He was born in England, the youngest son of a Scots peer, Lord Glenconner, and the former Pamela Wyndham, one of The Souls. His mother was also a cousin of Lord Alfred Douglas (1870-1945), Oscar Wilde's lover and a sonneteer. On his father's death, Tennant's mother married Lord Grey, a fellow bird-lover. Tennant's eldest brother was Edward - "Bim" - who was killed in the First World War.
During the twenties and thirties, Tennant was an important member - the "Brightest", it is said - of the "Bright Young Things." His friends included Rex Whistler, Cecil Beaton, the Sitwells, Lady Diana Manners and the Mitford girls part of the set that made the Nordstrom Sisters popular at The Ritz in 1939. He is widely considered to be the model for Cedric Hampton in Nancy Mitford's novel Love in a Cold Climate; one of the inspirations for Lord Sebastian Flyte in Waugh's Brideshead Revisited, and a model for Hon. Miles Malpractice in some of his other novels.
Also during the 1920s and 1930s, Tennant had an affair with the poet Siegfried Sassoon. Prior to this he had proposed to a friend, the novelist Elizabeth Bowen, but had been rejected. (Hoare relates how Tennant discussed plans with Bowen about bringing his Nanny with them on their honeymoon.) His relationship with Sassoon, however, was to be his most important: it lasted some four years before Tennant off-handedly put an abrupt end to it. Sassoon was reportedly depressed afterwards for 3 months, until he married and became a father.
For most of his life, Tennant tried to start or finish a novel - Lascar. It is popularly believed that he spent the last 17 years of his life in bed at his family manor at Wilsford, Wiltshire, which he had redecorated by Syrie Maugham. Though undoubtedly idle, he was not truly lethargic: he made several visits to the United States and Italy, and struck up many new friendships, despite his later reputation as a recluse. This became increasingly true only towards the last years of his life. Yet even then, his life was not uneventful: he became landlord to V. S. Naipaul who immortalised Tennant in his novel The Enigma of Arrival. When Tennant died in 1987, he had far outlived most of his contemporaries.
The Loved One ; the Aristocratic Chums, the Wild Women, the Outrageous Parties. Rex Whistler Could Have Walked off the Pages of an Evelyn Waugh Novel. Yet, with His Rich, Handsome Patron Stephen Tennant, the Artist Created a Fantastical Legacy. Philip Hoare Recalls the Roaring Life and Tragic Death of a Bright Young Thing
Apr 09, 2006; Of all the artists of the period between the wars, Rex Whistler is perhaps the most elusive. In life a shy and diffident man, he...
Simply Too, Too Much Privilege; among the Revellers Are Cecil Beaton (Back Left), Tallulah Bankhead (Front Right), Elizabeth Ponsonby (in Black Hat) and (Front Row Left) Stephen Tennant as Queen Marie of Romania
Oct 19, 2007; Byline: Peter Lewis BRIGHT YOUNG PEOPLE: The Rise And Fall Of A Generation 1918-1940 by D JTaylor (Chatto & Windus, [pounds...