John Julius Cooper was born on 15 September 1929. His father was Duff Cooper, 1st Viscount Norwich a politician and diplomat, who was in Churchill’s war cabinet as well as being a writer of fiction and biography. His mother was Lady Diana Cooper, a society hostess and in her youth considered the most beautiful woman in England. He grew up surrounded by icons of the age – amongst politicians, writers and socialites.
During the war, along with thousands of other children, Norwich was evacuated to Canada. On his return he studied at Eton College and the University of Strasbourg before joining the Royal Navy and eventually attending New College, Oxford to study Russian and French.
On leaving Oxford he joined the British Diplomatic Service where he was posted to Yugoslavia and Lebanon. Upon his father’s death in 1954 he inherited the title Viscount Norwich, using ‘Norwich’ as his pen name. He then left the diplomatic service in 1964 to become a full-time writer.
The first of the John Julius Norwich books was Mount Athos (1966) a history of the sacred Greek peninsula and the Greek church. This was followed by The Normans in the South (1967), Sahara (1968) and many more. His books were successful, noted for their lucid, cultivated voice and gift for storytelling. His, A History of Venice (1981) and histories of Byzantium have become classics and are considered definitive records of the cities.
Throughout the 1960s and 1970s Norwich became a regular contributor on various television programmes. He hosted the panel game ‘My Word!’ between 1978 and 1982 and has made over 30 documentaries on a wide range of historical topics – from the Fall of Constantinople to The Zulu Wars.
Shortly after joining the Diplomatic Service Norwich married Anne Frances May Clifford. Together they had two children, Artemis and Jason Cooper. Norwich is now married to Mary ‘Mollie’ Phillip. The couple live in London within easy reach of The London Library, where Norwich conducts most of his research. He travels regularly, giving over twenty lectures a year at various societies and universities across the globe. Debrett’s Peerage lists his recreational activities as ‘Venice, commonplace books, nightclub piano’.