Cynthia Harnett was born in London and educated privately. She studied at the Chelsea School of Art, and later collaborated with her cousin G(eorge) Vernon Stokes, also an artist, on several picture books for children such as Junk, the Puppy (1937). Cynthia Harnett then turned to writing historical novels for children, based on meticulous background research and filled with exceptionally detailed and vivid language and images, which she also illustrated herself. Her first was The Great House (1949), the story of a late 17th-century architect. The Wool-Pack (1951), which concerned the life of a 16-century wool merchant in the Cotswolds, won Cynthia Harnett the Carnegie Medal and was so popular it was reprinted 11 times in hardcover over the next 25 years. Her next work, Ring Out, Bow Bells! (1953), presented the story of the historical Dick Whittington, who grew up to be Lord Mayor of London. Later works included Stars of Fortune (1956) and The Load of Unicorn (1959). Some of the books changed title when they were published in the USA: for example, Ring Out Bow Bells! became At the Sign of the Green Falcon, and The Load of Unicorn was re-named The Cargo of the Maddalena. In contrast to other authors of the 1950s, whose characters were often to be found in the thick of war and politics, Cynthia Harnett set her stories in the everyday life of (mostly) rural families, using the great world beyond as backdrop.