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Lady Antonia Fraser
Fraser in 2010
Antonia Margaret Caroline Pakenham (1932-08-27) 27 August 1932 (age 87) London, England
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."
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.
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.
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."
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.
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.
^ ab"Antonia Fraser to tell Harold Pinter 'love story'. Historical biographer will publish her 'portrait of a marriage' to the Nobel laureate in January 2010", The Guardian, 9 June 2009. Retrieved 19 June 2009. [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, pp. 271-72). It was the Frasers' marital union that was dissolved in 1977.]