"I think mine is the fullest and most plausible account of what went on in Marie Antoinette's life." -- Antonia Fraser
Lady Antonia Fraser, CBE (born 27 August 1932), née Pakenham, is an Anglo Irish author of history, novels, biographies and detective fiction, best known as Antonia Fraser. She is the widow of Harold Pinter (1930—2008), the 2005 Nobel Laureate in Literature, and, prior to her husband's death, was also known as Antonia Pinter.
"After Mary Queen of Scots, I turned to the farthest subject possible: Cromwell.""As long as you persecute people, you will actually throw up terrorism.""I am re-reading Henry James as a change from history. I began with Daisy Miller, and I've just finished Washington Square. What a brilliant, painful book.""I can't read historical fiction because I find the real thing so much more interesting.""I don't like it, but this afternoon I've told myself I am going to go and get a dress.""I hate the only one of my book jackets when I was made up professionally, my hair made into a smooth bell.""I have no plans for a future Jemima Shore mystery, but would write one tomorrow if a good idea came to me.""I realize that I had always in my heart of hearts planned to write a biography of Marie Antoinette.""I think crime writing is my link with trying to preserve a sort of order.""I think there has been a great deal of valuable revisionism in women's history.""I think there's a tremendous split between people who've been through a war and people who haven't.""I'm glad I was never an heiress.""I'm very interested in good and evil and the moral natures of people.""If I write that it was a cold day, you can be sure I know it was a cold day because Pepys told us.""It can be a long gap between the emergence of fully researched historical biographies.""King Charles II liked women's company and well as making love to them.""Lives in previous centuries for women are largely a matter of class. It would have been fun to have been a rich, privileged woman in the 18th century, but no fun at all to be her maid.""Mary Queen of Scots was my first love, and that is always something special.""My advantage as a woman and a human being has been in having a mother who believed strongly in women's education. She was an early undergraduate at Oxford, and her own mother was a doctor.""My mother was a politician in my formative years.""My mother, who was quite sharp when I was young, became utterly mild.""Ninety-seven is my lucky number.""Normally I make myself swim, do exercises. For zest I like going to the cinema.""People in my books tend to get their just deserts, even if not at the hands of the police.""That is my major concern: writers who are in prison for writing.""The clue to book jacket photography is to look friendly and approachable, but not too glamorous.""The concentration in my book on Marie Antoinette's childhood and on her family influences. It is surprising how some books actually start with her arrival in France!""We are privileged. There are poor people out there. We must to do something to make them privileged."
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".
As a teenager, she and her siblings converted to Catholicism, after the conversion of her parents. 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." She was educated at St Mary's School, Ascot, the Dragon School, Oxford and Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford; the last was also her mother's alma mater.
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. 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. Benjamin works for JPMorgan, Damian is the managing director of the investment banking firm UBS AG in Mexico, and Orlando is a barrister specializing in commercial law (Wroe). Antonia Fraser has 18 grandchildren.
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 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.
In 1975 Antonia Fraser began an affair with playwright Harold Pinter, who was then married to the actress Vivien Merchant. In 1977, after she had been living with Pinter for two years, the Frasers' union was legally dissolved. Merchant spoke about her distress publicly to the press, which quoted her cutting remarks about her rival, but she resisted divorcing Pinter. In 1980, after Merchant signed divorce papers, Fraser and Pinter married. After the deaths of both their spouses, they were married by the Catholic Church in the person of Fr. Michael Campbell-Johnson, a Jesuit.
Harold Pinter died on 24 December 2008.
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.
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".
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.
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). She won the Wolfson History Award in 1984 for The Weaker Vessel, a study of women's lives in 17th century England. 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.
In 1983 to 1984, she was president of the Edinburgh Sir Walter Scott Club.
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, which British historian Eric Ives cites in his study of Ann Boleyn.
She chronicled the life and times of Charles II in a well-reviewed 1979 eponymous biography. 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.
Two of the most recent of her thirteen non-fiction books are 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).
She is represented by Curtis Brown Literary and Talent Agency, where her agent is Jonathan Lloyd, the Agency's CEO.
She was a contestant on the BBC Radio 4 panel game My Word!.
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).
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. 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." 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." 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.
She is also working on a biography of Queen Elizabeth I of England and Ireland.
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. 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.
Mary Queen of Scots (1969). ISBN 038531129X. Reissued, Phoenix paperback, 2001. ISBN 1842124463 (10); ISBN 9781842124468 (13). 40th anniversary ed., reissued Orion paperback, 7 May 2009. ISBN 9780753826546.
King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table (1970)
Cromwell, Our Chief of Men (1973). Also published as Cromwell: The Lord Protector. ISBN 0802137660.
King James VI and I (1974)
The Lives of the Kings and Queens of England (1975) [Editor.]
King Charles II (1979). Also published as Royal Charles: Charles II and the Restoration and Charles II. ISBN 075381403X.
The Weaker Vessel: Woman's Lot in Seventeenth-century England (1984)
The Warrior Queens: Boadicea's Chariot (1988). Also published as Warrior Queens: The Legends and Lives of Women Who Have Lead Their Nations in War.
The Six Wives of Henry VIII. (1999; rpt. & updated ed., London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 2007). ISBN 029764355X (10). ISBN 9780297643555 (13). Also published as the Orion audio-book The Six Wives of Henry VIII (Nov. 2006). ISBN 0752889133. The first paperback ed. is The Six Wives of Henry VIII (London: Mandarin, 1993). ISBN 0749314095 (10); ISBN 9780749314095 (13). The 1st American ed. is entitled The Wives of Henry VIII. New York: Knopf, 1992. ISBN 0394585380 (10); ISBN 9780394585383 (13).
The Gunpowder Plot: Terror and Faith in 1605 (1996); also published as Faith and Treason: The Gunpowder Plot. ISBN 0385471890.
Marie Antoinette (2001). ISBN 0385489498. Also published with subtitle as The Journey (2002). ISBN 0753821400 (10). ISBN 9780753821404 (13).
Love and Louis XIV: The Women in the Life of the Sun King (2006). ISBN 0297829971.
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.
"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.