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Nigel Nicolson

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Nigel Nicolson
Born19 January 1917
Birthplace182 Ebury Street, London
Died23 September 2004
SpousePhilippa Tennyson-d'Eyncourt


Nigel Nicolson OBE (19 January 1917 – 23 September 2004) was a British writer, publisher and politician.

Nicolson was the son of the writers Sir Harold Nicolson and Vita Sackville-West; he had a brother Ben, later an art historian. The boys grew up in Kent, first near their mother's ancestral home at Knole and then at Sissinghurst Castle, where their parents created a famous garden. Nicolson was sent away from home at a young age to be educated at Summer Fields, a prep school in Oxford; Eton College; and Balliol College, Oxford. He served with the Grenadier Guards during World War II, later writing their official history.

Nicolson wrote many books and founded with George Weidenfeld the firm Weidenfeld and Nicolson, of which he was a director from 1948 to 1992. He also worked as a broadcaster and was a member of the Ancient Monuments Board.

Although his father had been first a National Labour and then a Labour politician, Nigel Nicolson became active in the Conservative Party and contested Leicester North West in 1950 and Falmouth and Camborne in 1951, without success. He was elected Member of Parliament for Bournemouth East and Christchurch at a by-election in February 1952. However, he was uncomfortable within the Tory party and voted with Labour to abolish hanging and abstained in a vote of confidence in the government over the Suez War. His constituency association called for him to resign and wrote to the Prime Minister briefing against their MP. A ballot of members was called. Unfortunately for Nicolson, a scandal relating to his publishing interests broke at the same time — the company's publication of Vladimir Nabokov's Lolita. Nicolson lost the members' vote and was forced to step down at the 1959 general election.

Nicolson returned to writing, particularly on heritage and biography. He wrote a celebrated 1973 book on his parents, Portrait of a Marriage. It balanced a frank account of his bisexual parents' extramarital affairs (especially Vita Sackville-West's 'elopement' with Violet Trefusis) with their enduring love for each other; it caused an uproar when it was published. He also edited his father's diaries. Later he wrote the Spectator's Long Life column and a Time of My Life column for The Sunday Telegraph. His autobiography, Long Life, was published in 1997.

In 1953 Nicolson married Philippa, the daughter of Sir Gervais Tennyson-d'Eyncourt, and they had two daughters, Rebecca, a publisher, Juliet, a historian, and a son, Adam Nicolson, a writer. They divorced in 1970.


  • The Grenadier Guards In The War Of 1939–1945 (1949) with Patrick Forbes
  • People and Parliament (1958)
  • The United Nations: A Reply to Its Critics (1963)
  • Sissinghurst Castle (1964)
  • Great Houses of Britain (1965)
  • Diaries & Letters of Harold Nicolson (1966) three volumes, editor
  • Great Houses of The Western World (1968)
  • Alex: The Life of Field Marshal Earl Alexander of Tunis (1973)
  • Portrait of a Marriage (1973)
  • Letters of Virginia Woolf (1975) six volumes, editor
  • The Himalayas (1975)
  • Mary Curzon (1977)
  • The National Trust Book of Great Houses in Britain (1978)
  • Napoleon 1812 (1985)
  • Lady Curzon's India: Letters of a Vicereine (1986)
  • Two Roads to Dodge City (1986) with Adam Nicolson
  • The Village in History (1988) with Graham Nicholson and Jane Fawcett
  • Counties of Britain: A Tudor Atlas by John Speed (1989) with Alasdair Hawkyard
  • The World of Jane Austen (1991)
  • Vita And Harold : The Letters Of Vita Sackville-west And Harold Nicolson (1992) editor
  • A Long Life: Memoirs (1998)
  • Kent (1999)
  • Virginia Woolf, part of the Penguin Lives biography series (2000)
  • Lord of the Isles (2000) on Lord Leverhulme
  • Fanny Burney: The Mother of English Fiction (2002)
  • The Queen and Us : The Second Elizabethan Age (2003)
  • Vita Sackville-West : Selected Writings (2003) editor with Mary Ann Caws

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