Diversity of Dragons

Lady Antonia Fraser remembers the Dragon School in the 1940s

Nov 27, 2023

The Dragon is incredibly proud of ODs continuing to reach for the sun and who, in doing so, have become hugely successful in a wide range of fields. From making a piece of history like Francesca Wilcox (OD 2013) to developing life-saving apps like Michael Dent (OD 2002), capturing snow leopards on camera like Dan O’Neill (OD 2005) to playing for England like Maia Bouchier (OD 2012) … Read on for the next feature in our Diversity of Dragons series, where the Dragon hears from Antonia Fraser (OD 1944), award-winning historian and author.

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Lady Antonia Fraser remembers the Dragon School in the 1940s
Antonia Fraser (OD 1944)

 

Earlier this month, we visited Lady Antonia Fraser (OD 1944) at home in Holland Park, London, where she has lived since 1959.

 

The celebrated author, historian and, at 91, the oldest published OD, her publications include historical biographies such as Mary Queen of Scots (1969) and Marie Antoinette: The Journey (2001), for which she won the Enid McLeod Literary Prize, awarded by the Franco-British Society in 2001. It was adapted for a movie directed by Sofia Coppola in 2006. Among Lady Antonia’s many other awards is the Wolfson History Prize in 1984 for The Weaker Vessel, her study of 17th-century women; and the Historical Association’s Norton Medlicott Medal in 2000. She was made a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 2011. She was married to Conservative MP Hugh Fraser, and later to renowned playwright, Harold Pinter.

 

The daughter of an Oxford don, Lady Antonia lived in Oxford between 1937 and 1952, and to this day thinks of it as “home”. She attended the Dragon school between 1940 and 1944.

 

During our visit she gave some fascinating insights into what it meant to be a young Dragon in the 1940s, and what the Dragon School means to her. “At the time,” she explains, “we girls were educated like boys.” In fact, she was quite the fixture on the Dragon’s rugger fields: “I loved it, tearing up the wing, cradling the ball, thinking I was quite wonderful. It was just me!” – But as well as fun, the Dragon School also instilled in her “tremendous order, self-discipline, and the ability to think independently.” However, as she notes in her catalogue of historical works, given her subsequent writing career it’s interesting that “there’s no mark for history on my Dragon school reports.”

 

She developed her passion for reading and writing early. “I could read by the time I was three – I think my mother taught me some kind of speedreading by mistake. The school encouraged me – in fact, I adored Shakespeare at the age of 10.” She vividly remembers the school’s production of Macbeth and the thrill of playing Lady Macbeth. “I learned so much so young, even Latin. We lived next door to the headmaster, and I’d walk around the garden shouting Latin verbs to pretend I was doing my homework.” The arts community of Oxford provided a backdrop to Lady Antonia’s Dragon years. “One day, my mother said, ‘I have a book to read to you – it’s called The Hobbit’.’’ JRR Tolkien had given it to her in passing on leafy Chadlington Road, the route of the morning walk to school. The daily walk is immortalised in a watercolour on her wall that was painted by Sir John Betjeman (OD 1920), a family friend, which “gives a glimpse of Chadlington Road with the Dragon’s School House on the right.”

 

Despite an extraordinary life that includes 32 descendants and more than 30 books, the Dragon school still has a special place in Lady Antonia’s heart. To this day, she feels very close to the Dragon family.

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Let us know what you’ve been up to since your Dragon Days, we’d love to share your story.

Header Image: Lady Antonia Fraser (OD 1944)

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