Victoria Holt was one of the many pseudonyms of Eleanor Alice Burford Hibbert. She also wrote as Jean Plaidy and Philippa Carr.
Eleanor Hibbert was born in London in 1906. Her first book, Daughter of Anna, was published in 1941. She went on to publish twenty-nine more novels as Eleanor Burford over the next two decades, all were romances featuring youthful protagonists and bearing titles like Passionate Witness (1941) and The House at Cupid’s Cross (1949).
But it was the pseudonyms she adopted later that were to win her international fame. In 1945, she began writing as Jean Plaidy, a name she borrowed from a Cornish beach. During the 1950s and 60s, she was Britain’s most popular historical novelist, publishing ninety books under that name. The last one in 1994 was published posthumously. She wrote compelling stories of the lives of such figures as Catherine de Medici, Katherine of Aragon, Isabella of Spain and Lucrezia Borgia. I read and loved every single one of them! The one I have read most and which made the most impact of me was The Princess of Celle, the story of tragic Sophia Dorothea.
As Elbur Ford, she wrote four novels (1950-1954) based on infamous murderers of the 19th century. As Kathleen Kellow, she wrote another eight novels between 1952 and 1960. Several of the latter were also mysteries. She also wrote one book as Anna Percival and five as Ellalice Tate.
It was in 1960 that she first used the name Victoria Holt. Her first book under this pseudonym was the gothic classic, Mistress of Mellyn. It featured the heroine, a young governess, Martha Leigh, a powerful, enigmatic hero, Con TreMellyn, a haunted mansion and a heady mix of scandal, misunderstanding and betrayal. Rumour abounded that the book had actually been written by Daphne du Maurier.
Other titles by Victoria Holt included Kirkland Revels (1962) with ghosts, mysterious abbey, and innocent heroine in jeopardy and Menfreya in the Morning (1966), reminiscent of du Maurier’s Rebecca. All of the traditional gothic elements were included, but the books still possessed a story-telling power that made Holt’s work superior to the multitude who attempted to imitate her.
Hibbert also wrote as Philippa Carr. These were family sagas rather than romances. The Daughters of England series began with The Miracle at St. Bruno’s (1972), a sixteenth-century saga that featured Henry VIII, Anne Boleyn, and Sir Thomas More and ended with We’ll Meet Again (1993), set against the backdrop of the end of World War II.
Hibbert’s pace of writing was phenomenal. She wrote for five hours a day, seven days a week, usually completing five thousand words by lunchtime. Her afternoons were devoted to answering the letters she received from fans. She even took her typewriter with her on her annual winter cruises so that she could continue working.
She died at the age of 87 on board a cruise ship, the Sea Princess, between Athens and Port Said, Egypt. She had sold more than 100 million copies of her two hundred books written over a career that spanned more than half a century. She wrote Gothic romance, historical fiction, mystery, children’s books, and non-fiction. Her advice to writers is as sound today as it was when she gave it decades ago. ‘Never regret. If it’s good, it’s wonderful. If it’s bad, it’s experience’.