Carola Oman

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Carola Oman CBE (11 May 1897 – 11 June 1978) was an English historical novelist, biographer and children's writer. She was best known for her retelling of the Robin Hood legend and for a 1946 biography of Admiral Lord Nelson.[1]


Carola Mary Anima Oman was born on 11 May 1897 in Oxford, the second of three children of the military historian Sir Charles Oman (1860–1946) of All Souls and his wife Mary (1866–1950), daughter of General Robert Maclagan of the Royal Engineers. She described her sumptuous upbringing in her final book, illustrated with photographs: An Oxford Childhood.[2]

As a child, Oman wrote several plays that were performed by friends. Another early interest was photography.[3] She was sent in 1906 to Miss Batty's, later Wychwood School in Oxford.[4] She would have liked to have gone to boarding school, but her parents would not agree, and she continued at Miss Batty's until the spring of 1914.[5][6]

The family moved in 1908 into Frewin Hall, now part of Brasenose College, Oxford.[7] Her brother Charles (C. C. Oman) became a keeper of the Victoria and Albert Museum and wrote several books on silverware and other domestic metalwork.[8] The set designer Julia Trevelyan Oman (1930–2003) was her niece.[9]

Carola Oman worked as a VAD in England and then in France in 1918–1919: soon after her 1919 discharge, she met Gerald Foy Ray Lenanton (1896–1952), a soldier returning from France who would join his family business as a timber broker. After marrying Lenanton on 26 April 1922, Oman became Lady Lenanton when her husband was knighted in 1946 for his World War II service as director of home timber production. The couple, who remained childless, lived from 1928 at Bride Hall, a Jacobean mansion in Ayot St Lawrence, Hertfordshire. In 1965, Oman produced Ayot Rectory – A Family Memoir, about the Sneade family, who had lived in the village from 1780 to 1858.[5][10] Oman has been quoted as speaking warmly of fellow villager George Bernard Shaw, who had been the Lenantons' first caller at Bride Hall in 1928.[11][12] Gerald Lenanton died in 1952 after a period of incapacitation from a stroke.[12]

The novelist Georgette Heyer was a lifelong friend, who compiled a 16-page index for Oman's Britain against Napoleon, published in 1942 by Faber.[13] Another writer friend in Oxford was Joanna Cannan,[5][14] who dedicated her 1931 novel High Table to Oman.[6]


From The Guardian obituary for Carola Oman
A poetess, a novelist, but above all an historian,...Carola Oman was renowned for her writing style. She did not so much popularise history as elevate the level of popular history.[15]

In her writing career of over half a century, Oman produced over 30 books of fiction, history and biography for adults and children. Her first publication, a book of verse entitled The Menin Road and Other Poems (1919), drew on her war work as a probationary VAD nurse in Oxford, Dorset, London and France in 1918–1919. She was included in the 1931 edition of The Bookman Treasury of Living Poets, edited by Arthur St. John Adcock. However, Oman largely abandoned poetry for the genre of historical fiction; her 1924 debut novel The Road Royal focused on Mary Queen of Scots.[16] It was followed by Princess Amelia (1924),[17]King Heart (on James IV of Scotland/ 1926),[18] Crouchback (on the Wars of the Roses/ 1929),[19]Major Grant (Colquhoun Grant/ 1931),[20] The Empress (on Empress Matilda/ 1932),[21]The Best of His Family (on Shakespeare, 1933),[22] and Over the Water (on Bonnie Prince Charlie/ 1935).[23] Oman also had two novels published under the pseudonym C. Lenanton, though her identity was an open secret: Miss Barrett's Elopement (1929) focusing on Elizabeth Barrett Browning[24] and Fair Stood the Wind (1930), an early venture of hers into the genre of contemporary fiction.[16]

While Oman's historical novels were well received, she would herself later speak of them as "very bad" [12] and from the mid-1930s channelled her interest into the past, writing biographies, beginning with Henrietta Maria (1936), followed by one of Elizabeth of Bohemia: The Winter Queen (1938). However, Oman produced several historical novels for younger readers, notably Robin Hood: Prince of Outlaws (1937), cited as "one of the most influential of the juvenile literary publications",[25] which remained continuously in print for at least 40 years.[12] Oman's first novel for younger readers: Ferry the Fearless (focusing on the Third Crusade), had been published in 1936. Her later output in that genre included Alfred, King of the English (1939) and Baltic Spy (1940) (focusing on James Robertson).[1][26] Oman also wrote two more contemporary novels for adults – her last: Nothing to Report (1941)[27] and Somewhere in England (1943).[28]

Oman's signature work was a 1946 biography of Horatio Nelson that drew on a wealth of material unavailable to Alfred Thayer Mahan, author of the hitherto definitive biography of Nelson, published in 1897. Oman notably gained access to the papers of Lady Nelson assembled by the founder of the Nelson Museum, Monmouth.[1][5] Nelson: a Biography won for Oman the Sunday Times Prize for English Literature,[12]

Oman's 1953 biography of the Peninsular War general Sir John Moore was awarded the James Tait Black Memorial Prize.[29] The academic standing of this is clear from the way she was called upon on 10 July 1954 to lecture on Moore to the Anglo-American Conference of Historians at the Institute of Historical Research, University of London.[30] Her later biographical output covered David Garrick (1958), Mary of Modena (1962) and Sir Walter Scott: The Wizard of the North (1973).[31] The warm reviews of the last include one by the English poet Elizabeth Jennings in The Catholic Herald.[32] According to an obituary, "She did not so much popularise history as elevate the level of popular history."[33]


Carola Oman was appointed a trustee of the National Maritime Museum and later of the National Portrait Gallery. She was appointed a CBE in 1957.[5] She died at Ayot St Lawrence on 11 June 1978.[5] There is a memorial to her and her husband in the village church.[better source needed][34]


  1. ^ a b c Entry for Carola Oman in The Cambridge Guide to Women's Writing in English Retrieved 8 July 2012. Pay-walled.
  2. ^ London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1976. ISBN 0340212659
  3. ^ An Oxford Childhood, passim.
  4. ^ Josephine Ransom, Schools of Tomorrow in England (London: Bell, 1919). Retrieved 8 July 2012.
  5. ^ a b c d e f ODNB entry by Mark Bostridge. Retrieved 8 July 2012. Pay-walled.
  6. ^ a b Orlando project: Retrieved 8 July 2012.
  7. ^ A detailed account of the history of Frewin Hall: Retrieved 8 July 2012.
  8. ^ "Society Meetings, 18 June 1958". Folklore. 69 (3): 216. 1958. JSTOR 1258870.
  9. ^ Obituary: Retrieved 8 July 2012.
  10. ^ Bookseller's description Retrieved 1 August 2012.
  11. ^ An extract from Shaw the Villager... by Allan Chapelow (New York: Macmillan, 1962): Retrieved 8 July 2012.
  12. ^ a b c d e Norman, Diana (25 November 1976). "Guardian Women: the Young Edwardians". The Guardian. p. 11.
  13. ^ The Indexer 17/1 (April 1990). Retrieved 1 August 2012.
  14. ^ An Oxford Childhood, pp. 119, 133, 143, 149 and 174.
  15. ^ The Guardian 12 June 1978 "Historian Dies at 81" by Martin Walker p.4
  16. ^ a b Kloester, Jennifer (2011). Georgette Heyer. London: Random House. ISBN 978-1402241369.
  17. ^ The Age 27 December 1924, "Recent Fiction" p. 6.
  18. ^ The Age 27 February 1926, "Recent Fiction" p. 46.
  19. ^ Ottawa Citizen 21 December 1929, "Current Literature & the Arts" p. 24.
  20. ^ Sydney Morning Herald 24 July 1931, "Novels of the Day" p. 4.
  21. ^ Sydney Morning Herald 30 December 1932 "Novels of the Day" p. 3.
  22. ^ The Bookman October 1933, Review by Graham Sutton pp. 54–55.
  23. ^ The Observer 31 March 1935, "Seven Period Pieces" by Mary Crosbie p. 7.
  24. ^ Lackey, Michael (2017). Biofiction Histories Mutations & Forms. Abingdon Oxon: Routledge. ISBN 978-1138220393.
  25. ^ Bradbury, Jim (2012). Robin Hood; the real story of the English Outlaw. Stroud, Gloucs.: Amberley Publishing. ISBN 978-1848681859.
  26. ^ Amazon listings Retrieved 8 July 2012.
  27. ^ The Guardian 31 January 1941, "Four Novels" by J. D. Beresford p. 7.
  28. ^ The Guardian 16 April 1943, "Books of the Day" by Wilfrid Gibson p. 3.
  29. ^ All Poetry site. Retrieved 8 July 2012.
  30. ^ Historical Research 27/76 (November 1954), pp. 214–217.
  31. ^ British Library records: Retrieved 8 July 2012.
  32. ^ 6 April 1973. Retrieved 1 August 2012.
  33. ^ The Guardian 12 June 1978.
  34. ^ "Ayot St Lawrence - the new church". 6 April 2010.

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