Antonia Fraser (Dame Commander of the British Empire)

Presented to the Calgary Women’s Literary Club, April 18, 2017 by Helle Kraav

Born:  August 27, 1932 in London to Frank Pakenham and Elizabeth Pakenham nee Harman. Becomes Lady Antonia when father inherits 7th Earl of Longford title in 1961.

Education:  Dragon School, Oxford; St. Mary’s Convent, Ascot; Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford

Siblings:  Thomas (1933); Patrick (b. 1937 d. 2009); Judith (b.1940); Rachel (b.1942) Michael (1943); Catherine Rose (b.1946- d.1969); Kevin (1947)

Marriages:  Hugh Fraser – 1956-1977; and Harold Pinter – 1980-2008

Children with Hugh Fraser:  Benjamin, Damian, Orlando, Rebecca, Flora and Natasha; with Harold Pinter, stepson Daniel

Career:  “All-purpose assistant” to George Weidenfeld at Weidenfeld & Nicholson Publishers and wrote children’s books on King Arthur and Robin Hood 1953 – 1956. Married Aristocrat and Conservative MP Sir Hugh Fraser 1956 but returned to Weidenfeld & Nicholson shortly after marriage due to the necessity of growing family and lack of money. Wrote magazine pieces and books on Dolls and History of Toys. Life changed overnight with 1969 publication of Mary, Queen of Scots.  “Mary” became a bestseller in hardcover and paperback, received James Tait Black Memorial Prize of 1969 for biography, was translated into 11 languages and further reissued in 2001 and 2009. Between 1969 and 2006 wrote 9 non-fiction biographical and historical books, 10 fictional Jemima Shore mystery novels, 4 anthologies of poetry and love letters and edited books on the Lives of the Kings and Queens of England, Heroes and Heroines and the Pleasure of Reading. Marriage to Hugh Fraser ended in 1975 and married dramatist, director and actor Harold Pinter in 1980. Continued to write but also became active in Harold’s political causes. Since Harold’s death in 2008 has published a book on the Perilous Question: The Drama of the Great Reform Bill of 1832, and three autobiographical works.

My favourite quote:  “I can’t read historical fiction because I find the real thing so much more interesting.”

Honours and Awards:  Mary, Queen of Scots: James Tait Black Memorial Prize 1969; The Weaker Vessel: Wolfson History Prize 1984; The Gunpowder Plot: Crime Writers’ Association Macallan Gold Dagger for Non-Fiction 1996 and St. Louis Literary Award 1996; Marie Antoinette: Franco-British Society’s Enid McLeod Literary Prize 2001; Must You Go: Shortlisted Galaxy National Book Awards 2010 Non-Fiction Book of the Year award category; Honourary Degrees from Hull 1986; Sussex 1990; Nottingham 1993 and St. Andrews 1994; Historical Association Norton Medlicott Medal 2000

Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) and elevated to Dame Commander of the British Empire (DBE) 2011 New Year’s Honours for services to literature.

Posts held: Society of Authors- Chairman 1974-75; Sir Walter Scott Club – President 1983-84; Crimewriters’ Association – Vice Chairman 1985-86 and English PEN– Vice Chairman 1988-89; Judge for Enid McLeod Literary Prize; Panelist on BBC’s “My Word” 1979-90.