Lita-Rose Betcherman: 77 and can't stop writing

Historians in the News

At an age when many people are basking in Florida retirement, Lita-Rose Betcherman can't stop writing.

Her fourth book of history, Court Lady and Country Wife: Two Noble Sisters in Seventeenth-Century England, has recently been published by Harper Collins in Canada, Morrow in the U.S., and Wiley in the U.K. to good reviews. British biographer Jane Dunn, author of Elizabeth & Mary, called it "popular history at its best."

Two more books she is not ready to talk about are in the works.

Betcherman, 78, owns one of the best minds in Toronto, along with admirably disciplined work habits. Though she's kept a low profile, she has had successful parallel careers as a labour arbitrator and independent historian for some 33 years. Few women have made an equal contribution to the here and now while letting their imaginations dwell in the distant past.

"It worked out very well having two careers," she says. "When I'm into research and writing, I can cut back on the arbitration." We are sitting in her immaculate living room high up in a Harbourfront condo she shares with her husband, Irving, admiring the panoramic view of Lake Ontario. She is dressed in a crisp navy trouser suit, her white hair stylishly short.

Before writing about the beautiful, manipulative Percy sisters, Lucy, Countess of Carlisle, and Dorothy, Countess of Leicester, and their behind-the-scenes role in the English civil wars, she produced The Swastika and the Maple Leaf: Fascist Movements in Canada in the Thirties (1975); The Little Band: Clashes Between the Communists and the Political and Legal Establishments in Canada, 1928-1932 (1982); and Ernest Lapointe: Mackenzie King's Great Quebec Lieutenant (2002).

Only Court Lady and Country Wife has been published outside Canada.

"My interest in the 17th century goes back very far," she says. "I approached it first through reading the diaries of Samuel Pepys, and I thought it (the period) was quaint. But it's not quaint; it's really the genesis of modern times."...

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