Brief lives, big book
September 23, 2004 1:13 AM   Subscribe

The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography is published today, in print and online: a biographical record of everyone who's ever been anyone in British history (50,000 individuals) and an astonishing feat of scholarly collaboration (10,000 contributors from all over the world). Access to the full database is fearfully expensive, but the official site gives you a good selection of sample entries, with a new one added every day; and a feature in today's Times gives you some more, beginning with Mary Toft, the woman who gave birth to rabbits.
posted by verstegan (11 comments total)
I seem to be able to fully browse the entire database at the moment.. or maybe I shouldn't say, unlike the last post about the Oxford English Dictionary backdoor which was then promptly shut down.
posted by stbalbach at 2:51 AM on September 23, 2004

Yeah, I can get into the whole db as well. But I love this kind of thing...

Even so, Cnut's relations with the duchy are not known to have worsened until after the death of Duke Richard (II) in 1026, and it is quite possible that he was awaiting a piratical attack of the sort that had occurred in 1018. It is also conceivable, however, that the ‘Wiht’ of the chronicle here denotes an area known as Witland, which lay in what is now north-east Poland, and that Cnut was therefore fighting on the southern shores of the Baltic, presumably to reinforce his position in Denmark. However that may be, he was certainly in Denmark early in 1023, making terms with Thorkill, whose position there had strengthened since his expulsion from England to the extent that Cnut chose to leave it in his care and exchanged sons with him. Reliable sources do not mention Thorkill again, and it is probable that he disappeared shortly thereafter. On his return to England, Cnut appears to have been accompanied by Gerbrand, bishop of Roskilde, who was included among the witnesses to a charter in favour of Ely Abbey, which perhaps received a royal visit at this time to deal with trouble involving the abbot, who had recently taken his case to Rome.

How the hell do they know?
posted by humuhumu at 3:35 AM on September 23, 2004

posted by stbalbach at 4:21 AM on September 23, 2004

How do you think they know? They read all the available primary sources. For this bit, there'll be the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle which says, in modern English

"A.D. 1023. This year returned King Knute to England; and
Thurkyll and he were reconciled. He committed Denmark and his son to the care of Thurkyll, whilst he took Thurkyll's son with him to England. This year died Archbishop Wulfstan; and Elfric succeeded him; and Archbishop Egelnoth blessed him in Canterbury.
This year King Knute in London, in St. Paul's minster, gave full leave (60) to Archbishop Ethelnoth, Bishop Britwine, and all God's servants that were with them, that they might take up from the grave the archbishop, Saint Elphege. And they did so, on the sixth day before the ides of June; and the illustrious king, and the archbishop, and the diocesan bishops, and the earls, and very many others, both clergy and laity, carried by ship his holy corpse over the Thames to Southwark."

[A whole lot more about St Elphege deleted]

The charter for Ely Abbey has obviously survived. There will be records of the Abbot complaining to Rome, possibly in Rome, probably in the British museum, or one of the Cambridge colleges ...

What strikes me about early mediaeval histories are the gaps in them, rather than the detail.
posted by alloneword at 5:44 AM on September 23, 2004

[sweeeet.] verstegan hasn't been around here terribly long, but has definitely come up with the goods. [thanks!]
posted by steef at 5:53 AM on September 23, 2004

Yes, access to the entire thing is free today, 23 Sept. 2004, only. OUP is my employer and the head of the US office just sent around a memo about it. Get while the getting is good!
posted by Mo Nickels at 10:42 AM on September 23, 2004

This is so amazingly good. Wish I had $295 to spare for a subscription (I didn't even bother looking up the cost of the print edition).
Mo Nickels - your employers are despicable teases.
posted by thatwhichfalls at 12:03 PM on September 23, 2004

It doesn't seem to be free anymore, unless I'm missing something.
posted by Tin Man at 1:58 PM on September 23, 2004

The freebie was just for one day, Tin Man - and taking into account the time difference from you, to us in the UK... means the doors have been closed now.
Many thanks to verstegan for this. I spent a happy couple of hours touring the site this afternoon. Like thatwhichfalls I find the full time access an alluring prospect!
posted by apocalypse miaow at 3:11 PM on September 23, 2004

tin man: it's not the 23rd in oxford, anymore [dammit.]
posted by steef at 3:11 PM on September 23, 2004

Mary Toft
posted by weston at 3:30 PM on September 23, 2004

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