British Author
Born 1916 Died 1974

Richard James Arthur Pope-Hennessy was born in London on the 20th November 1916, the younger son of Ladislaus Herbert Richard Pope-Hennessy and his wife, Una Constance who was the daughter of Arthur Birch, Lieutenant-Governor of Ceylon. James as he was generally came from a close knit Catholic family and was educated at Downside School and at Balliol College, Oxford but generally showed a lack of interest in education thanks to a natural rebellious streak which may have had something to do with his homosexuality.

Due largely to his mother's influence, he formed the ambition of becoming a writer and left Oxford in 1937 without completing his degree, and went to work for the Catholic publishers Sheed and Ward, as an editorial assistant. Whilst working at the company's offices in Paternoster Row in London he worked on his first book, London Fabric (1939), for which he was awarded the Hawthornden Prize. He left the publishers in 1938 when his mother found him a job as private secretary to Hubert Young, the Governor of Trinidad. Although his time abroad provided the material for his later West Indian Summer (1943), he disliked the work. The outbreak of World War II gave him the excuse to return to Britain, where he enlisted as a private in an aircraft battery. He was later transferred to military intelligence, given a commission and spent the latter part of the war as a member of the British army staff at Washington.

After the end of the war James wrote on account of his experiences in America and set out to become a full time writer. He had a brief spell as the literary editor of The Spectator between 1947 and 1949 before he decided to travel to France and write Aspects of Provence which was published in 1952. He eventually established himself as one of the leading biographers of his time; his first effort in this direction being a two volume biography of Monckton Milnes which appeared in 1949 under the titles The Years of Promise and The Flight of Youth . This was followed by further biographies of the Earl of Crewe and of Queen Mary, for which he was rewarded by being created a Commander of the Royal Victorian Order in 1960. He then wrote a life of his grandfather, the colonial governor John Pope Hennessy under the title Verandah, followed by an account of the Atlantic slave traffickers, Sins of the Fathers (1967).

In 1970 he took out Irish citizenship and went to live at Banagher in County Offaly and produced respectable biographies of both Anthony Trollope and Robert Louis Stevenson in the early 1970s before being given a large advance to begin work on his next subject Noël Coward. But despite being a succesful professional biographer James was careless with money and suffered a regular series of financial crises and often relied on the goodwill of friends to get by. He became an alcoholic and a frequenter of back-street bars and shady pubs where he mixed with the wrong crowd. He was eventually beaten up by a gang of youths and later died of his injuries at the St Charles Hospital in Kensington on the 25th January 1974, and was later buried at Kensal Green Cemetery.



James Lees-Milne, ‘Hennessy, (Richard) James Arthur Pope- (1916–1974)’, rev., Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004
James Pope-Hennessy
Notable personalities at Kensal Green Cemetery - 48k

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