The only son of fashionable society doctor Sir Alfred Cooper and Lady Agnes Duff, daughter of James Duff, 5th Earl Fife, Duff Cooper was the youngest of their four children. He had royal connections: his maternal uncle, the first Duke of Fife, was married to Louise, Princess Royal, the daughter of King Edward VII, while his mother's maternal grandmother was Elizabeth Hay, Countess of Erroll, an illegitimate daughter of King William IV and his mistress Dorothy Jordan. Cooper enjoyed a typical gentleman's upbringing of country estates, London society, Eton College and New College, Oxford.
At Oxford, his Eton friendship with John Manners won him entry into a famous and fashionable circle of young aristocrats and intellectuals known as The Coterie, including Patrick Shaw-Stewart, Raymond Asquith (son of the Prime Minister), Sir Denis Anson, Edward Horner and most famously Lady Diana Manners. He cultivated a reputation for eloquence and fast living and although he had established a reputation as a poet, he earned an even stronger reputation for gambling, womanising, and drinking in his studied emulation of the life of Charles James Fox.
Following Oxford, he entered the Foreign Service and, owing to the national importance of his work at the cipher desk, he was excluded from military service until 1917, when he joined the Grenadier Guards. He served with distinction as a lieutenant in the campaigns of 1918, winning a DSO for conspicuous gallantry. Almost all of his closest friends, including Shaw-Stewart, Horner, Asquith and John Manners were killed in the war, drawing him closer to Lady Diana Manners, whom he married in 1919. An extremely popular social figure hailed for her beauty and eccentricities, she was one of several daughters born to the Duke and Duchess of Rutland; her biological father, however, was believed to be Harry Cust, known as one of the most handsome men of his day.
The Coopers' marriage was fraught with infidelities, notably Duff's affairs with the Franco-American Singer sewing-machine heiress Daisy Fellowes, the socialite Gloria Guinness, the French novelist Louise Leveque de Vilmorin, the writer Susan Mary Alsop (then an American diplomat's wife, by whom he had an illegitimate son, William Patten Jr.),Boy Capel's wife Diana, and the Anglo-Irish socialite and fashion model Maxime de La Falaise, although Lady Diana reportedly did not mind, explaining to their son that 'They were the flowers, but I was the tree'.
the French novelist Louise Leveque de Vilmorin
Lady Diana Cooper ... (...) "although Lady Diana reportedly did not mind, explaining to their son that 'They were the flowers, but I was the tree"
Returning to the Foreign Service, he became principal private secretary to two ministers and played a significant role in the Egyptian and Turkish crises of the early 1920s before winning a seat in Parliament as a Conservative for Oldham in 1924. He gave one of the most acclaimed maiden speeches of the century and became known as a stalwart supporter of Stanley Baldwin, the Prime Minister, and a friend of Chancellor of the Exchequer, Winston Churchill. He became Financial Secretary to the War Office in January 1928 before losing his seat in the 1929 election when the Conservative Party lost power.
Turning to literature, he produced Talleyrand (1932), a short biography that was published by his nephew Rupert Hart-Davis to critical praise and lasting success. The 1931 by-election for the constituency of Westminster St George's saw the Empire Free Trade Crusade party threatening the Conservative position at a time when satisfaction with Baldwin's leadership was at a low. When the original Conservative candidate stepped down, Duff Cooper agreed to contest the election in what was regarded as a referendum on Baldwin's leadership. He won the seat with a majority of 5,710. thus returning to Parliament and serving until 1945.
Returning to ministerial office as Financial Secretary to the War Office in 1931, then as Financial Secretary to the Treasury in 1934, he was elevated to the Cabinet as War Secretary in 1935 and promoted to First Lord of the Admiralty in 1937. He completed a biography of Douglas Haig during this period. The most public critic of Neville Chamberlain's appeasement policy inside the Cabinet, he famously resigned in 1938 over the Munich Agreement with Adolf Hitler in an act that MP Vyvyan Adams (who also opposed appeasement) described as "the first step in the road back to national sanity". He later took a prominent role in the famous Norway Debate of 1940 which led to Chamberlain's downfall.
He subsequently entered the Cabinet as Minister of Information under Winston Churchill but after a controversial appointment as Resident Cabinet Minister in Singapore in 1941, he did not play a major role in the direction of the war until appointed the British Government's liaison to the Free French in 1943. He subsequently became the British ambassador to France in 1944 and was a great success in Paris. He left office in 1947, was knighted, and devoted himself primarily to literature until his death in 1954 at the age of 63. He produced during this period the classic autobiography Old Men Forget and was eventually created Viscount Norwich, of Aldwick in the County of Sussex, in 1952 in recognition of his political and literary career. His wife refused to be called Lady Norwich, claiming that it sounded too much like "porridge" and promptly took out a newspaper advertisement declaring that she would retain her previous style of Lady Diana Cooper.
Lady Diana and Duff Cooper library in The British Embassy in Paris
Duff Cooper's only legitimate child, John Julius Norwich (born in 1929), became well known as a writer and television host and has published a collection of his father's diaries The Duff Cooper Diaries: 1915–1951.
Revealed: Duff Cooper's secret second son
By Ben Sheppard and Andrew Alderson 08 Jan 2006 in The Telegraph
As a diplomat, author and minister, Duff Cooper's colourful reputation was hardly a secret.
For sixty years, however, the full extent of the scandal surrounding the legendary womaniser has remained unknown.
Until now, it had been thought that Cooper, a wartime minister in Churchill's cabinet, had only one child - a son from his 35-year marriage to Lady Diana Cooper, reputedly the most beautiful woman in Europe. But he also had an illegitimate son, conceived while he was the ambassador to Paris, it has been revealed.
The discovery was made by an author who was preparing a magazine profile of Susan Mary Alsop, the American socialite, author and close friend of President John F Kennedy.
Cooper's legitimate son is John Julius Norwich (the second Viscount Norwich), the distinguished author and broadcaster. He was 18 in 1947 when his father, then 57, began the affair with Alsop, who was 29. The child she bore the following year is Bill Patten Jnr, now a Unitarian minister in Worcester, Massachusetts.
The disclosure is made in next month's Vanity Fair, which devotes 16 pages to the life of Alsop, who died two years ago aged 86.
Susan Braudy, who wrote the article, says that Alsop discovered in the winter of 1947 that a five-month "stomach ailment" was a pregnancy. Her son did not discover the identity of his biological father until he was nearly 50.
Cooper, Churchill's minister of information during the Second World War, had a formidable sexual appetite, and his wife gave her tacit consent to the affair.
When Cooper - created Viscount Norwich in 1952 - died in 1954, his wife allowed Alsop to spend time alone beside his coffin.
Alsop, who was living in France with her husband after the war, met Cooper when his health was failing. Bill Patten Snr, like Lady Diana, was aware of the affair and it was Alsop who consoled Cooper when Ernest Bevin dismissed him as ambassador in late 1947.
Alsop stayed at his last party at the embassy until 5am and later wrote to Cooper than she would have given anything if "in return I could have the next five minutes sitting on your lap and be held tight, tight against your heart".
Bill Patten Snr died in 1960 and Alsop returned to America, where she made a platonic marriage to Joseph Alsop, a homosexual who had been her late husband's Harvard roommate.
They were a power-broking couple and she was a favourite dinner companion of President Kennedy, who found her witty, entertaining and flirty. Bill Patten Jnr and Alsop's legitimate daughter Anne, born in 1950, eventually had DNA tests which indicated only that they had different fathers. Afterwards, in 1996, Mr Patten Jnr met his "new" half brother, John Julius Norwich, now 76, at his west London home.
Prof John Charmley, Duff Cooper's official biographer, told the Sunday Telegraph that he believed Vanity Fair's revelation to be accurate. "While I was researching Duff's biography, Susan Mary told me that Duff was Bill Patten's father. Bill himself didn't know at the time, so I left it out of the book. Later, she told Bill and he rang me out of the blue. I confirmed to him that all the evidence points towards him being Duff's son."
Cooper had many vices. He was a hard drinker, a reckless gambler and an inveterate philanderer. He wrote of one conquest: "I rapidly had her which was very agreeable. I promised to dine with her again but I doubt if I do." Many of his early liaisons left his wife in tears but, as his health failed, she accepted them.
Mr Patten, 57, was unavailable for comment this weekend but his wife, Sydney, said he accepted that Cooper was his father. "It was a terrible shock at the time and he later told me that he felt he had lost his father Bill Patten a second time [the first being his death]. But he says he will always look upon Bill Patten as his father." Mr Patten will break his public silence over the scandal later this year when he publishes a book about his father (Bill Patten), his stepfather (Joe Alsop) and his real father (Duff Cooper).
In My Three Fathers, he says his mother's relations with Cooper were "almost a public service, an action of foreign policy in its noblest and most self-sacrificing form."