odnb

John Blanke, a black trumpeter in Henry VIII's court
  • John Blanke, a black trumpeter in Henry VIII's court
  • Oxford Dictionary of National Biography
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Oxford Dictionary of National Biography podcast: John Blanke, a black trumpeter in Henry VIII’s court

His surname may have originated as a nickname, derived from the word blanc in French or blanco in Spanish, both meaning ‘white’. Blanke was part of a wider trend for European rulers to employ African musicians, dating from at least 1194, when turbaned black trumpeters heralded the entry of the Holy Roman emperor Henry VI into Palermo in Sicily. It has been suggested that Blanke arrived in England with Katherine of Aragon when she came to marry Arthur, prince of Wales, in 1501. Between 1507 and 1512 Blanke was one of eight royal trumpeters under the leadership of Peter de Casa Nova. The first payment to ‘John Blanke, the blacke Trumpet’ was made in early December 1507, when he was paid 20s. (8d. a day) for his services in the previous month

The story of John Blanke is one of over 200 episodes available from the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography’s podcast archive. New episodes are released every second Wednesday.

Image: Black trumpeter at Henry VIII’s tournament. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

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Did you know that the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography has a collection of free podcasts? They tell the life stories of the men and women that have shaped British history and culture, including:

  • Diana, Princess of Wales
  • Agatha Christie
  • Paul Robeson
  • Fred Perry
  • Audrey Hepburn
  • Wilfred Owen
  • J R R Tolkien
  • John Lennon

Read the podcast magazine or check out the full podcast list on the ODNB site.

Image credit: Princess Diana, public domain. Agatha Christie, creative commons. Paul Robeson, public domain via Library of Congress. Fred Perry, public domain. Audrey Hepburn and J R R Tolkien courtesy of the National Portrait Gallery, London. Wilfred Owen, public domain. John Lennon, creative commons via Charles LeBlanc Flickr.

Best job description of all time

So I have been doing some more research for my wonderful term paper, and once more looked up Francis Lovell in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, to see if there was an approximate mention of how old he was when his father died and he inherited all those titles and lands. (The answer seems to be “either seven or nine”. Well, that`s helpful.) Anyway, doing that, I noticed for the first time how he is listed. When you search someone in the ODNB, their name pops up, birth and death dates, and behind that, a few words explaining who they were. And Francis is listed as “Lovell, Francis, Viscount Lovell (…), administrator and rebel.”

ADMINISTRATOR AND REBEL!

This has got to be the best job description ever. And it`s a pretty concise summary, too.

The entry is, by necessity, a short one, and not very informative. Though there is one brilliant bit where an official report about him after the Battle of Stoke Field is quoted, saying he “was discomfited and fled”. Which (1) told everyone he really hadn`t won, just in case they had doubts - he was “discomfited”, people, really - and (2) shows that whoever phrased that had a pretty sweet way of dealing with words and managed to make the fact of “for the third time in a row now, we have not been able to catch that guy and haven`t got the foggiest where he is” sound less like the defeat it was.

I need more quotes about the man.

The ODNB. WOW.

Today at University we were introduced to the Oxford Dictionary of National Biographies. It’s really good. And through our university, we get access to it. AMAZING RESOURCE.

Curiosity Cabinet

Trousers, Vests, Breeches & Gaiters by T. H. Holding (1886)

A comprehensive work that includes directions for making trousers according to the author’s “original trousers system”, “a Bond Street system”, patterns for many garments including knickerbockers and cycling breeches, and guidance on such matters as “proper shrinking and how to apply it”, among other things. Thomas Hiram Holding (1844-1930) is noted in ODNB as a touring cyclist and promoter of recreational camping; “in 1883 Holding moved to London to take a position as a teacher of tailoring, connected with the trade journal the Tailor and Cutter, and set up in business for himsel… In 1884 he became editor of the London Tailor and Record of Fashion. In 1895 he purchased the magazine and renamed it the London Tailor. By this time he had built up a successful business and established his own cutting school attended by over one thousand students. He also lectured at the various foreman tailors’ societies as far apart as Exeter and Dundee, at the same time also lecturing on church architecture. He continued as editor of the London Tailor until 1908, when he renamed it London Tailor and Cutting. Between 1885 and 1910 he wrote more than thirty books on tailoring subjects” (ODNB).

Forgotten Hero: Edith Louisa Cavell

The organization provided soldiers with hiding places and with false papers, and facilitated their escape into allied territory. Use was made of the clinic, with soldiers often disguised as patients. During this period Edith Cavell was correspondent of the Nursing Mirror and had accounts published of the impact of the war on Belgium.

Learn more about Edith Louisa Cavell in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. We’ll be bringing you biographies of forgotten heroes from the First World War along with other information during the centenary year.

Image credit: A portrait of nurse Edith Cavell as she sits in a garden her two dogs. Imperial War Museum. IWM Non Commercial Licence via Wikimedia Commons. 

Guy Fawkes
  • Guy Fawkes
  • Oxford University Press
  • Oxford DNB
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“Remember, remember the fifth of November. Gunpowder, treason and plot.”

Oxford DNB biography podcast: Guy Fawkes (bap.1570-1606), conspirator to blow up the Houses of Parliament.

‘The magnitude of Fawkes’s intended treason should never be underestimated. Few if any in the House of Lords that afternoon would have survived a combination of devastating explosion and the noxious fumes thrown out by the combustion of seventeenth-century gunpowder. Guy Fawkes, the experienced soldier, knew this only too well.’

Fawkes’s story is one of 190 episodes available from the Oxford DNB’s biography podcast archive: new episodes are released every second Wednesday. Receive a daily life by email, or follow the ODNB on Twitter.

Image credit:Guy Fawkes and the Gunpowder plotters, 1606, CC via Wikimedia Commons.

Audrey Hepburn, film actress
  • Audrey Hepburn, film actress
  • Oxford Dictionary of National Biography
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Oxford Dictionary of National Biography podcast: Audrey Hepburn, film actress (1929-1993).

“In childhood Hepburn had shown an aptitude in ballet lessons—maintained with difficulty under the occupation—which helps explain the grace of movement and natural serenity that distinguished her film stardom. Her career-in-waiting was hinted at just before mother and daughter left the Netherlands for London about 1947. Then seventeen or eighteen, she secured a role as an air stewardess in a tourist film, Dutch in Seven Lessons (1948), produced for the Dutch airline KLM. Her charming smile was the first of many on screen. In London she was accepted into the Ballet Rambert but her self-critical sense told her she lacked the precision (and possibly the physique) to succeed in that art. After trying other short-term outlets—as a fashion model, and as a travel clerk—she was hired for the chorus line of Jack Hylton’s musical High Button Shoes, gaining promotion to solo spots in intimate revue. Her radiant personality won her minor roles in several British films (including Laughter in Paradise, 1951, and The Lavender Hill Mob, 1951). Though these were somewhat decorative parts, her photographic charm earned her a three-year contract (at £12 a week) with a major studio, Associated British Picture Corporation. Ironically, she never made a film for her employers.”

The story of Audrey Hepburn is one of over 200 episodes available from the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography’s podcast archive. New episodes are released every second Wednesday.

Image: Audrey Hepburn, Roman Holiday. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons. Gif via Giphy.com.

Ada Lovelace, mathematician and computer pioneer
  • Ada Lovelace, mathematician and computer pioneer
  • Oxford Dictionary of National Biography
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Oxford Dictionary of National Biography podcast: Ada Lovelace, mathematician and computer pioneer, 1815-1852

“Ada’s work was published in September 1843 in Taylor’s Scientific Memoirs (vol. 3) as ‘Sketch of the analytical engine invented by Charles Babbage esq. by L. F. Menabrea, of Turin, officier of the military engineers’. The translator and annotator is not identified on the title page, but each of her notes is individually signed AAL (Augusta Ada Lovelace). She asked penetrating questions about how the analytical engine might be applied, and hypothesized that if it could understand the relations of pitched sounds and the science of harmony ‘the engine might compose elaborate and scientific pieces of music of any degree of complexity and extent’ (Scientific Memoirs, 3, 1843, 694). She also saw the graphical potential of the analytical engine, and that by changing to a new medium, the punched card, scientific information would be seen in a new light. Thus, in a famous and influential metaphor, she wrote ‘Analytical Engine weaves algebraical patterns just as the Jacquard loom weaves flowers and leaves’.”

The story of Ada Lovelace is one of over 230 episodes available from the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography’s podcast archive. New episodes are released every second Wednesday.

Image: Ada Lovelace. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Roald Dahl
  • Roald Dahl
  • Oxford Dictionary of National Biography
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Oxford Dictionary of National Biography podcast: Roald Dahl, author of Matilda, James and the Giant Peach, and Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator

By the end of his life Dahl was bitter at not receiving the knighthood that he felt he deserved, and he became increasingly self-important, ordering a Rolls-Royce from his publisher’s to collect manuscripts from his home. He was 6 feet 6 inches tall, a chain-smoker, a lover of fine wine, a collector of contemporary painting, a grower of roses and orchids, a picture restorer, and a gambler on horses. He looked after 100 budgerigars that flew wild around his garden. He was a chocaholic. In the garden hut where he wrote he kept a huge silver ball made by packing together the silver paper from all the chocolate bars he ate. He also kept there as a trophy to show visitors one of his arthritic hip bones which had been replaced.

The story of Roald Dahl is one of over 200 episodes available from the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography’s podcast archive. New episodes are released every second Wednesday.

Image: Roald Dahl, by the Library of Congress. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Arthur Conan Doyle, writer
  • Arthur Conan Doyle, writer
  • Oxford Dictionary of National Biography
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Oxford Dictionary of National Biography podcast: Arthur Conan Doyle, writer

Conan Doyle’s fiction made astonishing progress in the early 1880s. He learned the economics of the short story from the work of Guy de Maupassant and from the Edinburgh medical journals with their logical progress from case-statement to collection of symptoms, rival diagnoses, and finally to ultimate conclusion and explanation. His first translation of these techniques into fiction ended in what is now called A Study in Scarlet. The story brought together Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson for the first time and a lifelong series was launched.

The story of Arthur Conan Doyle is one of over 200 episodes available from the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography’s podcast archive. New episodes are released every second Wednesday.

Image: Portrait of Arthur Conan Doyle, The Canadian Magazine. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Boudicca, queen of the Iceni
  • Boudicca, queen of the Iceni
  • Oxford Dictionary of National Biography
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Oxford Dictionary of National Biography podcast: Boudicca, queen of the Iceni

Boudicca, whose name is best rendered as Victoria, very nearly ended Roman rule in Britain. She emerges in Cassius Dio’s description as an awesome but heroic figure, being ‘very tall, in appearance most terrifying … [with] a harsh voice, and with a great mass of the tawniest hair [which] fell to her hips’ (lxii.2,3). This helps to explain why she became an attractive subject for writers and poets from the sixteenth century onwards, not least as a symbol of national patriotism. She has acquired a firm place in British history, with Thomas Thornycroft’s great statue on the Embankment in London, erected in 1902, as a fitting reminder of the leadership and valour of the first Queen Victoria.

The story of Boudicca is one of over 200 episodes available from the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography’s podcast archive. New episodes are released every second Wednesday.

Image: Boadicea haranguing her troops, by Edward Farr. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

The seven biggest losers in Oscar history

Not everyone has as much luck at the Oscars as Daniel Day-Lewis. In fact, some people have no luck at all. Spare a thought for the most frequently overlooked actors, actresses, and directors as we run down the top seven snubs in Oscar history.

Richard Burton

Arguably one of the greatest actors to have graced Hollywood, Richard Burton was nominated six times for the Best Actor award and once for the Best Supporting Actor award – and failed to win every single time.

Deborah Kerr

After six nominations and no wins in the field of Best Actress, Kerr finally received a lifetime achievement award at the 1994 Oscar ceremonies,where she was lauded for her “perfection, discipline, and elegance.”

Robert Altman

Robert Altman may have won an honorary Oscar in 2006, but he never won the award for Best Director despite being nominated five times for his work on Gosford Park, Short Cuts, The Player, Nashville, and M*A*S*H.

Judy Garland

Garland was nominated for an Academy Award for A Star is Born but lost to Grace Kelly in The Country Girl, an action Groucho Marx termed “the greatest robbery since Brinks.” Indeed, even though she was again nominated as a Best Supporting Actress in 1961, Garland was seen in only two more films: A Child Is Waiting and I Could Go on Singing.

Alfred Hitchcock

In spring 1968, the Academy presented Hitchcock with the Irving G. Thalberg Award “for the most consistent high level of achievement by an individual producer.” Hitchcock had been nominated four times for a directorial Oscar, but, as he frequently put it, he had “always been the bridesmaid.”

Greer Garson

British-born actress Greer Garson was one of the brightest stars in Hollywood during the 1940s. She received seven Academy Award nominations, but only won the Best Actress award once for Mrs. Miniver in 1942. One out of seven may sound like rotten luck but we imagine Richard Burton was envious of that record!

Orson Welles

Welles finally received a special Oscar in 1970, after Citizen Kane flopped at the box office and lost both Best Picture and Best Director to John Ford’s How Green Was My Valley. Now over 70 years since Citizen Kane was released, it is considered one of the most celebrated films ever made.

Who do you think will join the (not-so) magnificent seven and be the biggest loser at the Oscars ceremony on Sunday? Let us know below!

Images: Richard Burton: Public domain via Wikimedia Commons. Judy Garland: Public domain via Wikimedia Commons. Orson Welles: Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Victoria Woodhull, first presidential candidate in USA
  • Victoria Woodhull, first presidential candidate in USA
  • The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography
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Oxford Dictionary of National Biography Podcast: Victoria Woodhull, women’s rights campaigner and first female presidential candidate in the United States of America (1838-1927).

“In the following year (1873), on 10 May at a convention she had organized herself in the Apollo Hall, New York, attended by 1500 people, many of them well-to-do, Woodhull was nominated for president of the United States by the Equal Rights Party, the first woman ever to run for president. Her platform included women’s right to vote, to employment, and to free love, as well as land nationalization, the regulation of prices and profits, and the more equal distribution of the fruits of labour.”

The story of Victoria Woodhull is one of over 200 episodes available from the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography’s podcast archive. New episodes are released every second Wednesday.

Image: Portrait photograph of Victoria Claflin Woodhull by Matthew Brady. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Olaudah Equiano, author and slavery abolitionist
  • Olaudah Equiano, author and slavery abolitionist
  • The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography
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Oxford Dictionary of National Biography:Olaudah Equiano, author and slavery abolitionist (1745- 1797).

“Equiano was naturally attracted to the parallel campaign against the slave trade. On 21 March 1788 he took the remarkable step of sending a petition, or personal letter, ‘on behalf of my African brethren’ to Queen Charlotte (Walvin, 156). In the following year he added to a rising level of abolitionist propaganda with the publication of his autobiography, The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano. It proved a remarkable success and went through numerous editions during his lifetime. Thanks to Equiano’s energetic promotional efforts the Narrative sold well, helping to provide the author with a modest estate. This was also helped by his marriage on 7 April 1792 to Susanna Cullen (1761/2–1796) of Soham,Cambridgeshire, where the couple made their home, though Equiano maintained an address in London.”

The Story of Olaudah Equiano is one of over 200 episodes available from the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography’s podcast archive. New episodes are released every second Wednesday. 

Image: An Unknown Sitter (formerly thought to be Olaudah Equiano, c.1745-1797) by the Royal Albert Museum, Exeter. Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Sylvia Plath, poet and writer
  • Sylvia Plath, poet and writer
  • Oxford Dictionary of National Biography
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Oxford Dictionary of National Biography podcast: Sylvia Plath, poet and writer

In March 1962 Plath wrote a verse play for radio, Three Women, on the subject of childbirth. It was at this time, as Hughes later wrote, that ‘the ghost of her father’ returned to haunt her and the chilling, deeply disturbing voice of her Ariel poems began to assert itself. She realized her desire as recorded in her Boston journal to write poetry of ‘real situations behind which the great gods, play the drama of blood, lust and death’. Aurelia Plath visited Devon in summer 1962, just as Plath and Hughes had begun to keep bees—an activity which drew Plath still closer to the memory of her father. Other poems written during this period, including ‘Crossing the Water’ and ‘Berck-Plage’, are full of images of the sea and drowning. About this time Plath had a car accident, caused by her blacking out. She had run off the road onto a disused airfield but was not seriously hurt.

The story of Sylvia Plath is one of over 200 episodes available from the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography’s podcast archive. New episodes are released every second Wednesday.

Image: Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes. CC-BY-SA-2.0 via Flickr.