British author and journalist
Born 1906 Died 2002
She was born Elizabeth Harman on the 30th August 1906, but later thanks to her marriage of the 3rd November 1931 to Francis Pakenham she became the Countess of Longford when her husband became the 7th Earl of Longford in 1961, and took the name of Elizabeth Longford. Her father Nathaniel Harman was a doctor at Harley Street in London. He was born and raised a Baptist but converted to Unitarianism in order to marry Katherine Chamberlain, who was also a doctor, and came from the same Birmingham political family as Joseph Chamberlain, Neville Chamberlain and Austen Chamberlain.
Elizabeth was educated at the Francis Holland School in London, and then the Headington School in Oxford, before gaining a place at Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford where she read Classics and became the first woman editor of the University magazine Isis. At Oxford she was a contemporary of John Betjeman, who referred to her as "one of the aesthetes' molls", and was romanced by Hugh Gaitskell who converted her to socialism and introduced her to her future husband.
Following her marriage she worked for a time alongside her husband as a tutor for the Workers' Educational Association whilst they both sought to establish political careers. Elizabeth unsuccessfully contested Cheltenham for the Labour Party in 1935, and was later selected as candidate for the safe seat of Birmingham King's Norton, but decided to withdraw when it seemed likely that her husband would fail to win in Oxford. Although she did stand once more for Parliament in 1950 against Quintin Hogg, she gave up on politics afterwards and concentrated on raising her family. (Her husband inherited a seat in the House of Lords and became a minister under Harold Wilson, and as the Lord Longford became a familiar figure as an anti-pornography campaigner and penal reformer.)
Elizabeth Longford came late to the business of writing, thanks to the encouragement of Maxwell Aitken, 1st Baron Beaverbrook who hired her to write a column for his Sunday Express. After establishing herself as a journalist, her first serious book on the Jameson Raid was published in 1960, but it was her biography Victoria RI (1964), which won the James Tait Black Memorial Prize that made her reputation. This was followed by her biography of the first Duke of Wellington, which stretched over two volumes (1969 and 1972) and came to be regarded as her greatest achievement. She also wrote further biographies of the Queen Mother and the Queen, along with books on Winston Churchill and the Lord Byron, while a volume of memoirs entitled The Pebbled Shore appeared on the occasion of her eightieth birthday. Her biography of the poet Wilfrid Scawen Blunt was however less well regarded as she lost sympathy with her subject thanks to his persisitent philandering.
According to the BBC her marriage was "famously harmonious" and lasted almost seventy years until her husband's death in August 2001. They shared the same interests and outlook on life and when her husband converted to the Roman Catholic faith in 1941, she followed five years after. Together they had eight children, a number of whom became writers, including Thomas Pakenham (and 8th Earl) the author of a number of historical works, the novelist Rachel Billington, the biographer Antonia Fraser, and the poet Judith Kazantzis. She died at her home in Hurst Green, Sussex, on the 23rd October 2002 at the age of ninety-six. According to her daughter, Antonia Fraser, "She was not suffering from any particular illness, she simply died of old age."
The Society of Authors has since established the Elizabeth Longford Prize for Historical Biography in her memory.
Lady Longford dies aged 96, 23 October, 2002,
Longford, Elizabeth. The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1E1-LongfordE.html
OBITUARY by Kevin Pakenham
Jonathan W. Doering, Elizabeth Longford: 'aesthetes' moll' and royal biographer, Contemporary Review May, 2003