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Antonia Fraser

Antonia Fraser

British author and novelist
The basics
Occupations Historian Writer Novelist Biographer
Countries United Kingdom
A.K.A. Antonia Margaret Caroline Pakenham, Antonia Pakenham, Antonia Margaret Caroline Fraser, Antonia Pinter
Gender female
Birth August 27, 1932 (London, Greater London, London, England)
Residence London
Mother: Elizabeth PakenhamCountess of Longford
Father: Frank Pakenham7th Earl of Longford
Spouse: Hugh FraserHarold Pinter
Children: Flora Fraser
Education Lady Margaret Hall, Dragon School
Notable Works Mary Queen of Scots, Marie Antoinette: The Journey
Authority IMDB id ISNI id Library of congress id Openlibrary id VIAF id
Antonia Fraser
The details

Lady Antonia Margaret Caroline Fraser DBE (née Pakenham, 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.

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".

As a teenager, she and her siblings converted to Catholicism, following the conversions of their 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 the Dragon School in Oxford, St Mary's School, Ascot, and Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford; the last was also her mother's alma mater.


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 and were adapted into a television series which aired in the UK in 1983.

From 1983-84, she was president of Edinburgh's 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.

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 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.

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).

Related experience

She was a contestant on the BBC Radio 4 panel game My Word! 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).


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.

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.

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.'"

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. 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. 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). 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 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.

In 1975, she 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, Fraser and Pinter were married by a Jesuit priest, Fr. Michael Campbell-Johnson, in the Roman Catholic Church. Harold Pinter died from cancer on 24 December 2008, aged 78.

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.

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.

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. 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.


  • James Tait Black Memorial Prize (1969), for her book Mary, Queen of Scots.
  • Wolfson History Prize (1984), for her book The Weaker Vessel.
  • Crime Writers' Association Macallan Gold Dagger for Non-Fiction (1996), for her book The Gunpowder Plot.
  • St. Louis Literary Award from the Saint Louis University Library Associates.
  • Historical Association Norton Medlicott Medal (2000).
  • Enid McLeod Literary Prize (2001), from the Franco-British Society, for Marie Antoinette.


Historical fiction

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

Non-fiction works

  • Mary Queen of Scots (1969). ISBN 0-385-31129-X.
    • Reissued, Phoenix paperback, 2001; ISBN 978-1-84212-446-8.
    • 40th anniversary edition, reissued Orion paperback, 7 May 2009; ISBN 978-0-7538-2654-6.
  • Dolls (1963)
  • A History of Toys (1966)
  • Cromwell, Our Chief of Men (1973);
    • Also published as Cromwell: The Lord Protector. ISBN 0-8021-3766-0.
  • 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 0-7538-1403-X.
  • The Weaker Vessel: Woman's Lot in Seventeenth-century England (1984)
  • The Warrior Queens: Boadicea's Chariot (1988), Weidenfeld and Nicolson, London.
    • Also published as Warrior Queens: The Legends and Lives of Women Who have led Their Nations in War.
  • The Six Wives of Henry VIII (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1996); Orion, 1999, ISBN 978-0-297-64355-5.
    • Rpt. & updated edition, London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 2007.
    • Also published as the Orion audio-book The Six Wives of Henry VIII (November 2006); ISBN 0-7528-8913-3.
    • The first paperback edition is The Six Wives of Henry VIII (London: Mandarin, 1993); ISBN 978-0-7493-1409-5.
    • The 1st American edition is entitled The Wives of Henry VIII. New York: Knopf, 1992; ISBN 978-0-394-58538-3.
  • The Gunpowder Plot: Terror and Faith in 1605 (1996)
    • Also published as Faith and Treason: The Gunpowder Plot; ISBN 0-385-47189-0.
  • Marie Antoinette (2001); ISBN 0-385-48949-8
    • Also published with the subtitle Marie Antoinette: The Journey, 2002); ISBN 978-0-7538-2140-4.
  • Love and Louis XIV: The Women in the Life of the Sun King (2006); ISBN 0-297-82997-1.
  • Must You Go? My Life with Harold Pinter (2010), London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson (Orion Books); ISBN 978-0-297-85971-0.
    • 1st U.S. edition, New York: Nan A. Talese/Doubleday; ISBN 978-0-385-53250-1.
    • 1st paperback edition London: Phoenix, 2010; ISBN 978-0-7538-2758-1
    • Also published in audio & digital editions) - "Shortlisted for Galaxy National Book Awards: Non-Fiction Book of the Year 2010."
  • Perilous Question: The Drama of the Great Reform Bill 1832 (2013)

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)
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Family background and education Career Perspective and criticism Marriages and later life The Lady Antonia Fraser Archive in the British Library Awards Works
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