood (1936)[lower-alpha 2]


  • The Lovers of Yvonne (also known as The Suitors of Yvonne, 1902)
  • The Tavern Knight (1904)
  • Bardelys the Magnificent (1906)
  • The Trampling of the Lilies (1906)
  • Love-At-Arms: Being a narrative excerpted from the chronicles of Urbino during the dominion of the High and Mighty Messer Guidobaldo da Montefeltro (1907)
  • The Shame of Motley (1908)
  • St. Martin's Summer (also known as The Queen's Messenger, 1909)
  • Mistress Wilding (also known as Anthony Wilding, 1910)
  • The Lion's Skin (1911)
  • The Strolling Saint (1913)
  • The Gates of Doom (1914)
  • The Sea Hawk (1915), a tale of an Elizabethan Englishman among the pirates of the Barbary Coast.
  • The Snare (1917)
  • Fortune's Fool (1923)
  • The Carolinian (1924)
  • Bellarion the Fortunate (1926), about a cunning young man who finds himself immersed in the politics of fifteenth-century Italy.
  • The Nuptials of Corbal (1927)
  • The Hounds of God (1928)
  • The Romantic Prince (1929)
  • The Reaping (1929)
  • The King's Minion (also known as The Minion, 1930)
  • The Black Swan (1932)
  • The Stalking Horse (1933)
  • Venetian Masque (1934)
  • Chivalry (1935)
  • The Lost King (1937)
  • The Sword of Islam (1939)
  • The Marquis of Carabas (also known as Master-At-Arms, 1940)
  • Columbus (1941)
  • King In Prussia (also known as The Birth of Mischief, 1944)
  • The Gamester (1949)


  • The Justice of the Duke (1912)
    • The Honour of Varano
    • The Test Ferrante's jest
    • Gismondi's wage
    • The Snare
    • The Lust of Conquest
    • The pasquinade
  • The Banner of the Bull (1915)
  • Turbulent Tales (1946)[lower-alpha 4]

Posthumous collections

  • Saga of the Sea (omnibus comprising The Sea Hawk, The Black Swan and Captain Blood, 1953)
  • Sinner, Saint And Jester: A Trilogy in Romantic Adventure (omnibus comprising The Snare, The Strolling Saint and The Shame of Motley, 1954)
  • In the Shadow of the Guillotine (omnibus comprising Scaramouche, The Marquis of Carabas and The Lost King, 1955)
  • A Fair Head of Angling Stories (1989)
  • The Fortunes of Casanova and Other Stories (1994, stories originally published 1907–1921 & 1934)
  • The Outlaws of Falkensteig (2000, stories originally published 1900–1902)
  • The Camisade: And Other Stories of the French Revolution (2001, stories originally published 1900–1916)
  • The Evidence of the Sword and Other Mysteries, ed. Jesse Knight (Crippen & Landru, 2006, stories originally published 1898-1916)


Anthologies edited

  • A Century of Sea Stories (1935)
  • A Century of Historical Stories (1936)


  • The Life of Cesare Borgia (1912)
  • Torquemada and the Spanish Inquisition: A History (1913)[7]
  • The Historical Nights' Entertainment (1917)[lower-alpha 5]
    • The night of Holyrood — The Murder of David Rizzio
    • The night of Kirk O'Field — The Murder of Darnley
    • The night of Bertrayal — Antonio Perez and Philip II of Spain
    • The night of Charity — The Case Of The Lady Alice Lisle
    • The night of Massacre — The Story Of The Saint Bartholomew
    • The night of Witchcraft — Louis XIV and Madame De Montespan
    • The night of Gems — The “Affairs” Of The Queen's Necklace
    • The night of Terror — The Drownings At Nantes Under Carrier
    • The night of Nuptials — Charles The Bold And Sapphira Danvelt
    • The night of Stranglers — Govanna Of Naples And Andreas Of Hungary
    • The night of Hate — The Murder Of The Duke Of Gandia
    • The night of Escape — Casanova's Escape From The Piombi
    • The night of Masquerade — The Assassination Of Gustavus III Of Sweden
  • The Historical Nights' Entertainment – Series 2 (1919)[lower-alpha 5]
    • The absolution — Affonso Henriques, first king of Portugal
    • The false Demetrius — Boris Godunov and the pretended son of Ivan the Terrible
    • The hermosa fembra — an episode of the Inquisition in Seville
    • The pastry-cook of Madrigal — the story of the false Sebastian of Portugal
    • The end of the "vert galant" — the assassination of Henry IV
    • The barren wooing — the murder of Amy Robsart
    • Sir Judas — the betrayal of Sir Walter Raleigh
    • His Insolence of Buckingham — George Villiers' courtship of Anne of Austria
    • The path of exile — the fall of Lord Clarendon
    • The tragedy of Herrenhausen — Count Philip Königsmark and the Princess Sophia Dorothea
    • The tyrannicide — Charlotte Corday and Jean Paul Marat
  • The Historical Nights' Entertainment – Series 3 (1938)[lower-alpha 5]
    • The king's conscience — Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn
    • Jane the queen — The Lady Jane Grey
    • The 'crooked carcase' — Queen Elizabeth and the Earl of Essex
    • The forbidden fruit — The Marriage of the Lady Arabella Stuart
    • The merchant's daughter — Catherine de' Medici and the Guises
    • The king of Paris — The Assassination of Henri de Guise
    • The tragedy of Madame — The End of Henriette d'Angleterre
    • The vagabond queen — Christine of Sweden and the Murder of Monaldeschi
    • The queen's gambit — Maria-Theresa and the Elector of Bavaria
    • The secret adversary — The Rise and Fall of Johann Frederich Struensee
    • Madam Resourceful — Catherine of Russia and Poniatowski
    • The victor of vendémiaire — Barras' Account of Bonaparte's Courtship of La Montansier
  • Heroic Lives (1934)


  1. Most of the stories were woven together by the author to form Captain Blood, and two that were not were included in Captain Blood Returns.
  2. 2.0 2.1 N.B. Captain Blood Returns and The Fortunes of Captain Blood are not sequels, but collections of short stories set entirely within the timeframe of the original novel.
  3. One of the stories from this collection, "The Treasure Ship", was reprinted as a standalone paperback in 2004.
  4. Includes several stories about Alessandro Cagliostro, and one connected to Captain Blood.
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 The Historical Nights' Entertainment stories are 'factions' – truth so far as anyone knows it, embellished with imagination. Some are actually apocryphal, not even history.


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 "Sabatini, Rafael". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/37926.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles> (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  2. Cacciutto, Franklin C. (1992). "History and Romance in Rafael Sabatini's Columbus". Annali d'Italianistica. X: 222.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. Knight, Jesse F.; Darley, Stephen (2010). The Last of the Great Swashbucklers: A Bio-Bibliography of Rafael Sabatini. New Castle, DE: Oak Knoll. ISBN 978-1-58456279-5.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. Judith Chaffee; Oliver Crick (20 November 2014). The Routledge Companion to Commedia Dell'Arte. Routledge. p. 102. ISBN 978-1-317-61337-4.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. "Rafael SABATINI (1875-1950): Captain Blood". Project Gutenberg Australia.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 6.4 Who's Who 1926. London: The Macmillan Company. 1926. pp. 2546, 2861. Retrieved 7 July 2016.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  7. Jarrett, Bede (1924). "Torquemada and Sabatini". Blackfriars. V (52): 232–43.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

Further reading

  • Adcock, St. John (1928). "Rafael Sabatini". The Glory that Was Grub Street. London: Sampson, Low, Marston & Co. pp. 279–88.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

External links