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Antonia Fraser

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Antonia Fraser
Born Antonia Margaret Caroline Pakenham
27 August 1932 (1932-08-27) (age 84)
London, England
Nationality British
Writing period 1969 – the present
Genres biography, detective fiction
Spouse(s) Hugh Fraser (1956–1977)
Harold Pinter (1980–2008)
Children six (three sons and three daughters) with Fraser
one stepson with Pinter
Official website

Lady Antonia Fraser, CBE (born 27 August 1932), née Pakenham, is an English author of history and novels, best known as Antonia Fraser for writing biographies and detective fiction. She is the widow of Harold Pinter (1930–2008), the 2005 Nobel Laureate in Literature, and, when married to him, was also known as Antonia Pinter.[1][2][3][4]


Family background and education

Born Antonia Margaret Caroline Pakenham on 27 August 1932, Antonia 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".[1]

When she was a teenager,[5] like all her siblings she became a convert to the Catholic Church after the conversion of her parents.[1][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 St Mary's School, Ascot, the Dragon School, Oxford[1][7] and Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford; the last was also her mother's alma mater.[5][8][9]

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 Conservative Unionist MP in the House of Commons (sitting for Stafford), who was a friend of the American Kennedy family.[10] They had six children: three sons, Benjamin, Damian, and Orlando; and three daughters, Rebecca, Flora, and Natasha (Natasha Fraser-Cavassoni), who are all also writers and biographers.[8][10] Benjamin works for JPMorgan, Damian is the managing director of the investment banking firm UBS AG (formerly S. G. Warburg) in Mexico, and Orlando 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 9am when he left the house; the bomb exploded prematurely when it was examined and inadvertently set off by the eminent cancer researcher Gordon Hamilton-Fairley (1930–1975). Hamilton-Fairley, a neighbour of the Frasers, who had been walking his dog, noticed and inspected the device under the car, and died as a result of the blast.[5][10][11]

In 1975 Antonia Fraser began an affair with playwright Harold Pinter, who was then married to the actress Vivien Merchant.[1][8] In 1977, after she had been living with Pinter for two years, the Frasers' union was legally dissolved.[1][8] Merchant spoke about her distress publicly to the press, which quoted her cutting remarks about her rival, but she resisted divorcing Pinter.[1][8] In 1980, after Merchant signed divorce papers, Fraser and Pinter married.[1][5][8]

Harold Pinter died on 24 December 2008.[4]

She lives in the London district of Holland Park, within 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.[1][3][12]

Correcting those who notice only her physical beauty—remarked upon both in her youth and well into her seventh decade—some commentators stress that, "more than just a pretty face", she is an accomplished historian and "an intellectual".[13]


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.[1][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][14] She won the Wolfson History Award in 1984 for The Weaker Vessel, a study of women's lives in 17th century England.[14] From 1988 to 1989, she was president of English PEN, and she chaired its Writers in Prison Committee.

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

In 1983 to 1984, she was president of the Edinburgh Sir Walter Scott Club.[15]

More recently, Fraser published The Warrior Queens, the story of various military royal women since the days of Boadicea and Cleopatra.[2] In 1992, a year after Alison Weir's book The Six Wives of Henry VIII, she published a book with the same title, which British historian Eric Ives cites in his study of Ann Boleyn.[16]

She chronicled the life and times of Charles II in a well-reviewed 1979 eponymous biography.[14] 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. 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.[14][17]

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).[12]

She is represented by Curtis Brown Literary and Talent Agency, where her agent is Jonathan Lloyd, the Agency's CEO.

Related experience

She was a contestant on the BBC Radio 4 panel game My Word!.[18]

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).[19][20]

Forthcoming work

According to an anonymous news account published in the Mail Online on 8 April 2009, Lady Antonia Fraser confirmed to its author on 7 April that her next book is "a memoir of her late husband Harold Pinter," but she also said, "It is early days and I don't want to make any comment at the present time because I am still in mourning"; although "a source at her publishers Weidenfeld & Nicolson told the reporter, "We have been sworn to secrecy about this," the writer speculates that the book is "expected to be a touching love letter" to Pinter.[21] This Daily Mail reporter speculates further that "Some will even wonder if her intent is to pre-empt the possibility of another less agreeable biographer pitching up with the first book on Pinter's life and death."[21] Such speculation does not seem to take account of the fact that Pinter's official authorised biographer, Michael Billington, who is generally quite sympathetic to Pinter ("agreeable"), announced in January 2009 that a third edition of his book Harold Pinter (2nd ed., 2007) is being rushed to press by Faber and that it "will take account of the international response to Pinter's death."[22] In June 2009, announced that the title of Fraser's memoir is Must You Go? My Life with Harold Pinter and that the completed manuscript, to be published by Weidenfeld & Nicolson's imprint Orion Books, is due in July.[23] On 9 June 2009, the The Guardian stated that this memoir of a love affair and marriage would be published in January 2010.[24]

She is also working on a biography of Queen Elizabeth I of England and Ireland.[4][24]

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 (BL); there is a registry of this archive accessible via the British Library Manuscripts Catalogue online search facility, listing 19 boxes of materials.[25] 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.[26][27]


Selected bibliography[14]

Non-fiction works

Jemima Shore novels

Anthologies (Editor)

  • Scottish Love Poems (1975)
  • Love Letters (1976)

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 1.6 1.7 1.8 1.9 Mel Gussow, "The Lady Is a Writer", The New York Times Magazine, 9 Sept. 1984, Sunday Late City Final Ed., Sec. 6, Health: 60, col. 2. Print. New York Times, New York Times Company, 9 Sept. 1984, Web, 8 Apr. 2009. Cached version.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Eleanor O'Donnell, "Author Profiles: Introducing Lady Antonia Fraser", Helium, Helium, Inc., 2002–2009, Web, 13 June 2008.
  3. 3.0 3.1 Antonia Fraser, "Writer's Rooms: Antonia Fraser", Guardian, Culture: Books, Guardian Media Group, 13 June 2008, Web, 8 Apr. 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 (Orion Publishing Group), © 2004–2007, [updated 2009], Web, 9 Apr. 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", Times, News Corporation, 5 July 2008, Web, 9 Apr. 2009.
  6. Daniel Snowman, "Lady Antonia Fraser", History Today 50.10 (October 2000): 26-28, History Today, n.d., Web, 8 Apr. 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 (Orion Publishing Group), © 2004–2007, [updated 2009], Web, 9 Apr., 2009.
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 8.3 8.4 8.5 8.6 8.7 Nicholas Wroe, "Profile: The History Woman", Guardian, Arts & Humanities, Guardian Media Group, 24 Aug. 2002, Web, 8 Apr. 2009.
  9. "Featured Alumni: Antonia Fraser: Author, Lady Margaret Hall", University of Oxford Alumni, University of Oxford, 29 Oct. 2007, Web, 17 June 2008.
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 "Sir Hugh Fraser Dead; Long a Tory Legislator", New York Times, Obituaries, New York Times Company, 7 Mar. 1984, Web, 13 June 2008.
  11. "Timeline: 1974-75: The Year London Blew Up", Channel 4, History, Channel 4, 27 Aug. 2007, Web, 8 Apr. 2009.
  12. 12.0 12.1 Antonia Fraser, "Sofia's Choice", Vanity Fair, Nov. 2006, Condé Nast Publications, Web, 9 Apr. 2009.
  13. Sam Leith, "Literary Lazing", Daily Telegraph, Arts Blogs, Telegraph Media Group, Inc, 10 July 2007, Web, 9 Apr. 2009.
  14. 14.0 14.1 14.2 14.3 14.4 14.5 14.6 14.7 14.8 14.9 "History Books by Antonia Fraser" and "Other Books by Antonia Fraser" at, Antonia Fraser, © 2007, Web, 9 Apr. 2009; "Author: Antonia Fraser: Non-Fiction", Orion Books (Orion Publishing Group), © 2004–2007 [updated 2009], Web, 9 Apr. 2009.
  15. "Our President in 1983/84 was: Lady Antonia Fraser", biography, Edinburgh Sir Walter Scott Club, n.d., Web, 8 Apr. 2009.
  16. Eric W. Ives, The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn, rev. ed. (1986; London: Blackwell's, 2004) xvii. ISBN 0631234799 (10). ISBN 978-0631234791 (13).
  17. Antonia Fraser, The Gunpowder Plot,, 2007, Antonia Fraser, Web, 13 June 2008.
  18. Cf. My Word!, BBC Radio 4, BBC, World Wide Web, 9 Apr. 2009.
  19. "Benefits", Franco-British Society, Franco-British Society, © 2008, Web, 9 Apr. 2009.
  20. 20.0 20.1 Alex Danchev, "They Remember, But Others Forget", Times Higher Education Supplement, News Corporation, 2 Mar. 2007, Web, 13 June 2008.
  21. 21.0 21.1 "Pinter: The Final Chapter", Mail Online, Daily Mail and General Trust, 8 Apr. 2009, Web, 8 Apr. 2009.
  22. Following Pinter's death on 24 December 2008, The Bookseller reported that Faber plans "to rush out an updated version" of Harold Pinter, "which will take account of the international response to Pinter's death, ... at the end of January [2009]" and that it "will be released first as an e-book." See Felicity Wood, "Faber Rushes Out Billington Ebook", The Bookseller,, 7 Jan. 2009, Web, 9 Apr. 2009. [Contains the following correction by Peter Scott: "Pinter was born in 1930, not 1939."]
  23. Catherine Neilan, "Fraser Reveals Life with Pinter", The Bookseller,, 5 June 2009, Web, 12 June 2009.
  24. 24.0 24.1 "Antonia Fraser To Tell Harold Pinter 'love story' ", Guardian, Guardian Media Group, 9 June 2009, Web, 19 June 2009. ("Historical biographer will publish her 'portrait of a marriage' to the Nobel laureate in January 2010.") [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 271–72). It was the Frasers' marital union that was dissolved in 1977.]
  25. Loan No. 110B/1–19: Lady Antonia Fraser Archive, British Library Manuscripts Catalogue, Web, British Library, 1993– , Web, 8 Apr. 2009.
  26. Previously part of the Pinter Archive (Loan No. 110), with the Harold Pinter Archive before its permanent acquisition being numbered Loan No. 110A (renumbered after its acquisition and cataloguing: Additional Manuscripts Collection No. 88880), the Lady Antonia Fraser Archive is still Loan No. 110B.
  27. For items by and relating to Antonia Fraser held in the Manuscripts Collections of the British Library, one uses the "Descriptions search" facility for "Antonia Fraser"; such verifiable searches are transitory; they yield "Brief descriptions" of the locations of materials by and relating to Antonia Fraser, but they time out and expire after each such search.
  28. "Gold Daggers", Crime Writers' Association, Web, Crime Writers Association, n.d., 13 June 2008.
  29. "Enid McLeod Literary Prize", Book Trust, Book Trust, 2007, Web, 9 Apr. 2009.

Selected references

Biographies and profiles
Gussow Mel. "The Lady Is a Writer". The New York Times Magazine 9 Sept. 1984, Sunday Late City Final Ed., Sec. 6: 60, col. 2. Print. New York Times, New York Times Company, 9 Sept. 1984. Web. 8 Apr. 2009. (8 pages.) Cached version.
O'Donnell, Eleanor. "Author Profiles: Introducing Lady Antonia Fraser". Helium. Helium, Inc., 2002–2009. Web. 8 Apr. 2009.
"Our President in 1983/84 was: Lady Antonia Fraser" (relocated to:) "Our President in 1983/84 was: Lady Antonia Fraser" (Updated version). Biography in "Past Presidents" section. Edinburgh Sir Walter Scott Club. Edinburgh Sir Walter Scott Club, n.d.; updated 2008–2009. Web. 5 Jan. 2008 and (updated version) 8 Apr. 2009. (First version hosted short audio clip of "Toast to Sir Walter; full text available in 1984 Club Bulletin; full speech available on CD from Club site; campaign underway to post the full speech online.)
Snowman, Daniel. "Lady Antonia Fraser". History Today 50.10 (Oct. 2000): 26-28. Print. History Today, 2000. Web. 13 June 2008. (Excerpt; full article available to subscribers or pay-per-view customers.)
Wroe, Nicholas. "Profile: The History Woman." Guardian, Arts & Humanities. Guardian Media Group, 24 Aug. 2002. Web. 13 June 2008.
Interviews and interview-based articles
Dougary, Ginny. "Lady Antonia Fraser's Life Less Ordinary: In a Frank Interview, the Famed Writer Talks about Motherhood, Catholicism, Her Parents and Soulmate Harold Pinter". Times. News Corporation, 5 July 2008. Web. 8 Apr. 2009.
"Interviews: Antonia Fraser Peers into the Heart of Louis XIV". Weekend Edition Saturday. National Public Radio, 11 Nov. 2006. Web. 8 Apr. 2009. (NPR audio accessible for both RealPlayer and Windows Media Player.)
Leith, Sam. "Literary Lazing". Daily Telegraph, Arts Blogs. Telegraph Media Group Ltd, 10 July 2007. Web. 8 Apr. 2009.
Talese, Nan A. Interview with Antonia Fraser. Random House Books. Random House, 2001. Web. 8 Jan. 2008 (archived); 9 Apr. 2009. (Transcript; "This interview appears in an abridged form in the Nan A. Talese Fall 2001 Catalog of Authors.")
Weinberg, Kate. "Culture Clinic: Lady Antonia Fraser". The Telegraph. Telegraph Media Group Ltd, 15 Mar. 2008; updated 20 Mar. 2008. Web. 8 Apr. 2009.
"Timeline: 1974–75: The Year London Blew Up: August–November 1975": "22 October 1975." Channel 4. Channel 4, n.d. Web. 6 July 2008.

External links

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