Sue Young Histories

Barbara Cartland 1901 – 2000

February 04, 2009

Dame Mary Barbara Hamilton Cartland DBE CStJ 1901 – 2000 was a successful English author, known for her numerous romance novels.

Barbara Cartland was an enthusiastic advocate of homeopathy.

Barbara Cartland also had a special interest in natural medicine. In the 1960s she founded and was president of the National Association of Health. She advocated for organic foods, homeopathy, and acupuncture. She co-owned a health food store in Marylebone, England, and was a patron to a magazine called Mind and Matter, which promoted various natural medicines as well as radionics and the work of George de la Warr. She had a special love and appreciation for homeopathic Arnica. She also supported efforts for better conditions and wages for midwives and nurses, and advocated for equal rights for gypsies, who commonly experienced great discrimination.

Born at 31 Augustus Road, Edgbaston, Birmingham, Barbara Cartland was the only daughter and eldest child of a British army officer, Major Bertram Cartland, and his wife, Mary Polly Hamilton Scobell.

Though she was born into an enviable degree of middle class comfort, the family’s security was severely shaken after the suicide of her paternal grandfather, James Cartland, a financier, who shot himself in the wake of bankruptcy.

This was followed soon after by her father’s death on a Flanders battlefield in World War I. However, her enterprising mother opened a London dress shop to make ends meet — “Poor I may be,” Polly Cartland once remarked, “but common I am not” — and to raise Cartland and her two brothers, Anthony and Ronald, both of whom were eventually killed in battle, one day apart, in 1940.

After attending The Alice Ottley School, Malvern Girls’ College and Abbey House, an educational institution in Hampshire, Cartland soon became successful as a society reporter and writer of romantic fiction.

Cartland admitted she was inspired in her early work by the novels of Edwardian author Elinor Glyn, whom she idolized and eventually befriended. After a year as a gossip columnist for the Daily Express, Cartland published her first novel, Jigsaw (1923), a slightly naughty society thriller that became a bestseller.

She also began writing and producing somewhat racy plays, one of which, Blood Money (1926), was banned by the Lord Chamberlain’s Office. In the 1920s and ’30s Cartland was one of the leading young hostesses in London society, noted for her beauty, energetic charm and daring parties.

Her fashion sense also had a part in launching her fame. She was in fact one of the first clients of designer Norman Hartnell, who was later appointed dressmaker to Queen Elizabeth II.

Barbara Cartland’s image as a self-appointed “expert” on romance drew some ridicule in her later years, when her social views became more conservative. Indeed, although her first novels were considered sensational, Barbara Cartland’s later (and arguably most popular) titles were comparatively tame with virginal heroines and few, if any, suggestive situations. Almost all of Cartland’s later books were historical in theme, which allowed for the believability of chastity (at least, to many of her audience).

Despite their tame story lines, Barbara Cartland’s later novels were highly successful. By 1983 she rated the longest entry in the British Who’s Who (though most of that article was a list of her books), and was named the top-selling author in the world by the Guinness Book of World Records. In the mid 1990s, by which time she had sold over a billion books, Vogue magazine called her “the true Queen of Romance”.

She became a mainstay of the popular media in her trademark pink dresses and plumed hats, discoursing on matters of love, marriage, politics, religion, health and fashion.

She was publicly opposed to the removal of prayer from state schools and spoke against infidelity and divorce, although she admitted to being acquainted with both “sins”.

Privately, Cartland took an interest in the early gliding movement. Although aerotowing for launching gliders first occurred in Germany, she thought of long distance tows in 1931 and did a 200 mile tow in a two seater glider. The idea led to troop carrying gliders. In 1984, she was awarded the Bishop Wright Air Industry Award for this contribution.

According to an obituary published in The Daily Telegraph on 22 May 2000, Cartland reportedly broke off her first engagement, to a Guards officer, when she learned about sexual intercourse and recoiled. This claim fits in with her image as part of a generation for whom such matters were never discussed, but sits uneasily with her having produced work controversial at the time for its sexual subject matter, as described above. In any case, she was married, from 1927 to 1932, to Alexander George McCorquodale, an Army officer who was heir to a British printing fortune (he died in 1964).

Their daughter, Raine McCorquodale (born in 1929), became “Deb of the Year” in 1947. After the McCorquodales’ 1936 divorce, which involved charges and countercharges of infidelity, Cartland married a man her husband had accused her of dallying with — his cousin Hugh ‘Sacchie’ McCorquodale, a former military officer. She and her second husband, who died in 1963, had two sons, Ian and Glen McCorquodale.

Cartland maintained a long time friendship with Louis Mountbatten, whose 1979 death she claimed was the “greatest sadness of my life”. Louis Mountbatten supported Cartland in her various charitable works, particularly for United World Colleges, and even helped her write her book Love at the Helm, providing background naval and historical information.

The Mountbatten Memorial Trust, established by Mountbatten’s great nephew the Charles Prince of Wales after Louis Mountbatten was assassinated in Ireland, was the recipient of the proceeds of this book on its release in 1980.

In 1991, Barbara Cartland was invested by Queen Elizabeth II as a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire in honor of the author’s nearly 70 years of literary, political and social contributions.

Cartland was openly critical of her step granddaughter Diana Princess of Wales’s divorce from Charles Prince of Wales, which caused a rift between them, one mended shortly before Diana Princess of Wales’s fatal car crash in Paris in 1997.

After the death during World War II of her brother Ronald Cartland, a popular Member of Parliament, she published a biography of him with a preface by the Prime Minister, Winston Churchill.

The war marked the beginning of a life long interest in civic welfare and politics for Barbara Cartland, who served the War Office in various charitable capacities as well as the St. John Ambulance Brigade; in 1953 she was invested at Buckingham Palace as a Commander of the Order of St. John of Jerusalem for her services.

In 1955 Barbara Cartland was elected a councilor on Hertfordshire County Council as a Conservative and served for nine years. During this time she campaigned successfully for nursing home reform, improvement in the salaries of midwives, and the legalization of education for the children of Gypsies. She also founded the National Association of Health, promoting a variety of medications and remedies, including an anti aging cream and a so-called “brain pill” for increasing mental energy.

Her high profile in the UK, France and the United States between the 1970s and 1990s was aided greatly through her frequent appearance on TV talk shows. Her daughter’s social success, which repeated and surpassed her own, also brought her added attention.

Raine’s marriage to the 9th Earl of Dartmouth, however, ended in divorce, and she remarried in 1976 to the 8th Earl Spencer, whose children included Diana Princess of Wales.

Her physical and mental health began to fail in her mid 90s but her spirit and courage were undiminished, and she remained a favorite with the press, granting interviews to international news agencies even during the final months of her life. Two of her last interviews were with the BBC and US journalist Randy Bryan Bigham.

Her last project was to be filmed and interviewed for her life story (Directed by Steven Glen for Blue Melon Films). The documentary, titled ‘Virgins and Heroes’, includes unique early home cine footage and Dame Barbara launching her website with pink computers in early 2000.

At that time, her publishers estimated that since her writing career began in 1923, Dame Barbara Cartland had produced a total of 723 titles. After years of wearing her trademark anti wrinkle cream and heavy makeup, she had herself photographed repeatedly without any cosmetics before she died. She was 98 years of age at her death.

Due to her concern for the environment, she requested to be buried in a cardboard coffin. This request was honored and she was buried at her estate in Hatfield under a tree that had been planted by Queen Elizabeth I.