Lady Antonia Fraser

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Antonia Pakenham

Also Known As: "Pinter", "Fraser"
Birthplace: London, Middlesex, England UK
Immediate Family:

Daughter of Francis Aungier Pakenham, 7th Earl of Longford and Elizabeth Pakenham, Countess of Longford, CBE
Widow of Harold Pinter; Hugh Charles Patrick Joseph Fraser, MP and Harold Pinter, Nobel Prize in Literature 2005
Mother of Private; Private; Private; Private; Private and 1 other
Sister of Thomas Frank Dermot Pakenham, 8th Earl of Longford; Patrick Maurice Pakenham; Private; Lady Rachel Billington, OBE; Private and 2 others

Occupation: Writer
Managed by: Private User
Last Updated:
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Immediate Family

About Lady Antonia Fraser

Lady Antonia Margaret Caroline Fraser, DBE (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.

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".

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 St Mary's School, Ascot and Dragon School, Oxford and Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford; the last was also her mother's alma mater.

Marriages and later lifeFrom 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, Dr. Gordon Hamilton-Fairley (1930–1975). Hamilton-Fairley, a neighbour of the Frasers, had been walking his dog, when he noticed something amiss and approached the vehicle when the bomb went off.

Marriage and family life

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, 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, 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.

Commentators have stated that, "more than just a pretty face", Antonia Fraser is an accomplished historian and "an intellectual".

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.


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 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, which British historian Eric Ives cites in his study of Anne 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.[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.

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 experienceShe 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).


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.

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.

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. 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 (1996), for her book The Gunpowder Plot.

Historical Association Norton Medlicott Medal (2000).

Enid McLeod Literary Prize (2001), from the Franco-British Society, for Marie Antoinette.

Selected bibliography

Non-fiction works

Mary Queen of Scots (1969). ISBN 038531129X. Reissued, Phoenix paperback, 2001; ISBN 9781842124468. 40th anniversary ed., reissued Orion paperback, 7 May 2009; ISBN 9780753826546.

King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table (1970)

Dolls (1963)

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 led Their Nations in War.

The Six Wives of Henry VIII (1999; rpt. & updated ed., London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 2007); ISBN 9780297643555. Also published as the Orion audio-book The Six Wives of Henry VIII (November 2006); ISBN 0752889133. The first paperback ed. is The Six Wives of Henry VIII (London: Mandarin, 1993); ISBN 9780749314095. The 1st American ed. is entitled The Wives of Henry VIII. New York: Knopf, 1992; ISBN 9780394585383.

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 the subtitle Marie Antoinette: The Journey, 2002); ISBN 9780753821404.

Love and Louis XIV: The Women in the Life of the Sun King (2006); ISBN 0297829971.

Must You Go? My Life with Harold Pinter (2010). 1st ed. London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson (Orion Books); ISBN 9780297859710. 1st U.S. ed., New York: Nan A. Talese/Doubleday; ISBN 9780385532501. 1st paperback ed. London: Phoenix, 2010; ISBN 9780753827581 (also published in audio & digital eds.) - "Shortlisted for Galaxy National Book Awards: Non-Fiction Book of the Year 2010."

Jemima Shore novels

Quiet as a Nun (1977)

The Wild Island (1978)

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)

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Lady Antonia Fraser's Timeline

August 27, 1932
London, Middlesex, England UK