The Washingtons - America's original First Couple

7th October 2015

News, Alumni news

An enthralling, revealing portrait of the marriage of George and Martha Washington, by Wadham alumna and bestselling biographer Flora Fraser (1977, Classics) goes on sale on 3 November.

  • The Washington Family, by Edward Savage (National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.), from the cover of the American edition of Flora Fraser's latest book.

  • Flora Fraser (1977, Classics)

    Flora Fraser (1977, Classics). Photo, Elena Seibert.


  • The Bloomsbury edition of George and Martha Washington: A Revolutionary Marriage

    The Bloomsbury edition of George and Martha Washington: A Revolutionary Marriage

The book explores the powerful union between George and Martha Washington, America’s original and devoted first couple. In a narrative enhanced by a close reading of personal, military and presidential papers, Flora Fraser introduces the redoubtable Martha Washington. Though little known today, in her own time she was celebrated as a woman who, when tested, proved an ideal spouse to commander and president alike.  Fraser also brings Martha’s better-known husband to life, to connect a new generation with a man whose foibles were many  but whose aspirations to greatness were remarkable.

Describing her inspiration for the book, Flora comments: “When I first saw Mount Vernon, the Washingtons' Virginian home, in 2004, I thought how very British the house was, like an English manor house, though in a lofty setting above the Potomac River. And of course the Washingtons started married life in 1759 as an unassuming colonial couple. But all around me in what they call ‘the mansion’ were American schoolchildren, visiting the home of their first President. If I wrote about George and Martha's marriage, I thought idly, I could follow the ups and downs of national history as well as the highs and lows of their union. Then I became rather less idle about it and was fascinated and absorbed. George and Martha Washington: A Revolutionary Marriage (US title: The Washingtons: George and Martha) is the result.”

Flora Fraser is the author of the bestselling biography of Queen Caroline, The Unruly Queen (1996) as well as Princesses: The six daughters of George III (2004), Venus of Empire (2009), about Pauline Bonaparte and Beloved Emma: The Life of Emma, Lady Hamilton (1986). She lives in London with her two younger children. During her teens and twenties Flora was employed as a researcher by a number of authors, including Michael Grant, and by her grandmother Elizabeth Longford and mother, Antonia Fraser, both historical biographers.

The book will be published on 3 November as George and Martha Washington: A Revolutionary Marriage (Bloomsbury) in the UK and as The Washingtons: George and Martha : ‘Join’d by Marriage, Crown’s by Love’ (Knopf Doubleday) in the US.

Flora Fraser wins 2016 George Washington Prize

One of America's largest literary prizes, the George Washington Prize, has been awarded to Flora Fraser for her book The Washingtons: George and Martha, 'Join’d by Friendship, Crown’d by Love.'

The prize recognises the year’s best works on the nation’s founding era, especially those that have the potential to advance broad public understanding of American history.

Find out more

Book synopsis

A full-scale portrait of the marriage of George Washington and his redoubtable wife Martha – and of the struggle for American independence that he led.

Here are the socially awkward young soldier and the charming and very rich young widow he wooed and won; the early years of their marriage at Mount Vernon; his inflexible determination and iron will throughout the long war; she, joining him every year in Valley Forge and the army’s other winter quarters, essential to his personal well-being but also a commanding and admired figure in her own right; and, finally, the eight years of America’s first presidency: he, the reluctant president, and she, the faultless first lady, both longing to return to their beloved Mount Vernon.

Here, too, are the domestic Washingtons – Martha presiding over dinners for foreign dignitaries, keeping careful control of her children and her inheritance; George, even while commanding the revolutionary army, always concerned about her welfare and safety, worrying about his stepchildren, and when the rare occasion arose, dancing the night away with any pretty woman he could find.

Listen to Flora Fraser talking about her book