Stephen Tennant

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Stephen Tennant
Stephen Tennant by Foulsham & Banfield.jpg
Stephen James Napier Tennant

(1906-04-21)21 April 1906
Died28 February 1987(1987-02-28) (aged 80)
Wilsford cum Lake
Known forone of the "Bright Young People"
Partner(s)Siegfried Sassoon
Parent(s)Edward Tennant, Pamela Wyndham
RelativesEdward Tennant (brother)
David Tennant (brother)
Stella Tennant (niece)

Stephen James Napier Tennant (21 April 1906 – 28 February 1987) was a British socialite known for his decadent lifestyle. He was called "the brightest" of the "Bright Young People".

Early life[edit]

The Wyndham Sisters, by John Singer Sargent, 1899 (Metropolitan Museum)

He was born into British nobility, the youngest son of a Scottish peer, Edward Tennant, 1st Baron Glenconner, and the former Pamela Wyndham, one of the Wyndham sisters and of The Souls clique. His mother was also a cousin of Lord Alfred Douglas (1870–1945), Oscar Wilde's lover and a sonneteer. On his father's death, Tennant's mother married Lord Grey, a fellow bird-lover. Tennant's eldest brother Edward – "Bim" – was killed in the First World War. His elder brother David Tennant founded the Gargoyle Club in Soho.[1]

Social set[edit]

During the 1920s and 1930s, Tennant was an important member – the "Brightest", it is said – of the "Bright Young People". His friends included Rex Whistler, Cecil Beaton, the Sitwells, Lady Diana Manners and the Mitford girls. He is widely considered to be the model for Cedric Hampton in Nancy Mitford's novel Love in a Cold Climate, one of the inspirations for Lord Sebastian Flyte in Evelyn Waugh's Brideshead Revisited, and a model for the Hon. Miles Malpractice in some of Waugh's other novels.


For most of his life, Tennant tried to start or finish a novel – Lascar: A Story You Must Forget.[2] It is popularly believed that he spent the last 17 years of his life in bed at his family manor at Wilsford cum Lake, Wiltshire, which he had redecorated by Syrie Maugham. Though undoubtedly idle, he was not truly lethargic: he made several visits to the United States and Italy, and struck up many new friendships. His later reputation as a recluse became increasingly true only towards the last years of his life. Yet even then, his life was not uneventful: he became landlord to V. S. Naipaul, who immortalised Tennant in his novel The Enigma of Arrival.

Personal life[edit]

During the 1920s and 1930s Tennant had a sexual affair with the poet Siegfried Sassoon.[3] Prior to this he had proposed to a friend, Elizabeth Lowndes, but had been rejected. (Philip Hoare relates how Tennant discussed plans with Lowndes about bringing his nanny with them on their honeymoon.) His relationship with Sassoon, however, was to be his most important: it lasted some four years before Tennant off-handedly put an abrupt end to it. Sassoon was reportedly depressed afterwards for three months, but recovered to marry in 1933 and become a father in 1936.

When Tennant died in 1987, he had far outlived most of his contemporaries. A large archive of his letters, scrapbooks, personal ephemera and artworks is held in The Viktor Wynd Museum of Curiosities, Fine Art & Natural History.[4]

In popular culture[edit]

The character of Cedric Hampton in the novel Love in a Cold Climate is based on Tennant.[5]

The character of Miles Malpractice in the novel Vile Bodies is based on Tennant.[6]

Lord Sebastian Flyte, a character in the novel Brideshead Revisited, is partly based on Tennant.[7]


  1. ^ Hoare, Philip (9 April 2005). "Michael Luke: Writer, film producer and dashing chronicler of the Gargoyle Club". The Independent. Retrieved 3 June 2014.
  2. ^ "Wanderer Fantasy". Retrieved 13 February 2019.
  3. ^ Gianoulis, Tina (2005). "Sassoon, Siegfried". Archived from the original on 11 October 2007. Retrieved 12 August 2007. Cite uses deprecated parameter |deadurl= (help)
  4. ^ "the viktor wynd museum of curiosities". Retrieved 4 October 2015.
  5. ^ "The Outrageous Stephen Tennant". The Washington Post. Retrieved 12 May 2019.
  6. ^ "24-hour arty people". The Independent. 14 September 2003. Retrieved 13 February 2019.
  7. ^ Waters, John (3 February 1991). "The Man Who Stayed in Bed". Retrieved 13 February 2019.

Further reading[edit]

  • Philip Hoare: Serious Pleasures: The Life of Stephen Tennant (1992)