Barbara Cartland

Dame Mary Barbara Hamilton Cartland, DBE, CStJ (9 July 1901 – 21 May 2000) was an English novelist who wrote romance novels, one of the best-selling authors as well as one of the most prolific and commercially successful worldwide of the 20th century. Her 723 novels were translated into 38 languages[1] and she continues to be referenced in the Guinness World Records for the most novels published in a single year in 1976.[2]

Barbara Cartland

Barbara Cartland (1987)
BornMary Barbara Hamilton Cartland
(1901-07-09)9 July 1901
Edgbaston, Birmingham, England
Died21 May 2000(2000-05-21) (aged 98)
Camfield Place, Hertfordshire, England
Resting placeHatfield, Hertfordshire, England
SpouseAlexander McCorquodale (m. 1927–1933)
Hugh McCorquodale (m. 1936–1963)
ChildrenRaine Spencer, Countess Spencer
Ian Hamilton McCorquodale
Glen McCorquodale
RelativesDiana, Princess of Wales (step-granddaughter)

As Barbara Cartland she is known for writing numerous romantic novels but she had also written books under her married name of Barbara McCorquodale and briefly under the pseudonym of Marcus Belfry. She wrote more than 700 books,[3] as well as plays, music, verse, drama, magazine articles and operetta, and was a prominent philanthropist. She reportedly sold more than 750 million copies.[3]

Other sources estimate her total book sales at more than two billion copies.[4] She specialised in 19th-century Victorian era pure romance. Her novels all featured portrait-style artwork, particularly the cover art, usually designed by Francis Marshall (19011980).[5]

As head of Cartland Promotions, she became one of London's most prominent society figures. Often presenting herself in a pink chiffon gown, plumed hat, blonde wig, and heavy make-up, she became one of Britain's most popular media personalities.[3]

Early life

Born at 31 Augustus Road, Edgbaston, Birmingham, Cartland was the only daughter and eldest child of a British Army officer Major James Bertram "Bertie" Falkner Cartland[6] (1876–1918), and his wife, Mary Hamilton Scobell, known as "Polly" (1877–1976). Cartland had two brothers: Major Ronald Cartland, a Member of Parliament and British Army Major of World War II (1907–1940), and James Anthony "Tony" Hamilton Cartland, (1912–1940). Though she was born into upper middle class comfort, the Cartland family's finances rapidly deteriorated shortly after her birth. Cartland would later attribute this downturn to the suicide of her paternal grandfather, James Cartland, who, she claimed, was a financier who shot himself in the wake of bankruptcy.[3] However, according to the entry in the probate registry, James Cartland, the proprietor of a brass foundry, left an estate of £92,000, suggesting that Barbara Cartland's version of events is to a large degree fanciful.

This was followed soon afterward by her father's death in Berry-au-Bac in World War I. However, Cartland's enterprising mother opened a London dress shop to make ends meet, and to raise Cartland and her two brothers, both of whom were eventually killed in battle in 1940.[7]

Cartland was educated at private girls' schools: The Alice Ottley School, Malvern Girls' College, and Abbey House, an educational institution in Hampshire. Cartland soon became successful as a society reporter after 1922, and a 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.

Marriage and relationships

According to an obituary published in The Daily Telegraph,[3] Cartland reportedly broke off her first engagement, to a Guards officer, when she learned about sexual intercourse and recoiled. This claim fits 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. She was married to Captain Alexander "Sachie" George McCorquodale, on 23 April 1927, a British Army officer from Scotland and heir to a printing old fortune. They divorced in 1933,[8] and he died from heart failure in 1964.[3]

Their daughter, Raine McCorquodale (9 September 1929 – 21 October 2016), who Cartland later alleged was the daughter of George Sutherland-Leveson-Gower, 5th Duke of Sutherland or Prince George, Duke of Kent, became "Deb of the Year" in 1947. After the McCorquodales' 1933 divorce, which involved charges and countercharges of infidelity, Cartland married her former husband's cousin, Hugh McCorquodale, on 28 December 1936. Cartland and her second husband, who died in 1963, had two sons: Ian McCorquodale (born 11 October 1937), a former Debretts publisher, and Glen McCorquodale (born 1939), a stockbroker.[7][3]

Cartland maintained a long friendship with Lord Mountbatten of Burma, whose 1979 death she said was the "greatest sadness of my life". 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 Charles, Prince of Wales after Mountbatten was assassinated in Ireland, was the recipient of the proceeds of this book on its release in 1980.

When Cartland learned that her young step-granddaughter, Diana Spencer, loved reading her novels Cartland began to send early copies.[9] However, as an adult, Diana did not invite Cartland to her wedding to the Prince of Wales.[10] Cartland was later openly critical of Diana's subsequent divorce, though the rift between them was mended shortly before Diana's fatal car crash in Paris, in 1997.[11] According to Tina Brown's book on the Princess, Cartland once remarked, "The only books Diana ever read were mine, and they weren't awfully good for her."[12]


After a year as a gossip columnist for the Daily Express, Cartland published her first novel, Jigsaw (1923), a risqué 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 1930s, Cartland was a prominent young hostess in London society, noted for her beauty, energetic charm, and daring parties. Her fashion sense also had a part, and she was one of the first clients of designer Norman Hartnell; she remained a client until he died in 1979. He made her presentation and wedding dresses; the latter was made to her own design against Hartnell's wishes, and she admitted it was a failure.

In 1950, Cartland was accused of plagiarism by author Georgette Heyer, after a reader drew attention to the apparent borrowing of Heyer's character names, character traits, dialogue, and plot points in Cartland's early historical romances. In particular, A Hazard of Hearts (1949), which replicated characters (including names) from Heyer's Friday's Child (1944) and The Knave of Hearts (1950) which, Heyer alleged, "the conception ... , the principal characters, and many of the incidents, derive directly from an early book of my own, entitled These Old Shades, first published in 1926. ... For minor situations and other characters she has drawn upon four of my other novels." Heyer completed a detailed analysis of the alleged plagiarisms for her solicitors, but the case never came to court.[13]

As well as writing novels, Cartland wrote a guide to married life in the 1950s which was banned in Ireland.[14]

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, 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 readers).

Despite their tame storylines, Cartland's later novels were highly successful. By 1983, she rated the longest entry in Who's Who (though most of that article was a list of her books), and she was named the top-selling author in the world by the Guinness Book of Records.[15] Additionally, in 1976, Cartland wrote 23 novels, earning her the Guinness World Record for the most novels written in a single year.[16] The 1970s and 1980s were her most prolific period; she also regularly appeared on television in that era.[17]

In 2000, her publishers estimated that since her writing career began in 1925, Cartland had produced a total of 723 titles.[11]

In the mid-1990s, by which time she had sold over a billion books, Vogue called Cartland "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 of these subjects.

Contribution to aviation

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 (360 km) 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.[18]

She regularly attended Brooklands aerodrome and motor-racing circuit during the 1920s and 30s, and the Brooklands Museum has preserved a sitting-room from that era and named it after her.

Political influence

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

The war marked the beginning of a lifelong interest in civic welfare and politics for 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, Cartland was elected a councillor on Hertfordshire County Council[7] 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.


In 1978, Cartland's recording An Album of Love Songs was released through State Records, produced by Sir Norman Newell.[19] The album featured Cartland performing a series of popular standards with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, including "I'll Follow My Secret Heart" and "A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square".[20]


In January, 1988, Cartland received the Médaille de Vermeil de la Ville de Paris, the highest honour of the city of Paris, for publishing 25 million books in France.

In 1991, Cartland was invested by Queen Elizabeth II as a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire (DBE) in honour of the author's almost 70 years of literary, political, and social contributions.[7]

A waxwork of Cartland was on display at Madame Tussauds, though according to her son Ian, Cartland was displeased because it wasn't "pretty enough".[11]

Interviews in later life

Cartland's physical and mental health, particularly eyesight, began to fail in her mid-90s, but she remained a favourite with the press, granting interviews to international news agencies even during the final months of her life.[8]

Death and legacy

Cartland died peacefully in her sleep, on 21 May 2000,[21] seven weeks before her 99th birthday, at her residence, Camfield Place, near Hatfield, Hertfordshire. She had been suffering from ill health and dementia for six months beforehand, and was subsequently bedridden and sequestered.[8] Both of her sons, Ian and Glen McCorquodale, were present at her bedside when she died. Shortly afterward, Cartland's daughter from her first marriage, Raine, travelled to the family home.[22]

After originally deciding she would like to be buried in her local parish church, featuring a coffin of marble construction, covered in angels, this was later changed; Cartland was buried in a cardboard coffin, because of her concerns for environmental issues.[23] She was interred at her private estate in Hatfield, Hertfordshire, under an oak that had been planted by Queen Elizabeth I.[8]

Posthumous publications

Cartland left behind a series of 160 unpublished novels, known as the Barbara Cartland Pink Collection. These are being published in ebook format by her son Ian McCorquodale; each month, a new novel is published from the collection.[24]

In 2010, to mark the 10th anniversary of her death, Cartland's first novel, Jig-Saw (first published in 1925), was reprinted.[25]

"As a tribute to Her Majesty the Queen on her Diamond Jubilee and to Barbara’s enduring appeal to romantics everywhere, her publishers have re-released her catalogue collection, entitled - "The Eternal Collection." This collection, released beginning in November 2013, includes some novels published at the time Queen Elizabeth II ascended to the throne in 1952.[26][27]

In addition, her collections of ebooks are available in Spanish, Italian and German.

Feature films

BBC Four aired a biopic drama film, titled In Love with Barbara (26 October 2008), starring Anne Reid as Cartland and David Warner as Lord Mountbatten. The film was written by Jacquetta May.

Her last project was to be filmed and interviewed for her life story (directed by Steven Glen for Blue Melon Films). The documentary, Virgins and Heroes, includes early home ciné footage and Dame Barbara launching her website with pink computers, in early 2000.[28]


  1. McCorquodale, Ian (2017). "Welcome to the romantic world of Barbara Cartland". Archived from the original on 12 August 2017. Retrieved 12 August 2017. During her long career, my mother, Barbara Cartland wrote an incredible 723 books, which were translated into 38 languages, making her the most prolific author of the 20th Century.
  2. Severo, Richard (22 May 2000). "Barbara Cartland, 98, Best-Selling Author Who Prized Old-Fashioned Romance, Dies". New York Times.
  3. "Dame Barbara Cartland". The Daily Telegraph. London. 22 May 2000. Retrieved 22 April 2013.
  4. "Final Curtain Calls". CBS News. 20 December 2000.
  5. "Today's Inspiration - Francis Marshall". 7 September 2009. Retrieved 20 January 2018.
  6. "CARTLAND, JAMES BERTRAM FALKNER". Commonwealth War Graves Commission.
  7. "Cartland, Barbara". Howard Gotlieb Archival Research Center. Boston University. Archived from the original on 9 November 2012. Retrieved 22 April 2013.
  8. Thornton, Michael (24 October 2008). "A drunken husband and five secret lovers: The novel Barbara Cartland never wanted you to read". Daily Mail.
  9. Gormley, Beatrice (2005). Diana, Princess of Wales: Young Royalty.
  11. Knight, Kathryn (18 October 2008). "Oh, mummy you were naughty - Dame Barbara Cartland's son reveals all about her racy life". Daily Mail. London.
  12. Wilson, Frances (16 August 2013). "With 160 of her lost romances about to be published ... I'm a proud feminist but Barbara Cartland still sets my heart a-flutter". Daily Mail. London. Retrieved 11 February 2010.
  13. Kloester, Jennifer (2012). Georgette Heyer: Biography of a Bestseller. London: William Heinemann. ISBN 978-0-434-02071-3. pp. 275–79.
  15. SEVERO, RICHARD. "Barbara Cartland, 98, Best-Selling Author Who Prized Old-Fashioned Romance, Dies". The New York Times. Retrieved 14 July 2017.
  16. "Barbara Cartland: One of the Most Prolific Writers". Kerosi. Retrieved 14 July 2017.
  18. "Official Website: Life Story". Archived from the original on 18 August 2006. Retrieved 26 September 2006.
  19. "Album of Love Songs (feat. Royal Philharmonic Orchestra". iTunes.
  20. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 9 February 2015. Retrieved 27 October 2011.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  22. Levin, Angela (19 August 2013). "Barbara Cartland: My mum always played the heroine". Daily Telegraph.
  23. Rowe, Mark (25 June 2000). "Undertakers Say No to Green Burials; Cardboard Coffins May Be Good for the Environment, but They Are Much Less Profitable Than Traditional Ceremonies". The Independent. Archived from the original on 3 May 2014. Retrieved 2 May 2014.   via Highbeam (subscription required)
  24. "The Pink Collection". Archived from the original on 13 January 2013. Retrieved 29 May 2012.
  25. Cartland, Barbara (4 November 2010). Jig-Saw. Barbara ISBN 978-1906950200.
  26. "Newsflash: THE BARBARA CARTLAND ESTATE RELEASES HER GREATEST ROMANCES AS E-BOOKS". Archived from the original on 7 May 2016. Retrieved 20 May 2016.
  27. Cartland, Barbara (27 November 2013). Introduction to the Eternal Collection (First ed.). Barbara Cartland.Ebooks ltd. ASIN B008654SO0.
  28. Glen, Steven (Director). Virgins and Heroes. Blue Melon Films.


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