James Pope-Hennessy

James Pope-Hennessy (1916-1974) was the younger brother of the rather better known Sir John, who was a senior arts administrator and art historian. James was an exceptionally elegant writer. Peter Quennell edited a small collection of his letters (“A Lonely Business”) which show what a great writer/correspondent James could be.

Of course he appears all over the place in books about other people; he was a close friend of James Lees-Milne, until they fell out; and he had the misfortune at one point to be close to Guy Burgess.

His great breakthrough as a writer was his epic biography of Queen Mary, where he was authorised by the Royal Family to use private papers to write the life of the former Queen after she died in 1953. The modern reader needs quite a strong constitution to read it because of the inevitable plethora of German noble and royal titles involved in Queen Mary’s life; these are not easy to assimilate. But as a book it is excellent.

James came to a sorry end in 1974, murdered in his flat. Would people like to read a book about him? It is quite tempting, although his archive is in far-away LA in the Getty Institute.Wondering whether he might make a good book. The only problem is that he has some overlap with Watson, so he may have to come later after some other book or books.