On this day in history: 9th July 1901 – The birth of English romance novelist Dame Barbara Cartland – who was also the step-grandmother of Diana, Princess of Wales….
Dame Barbara was born Mary Barbara Hamilton Cartland in Edgbaston, Birmingham, to Captain Bertram Cartland and Mary Hamilton Scobell…. She was educated at the Alice Ottley School and the Malvern Girls’ College…. At the end of World War One her father was killed and Barbara moved with her mother and two younger brothers to London – and it is then that she began to write….
Her first book ‘Jigsaw’ had been published by the time she had reached her early twenties…. In her writing career she was to write 723 books, which have been translated into some 38 languages…. She is especially known for her romance novels, particularly those set in the Victorian era – but she also wrote plays, drama, verse, magazine articles, music, operetta….and several biographies….
Becoming known on London’s social scene as one of the ‘Bright Young People’ Barbara was the hostess of some of the most glamorous parties…. It is said she had over 50 proposals of marriage before finally settling for Captain Alexander McCorquodale – ‘Sachie’….a British army officer from Scotland – who was heir to a fortune in the shape of the family printing business…. The couple married on the 23rd of April 1927 and in the September of 1929 she gave birth to a daughter, Raine…. However, the marriage was not set to last and ended in divorce in 1933….
It was during the late 1920s and the 1930s that Barbara was to develop an interest in gliding…. In 1931 she came up with the idea of a ‘long distance tow’ – and she herself undertook a 200 mile tow in a 2-seater glider…. Her idea led to a troop-carrying glider – and later, in 1984, she was awarded the Bishop Wright Air Industry Award for her contribution to aviation…. During the 1920s and 30s she could often be found at the Brooklands Airfield and Motor Racing Circuit….
On the 28th of December 1936 she married her former husband’s cousin, Hugh McCorquodale – and went on to have two sons, Ian in 1937 and Glen in 1939…. At the outbreak of World War Two she took her young family to Canada to escape the war but found she was unable to settle and so returned to England…. Once back on home soil she became Chief Lady Welfare Officer to the Services and immersed herself in the war effort and at the same time became involved in politics…. She also served with the St. John’s Ambulance Brigade…. In 1955 she was elected Conservative Councillor for Hertfordshire – and she campaigned for reforms to nursing homes, better pay for midwives and education for traveller children…. She was to serve as Councillor for 9 years – it was during this time that her husband passed away….
During the 1970s her writing success continued to grow – she even entered the Guinness Book of Records as the most prolific author alive…. It was also in this decade that she released an album of love songs with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra….
1981 saw the marriage of her step-granddaughter, Diana and Prince Charles…. However, Barbara was not invited to the wedding…. Although Barbara and Diana had always got on – Diana was a keen reader of her step-grandmother’s books, who would often send copies to her – a rift had now developed between them…. Barbara was publicly critical of Charles and Diana’s divorce – but the two had made their peace shortly before Diana’s death in 1997….
Barbara was made a Dame in 1991 for almost 70 years of literacy, political and social contributions…. In her later years she was always a popular figure with the media and made many television appearances, including ‘This is Your Life’….twice! Instantly recognisable by her love of pink, blonde wig and heavy makeup, she was iconic, if not also a little formidable….
Dame Barbara carried on writing into her 90s and since her death – peacefully at home on the 21st of May 2000 – many of her 160 unpublished manuscripts have been published posthumously….