Philip Ziegler, British biographer who ranged from stage to throne, dies at 93

Philip Ziegler, a prolific biographer and historian who unspooled tales of British energy and status together with former prime ministers and the royal intrigue of Edward VIII and his resolution to go away the throne for love, died Feb. 22 at his house in London. He was 93.

His literary agent, Caroline Dawnay, mentioned Mr. Ziegler had most cancers.

Over greater than 4 many years, Mr. Ziegler confirmed a stressed curiosity with topics starting from London throughout the World War II air-raid blitzes to the horrors of the bubonic plague in medieval Britain and throughout Europe. Yet his gaze was totally on his homeland and the personalities and establishments that helped form it.

His personal life gave him a grounding within the rarefied worlds he chronicled — in addition to the forces which have molded Britain’s trendy id. Mr. Ziegler attended the elite colleges Eton and Oxford. He then served within the British overseas service throughout an period when Britain’s colonial energy was unraveling, and returned to Britain on the cusp of the social and financial upheavals of the Sixties and ’70s.

“The biographer’s first responsibility is to the truth and to the reader,” Mr. Ziegler mentioned in a 2011 interview. “If he is not prepared, in the last resort, to hurt and offend people for whom he feels nothing except goodwill, then he should not be writing a biography.”

Some of the themes he explored had built-in identify recognition: the Barings banking empire (“The Sixth Great Power,” 1988); the founding father of the Rhodes scholarships (“Legacy: Cecil Rhodes,” 2008); and Lord Louis Mountbatten (“Mountbatten,” 1985), a member of the royal household and naval officer who was killed in a bomb blast by the Irish Republican Army in 1979.

Other lives he examined had been much less distinguished but supplied home windows into the vanities of Britain’s social swells and blue bloods. His 1981 biopic “Diana Cooper” recounted the lifetime of a beguiling aristocrat who was the inspiration for creator Evelyn Waugh’s character Algernon Stitch in his 1938 satire on journalism, “Scoop.”

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In 2004, Mr. Ziegler’s “Man of Letters” chronicled maverick British writer Rupert Hart-Davis, who edited the primary version of the collected letters of Oscar Wilde that shed new gentle into the libertine author. Mr. Ziegler’s 1999 biography “Osbert Sitwell” revisited the lifetime of a minor British poet who forged a wider celeb as a magnet for artists and iconoclasts.

“Even after Ziegler decides that ‘Osbert is worth a book,’ he says this is ‘not so much for what he did as for what he was,’” reviewer Adam Kirsch wrote in The Washington Post. “Sitwell himself would have bitterly resented this judgment, but Ziegler shows that it is more or less correct.”

Mr. Ziegler earned widespread reward from reviewers for his exhaustive analysis and reader-friendly storytelling over greater than 20 books. Some reviewers, nevertheless, took challenge with a few of Mr. Ziegler’s work as failing to probe deeper into the minds and motivations of his topics.

“Readable and judicious as it is, the book is not without lapses,” London Observer reviewer Geoffrey Wheatcroft wrote of Mr. Ziegler’s 2010 guide “Edward Heath,” on the British prime minister throughout a time of labor and financial tumult within the early Nineteen Seventies.

Writer Christopher Hitchens complained of “Ziegler’s dull consensus prose” in a evaluation of Mr. Ziegler’s 1993 biography “Wilson,” on one other former British prime minister, Harold Wilson.

In many books, Mr. Ziegler’s analysis delved into royal household connections. He grew to become one thing of an insider for the undertaking on Edward VIII, who abdicated the throne in 1936 reasonably than finish his relationship with a divorced American girl, Wallis Simpson. His resolution divided the nation — love versus responsibility — and have become an open wound inside the monarchy as Edward and Simpson took up self-exile in France.

Buckingham Palace had stored its information on Edward and the abdication from students and others. In the late Nineteen Eighties, the palace was in search of an official biographer, and Mr. Zeigler was picked on the power of his earlier biographies.

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He was the primary time anybody exterior the royal confines was allowed to look over the information, which included diaries and correspondence with Queen Mary and Edward’s brother, who grew to become George VI after the abdication. It was crucial entry, Mr. Ziegler mentioned, to offer the credibility to the guide, “King Edward VIII: The Official Biography” (1990).

“Human memory is terrifyingly fallible,” Mr. Ziegler mentioned, “and I have learned over the years not to expect precise dates or records of conversations when interviewing people who knew my subject.”

A New York Times evaluation of the guide requested: “What does an official biographer do with a soap opera subject?”

“If he is Philip Ziegler,” wrote reviewer Zara Steiner, “he turns the story of Edward, Prince of Wales, then King and finally Duke of Windsor, into a book of such compelling interest and frankness that it is difficult to put down.”

If a wealth of fabric helped increase Edward’s story, then the other proved true with the famed actor Laurence Olivier.

Mr. Ziegler mentioned he had piles of paperwork and hours of taped interviews on Olivier’s life, work and loves, together with his marriage to actress Vivien Leigh. But Mr. Ziegler felt he may by no means absolutely perceive Olivier or outline the supply of his genius onstage and display screen.

“He was always acting,” Mr. Ziegler mentioned, and would “edit himself out” of their discussions.

“Up until now, anyone I’ve written about I’ve felt I was chipping away, poking away, going deeper and deeper and, in the end, I would come through to somebody real,” Mr. Ziegler mentioned at a 2013 guide occasion shortly after the discharge of “Olivier.”

“With Olivier, I always came out the other side,” he added, “and realized that I had failed to engage completely.”

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Philip Sandeman Ziegler was born on Dec. 24, 1929, in Ringwood, a Hampshire village about 10 miles from the English Channel. His father was a military officer and his mom a homemaker.

Mr. Ziegler served within the British military throughout World War II and graduated from Oxford’s New College in 1951 with a level in jurisprudence. The following 12 months, he joined the Foreign Office and served in diplomatic posts in Vientiane, Laos; Paris; Pretoria, South Africa, and Bogotá.

In 1967, gunmen broke into their Bogotá house and fatally shot his spouse, Sarah Collins. Mr. Ziegler, who was wounded within the assault, resigned from the diplomatic service to take a job on the publishing home William Collins, which was then run by his father in regulation.

While within the diplomatic corps, Mr. Ziegler tried his hand at a novel. It was “atrocious,” he mentioned. He turned to nonfiction. He revealed his first biography in 1962, “Duchess of Dino,” about Dorothea Courtland, a mistress of Nineteenth-century French diplomat Charles Maurice de Talleyrand. In 1969, Mr. Ziegler’s account of the plague, “The Black Death,” grew to become a high vendor regardless of being seen by some medieval students as missing tutorial depth.

He rose to turn out to be editor in chief at Collins and left in 1980 to focus on writing.

Mr. Ziegler married Mary Clare Charrington in 1971; she died in 2017. Survivors embody a son and daughter from his first marriage; and a son from his second.

Mr. Ziegler typically described himself an obsessive researcher. Only a fraction of what he gleaned made it into print.

“Ideally the biographer should know everything about his subject and then discard 99 percent of his information, keeping only the essential,” Mr. Ziegler mentioned in 2011. “Of course, one can never hope to discover anything approaching ‘everything,’ but one can find out a great deal.”

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