Early life and links to nobility
Faithfull was born in Hampstead, London. Her half-brother is artist Simon Faithfull. Her father, Major Robert Glynn Faithfull, was a British intelligence officer and professor of Italian Literature at Bedford College of London University. Robert Glynn Faithfull's family lived in Ormskirk, Lancashire, while he completed a doctorate at Liverpool University.
Faithfull's mother, Eva, was the daughter of an Austro-Hungarian nobleman, Artur Wolfgang, Ritter von Sacher-Masoch (1875–1953). Eva chose to style herself as Eva von Sacher-Masoch, Baroness Erisso.
Faithfull's mother had been born in Budapest and moved to Vienna in 1918. The family of Sacher-Masoch had secretly opposed the Nazi regime in Vienna. Faithfull's father's intelligence work for the British Army brought him into contact with the family, and he thus met Eva, his future wife. Faithfull's maternal grandfather had aristocratic roots in the Habsburg Dynasty, while Faithfull's maternal grandmother was Jewish. Eva had been a ballerina for the Max Reinhardt Company during her early years, and danced in productions of works by the German theatrical duo Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill.
Faithfull's maternal great great uncle was Leopold von Sacher-Masoch, whose erotic novel, Venus in Furs, spawned the word "masochism." In regard to her roots in the Austrian nobility, Faithfull discovered on the British television series Who Do You Think You Are? that the title was Ritter von Sacher-Masoch, the relative corresponding English title being that of Baronet, an inherited knighthood.
She spent some of her early life at the commune at Braziers Park, Oxfordshire, formed by Dr John Norman Glaister, where her father also lived and participated. Her parents divorced when she was six years old, after which she moved with her mother to Milman Road in Reading. Her primary school was in Brixton. Living in reduced circumstances, Faithfull's girlhood was marred by bouts of tuberculosis. She was a charitably subsidized (bursaried) pupil at St Joseph's Roman Catholic Convent School, Reading, where she was, for a time, a weekly boarder. While at St Joseph's, she was a member of the Progress Theatre's student group.