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Wednesday, 23 October, 2002, 08:08 GMT 09:08 UK
Lady Longford dies aged 96
Lady Longford
Lady Longford: Respected biographer
Countess Longford, the widow of renowned social reformer Lord Longford, has died at the age of 96.

Elizabeth, Lady Longford CBE, was recognised as one of the finest biographers of her age.

Concentrating primarily on royalty, her subjects included profiles of Queen Victoria, the Queen Mother and Winston Churchill.

She was a committed socialist and Roman Catholic, the mother of eight children, many of whom became noted writers in their own right.

Marrying Frank Pakenham in 1931
She married Frank Pakenham in 1931
Her death was announced by her daughter, Lady Antonia Fraser, saying she had died "peacefully at home" in East Sussex on Wednesday 23 October.

Lady Antonia said: "She died peacefully in her sleep, like a Sleeping Beauty.

"She was a well respected lady and tremendous person, and I am now having to break the news to her very large family, who she always made feel so special."

Elizabeth Longford wrote stylish works which, while not pandering to some recent biographers' fad for demolishing their subject, were couched in a respectful manner.

Oxford connections

Elizabeth Longford was in her 50s before she produced her first historical work, about the Jameson Raid, but she made up for lost time with a prolific output.

She soon won an award for her biography of Queen Victoria and followed it up with the lives of the Queen Mother and the Queen, along with books on Churchill and Byron.

One of her most respected biographies, that of Wellington, was built on good authorial contacts. She was, in fact, descended from the great soldier.

Our friends began to treat our marriage as a union of dinosaurs

Lady Longford on her long marriage

Both of Elizabeth's parents were doctors. She went to Oxford University in the 1920s, where she was a close friend of Hugh Gaitskell, later leader of the Labour Party.

While she was there, Lady Longford also met her future husband, Frank Pakenham. She acted boldly when she saw "this handsome man... a cherub" asleep at a ball.

The couple were married in 1931 and came to share many beliefs. They both converted to Catholicism, and shared a staunch belief in socialist principles. Elizabeth Longford's several attempts to become a member of parliament were unsuccessful.

Talented family

The Longfords enjoyed a famously harmonious marriage, that lasted half a century, until Lord Longford's death in August 2001, aged 95.

Lady Longford once mused, "I have to admit that when we reached our diamond wedding and then both entered our nineties, our friends began to treat our marriage somewhat as a union of dinosaurs."

Lord and Lady Longford
The Longfords enjoyed a long and happy marriage
They had eight children and, with the writers, Antonia Fraser, Rachel Billington and Thomas Pakenham among them, it was a family brimful of talent.

In 1986, when she celebrated her 80th birthday, she published a book of memoirs about her life and family, called The Pebbled Shore.

Even when she reached her 90s, Lady Longford's many grandchildren and great-grandchildren were always impressed by her knowledge, energy and wit, qualities she had amply demonstrated in illuminating the stuff of history.

Lady Antonia Fraser said her mother had spent some time recently in a nursing home but had moved back to the family home.

"I think she took the decision she wanted to return home," she said.

"She was not suffering from any particular illness, she simply died of old age."

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