Antonia Fraser

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Antonia Fraser
Antonia Fraser.jpg
Antonia Fraser in 2010
Born Antonia Margaret Caroline Pakenham
(1932-08-27) 27 August 1932 (age 89)
London, England
Nationality British
Period 1969 – present
Genre Biography, detective fiction
Children Six (three sons and three daughters) with Fraser, one stepson with Pinter

Lady Antonia Margaret Caroline Fraser, DBE (born 27 August 1932), née Pakenham, 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 Antonia Pinter.[2][3][4]

Family background and education

Fraser is the daughter 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 honorific courtesy title "Lady" and thus customarily addressed formally as "Lady Antonia".[2]

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]

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]


She 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][7]

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][10] She won the Wolfson History Award in 1984 for The Weaker Vessel, a study of women's lives in 17th century England.[10] From 1988 to 1989, she was president of English PEN, and she chaired its Writers in Prison Committee.[citation needed]

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]

In 1983 to 1984, she was president of Edinburgh's Sir Walter Scott Club.[11]

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.[10] 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.[citation needed] Fraser has also served as the 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.[10][12]

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).[13]

Related experience

She was a contestant on the BBC Radio 4 panel game My Word![14] 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).[15][16]


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.[17]

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 of England and Ireland, as this subject has already been extensively covered.[4][17]

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.'"[18]

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.[19] 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][19] 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][19][20][21]

In 1975 Antonia Fraser 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.[22] 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][13]

A Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE), she was elevated to Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire (DBE) in the 2011 New Year Honours for services to literature.[23]

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.[24] 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

  • King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table (1954, 1970)
  • Robin Hood (1955), The Heirloom Library

Non-fiction works

Jemima Shore novels

  • Quiet as a Nun (1977)
  • The Wild Island (1978). Also published as Tartan Tragedy.
  • A Splash of Red (1981)
  • Cool Repentance (1982)
  • Oxford Blood (1985)
  • Jemima Shore's First Case (1986)
  • Your Royal Hostage (1987)
  • The Cavalier Case (1990)
  • Jemima Shore at the Sunny Grave (1991)
  • Political Death (1995)

Anthologies (Editor)

  • Scottish Love Poems (1975)
  • Love Letters (1976)
  • The Pleasure of Reading (1992)

See also


  1. "Antonia Fraser". Desert Island Discs. 27 July 2008. BBC Radio 4. Retrieved 18 January 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 2.6 2.7 2.8 2.9 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. Cached version.
  3. 3.0 3.1 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. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 4.4 "Non-Fiction: Author: Antonia Fraser", Orion Books, 2004–2007 [updated 2009]. Retrieved 9 April 2009.
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 5.4 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. 7.0 7.1 "Non-Fiction: Antonia Fraser: Author Q&A", Orion Books, 2004–2007 [updated 2009]. Retrieved 9 April 2009. Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "Q.26A" defined multiple times with different content
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 8.3 8.4 8.5 8.6 8.7 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", University of Oxford Alumni, University of Oxford, 29 October 2007. Retrieved 17 June 2008.
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 10.3 10.4 10.5 10.6 10.7 10.8 10.9 "History Books by Antonia Fraser" and "Other Books by Antonia Fraser" at, Antonia Fraser, 2007, Retrieved 9 April 2009; "Author: Antonia Fraser: Non-Fiction", Orion Books, 2004–2007 [updated 2009], 9 April 2009.
  11. "Our President in 1983/84 was: Lady Antonia Fraser", biography, Edinburgh Sir Walter Scott Club, n.d. Retrieved 8 April 2009.
  12. Antonia Fraser, The Gunpowder Plot, 2007, Antonia Fraser website. Retrieved 13 June 2008.
  13. 13.0 13.1 Antonia Fraser, "Sofia's Choice", Vanity Fair, November 2006, Condé Nast Publications. Retrieved 9 April 2009.
  14. Cf. My Word!, BBC Radio 4, BBC, 9 April 2009.
  15. "Benefits", Franco-British Society, 2008. Retrieved 9 April 2009.
  16. 16.0 16.1 Alex Danchev, "They Remember, But Others Forget", Times Higher Education Supplement, News Corporation, 2 March 2007. Retrieved 13 June 2008.
  17. 17.0 17.1 "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.]
  18. Wroe, Nicholas (23 August 2002). "The History Woman". The Guardian. Retrieved 2 January 2016.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  19. 19.0 19.1 19.2 "Sir Hugh Fraser Dead; Long a Tory Legislator", Obituaries, The New York Times, 7 March 1984, 13 June 2008.
  20. 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.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  21. "Timeline: 1974–75: The Year London Blew Up", History, Channel 4, 27 August 2007. Retrieved 8 April 2009.
  22. Melanie McDonagh, "Mr. and Mrs. Pinter, At Home", The Tablet, 30 January 2010, p. 21.
  23. The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 59647. p. 6. 31 December 2010.
  24. Loan No. 110B/1–19: Lady Antonia Fraser Archive, British Library Manuscripts Catalogue, British Library, 1993– , 8 April 2009.
  25. "Gold Daggers", Crime Writers' Association, n.d., 13 June 2008.
  26. "Enid McLeod Literary Prize", Book Trust, 2007. Retrieved 9 April 2009.
  27. Must You Go?, 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

External links