Stephen Tennant (1906-87)

Figure 1.--Here we see Stephen at age 7 years. We are not sure just what he is wearing.

The most notorious of the Tennant children was the baby--Stephen. He was 4 years old when the family photograph was taken. Stephen was the model for the main character in Nancy Mitford novel, Love in a Cold Climate. Stephen biographer reports that as a boy he had long blond hair and was dressed by Pamela in fussy dresses until he was 8 years old. As was the custom in the 19th century, boys wore dresses and smocks all the time--including outings to the park or special occasions like parties. This was becoming less common after the turn-of-the 20th century. And most boys were breeched before age 8 years. St. James park was reportedly a favorite. Friends report that Pamela had dearly wanted her youngest child to be a girl. This no doubt affected her upbringing of Stephen. Apparently the subject of how Stephen was dressed and raised had come up between Pamela and her husband Eddie who appears to have thought she was coddeling the boy to much. By the 1910s it was becoming increasingly unusual to keep a boy in dresses by the time he reached 7 or 8 years old. A journalist interviewed Pamela at home in 1914. Stephen was about 8 and still in dresses. The lady journalist came back with a story of the most beautiful child she had ever seen, almost impossibly a boy. Of course it was Stephen.


Stephen's parents were Sir Edward Tennant and Pamela Wyndham (1871- ). Sir Edward was from a wealthy Scottish land-owning family. The Wyndams were a more artistically oriented family, including Pamela and her two sisters. . The Tennants were an upper class English family. The mother, Pamela was born in 1871. Pamela married into Tennants, a very rich Scottish merchant family. The Tennants moved in high circles. The father, Edward-- Lord Glenconne, was familiar with important government ministers. Pamela was from a much more gentil (Whyndham), artistic background than the Tennants. She wasmembers of the "Souls" a group of upper class intellectuals. She and her two sisters are the models for John Singer Sargeant's painting The Three Graces.

The Family

The family consisted of five children, four boys (Edward-"Bim", Christophr, David, and Stephen) and an elder daughter. The children grew up in the Edwardian period. The charming period before the two world wars visited the horrors of the modern age on Europe. The children spent much of their time at Wilsford, the Tennant country estate with ample grounds and sunny gardens in which they could play.


All of the Tennant children were raised by Nanny, Rebecca Trusler. From a maternal standpoint the Tennant children, considered Nanny to be their mother not Pamela. This was similar to the experience of many wealthy European and American children at the time. Nanny Trusler was the one that the children came running to when they were hurt or upset.


Stephen was born in 1906. Many wealthy mothers of the era had a staff of nannies and governesses, not to mention the household staff, to care for the children. Stephen like his brothers had a nannie, but Pamela appears to have taken a special interest in the his care, more than was the case for his brothers. Pamela made sure that Stephen, her treasure, was exposed to art and culture. She involved the boy in public theatricals. He was in the Tabeaux Vivants at the Royal Albert Hall in 1914 when he as about 8 years old. The boy was dressed in a satin gown and cradled in his mother's arms. At home he played dolls with his Cousin Kathleen. Stephen was apparently a sickly baby, perhaps one reason Pamela devoted so much attention to him. He grew into a physically healthy teenager. Stephen was, however, a spoiled child.

Childhood Clothing

I'm not sure about the other children were dressed when they were younger. I note the next to youngest boy wears boyish looking shorts when he was 8 years old in the 1910 photograph loaded on the previous page. Just how long his brothers wore dresses and long hair, we do not know. Stephen appears to wear dresses even at 8 years of age.


Pamela finally had Stephen's hair cut at age 8 and he was dressed in short pants. I'm not sure about the details of his more boyish outfits. I do know he served as a pageboy at the wedding of the Duchess of Rutland and the son of his father's best friend, General Arthur Wolfe Murray in 1916. I'm not sure what Stephen wore as a pageboy, but the wedding was about 2 years after he had begun wearing short pants and had his hair cut.

Stephen's Opinion

I'm not sure what Stephen felt about wearing dresses. As a small child he did not seem to mind, telling his father he wanted to be a great beauty. He apparently discussed it with friends at the time, but only snipets remain of the conversations overheard presumably by Pamela. She mentions a conversation between Malcomn, the son of Lord Glenconner's best friend, General Arthur Wolfe Murray, and a playmate of Stephen. At the time of the conversation, Malcomn was probably about 5 years old and both boys were still wearing dresses. Malcomn seems a bit confused. As he grew older, Stephen difinitely did like his blond hair which was natuarally curly. He referred to it as his "poisonous wave". I have no idea what he thought about his dresses and don't know if he ever wrote about it.

Figure 2.--Here we see Stephen at age 9 years in what looks like a prep school uniform with his mother about 1915.


Here we see Stephen it what looks like a prep school uniform. We do not know what school he attended. Stephen went to public school Private secondarey level boarding school) for a while but was mostly educated at home. He apparently was not an easy boy to teach. He had 20 private tutors in one year alone. Dancing classes were also held at Queen Annes Gate (London home) that were joined in by his girl friends, Susan and Elizabeth Lowndes. For dancing classes Stephen wore a long smock like shirt, learning his dainty steps along with his friends.

Figure 3.--Stephen Tennant is pictured informally here in his early teens at the family's country estate Wilsford about to go fishing in a photograph taken about 1919.

Adult Life

Stephen proved to be a layabout youth. He became notorious for a decadent life style. Because of the familt monery, he never had to work. He was seen as a captivating beauty by the artistic crowd of the day. Stephen as an adult was quite notorious in English society. Most of the Victorians and Edwardians who wore dresses as a boy do not seem to have been particularly affected. Something clearly happened to Stephen, but it is difficult to say just what caused it. Ther pampering and hios parent's failure to motivate him surely must be the cause. Stephen as an adult was great friends with Rex Whistler (artisrt) who he met while studing drawing at an art institute in London and Cecil Beaton, who became the premier English upperclass photographer. In later life, Beaton was knighted. It is said that the two main characters in Brideshead Revisited were Rex and Stephen. Sommerrset Maugham who knew both Stephen and Rex as young men. Stephen spent most of his adult life working on a novel--Lascar. He never finishrd it. Late in life he became a recluse.


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Created: May 30, 1998
Last updated: 8:42 PM 2/7/2011