Lady Antonia Fraser
|Born||Antonia Margaret Caroline Pakenham|
27 August 1932
|Alma mater||Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford|
|Genre||Biography, detective fiction|
|Children||6, including Rebecca Fraser and Flora Fraser|
Lady Antonia Margaret Caroline Fraser, 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.(
Fraser is the first-born of the eight children of The 7th Earl of Longford (1905–2001) and his wife, Elizabeth, 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. Prior to going to Oxford in 1950, she was a debutante in the London social season.
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.
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). Fraser 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 involving a character named Jemima Shore, and they were adapted into the television series Jemima Shore Investigates, which aired in the UK in 1983.
From 1983 to 1984, she was president of Edinburgh's Sir Walter Scott Club.
Fraser's study, The Warrior Queens (1989), is an account of 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.
Her biography, Marie Antoinette: The Journey (2001, 2002), was adapted for 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).
Fraser 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).
Lady Antonia Fraser is a Vice-President of The London Library.
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, as this subject has already been extensively covered.
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."
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 Fraser, 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 the 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.
Lady Antonia Fraser is a Vice-President of the Royal Stuart Society.
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. She was appointed a Member of the Order of the Companions of Honour (CH) in the 2018 New Year Honours for services to literature.
Further information: Harold Pinter Archive
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.