Asquith, Lady Cynthia Mary Evelyn 1887-1960, writer, eldest daughter of Lord Elcho, later the eleventh Earl of Wemyss, and his wife, Mary Constance, daughter of Percy Scawen Wyndham, was born 27 September 1887 at Clouds, East Knoyle, Wiltshire. Her childhood was unusually happy, spent amid an intelligent and affectionate family and in a home which was one of the most brilliant social centres of the age. Her mother was a leading figure in that circle called The Souls which included among others Curzon [qv.], Balfour [qv.], her brother, George Wyndham [qv.], and Margot Tennant [qv.] and which was celebrated as uniting the attractions of intellect and of fashion. In 1910 Cynthia Charteris married Herbert, the second son of H. H. Asquith, later first Earl of Oxford and Asquith [qv.], the Liberal leader, by whom she had three sons.
After 1914 Lady Cynthia's life was darkened by trouble. She lost two of her brothers, to whom she was devoted, in the war. Further, now that Herbert Asquith was in the army, he was unable to support his family. Lady Cynthia in 1918 accepted an appointment as private secretary to Sir J. M. Barrie [qv.]. She soon became responsible for running his whole social and domestic life. She went on with this until his death, for Asquith returned from the war with his health too much weakened to take up regular work. She also added to her income by freelance writing. During the next thirty years her publications included anthologies of ghost stories and children's tales, biographies of the Duchess of York (1928) and Princess Elizabeth and Princess Margaret (1937); two novels, The Spring House (1936) and One Sparkling Wave (1943), and a book of short stories What Dreams May Come (1951).
Barrie died in 1937 leaving her heir to the greater part of his fortune and the Asquiths left London to live first at Sullington in Sussex and afterwards at Bath where Herbert Asquith died in 1947. Lady Cynthia later returned to London. Meanwhile a play of hers about the Tolstoys, entitled No Heaven for Me, had been produced at the Little Theatre, Bristol, in 1947. She published three volumes of reminiscences, Haply I May Remember (1950), Remember and Be Glad (1952), and Portrait of Barrie (1954). A life of Countess Tolstoy, entitled Married to Tolstoy, was published posthumously in 1960 and Lady Cynthia's Diaries (1915-18) in 1968.
Lady Cynthia was a competent writer and her reminiscences, in particular, were an agreeable contribution to contemporary social history. But it was in the sphere of private life that her nature fulfilled itself. Here she was revealed as one of the most interesting and fascinating women of her time. Hauntingly beautiful with a tall, graceful figure, magnolia-white skin, and slanting, elfin glance, her appearance was the true image of a personality at once intimate and mysterious, romantic and ironical, whose conversation was remarkable alike for its poetic sensibility and its infectious unpredictable humour. Further, she had a talent for friendship, more especially with writers and artists, which she assiduously cultivated all her life; with the result that she was a close friend of some of the most distinguished men of the day, including D. H. Lawrence [qv.], Sir Desmond MacCarthy [qv.], Walter de la Mare [qv.], Sir Walter Raleigh [qv.], Rex Whistler [qv.], L. P. Hartley, and Augustus John. She was never the mistress of a salon, still less a lion huntress: it was unobtrusively in the tête-à-tête interview and the private correspondence that her friendships flourished. They were singularly lasting and untroubled, for Lady Cynthia's character was faithful, discreet, even-tempered, and unpossessive. Although too intelligent to be unaware of her own attractions, she was also too wise to presume upon them. She died in Oxford 31 March 1960.
There is a drawing of her as a child by Burne-Jones in the possession of her family and as a girl by Sargent; also paintings by Augustus John (in the National Gallery of Canada [as of 2007, in the Art Gallery of Ontario in Toronto]), Ambrose McEvoy, Tonks, and others.
Contributor: David Cecil.