Antonia Fraser

Last updated

Lady Antonia Fraser

Antonia Fraser.jpg
Fraser in 2010
BornAntonia Margaret Caroline Pakenham
(1932-08-27) 27 August 1932 (age 86)
London, England
Alma mater Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford
GenreBiography, detective fiction
Years active1969–present

Lady Antonia Margaret Caroline Fraser, CH , DBE , FRSL (née Pakenham; born 27 August 1932) is a British author of history, novels, biographies and detective fiction. She is the widow of the 2005 Nobel Laureate in Literature, Harold Pinter (1930–2008), and prior to his death was also known as Lady Antonia Pinter. [2] [3] [4]

Biography Written account of a persons life

A biography, or simply bio, is a detailed description of a person's life. It involves more than just the basic facts like education, work, relationships, and death; it portrays a person's experience of these life events. Unlike a profile or curriculum vitae (résumé), a biography presents a subject's life story, highlighting various aspects of his or her life, including intimate details of experience, and may include an analysis of the subject's personality.

Detective fiction is a subgenre of crime fiction and mystery fiction in which an investigator or a detective—either professional, amateur or retired—investigates a crime, often murder. The detective genre began around the same time as speculative fiction and other genre fiction in the mid-nineteenth century and has remained extremely popular, particularly in novels. Some of the most famous heroes of detective fiction include C. Auguste Dupin, Sherlock Holmes, and Hercule Poirot. Juvenile stories featuring The Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew, and The Boxcar Children have also remained in print for several decades.

Nobel Prize in Literature One of the five Nobel Prizes established in 1895 by Alfred Nobel

The Nobel Prize in Literature is a Swedish literature prize that is awarded annually, since 1901, to an author from any country who has, in the words of the will of Swedish industrialist Alfred Nobel, produced "in the field of literature the most outstanding work in an ideal direction". Though individual works are sometimes cited as being particularly noteworthy, the award is based on an author's body of work as a whole. The Swedish Academy decides who, if anyone, will receive the prize. The academy announces the name of the laureate in early October. It is one of the five Nobel Prizes established by the will of Alfred Nobel in 1895. On some occasions the award has been postponed to the following year. It was not awarded in 2018, but two names will be awarded in 2019.


Family background and education

Fraser is the first-born of the eight children of Frank Pakenham, 7th Earl of Longford (1905–2001), and his wife, Elizabeth Pakenham, Countess of Longford, née Elizabeth Harman (1906–2002). As the daughter of an earl, she is accorded the courtesy title "Lady" and thus customarily addressed formally as "Lady Antonia". [2]

Frank Pakenham, 7th Earl of Longford British politician

Francis Aungier Pakenham, 7th Earl of Longford, 1st Baron Pakenham,, known to his family as Frank Longford and styled Lord Pakenham from 1945 to 1961, was a British politician and social reformer. A member of the Labour Party, he was one of its longest serving politicians. He held cabinet positions on several occasions between 1947 and 1968. Longford was politically active up until his death in 2001. A member of an old, landed Anglo-Irish family, he was one of the few aristocratic hereditary peers to have ever served in a senior capacity within a Labour government.

Elizabeth Pakenham, Countess of Longford British historian

Elizabeth Pakenham, Countess of Longford, CBE, better known as Elizabeth Longford, was a British historian. She was a member of the Royal Society of Literature and was on the board of trustees of the National Portrait Gallery in London. She is best known as a historian, especially for her biographies of 19th-century luminaries such as Queen Victoria (1964), Lord Byron (1976) and the Duke of Wellington (1969).

An earl is a member of the nobility. The title is Anglo-Saxon in origin, akin to the Scandinavian form jarl, and meant "chieftain", particularly a chieftain set to rule a territory in a king's stead. In Scandinavia, it became obsolete in the Middle Ages and was replaced by duke (hertig/hertug/hertog). In later medieval Britain, it became the equivalent of the continental count. However, earlier in Scandinavia, jarl could also mean a sovereign prince. For example, the rulers of several of the petty kingdoms of Norway had the title of jarl and in many cases they had no less power than their neighbours who had the title of king. Alternative names for the rank equivalent to "earl/count" in the nobility structure are used in other countries, such as the hakushaku of the post-restoration Japanese Imperial era.

As a teenager, [5] she and her siblings converted to Catholicism, following the conversions of their parents. [2] [6] Her "maternal grandparents were Unitarians – a non-conformist faith with a strong emphasis on social reform ...". In response to criticism of her writing about Oliver Cromwell, she has said, "I have no Catholic blood". Before his own conversion in his thirties following a nervous breakdown in the Army, as she explains, "My father was Protestant Church of Ireland, and my mother was Unitarian up to the age of 20 when she abandoned it." [5]

Unitarianism is a Christian theological movement named for its belief that the God in Christianity is one person, as opposed to the Trinity which in many other branches of Christianity defines God as three persons in one being: the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Unitarian Christians, therefore, believe that Jesus was inspired by God in his moral teachings, and he is a savior, but he was not a deity or God incarnate. Unitarianism does not constitute one single Christian denomination, but rather refers to a collection of both extant and extinct Christian groups, whether historically related to each other or not, which share a common theological concept of the oneness nature of God.

Oliver Cromwell 17th-century English military and political leader

Oliver Cromwell was an English military and political leader. He served as Lord Protector of the Commonwealth of England, Scotland, and Ireland "and of the dominions thereto belonging" from 1653 until his death, acting simultaneously as head of state and head of government of the new republic.

Church of Ireland Anglican church in Ireland

The Church of Ireland is a Christian church in Ireland and an autonomous province of the Anglican Communion. It is organised on an all-Ireland basis and is the second largest Christian church on the island after the Roman Catholic Church. Like other Anglican churches, it has retained elements of pre-Reformation practice, notably its episcopal polity, while rejecting the primacy of the Pope. In theological and liturgical matters, it incorporates many principles of the Reformation, particularly those espoused during the English Reformation. The church self-identifies as being both Catholic and Reformed. Within the church, differences exist between those members who are more Catholic-leaning and those who are more Protestant-leaning. For historical and cultural reasons, the Church of Ireland is generally identified as a Protestant church.

She was educated at the Dragon School in Oxford, [2] [7] St Mary's School, Ascot, and Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford; the last was also her mother's alma mater. [5] [8] [9]

Dragon School British coeducational, preparatory school

The Dragon School is one school on two sites in Oxford, England. The Prep School and Dragon Pre-Prep are both co-educational schools. The Dragon Prep School was founded in 1877 as the Oxford Preparatory School. It takes day pupils and boarders.

Oxford City and non-metropolitan district in England

Oxford is a university city in south central England and the county town of Oxfordshire. With a population of approximately 155,000, it is the 52nd largest city in the United Kingdom, with one of the fastest growing populations in the UK, and it remains the most ethnically diverse area in Oxfordshire county. The city is 51 miles (82 km) from London, 61 miles (98 km) from Bristol, 59 miles (95 km) from Southampton, 57 miles (92 km) from Birmingham and 24 miles (39 km) from Reading.

Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford college of the University of Oxford

Lady Margaret Hall (LMH) is one of the constituent colleges of the University of Oxford in England, located on the banks of the River Cherwell at Norham Gardens in north Oxford and adjacent to the University Parks. The college is more formally known under its current royal charter as "The Principal and Fellows of the College of the Lady Margaret in the University of Oxford".


Fraser began work as an "all-purpose assistant" for George Weidenfeld at Weidenfeld & Nicolson (her "only job"), which later became her own publisher and part of Orion Publishing Group, which publishes her works in the UK. [2] [10]

Weidenfeld & Nicolson publisher

Weidenfeld & Nicolson Ltd, often shortened to W&N or Weidenfeld, is a British publisher of fiction and reference books. Since 1991 it has been a division of the French owned Orion Publishing Group.

Orion Publishing Group British publisher

Orion Publishing Group Ltd. is a UK-based book publisher. It is owned by French publisher Hachette Livre. In 1998 Orion bought Cassell.

Her first major work, published by Weidenfeld & Nicolson, was Mary, Queen of Scots (1969), which was followed by several other biographies, including Cromwell, Our Chief of Men (1973). [4] [11] She won the Wolfson History Award in 1984 for The Weaker Vessel, a study of women's lives in 17th century England. [11] From 1988 to 1989, she was president of English PEN, and she chaired its Writers in Prison Committee. [12]

The Wolfson History Prizes are literary awards given annually in the United Kingdom to promote and encourage standards of excellence in the writing of history for the general public. Prizes are given annually for two or three exceptional works published during the year, with an occasional oeuvre prize. They are awarded and administered by the Wolfson Foundation, with winning books being chosen by a panel of judges composed of eminent historians.

She also has written detective novels; the most popular involved a character named Jemima Shore and were adapted into a television series which aired in the UK in 1983. [8]

From 1983 to 1984, she was president of Edinburgh's Sir Walter Scott Club. [13]

More recently, Fraser published The Warrior Queens, the story of various military royal women since the days of Boadicea and Cleopatra. In 1992, a year after Alison Weir's book The Six Wives of Henry VIII, she published a book with the same title.

She chronicled the life and times of Charles II in a well-reviewed 1979 eponymous biography. [11] The book was cited as an influence on the 2003 BBC/A&E mini-series, Charles II: The Power & the Passion, in a featurette on the DVD, by Rufus Sewell who played the title character. [14] Fraser served as editor for many monarchical biographies, including those featured in the Kings and Queens of England and Royal History of England series, and, in 1996, she also published a book entitled The Gunpowder Plot: Terror and Faith in 1605, which won both the St. Louis Literary Award and the Crime Writers' Association (CWA) Non-Fiction Gold Dagger. [11] [15]

Two of the most recent of her thirteen non-fiction books are Marie Antoinette: The Journey (2001, 2002), which has been made into the film Marie Antoinette (2006), directed by Sofia Coppola, with Kirsten Dunst in the title role, and Love and Louis XIV: The Women in the Life of the Sun King (2006). [16]

Fraser was a contestant on the BBC Radio 4 panel game My Word! [17] from 1979 to 1990.

She serves as a judge for the Enid McLeod Literary Prize, awarded by the Franco-British Society, previously winning that prize for her biography Marie Antoinette (2001). [18] [19]


Fraser's memoir Must You Go? My Life with Harold Pinter was published in January 2010 and she read a shortened version as BBC Radio Four's Book of the Week that month. [20]

At the Cheltenham Literary Festival on 17 October 2010, Lady Antonia announced that her next work would be on the subject of the Great Reform Bill 1832. She is no longer planning a biography of Queen Elizabeth I, as this subject has already been extensively covered. [4] [20]

Perspective and criticism

Fraser acknowledges she is "less interested in ideas than in 'the people who led nations and so on. I don't think I could ever have written a history of political thought or anything like that. I'd have to come at it another way.'" [21]

Marriages and later life

From 1956 until their divorce in 1977, she was married to Sir Hugh Fraser (1918–1984), a descendant of Scottish aristocracy 14 years her senior and a Roman Catholic Conservative Unionist MP in the House of Commons (sitting for Stafford), who was a friend of the American Kennedy family. [22] They had six children: three sons, Benjamin, Damian, and Orlando; and three daughters, Rebecca Fitzgerald, wife of barrister Edward Fitzgerald, QC, Flora Fraser and Natasha Fraser-Cavassoni. All three daughters are writers and biographers. [8] [22] Benjamin Fraser works for JPMorgan, Damian Fraser is the managing director of the investment banking firm UBS AG (formerly S.G. Warburg) in Mexico, and Orlando Fraser is a barrister specializing in commercial law (Wroe). [8] Antonia Fraser has 18 grandchildren. [4]

On 22 October 1975, Hugh and Antonia Fraser, together with Caroline Kennedy, who was visiting them at their Holland Park home, in Kensington, west London, were almost blown up by an IRA car bomb placed under the wheels of his Jaguar, which had been triggered to go off at 9 am when he left the house; the bomb exploded, killing a noted cancer researcher, Gordon Hamilton Fairley. Fairley, a neighbour of the Frasers, had been walking his dog, when he noticed something amiss and stopped to examine the bomb. [5] [22] [23] [24]

In 1975, she began an affair with playwright Harold Pinter, who was then married to the actress Vivien Merchant. [2] [8] In 1977, after she had been living with Pinter for two years, the Frasers' union was legally dissolved. [2] [8] Merchant spoke about her distress publicly to the press, which quoted her cutting remarks about her rival, but she resisted divorcing Pinter. [2] [8] In 1980, after Merchant signed divorce papers, Fraser and Pinter married. [2] [5] [8] After the deaths of both their spouses, Fraser and Pinter were married by a Jesuit priest, Fr. Michael Campbell-Johnson, in the Roman Catholic Church. [25] Harold Pinter died from cancer on 24 December 2008, aged 78. [4]

Lady Antonia Fraser lives in the London district of Holland Park, in the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, south of Notting Hill Gate, in the Fraser family home, where she still writes in her fourth-floor study. [2] [3] [16]

Fraser was appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in the 1999 Birthday Honours and promoted to Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire (DBE) in the 2011 New Year Honours for services to literature. [26] She was appointed a Companion of Honour in the 2018 New Year Honours for services to literature.

The Lady Antonia Fraser Archive in the British Library

Lady Antonia Fraser's uncatalogued papers (relating to her "Early Writing", "Fiction", and "Non-Fiction") are on loan at the British Library. [27] Papers by and relating to Lady Antonia Fraser are also catalogued as part of the Harold Pinter Archive, which is part of its permanent collection of Additional Manuscripts.




Historical fiction

Non-fiction works

Jemima Shore novels

Anthologies (editor)

See also


  1. "Antonia Fraser". Desert Island Discs . 27 July 2008. BBC Radio 4 . Retrieved 18 January 2014.
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 Mel Gussow, "The Lady Is a Writer", The New York Times Magazine , 9 September 1984, Sec. 6, Health: 60, col. 2. Print. The New York Times Company, 9 September 1984; retrieved 8 April 2009.
  3. 1 2 Antonia Fraser, "Writer's Rooms: Antonia Fraser", Guardian , Culture: Books, Guardian Media Group, 13 June 2008; retrieved 8 April 2009. (Includes photograph of Antonia Fraser's study.)
  4. 1 2 3 4 5 "Non-Fiction: Author: Antonia Fraser" Archived 20 November 2012 at the Wayback Machine , Orion Books, 2004–2007 [updated 2009]; retrieved 9 April 2009.
  5. 1 2 3 4 5 Ginny Dougary, "Lady Antonia Fraser's Life Less Ordinary"
    "In a Frank Interview, the Famed Writer Talks about Motherhood, Catholicism, Her Parents and Soulmate Harold Pinter", The Times , News Corporation, 5 July 2008, 9 April 2009.
  6. Daniel Snowman, "Lady Antonia Fraser", History Today 50.10 (October 2000): pp. 26–28, History Today, n.d., 8 April 2009 (excerpt; full article available to subscribers or pay-per-view customers).
  7. "Non-Fiction: Antonia Fraser: Author Q&A" Archived 27 September 2007 at the Wayback Machine , Orion Books, 2004–2007 [updated 2009]; retrieved 9 April 2009.
  8. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 Nicholas Wroe, "Profile: The History Woman", The Guardian, Arts & Humanities, 24 August 2002; retrieved 8 April 2009.
  9. "Featured Alumni: Antonia Fraser: Author, Lady Margaret Hall" Archived 9 January 2010 at the Wayback Machine , University of Oxford Alumni, University of Oxford, 29 October 2007. Retrieved 17 June 2008.
  10. Antonia Fraser, "Antonia Fraser: Author Q&A" Archived 27 September 2007 at the Wayback Machine , Orion Books, 2004–2007 [updated 2009]. Retrieved 9 April 2009.
  11. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 "History Books by Antonia Fraser" Archived 8 March 2009 at the Wayback Machine and "Other Books by Antonia Fraser" Archived 7 June 2009 at the Wayback Machine at, Antonia Fraser, 2007; retrieved 9 April 2009; "Author: Antonia Fraser: Non-Fiction" Archived 20 November 2012 at the Wayback Machine , Orion Books, 2004–2007 [updated 2009], 9 April 2009.
  12. "Board of Trustees". English PEN. Retrieved 2 April 2019.
  13. "Our President in 1983/84 was: Lady Antonia Fraser", biography, Edinburgh Sir Walter Scott Club, n.d. Retrieved 8 April 2009.
  14. Charles II: The Power and the Passion, BBC, 16 February 2004, retrieved 2 April 2019
  15. Antonia Fraser, The Gunpowder Plot Archived 7 April 2008 at the Wayback Machine , 2007, Antonia Fraser website; retrieved 13 June 2008.
  16. 1 2 Antonia Fraser, "Sofia's Choice", Vanity Fair , November 2006, Condé Nast Publications; retrieved 9 April 2009.
  17. Cf. My Word! , BBC Radio 4, BBC, 9 April 2009.
  18. "Benefits", Franco-British Society, 2008; retrieved 9 April 2009.
  19. 1 2 Alex Danchev, "They Remember, But Others Forget", Times Higher Education Supplement , News Corporation, 2 March 2007. Retrieved 13 June 2008.
  20. 1 2 "Antonia Fraser to tell Harold Pinter 'love story'. Historical biographer will publish her 'portrait of a marriage' to the Nobel laureate in January 2010", The Guardian, 9 June 2009. Retrieved 19 June 2009. [There is a factual error in this account; the Pinter-Merchant marriage was not dissolved in 1977, as stated, but in 1980, shortly before Pinter and Fraser married; Merchant's delay in signing the divorce papers resulted in the reception (scheduled for Pinter's 50th birthday on 10 October 1980) being held before the wedding, which occurred two weeks later, according to Michael Billington's authorised biography of Pinter (Harold Pinter, pp. 271–72). It was the Frasers' marital union that was dissolved in 1977.]
  21. Wroe, Nicholas (23 August 2002). "The History Woman". The Guardian. Retrieved 2 January 2016.
  22. 1 2 3 "Sir Hugh Fraser Dead; Long a Tory Legislator", Obituaries, The New York Times , 7 March 1984, 13 June 2008.
  23. Moysey, Steven (2008). The Road to Balcombe Street: The IRA Reign of Terror in London. Haworth Press. pp. 109–110. ISBN   978-0-7890-2913-3.
  24. "Timeline: 1974–75: The Year London Blew Up", History, Channel 4, 27 August 2007; retrieved 8 April 2009.
  25. Melanie McDonagh, "Mr. and Mrs. Pinter, At Home", The Tablet, 30 January 2010, p. 21.
  26. "No. 59647". The London Gazette (Supplement). 31 December 2010. p. 6.
  27. Loan No. 110B/1–19: Lady Antonia Fraser Archive Archived 23 November 2011 at the Wayback Machine , British Library Manuscripts Catalogue, British Library, 1993– , 8 April 2009.
  28. "Gold Daggers" Archived 23 July 2012 at the Wayback Machine , Crime Writers' Association, n.d., 13 June 2008.
  29. Website of St. Louis Literary Award
  30. Saint Louis University Library Associates. "Recipients of the Saint Louis Literary Award". Archived from the original on 31 July 2016. Retrieved 25 July 2016.
  31. "Enid McLeod Literary Prize" [ permanent dead link ], Book Trust , 2007. Retrieved 9 April 2009.
  32. Must You Go? Archived 21 November 2010 at the Wayback Machine , Shortlist for Non-Fiction Book of The Year award category (Book 5), Galaxy National Book Awards, 2010. Retrieved 6 December 2010.

Further reading

Biographies and profiles

Interviews and articles

Related Research Articles

Marie Antoinette Last Queen of France prior to the French Revolution

Marie Antoinette was the last Queen of France before the French Revolution. She was born an Archduchess of Austria and was the penultimate child and youngest daughter of Empress Maria Theresa and Francis I, Holy Roman Emperor. She became Dauphine of France in May 1770 at age 14 upon her marriage to Louis-Auguste, heir apparent to the French throne. On 10 May 1774, her husband ascended the throne as Louis XVI and she assumed the title Queen of France and Navarre, which she held until September 1791, when she became Queen of the French as the French Revolution proceeded, a title that she held until 21 September 1792.

Vivien Merchant English actress

Ada Brand Thomson, known professionally as Vivien Merchant, was an English actress. She began her career in 1942, and became known for dramatic roles on stage and in films. In 1956, she married the playwright Harold Pinter, and performed in many of his plays.

Margaret Drabble Novelist, biographer and critic

Dame Margaret Drabble, Lady Holroyd is an English novelist, biographer, and critic.

<i>Mary Queen of Scots</i> (1969 book) book by Antonia Fraser

Mary Queen of Scots (1969) is a biography of Mary, Queen of Scots, by Antonia Fraser. A 40th-anniversary edition of the book was published in 2009.

Thomas Francis Dermot Pakenham, 8th Earl of Longford, known simply as Thomas Pakenham, is an Anglo-Irish historian and arborist who has written several prize-winning books on the diverse subjects of African history, Victorian and post-Victorian British history, and trees.

Dame Marina Sarah Warner, is an English novelist, short story writer, historian and mythographer. She is known for her many non-fiction books relating to feminism and myth. She has written for many publications, including The London Review of Books, the New Statesman, Sunday Times, The Daily Telegraph and Vogue. She has been a visiting professor, given lectures and taught on the faculties of many universities.

<i>One for the Road</i> (Pinter play) Harold Pinter play

One for the Road is an overtly-political one-act play by Harold Pinter, which premiered at Lyric Studio, Hammersmith, in London, on 13 March 1984, and was first published by Methuen in 1984. Pinter's One for the Road is not to be confused with the Willy Russell play of the same name.

Let them eat cake political catch phrase

"Let them eat cake" is the traditional translation of the French phrase "Qu'ils mangent de la brioche", supposedly spoken by "a great princess" upon learning that the peasants had no bread. Since brioche was a luxury bread enriched with butter and eggs, the quotation would reflect the princess's disregard for the peasants, or her poor understanding of their situation.

Nigel Nicolson British politician and writer

Nigel Nicolson was an English writer, publisher and politician.

<i>Marie Antoinette: The Journey</i> book by Antonia Fraser

Marie Antoinette: The Journey is a sympathetic 2001 biography of archduchess Marie Antoinette, the Queen of France (1774–1792) by Antonia Fraser. It is the basis for the 2006 Sofia Coppola film Marie Antoinette.

Carol Drinkwater Actress and author

Carol Drinkwater is an Anglo-Irish actress, author and filmmaker. She portrayed Helen Herriot in the television adaptation of the James Herriot books All Creatures Great and Small, which led to her receiving the Variety Club Television Personality of the Year award in 1985.

Sophie Hélène Beatrix of France French princess

Sophie Hélène Béatrix of France was a French princess, the daughter of Louis XVI of France and Marie Antoinette. She was styled as Madame Sophie at birth. As the daughter of a King of France, she was a Fille de France.

Robert Winder, formerly literary editor of The Independent for five years and Deputy Editor of Granta magazine during the late 1990s, is the author of Hell for Leather, a book about modern cricket, a book about British immigration, and also two novels as well as many articles and book reviews in British periodicals. Winder is a team member of the Gaieties Cricket Club, whose chairman was Harold Pinter.

The Harold Pinter Archive in the British Library is the literary archive of Harold Pinter, which Pinter had first placed "on permanent loan" in the British Library in September 1993 and which became a permanent acquisition in December 2007.

Lady Anne Mary Somerset is an English historian and writer. She is a recipient of the Elizabeth Longford Prize.

Miriam Gross British journalist, writer, and literary editor

Miriam Gross is a literary editor and writer in Britain.

Kate Williams (historian) British historian

Kate Williams is a British author, historian and television presenter. She is a professor of history at the University of Reading.

<i>The Gunpowder Plot: Terror and Faith in 1605</i> book by Antonia Fraser

The Gunpowder Plot: Terror and Faith in 1605 is a 1996 book by Antonia Fraser published by Weidenfeld & Nicolson.