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. By the time he was seventeen, when he returned to England to live permanently, he was the master of 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."
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, a historical romantic set during the French Revolution, became an international best-seller. It was followed by the equally successful Captain Blood in 1922. All of his earlier books were rushed into reprints, the most popular of which was The Sea Hawk from 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.
Several of his novels were adapted into films during the silent era, and the first three of these books were made into notable films in the sound era, in 1940, 1952, and 1935 respectively. His third novel was made into a famous "lost" film, Bardelys the Magnificent, directed in 1926 by King Vidor with John Gilbert in the lead, and long viewable only in a fragment excerpted in Vidor's silent comedy Show People. A few intact reels have recently been discovered in Europe. The fully restored version premiered on TCM on 11 January 2010.
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 of the same name, with Errol Flynn, is not a remake - but a wholly new story which just used the title. A 1924 silent version of Captain Blood, starring J. Warren Kerrigan, is partly lost, surviving only in an incomplete copy in the Library of Congress. The Black Swan was filmed in 1942 starring Tyrone Power and Maureen O'Hara.