Eleanor Hibbert is best known as Jean Plaidy, Victoria Holt and Phillipa Carr. She used other pseudonyms including Elbur Ford, Kathleen Kellow and Ellalice Tate, and both her maiden and married names. She wrote 183 books, including three children's novels, during a career spanning five decades. Over 14 million copies sold worldwide.
A Sunday Times article summed up the reasons for her success: "Jean Plaidy, by the skillful blending of superb storytelling and meticulous attention to authenticity of detail and depth of characterization, has become one of the country's most widely read novelists."
Hibbert was born Eleanor Alice Burford on 1 September 1906 in Kensington, London. Her father Joseph was an "odd jobs" man with no steady profession but he passed on his avid love for books, as Eleanor was a keen reader from aged four. "I consider myself extremely lucky to have been born and raised in London," Eleanor later wrote," and to have on my doorstep this most fascinating of cities with so many relics of 2,000 years of history still to be found in its streets. One of my greatest pleasures was, and still is, exploring London."
Hibbert's school life was brought to an abrupt halt during the War.
She later attended a business college to study shorthand, typewriting and languages. She worked as an interpreter in a city cafe. Another job involved handling gems in Hatton Garden, London.
Her greatest joy was collecting piles of dusty old history books, reading them from cover to cover, before transforming these events into exciting narratives.
Hibbert wrote nine lengthy novels during the 1930's by emulating her literary heroes - the Brontes, George Eliot, Charles Dickens, Victor Hugo and Leo Tolstoy. These novels were serious, psychological studies of contemporary life. Unfortunately none were accepted for publication.
She married a leather merchant, George Percival Hibbert, in her early twenties, as his second wife. He shared Eleanor's love of books and reading.
"I found that married life gave me the necessary freedom to follow an ambition which had been with me since childhood; and so I started to write in earnest."
Her work included several short stories contributed to the Evening News and Daily Mail during the 1930's and 1940's. Some also appeared in The Star, Woman's Realm and Ladies' Home Journal.
The Daily Mail's literary editor persuaded Eleanor to give up 'serious' fiction.
"You're barking up the wrong tree," he said. "You must write something which is saleable, and the easiest way is to write a romantic novel."
So Eleanor researched this genre by reading 50 romance novels before writing her first. 'Daughter of Anna' which was published by Herbert Jenkins in 1941 under her maiden name. Eleanor was paid thirty pounds per novel at the start of her career.
Another nineteen books followed, including Passionate Witness (1941) The House at Cupid's Cross (1949) The Love Child (1950) and Castles in Spain (1954). A further ten titles were published by Mills&Boone from 1956 to 1962.
One of Eleanor's pseudonyms was taken from Plaidy Beach -near the Hibbert's home in Cornwall during World War II.
Her first historical novel "Together They Ride" (1945)(written as Jean Plaidy) was a well-written Cornish smuggling yarn set during the late 18th Century . It was inspired by Daphne Du Maurier's "Jamaica Inn and Frenchman's Creek."
The second novel, Beyond The Blue Mountains, was rejected by several publishers because of it's length (over 500 pages). It was not a typical Plaidy novel - a blockbuster chronicling three women's lives during the 18th Century. Following the women from Newgate Prison in London to Sydney's penal colony - amidst the brutality of crime, horror, cruelty and indifference.
Robert Hale accepted the manuscript as he perceived it's worth. He wrote to Hibbert's agent, "Will you tell this author that there are glittering prizes ahead for those who can write as she does?"
Robert Hale accepted the manuscript as he perceived its worth.
The successful partnership lasted until Hibbert's death. There were very few "glittering prizes" for historical fiction - other than huge royalties.
She wrote five hours per day, starting at 7.30am and completed at least 5,000 words by lunchtime, seven days a week. She personally answered her fan mail during her afternoons. She received thousands of letters from around the world.
Writing left no time for hobbies. Hibbert took cruises every winter for two or three months, bringing her typewriter. She worked in her cabin each morning as if she was at home.
"I love my work so much that nothing would stop me writing," Hibbert once said. "If I take even a week's break, I just feel miserable. It's like a drug."
She reached the peak of her success during the 1950s and 1960s as "Jean Plaidy, Britain's most popular historical novelist."
Five non-fiction books were published as Jean Plaidy, including three volumes on the rise, spread and dissolution of the Spanish Inquisition. These books were written simultaneously with her 'Isabella and Ferdinand' trilogy. They were well researched and still considered the best-vividly portraying the fanaticism and hypocrisy.
'Triptych of Poisoners' (1958) was written in conjunction with the Lucrezia Borgia novels. 'Triptych of Poisoners - another non-fiction book focusing on the notorious careers of Cesare Borgia, Marie d'Aubray and Edward Pritchard. The Elbur Ford novel, Flesh and the Devil (1950) was based on Pritchard's life.
Three more crime novels were written and released under Elbur Ford - a condensed variant of her maiden name. They are also based on infamous murderers of the 19th Century; Adelaide Bartlett (Poison in Pimlico) in 1950; Euphrasie Mercier (The Bed Disturbed) in 1952 and Constance Kent (Such Bitter Business) in 1953. These were based on official records whilst retelling the stories behind some of the most gruesome murders.
Eight novels were published as Kathleen Kellow between 1952 and 1960. They were mostly crime and mystery fiction.
A Daily Mail reviewer wrote of Call of the Blood published in 1956, "Miss Kellow has written a crime novel of distinction and I commend it to the connoisseur."
More historical fiction was written under the alias of Ellalice Tate (adapted from her mother's maiden name, Alice Tate) includes 'Defenders of the Faith' and 'The Scarlet cloak.' These were later reprinted under the Jean Plaidy pseudonym.
Plaidy's biography, Mary Queen of Scots; The Fair Devil of Scotland, was eventually published in 1975.
Hibbert continued to lead a simple life living in her London flat after the death of her husband during the 1960's.
US publisher Doubleday believed Hibbert had potential to become a best-selling author. She was contracted to write a novel combining romance, suspense and gothic (dark) elements.
Writing as Victoria Holt, her first novel 'Mistress of Mellyn' was released in 1960. It was an immediate success - even adapted as a stage-play by Mildred C Kuner.
Hibbert realized there was a huge potential readership for "romantic suspense' stories set in gloomy old manor houses," and she revived the gothic novel, a genre which fell into neglect since its heyday during the 19th Century.
Her Victoria Holt novels sold over 75 million copies and translated into 20 languages.
Early Holt novels are set in remote houses on the craggy Cornish coast in Britain. Others were set in various locations throughout the British Empire during the 19th Century. Some exceptions included The Queen's Confession - a fictitious autobiography of Marie Antoinette, based on letters and memoirs - and My Enemy the Queen - narrated by Elizabeth 1's cousin Lettice Knollys who married the Earl of Leicester.
Her identity was a closely-guarded secret, creating speculation Daphne Du Maurier actually wrote these novels.
Mistress of Mellyn's atmosphere was very similar to Rebecca. Du Maurier also detested the "romantic novelist" label.
Hibbert told the Women's News Service, "My American publishers got the idea of making me into a mystery woman with the new name of Victoria Holt."
Her writing style influenced other gothic-style romantic suspense authors. She was also heralded "Queen of Romantic Suspense".
Hibbert was awarded the Romance Writers 1989 RITA award for Lifetime Achievement.
Other Plaidy books brought historical figures to life - most were from Fifteenth and Sixteenth Century Britain and Europe - including Katherine Parr (The Sixth Wife), Philip II ( The Spanish Bridegroom), Mary Queen of Scots); Henry VIII's sisters (Mary Queen of France and The thistle and the Rose).
Trilogies based on lives of Catherine de Medici, Charles II, Katherine of Aragon, and Isabella and Ferdinand were also popular. Most were re-released as single-edition volumes during the late 1960's and 1970's.
Other books focused on Louis XV (Louis the Well-Beloved and The road to Compiegne) and Marie Antoinette (Flaunting Extravagant Queen).
From 1965 Hibbert began writing a strict chronological sequence of novels, beginning with The Three Crowns in 1965 - the first in a trilogy on 'Last of the Stuarts' - as Jean Plaidy.
A ten - volume 'Georgian Saga' soon followed, published from 1967 until 1971. Hibbert wrote the five-volume 'Victorian Saga' from 1972 until 1974.
She was writing an average of two books per year. (She later increased her output to three during the 1980.s)
After completing The Widow of Windsor, Hibbert returned to the eleventh century with the 'Norman Trilogy' in 1974. She finished her third book in 1976 - another popular series.
"The Plantagenet's' - containing fifteen books - was Hibbert's biggest project. The last book, Uneasy Lies the Head (1982), tells Henry VII's story after his victory at Bosworth in 1485.
Her last pseudonym, Phillippa Carr, was adopted in 1972 as she wrote The Miracle at St Bruno's - the first in her 'Daughters of England' saga (nineteen books) based on fictitious journals kept the women in one family from the Reformation to until World War II [We'll Meet Again]. Their stories focus on real historical events of the time.
The final book, Daughters of England was published after her death, and it is not connected with Carr's other novels.
Hibbert, by then in her late 70's, began a new series of Plaidy novels, the 'Queens of England' series, beginning with Henrietta Maria [Myself, My Enemy] in 1983. She wrote ten books, ending with Mary II [William's Wife] in 1992. Some critics claim these novels showed a marked deterioration of style compared to those written in her heyday.
Her research was very accurate. Hibbert relied on past historians, including Agnes Strickland. She used official records for her four crime novels written as Elbur Ford, retelling various events and emotions behind Britain's worst murders.
A Bibliography (sometimes included in the the author's acknowledgements) lists the sources used in researching each historical novel.
She was at her typewriter when she died suddenly, aged 86, on 18th January 1993, aboard a cruise sailing from Athens, Greece, to Port Said, Egypt.
Arrow books [Random House} has reprinted several Jean Plaidy novels, including the Tudor series, the Catherine de Medici trilogy and the first four of 'The Plantagenet's'.
Four Victoria Holt titles have also been re-released.
The biography of Eleanor Hibbert. Facts and figures were sourced from the 'tripod' web site > members.tripod.com/jeanplaidy/id49,htm