Mary Wesley was born near Windsor in 1912 but first arrived in Cornwall at the age of one. She was educated at the London School of Economics and worked in the War Office during the Second World War. She was also involved in the antiques trade. Throughout her life, she lived in London, France, Italy and Germany, in addition to various places in the West Country.
In 1937, Mary Wesley married Lord Swinfen, only to leave him having produced two sons. She was divorced in 1945. The war, a background to many of her novels, changed her life. She came down to Cornwall whilst pregnant during the war to stay with a friend who was also expecting. She remembered seeing the evacuee city children throwing stones at farm animals, through fear of something strange, and was intrigued by that image of the countryside as a threatening place.
Mary Wesley was hailed as one of the finest British authors when her first novel was published. She was then seventy years of age.
Her best known book, The Camomile Lawn, set on the Roseland Peninsula, was turned into a television series, and is the story of the intertwining lives of three families in rural Cornwall during World War II
In the 1995 New Year’s honours list she was awarded the CBE. Mary died in 2002, at her home in Totnes, Devon.