Bradford, Sarah 1938–
Bradford, Sarah 1938–
(Sarah Mary Malet Bradford)
Born September 3, 1938, in Bournemouth, England; daughter of Hilary Anthony (a soldier) and Mary (a homemaker) Hayes; married Anthony John Bradford, April 30, 1959 (divorced, 1976); married William Ward (8th Viscount Bangor; a rare book expert), October 1, 1976; children: (first marriage) Annabella, Edward John. Education: Attended Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford, 1956-59. Hobbies and other interests: Reading, gardening, travel.
Home—London, England. Agent—Gillon Aitken Associates, 29 Fernshaw Rd., London SW10 0TG, England.
Writer. Christie's (fine arts auction house), London, England, manuscript expert, 1974-80; Sotheby's (fine arts auction house), London, England, manuscript consultant, 1980-82; Times Literary Supplement, London, England, book and manuscript consultant, 1982-85. Member of London Library committee, 1985-87.
International Order of Dons, Authors Guild, Authors League of America, Society of Authors, Liverpool Football Club.
The Englishman's Wine (history), Macmillan (London, England), 1969, published as The Story of Port, Christie's Wine Publications (London, England), 1978.
Portugal and Madeira (guidebook), Ward Lock (London, England), 1969.
Portugal (history), Thames & Hudson (London, England), 1972.
The Borgias (novelization of BBC television series), Weidenfeld & Nicolson (London, England), 1981.
Disraeli, Stein & Day (New York, NY), 1982.
Princess Grace, Stein & Day (New York, NY), 1984.
Splendours and Miseries: A Life of Sacheverell Sitwell, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 1993, published as Sacheverell Sitwell: Splendours and Miseries, Sinclair-Stephenson (London, England), 1993.
(With others) The Sitwells and the Arts of the 1920s and 1930s, University of Texas Press (Austin, TX), 1994.
Elizabeth: A Biography of Britain's Queen, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 1996.
America's Queen: The Life of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, Viking (New York, NY), 2000.
Lucrezia Borgia: Life, Love and Death in Renaissance Italy, Viking (New York, NY), 2004.
Diana, Viking (New York, NY), 2006.
Sarah Bradford became interested in biography and history when historical novels first captured her imagination as a child in Somerset, England. At the age of seventeen, she won two history scholarships to Oxford University's Lady Margaret Hall, but she put aside her studies to get married in 1959. Marriage took Bradford to Barbados, Sardinia, and Portugal, where she published her first two books: Portugal and Madeira (a guidebook) and The Englishman's Wine. "I was the first woman ever to have dared to write about port wine, then considered an all-male preserve," Bradford once told CA, "but I have since been made the only female Don of the International Order of Dons—an exclusive brotherhood of those who have contributed to the worldwide understanding and enjoyment of port wine from Portugal." Centering on the British colony of wine shippers who have traded Portuguese port wine for over three hundred years, The Englishman's Wine garnered a favorable review from a Times Literary Supplement critic, who called it "an amusing, informative record of this socially and politically highly conservative and commercially aggressive group."
After returning to England, Bradford spent five years completing the historical biography Disraeli. Published in 1982, it chronicles the life of Benjamin Disraeli, the nineteenth-century British politician and writer considered by many historians to be the father of the modern Conservative party in England and by some to be the greatest prime minister in British history. New York Times Book Review writer Peter Stansky complimented Bradford's work, describing Disraeli as a "nuanced and sensitive picture of a very complex man" that achieves "an admirable balance of the personal and the political."
Flamboyant, controversial, and ambitious, Disraeli led an adventurous, fascinating personal life. By age thirty-two he had written eight novels, an epic poem, several political tracts, and numerous newspaper articles, and had lost four elections for a seat in Parliament. The politician dressed ostentatiously in brightly contrasting frock coats and trousers and striped stockings. He incurred large debts from exotic speculative investments and narrowly escaped serving time in debtor's prison. Disraeli supposedly married his much older wife for her money, and he advertised his Jewish heritage as being superior to that of Christians although he was christened a Catholic at age twelve. And he sought nothing less than the highest office in Parliament despite his reputation as a dandy, proclaiming, "I am one of those to whom moderate reputation can give no pleasure."
Disraeli also recounts the politician's colorful career. Elected to Parliament in 1837 as a member of the Tory party, Disraeli later argued for the unification of the working class, aristocracy, and royalty, a strategy that helped his party defeat the liberal Whig reformers and gain control of Parliament. As prime minister in 1868 and from 1874 to 1880, Disraeli also supported Turkey in its war against Russia—despite popular opposition—recognizing that British interests would not be served if Russia were to gain control of the Mediterranean. Bradford juxtaposes Disraeli's often unpopular brand of patriotism with his ambitious eccentricity, prompting Stansky to conclude that the author "has told his story both seriously and entertainingly, so that Disraeli appears again as he was—a marvel of his age."
Writing the biography of the larger-than-life Disraeli prepared Bradford for her next subject, the glamorous Princess Grace of Monaco. The daughter of a Philadelphia bricklayer, Grace Kelly became an extremely popular actress who starred in eleven motion pictures and won an Academy Award by the age of twenty-six. In 1956, she married Rainier Grimaldi, Prince of Monaco, and gave up her film career in order to assume the duties of Monaco's princess. In the book, Bradford recounts Grace's childhood and rise to stardom, speculates on her rumored early love affairs with well-known actors such as Clark Gable and William Holden, and describes her first meeting with Prince Rainier, their wedding, and her marriage and life in Monaco as princess, wife, and mother, until her 1982 death in a car accident. Princess Grace also contains anecdotes from Grace's film career, accounts of practical jokes played at the family palace, as well as detailed descriptions of the various households in which Grace lived. E.S. Turner, writing in the Times Literary Supplement, described the biography as "a cool, tight-reined, well-marshalled book, with apt quotations from friends or gossips for every occasion." Bradford once told CA that Princess Grace was "written with the cooperation of Prince Rainier and of Grace's family, friends, and former colleagues and … involved an immense amount of travel which took me from her family's roots in the west of Ireland, to New York, Philadelphia, Monaco, Paris, and London to unravel the real story behind the glitter of that amazing career."
Bradford's next royal subject was King George VI, whose fifteen-year reign spanned some of England's most turbulent years in the twentieth century. Thrust into the role of king when his brother, Edward VIII, abdicated the throne in 1936, George was popularly thought to be a weak and ineffectual leader. Yet his ability to rally the English during World War II and to preside over the dismantling of the British Empire in the late 1940s won him respect. Bradford's biography, which draws on new archival material, was called by New Yorker reviewer David Cannadine "the most candid and convincing account yet" of George VI. Warren F. Kimball, in the New York Times Book Review, saw the biography as "a micro-history" that makes the reader aware that royalty often is merely an "empty symbol." John Campbell pointed out in the London Review of Books that Bradford rightly focuses on the abdication which brought George to power, calling this episode "the meat of the book."
Bradford turned next to a portrayal of Sacheverell "Sachie" Sitwell, poet, writer, and art critic. Sachie and his siblings, Edith and Osbert, grew up under circumstances that turned the three into deliberate eccentrics, including their mother's brief imprisonment for writing bad checks that left Sachie with a "pathological unwillingness to face unpleasant facts," according to Isabel Colgate in the Times Literary Supplement. In the 1920s, the Sitwell siblings were well known both for their literary achievements and their flamboyant personalities. Sachie, however, was the least successful and least famous of the three, a fact he resented. This fact influenced critics' opinions of Sacheverell Sitwell: Splendours and Miseries. Some agreed with Michael Shelden in the Washington Post Book World, who found the biography "a hugely entertaining book" but judged that Sachie was "never anything more than a minor writer." Andrew Motion of the London Observer noted that Bradford tries "to persuade us to take Sachie seriously as a poet, cultural historian and connoisseur. She fails, even though her book is clear-headed and kind-hearted."
Queen Elizabeth II was one of the appreciative readers of Bradford's biography of King George VI, and in 1990 she gave Bradford limited access to the Royal Archives and the royal household. The resulting unauthorized biography, Elizabeth: A Biography of Britain's Queen, made tabloid headlines in Britain and saw massive prepublication press. The book details the queen's childhood, early adult life, and her assumption of the throne at age twenty-five. Much of the book focuses on her official duties, and indeed, wrote Ray Moseley in the Chicago Tribune Books, Elizabeth "is portrayed as an exemplary sovereign, representing values of courage, decency and a sense of duty." Bradford also highlights the royal family's personal troubles, showing them to be yet another modern dysfunctional family. Byron Rogers in the Spectator praised the work but noted that Bradford "has a weakness for gossip." However, Moseley found that her willingness to lodge criticisms at the queen had helped her to "produce an admirably objective, intelligent and highly absorbing portrait."
Bradford's portrait of former first lady Jackie Kennedy was titled America's Queen: The Life of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. The biography covers Jackie's life: her childhood as the daughter of a philanderer who went bankrupt, her marriage to the rising politician John Kennedy, her ordeal when Kennedy was assassinated, her marriage to Greek shipping tycoon Aristotle Onassis, and her later years in New York City. The title comes from a remark by Frank Sinatra, who described Jackie as "America's queen" for her courageous stance during the days following her husband's tragic assassination. Based on sources not used by previous biographers of the first lady, including Jackie's sister Lee Radziwell, Joan Kennedy, and other intimates who came forward following Jackie's death, Bradford's biography includes several revelations about Jackie's sexual escapades and her marriages. William Norwich, writing in the New York Times, claimed that, having read the sexual episodes in Bradford's book, "I feel I'm practically on gynecological terms with Mrs. Onassis." But a reviewer for Maclean's called America's Queen "a thorough and sympathetic account of Onassis's life and loves," while Charlotte Hays in the Washington Post Book World admitted: "The book is probably the definitive one on the subject."
Lucrezia Borgia: Life, Love and Death in Renaissance Italy, Bradford's next project, takes a fresh look at the notorious woman who is best known for the accusations of murder and treacherous behavior that were leveled against her during her lifetime. Bradford instead chooses to present Borgia as a product of her time, an intelligent and ambitious woman who was nevertheless strictly confined by the period in which she lived. Because women had no rights to power during Borgia's era, she was forced to use what means were available to her, including her beauty, her body, and her mind, in order to have any sort of control over her life. Margaret Flanagan, reviewing for Booklist, commented that "this compelling biography is irresistibly interwoven with plenty of period gossip, sex, and intrigue." A contributor for Kirkus Reviews found the book to be "a thoroughly researched, gracefully written revision of the most beguiling Borgia."
With Diana, Bradford offers readers what she claims to be the definitive work on the late Princess of Wales. The book is notable in that, despite having far less publicity at press time that several other works on Diana Spencer's brief life, it was still put under an embargo. Bradford writes about Diana's experiences while married to Prince Charles, as well as the hardship of their separation and eventual divorce. She maintains that despite the ending of the marriage, Diana remained in love with Charles, and she also declares that Charles loved Diana even as he continued his relationship with Camilla Parker Bowles. A reviewer for Publishers Weekly pointed out that at this point, there is little new material to be revealed regarding Diana and her relationships, concluding that "for those for whom there can never be enough said about the late princess, Bradford's book may provide some color and perspective; those looking for dish will likely be disappointed."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, November 15, 2000, Ray Olson, review of America's Queen: The Life of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, p. 588; October 15, 2004, Margaret Flanagan, review of Lucrezia Borgia: Life, Love and Death in Renaissance Italy, p. 383.
Kirkus Reviews, September 15, 2004, review of Lucrezia Borgia, p. 898.
London Review of Books, January 11, 1990, John Campbell, review of King George VI, pp. 6-7.
Maclean's, October 30, 2000, "Another Kennedy Romance?," p. 60.
Newsweek, October 30, 2000, Cathleen McGuigan, "The Many Faces of an American Queen: A New Bio and New Dish," p. 82.
New York, October 30, 2000, Daniel Mendelsohn, review of America's Queen, p. 95.
New Yorker, August 13, 1990, David Cannadine, review of King George VI, p. 92.
New York Times, December 17, 2000, William Norwich, "Her Majesty."
New York Times Book Review, July 10, 1983, Peter Stansky, review of Disraeli; June 17, 1990, Warren F. Kimball, review of King George VI, p. 24.
Observer (London, England), June 20, 1993, Andrew Motion, review of Splendours and Miseries: A Life of Sacheverell Sitwell, p. 63; November 5, 2000, Alexander Chancellor, "Jackie in the Box."
Publishers Weekly, August 30, 2004, review of Lucrezia Borgia, p. 40; September 25, 2006, review of Diana, p. 63.
Spectator, January 27, 1996, Byron Rogers, review of Elizabeth: A Biography of Britain's Queen, pp. 27-28.
Times Literary Supplement, December 11, 1969, review of The Englishman's Wine; June 8, 1984, E.S. Turner, review of Princess Grace; June 18, 1993, Isabel Colgate, review of Splendours and Miseries, pp. 25-26.
Tribune Books (Chicago, IL), April 21, 1996, Ray Moseley, review of Elizabeth, pp. 6-7.
Washington Post Book World, January 23, 1994, Michael Shelden, review of Splendours and Miseries, pp. 8-9; October 23, 2000, Charlotte Hays, "The Other Jackie O," p. C2.
CNN.com Europe, http://www.europe.cnn.com/ (March 21, 2001), "Sarah Bradford Chats about Her Jackie Kennedy Onassis Biography, America's Queen."