Secret letters reveal how Vanessa Redgrave nearly became the Archbishop's stepmotherActress was 23 when she accepted the proposal of Gavin Welby in 1960Mr Welby was twice her age, divorced and father to Justin WelbyThe future Archbishop previously admitted he knew little about his father
08:07 GMT, 3 December 2012
Vanessa Redgrave came close to marrying the roguish father of the new Archbishop of Canterbury, secret letters have revealed.
The actress was 23 and on the verge of stardom when she accepted the proposal of Gavin Welby, the father of Justin Welby, in 1960.
But private letters, donated to the Victoria and Albert Museum by the Redgrave family, detail how Miss Redgrave’s parents were horrified by her engagement to Mr Welby, a divorc more than twice her age.
The young star: Vanessa Redgrave, pictured left in 1953, was just 23 when she agreed to marry Gavin Welby
Too young to remember: The new Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, was just four-years-old when his father became engaged to Vanessa Redgrave
She eventually called it off after warnings from Sir Michael and Lady Redgrave – the actress Rachel Kempson – that her career would suffer because Mr Welby wanted her to be a stay-at-home mother for Justin, then four.
In correspondence with her husband, Lady Redgrave concedes her eldest child is ‘absolutely radiant and over the moon with joy’ at the engagement.
But of businessman Mr Welby she writes: ‘He is a real horror. He strikes everyone as a no-good type with God knows what sort of background.
Vanessa Redgrave, pictured left in the
1960s, ended her engagement to Gavin Welby, pictured right with Jane
Welby and their son Justin, after warnings from her parents that he
wanted her to be a stay-at-home mother
Vanessa Redgrave with her parents, seated, in 1964. In one letter from 1960, Lady Redgrave writes to her husband: 'He [Welby] is a real horror. He strikes everyone as a no-good type with God knows what sort of background'
‘He has never uttered one sentence you could call pleasant. I’d give it a few months if that.’
Rev Welby has previously admitted to not knowing much about his father
In June 1960, Miss Redgrave writes to her father to reassure him that marriage will not affect her acting career.
But within weeks she ends the engagement, writing again to her father: ‘I feel relieved too, although also sad because he does love me and in many ways I love him and have had some very happy days with him.’
Her stage and screen career took off the following year.
Mr Welby, the son of a German merchant, was a colourful character and whisky bootlegger known to lie about his aristocratic connections to get closer to the rich and powerful.
His marriage to Jane Portal, Justin’s mother and a former private secretary to Winston Churchill, ended after she sued him for adultery in 1959.
Mr Welby died of a heart attack in 1977, when his son was 21 and studying at Cambridge.
The Rt Rev Welby, 56, who is due to take over as Archbishop of Canterbury in the New Year, has previously admitted that he knew little about his father, who was alcohol dependant.
The bishop and Miss Redgrave were unavailable for comment.