Lovelace, Ada Byron, Countess of (1815–1852)

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Lovelace, Ada Byron, Countess of (1815–1852)

English mathematician and inventor of computer programming. Name variations: Lady Lovelace; countess of Lovelace; Augusta Ada Byron. Born Augusta Ada Byron on December 10, 1815, at Piccadilly Terrace, London, England; died on November 27, 1852, in England; buried in the Byron vault at Hucknall Torkard church, near Newstead Abbey, the Byronancestral home; daughter of Anne Isabella Milbanke (1792–1860) and George Gordon Byron, Lord Byron (the poet); educated by Lady Byron, governesses, tutors, and self-study; married Lord William Noel King, later earl of Lovelace, on July 8, 1835; children: Byron Noel (b. May 12, 1836); Anne Isabella Blunt (1837–1917); Ralph Gordon Noel King Milbanke, 2nd earl of Lovelace (July 2, 1839–1906).

Anne Isabella Milbanke and Lord Byron separated (January 15, 1816); Lord Byron left England (April 25, 1816); Charles Babbage invented the Difference Engine (1822); Lord Byron died at Missolonghi, Greece (April 19, 1824); Lady Byron and Ada undertook a grand tour of Europe (1826–28); Ada, unable to walk after a severe attack of the measles (May 1829), recovered only gradually over a period of four years; eloped briefly with her tutor (1832); met Charles Babbage (June 5, 1833); met Mary Somerville (1834); suffered a nervous breakdown (1835); Lord King elevated to the earldom of Lovelace (June 30, 1837); hired Augustus de Morgan as a tutor (June 1840); earl of Lovelace appointed Lord Lieutenant of Surrey (August 11, 1840); publication of Luigi Federigo Menabrea's memoir on the Analytical Engine (October 1842); publication of Ada's translation of Menabrea's memoir with annotations (August 13, 1843); led gambling confederacy and suffered financial losses (1851); after a series of haemorrhages, diagnosed with cervical cancer (1851).


"Sketch of the Analytical Engine Invented by Charles Babbage, Esq. by L.F. Menabrea, of Turin, Officer of the Military Engineers: With Copious Notes by the Translator," in Scientific Memoirs (R. Taylor, ed. London: R and J.E. Taylor, 1843).

George Gordon Byron, Lord Byron and Anne Milbanke had been married slightly over a year when, on December 10, 1815, their only child Augusta Ada was born. Named after Byron's infamous half-sister Augusta Leigh , the child was known within the family simply as Ada. From the outset, the marriage of Ada's parents had been a stormy one. Byron, the fiercely temperamental poet, was an unstable personality who adapted poorly to the constraints of married life. Conversely, Anne Milbanke was a woman of strict social convention, with a predilection for self-righteousness.

Byron's early dissatisfaction with the marriage manifested itself in the torrent of abuse which he unleashed upon his wife. A few months after Ada's birth, Lady Byron fled with her daughter to the home of her parents. The separation was a brave, if risky, remedy in a society which rarely recognized the rights of wives. The custody of Ada remained an unsettled issue. The uncertainty of the situation was finally put to rest with the death of Lord Byron in 1824. Byron's dying words were reportedly addressed to his daughter. "Oh, my poor dear child!—my dear Ada! My God, could I have but seen her! Give her my blessing!"

Ada inherited her father's dark and fine features. Physical similarities aside, however, they could not have been more disparate personalities. While Byron was the embodiment of the romantic poet, his daughter grew into a rational scientist. Like her father, Ada became a popular romantic figure. Byron contributed to the phenomena by mythologizing their relationship in the third canto of Childe Harold's Pilgrimage. "Ada! Sole daughter of my house and heart." As well, Benjamin Disraeli used Ada Lovelace as a heroine in his novel Venetia.

Milbanke, Anne (1792–1860)

English philanthropist. Name variations: Annabella; Lady Noel Byron. Born Anne Isabella Milbanke at Elmore Hall, Durham, on May 17, 1792; died in 1860; only child of Sir Ralph and Lady Milbanke; niece of Lady Elizabeth Melbourne; married George Gordon Byron, Lord Byron, on January 2, 1815 (separated 1816); children: Ada Byron, countess of Lovelace (1815–1852).

Following her brief marriage to Lord Byron, Anne Milbanke founded a progressive industrial and agricultural school at Ealing Grove, based on the theories of Swiss agriculturist Philipp Fellenberg. She also subsidized other educational institutes, including Mary Carpenter 's Red House, a girls' reformatory, in 1854. A close associate of Barbara Bodichon , Lady Byron backed American abolitionists and Italian Republicans. Her grandson, author Ralph Gordon Noel King Milbanke, 2nd earl of Lovelace (1839–1906), in an effort to raise the reputation of Lord Byron, vindicated Lady Byron from slurs cast on her following her marriage to Byron, in his privately published Astarte (1905).

suggested reading:

Mayne, E.C. Life and Letters of Anne Isabella, Lady Noel Bryon, 1929.

Stowe, Harriet Beecher . Lady Byron Vindicated, 1870.

Ada's education was somewhat unconventional for a young woman of the period. She was largely educated by Lady Byron, who designed a demanding instructional regime for her daughter, primarily based on reward and punishment. Punishments included solitary confinement, lying still, and written apologies. A governess, Miss Lamont, recorded that Ada's daily curriculum consisted of:

Lessons in the morning in arithmetic, grammar, spelling, reading, music, each no more than a quarter of an hour long—after dinner geography, drawing, French, music reading, all performed with alacrity and docility.

Ada inherited her mathematical aptitude from her mother, whom Lord Byron once referred to as "the Princess of Parallelograms." A later influence was that of Mary Fairfax Somerville , the famous mathematician, who became a lifelong friend, advisor, and confidant.

Oh, my poor dear child!—my dear Ada! My God, could I have but seen her!

—Lord Byron's dying words

Ada Lovelace was plagued by a series of incapacitating illnesses throughout her life. After returning from a tour of continental Europe with her mother in 1829, Ada developed an illness which left her unable to walk for the next four years. Lady Byron blamed "the loss of the power to walk or stand … [on] the effects of the measles, and too rapid growth." Ada also began to chafe increasingly under her mother's autocratic regime. In 1832, Ada fell in love with her tutor, and the young couple eloped. In an age when virginity was considered an essential prerequisite for marriage, this teenage indiscretion threatened Ada's future prospects. "Ada [had] fled from her mother's house to the arms of her lover who was residing at no great distance with his relations, Lady B's humble friends," wrote Woronzow Greig, Mary Somerville's son. "They received her with dismay and took the earliest opportunity of returning her to her mother before the escapade was known. The matter was hushed up."

In 1833, at a party held during her first London season, Ada was invited by Charles Babbage to view his Difference Engine. Babbage had received a gold medal from the Astronomical Society for this forerunner of the modern computer, invented in 1822, as well as a grant of £1,500 to further his research. Ada Byron's reaction made a significant impression upon Sophia de Morgan who had witnessed the scene:

While the rest of the party gaped at this beautiful instrument with the same sort of expression and feeling that savages are said to have shown on first seeing the looking glass, Miss Byron, young as she was, understood its workings and saw the great beauty of the invention.

In 1835, Ada Lovelace suffered a serious nervous breakdown of a type to which she was subject for the rest of her life. Her father had also been the victim of mental instability, which seems to have run in the family. In a letter to Mary Somerville, Lovelace described herself as being weak. "I am always so exceedingly terrified at nobody knows what, that I can hardly help having an agitated look and manner," she wrote.

Shortly after her illness, Ada met William King. Ten years her senior and a diplomat who had served on various missions in the Mediterranean and the Middle East, Lord King also spoke several languages, among them Greek, French, Italian, and Spanish. In the aftermath of his father's death, King was beginning to focus his energies increasingly on national politics. Wrote Woronzow Greig:

During the spring of 1835 I suggested to my friend Lord Lovelace, then Lord King, that [Ada] would suit him as a wife…. He received my suggestion without remark and he did not mention the subject to me until 12 June 1835 when he wrote to ask me to dine with him…. At dinner he surprised me by announcing his engagement to Miss Byron, as I was not even aware that he had been paying his addresses to her.

Ada and Lord King had fallen in love. In addition to the emotional bond, there was the added financial benefit for King of Ada's large dowry and her future inheritance. As well, the connection of the Byron family with Lord Melbourne, then prime minister of Great Britain, provided King with a suitable outlet for his political ambitions.

The marriage took place on July 8, 1835, only a month after their engagement was announced. Upon the coronation of Queen Victoria in 1837, Lord King was elevated to the earldom of Lovelace, and Ada thus became the countess of Lovelace. A year later, King was appointed to the post of lord lieutenant of Surrey. Although busy with his political career, he remained unfailingly supportive of his wife's scientific interests.

On May 12, 1836, Ada gave birth to the first of their three children. Her relationship with her children, including her daughter Anne Blunt , would be one of fond dispassion. Like most women of her class, Ada left the child rearing to servants. Nevertheless, in later years her children were to remember their mother with great affection.

The example of Charles Babbage's Difference Engine inspired Lovelace to undertake an intensive study of mathematics. In June 1840, she engaged Augustus de Morgan to tutor her in arithmetic and algebra. De Morgan, a distinguished professor of mathematics at the newly created University of London, was poorly paid and supplemented his income by tutoring and writing. Ada often read and critiqued his articles, illustrating the high esteem in which de Morgan held his enthusiastic and gifted student. Augustus wrote to Lady Byron that "Mrs. Somerville's mind will never lead her into other then the details of mathematical work; Lady [Lovelace] will take quite a different route." His prognosis soon came to fruition.

Working with Babbage was a goal which Lovelace long sought. Her opportunity came sooner rather than later, when in 1842 Luigi Federigo Menabrea, an Italian mathematician, ambassador to France, and future prime minister of Italy, wrote a paper on the subject of Babbage's Analytical Engine (designed in the 1830s) for the Bibliotheque Universelle de Genève. Lovelace decided to translate Menabrea's work from French into English. She went to considerable lengths to expand on Menabrea's paper and consulted Babbage extensively. He was suitably impressed by her work and wrote that "the more I read your notes the more surprised I am at them and regret not having earlier explored so rich a vein of the noblest metal." Her annotations to Menabrea's work produced a manuscript three times the original length. At Babbage's suggestion, Ada inserted several illustrations which outlined the computer programming of the machine, and proposed a program for the computation of Bernoulli numbers.

Lovelace contrasted the Difference Engine, which she characterized as an ingenious calculator which followed a straight computational path, with the Analytical Engine, which could be programmed with punch cards, was more flexible in its computational analysis, and possessed, in her opinion, a greatly increased computational potential. In one of her annotations, she predicted the advent of artificial intelligence and computer-generated music:

Supposing, for instance, that the fundamental relations of pitched sounds in the science of harmony and of musical composition were susceptible of such expression and adaptations, the engine might compose elaborate and scientific pieces of any degree of complexity or extent.

Her annotations also departed from Menabrea's commentary on the mechanical aspects of the machine to delve into the metaphysical implications of machine computing. What is surprising is that Ada Byron Lovelace grasped the implications of the Analytical Engine even though it was never built. It was merely a set of drawings.

However, Ada cautioned against overrating the abilities of computers, as many futurists of the period did. Nevertheless, she intuitively understood the implications of technological change upon the nature of science:

The Analytical Engine has no pretension whatever to originate anything … but it is likely to exert an indirect and reciprocal influence on science itself in another manner. For, in so distributing and combining truths and the formulae of analysis, that they may become more easily and rapidly amenable to the mechanical combinations of the engine, the relations and nature of science are necessarily thrown into new light, and more profoundly investigated. This is a decidedly indirect, and a somewhat speculative consequence of such an invention.

Babbage considered Ada Lovelace's work so superior to that of Menabrea's that he suggested it be published as an original piece of research, rather than a translation. Women, however, particularly aristocratic ones, did not write scientific papers. Therefore, it was decided that the manuscript would be signed A.A.L. Thus the true identity of the author remained a mystery for the next 30 years.

Blunt, Anne (1837–1917)

British explorer. Name variations: Baroness Wentworth; Anne Blount. Born Anne Isabella King on September 22, 1837; died in Cairo, Egypt, in 1917; daughter of Ada Byron, countess of Lovelace (1815–1852), and Lord William Noel King, 1st earl of Lovelace; married Wilfrid Scawen Blunt (1840–1922, a poet, traveler, and diplomat), in 1869; children: one daughter.

Lady Anne Isabella Blunt was an Arabic scholar, equestrian, musician, traveler, and writer, and the first Englishwoman to explore the Arabian peninsula. She and her husband, who both spoke Arabic, traveled in Turkey, Algiers, and Egypt. They also visited India in 1878 and 1883–84. Blunt describes their desert journey from Aleppo to Baghdad in The Bedouin Tribes of the Euphrates (1878). Other desert excursions, including their penetration of the unknown territory of Nedj, is described in Pilgrimage to Nedj (1881). In 1906, the Blunts settled in Egypt, trading and breeding Arabian horses. She was named Baroness Wentworth in 1917.

The translation of Menabrea's work proved that Ada Lovelace was Charles Babbage's intellectual equal. Babbage began to refer to her as the "Enchantress of Numbers." Lovelace sent a copy of her work to Mary Somerville, who praised the "proficiency you have made in the highest branches of mathematics and the clearness with which you have illustrated a very difficult subject."

After the publication of her notes on the Analytical Engine, Lovelace contemplated several other projects which illustrated the depth of her intellect. In July 1843, she wrote to Babbage suggesting that she might write a pamphlet "On galvanic series, mathematically determined," for the Philosophical Magazine. To her mother, she intimated that she was contemplating a follow-up article on Babbage's research, and to her husband she spoke of bequeathing to the world a "Calculus of the Nervous System." As well, Ada Lovelace was hoping to undertake further translations, including one of Eilhardt Mitscherlich's "Chemical Reactions Produced by Bodies which Act only by Contact."

By the mid-1840s, German science was beginning to supplant ideas emanating from France, and Lovelace became interested in crystallography. In 1844, she met John Crosse, who had recently returned from studying in Germany and was also interested in crystallography. Crosse's presence, she wrote to her husband, would be helpful for: "I can get from him and by means of him, what I could from no one else." The turn of phrase was indeed ironic.

How long the affair between Crosse and Ada Lovelace lasted is unknown. But it was certainly not her first flirtation with marital infidelity. A year earlier, London newspapers had been commenting on her relationship with a certain Frederick Knight. One newspaper noted that "the resemblance of Lady Lovelace to her renowned father, beyond some parental likeness, has as yet been confined to a certain amount of eccentricity." The full details of Ada's involvement with Crosse remain a mystery, but they were clearly scandalous enough for the earl of Lovelace to have the bulk of the correspondence between the two destroyed upon his wife's death.

In later years, the collaboration between Ada Lovelace and Charles Babbage was ill-fated. Together, they explored the realm of mathematical probability and devised an "infallible system" to predict gambling odds on horse racing, an abiding passion of the English upper classes. Lovelace was a particularly avid fan. Improbability, however, interfered with the mathematical prognostications of the two mathematicians, and Ada Lovelace found herself increasingly in debt. In fact, she lost so much money that she was forced to pawn the Lovelace family jewels. She involved her husband in the betting scheme and creditors assailed the couple for the rest of their lives.

In 1852, Ada Lovelace died of cancer at the young age of 36. On her deathbed, she confessed her infidelity to her husband and recited a line from her father's poem Cain. "Believe—and sink not! doubt and perish." The usually restrained earl of Lovelace wrote that "for the past week I have been prey to the utmost wretchedness of mind—Every cherished conviction of my married life has been unsettled." Ada's last request was that she be interred beside her father in Hucknall Torkard church, near the Byron family seat.

Five years later, Charles Babbage wrote to Ada Lovelace's son, Viscount Ockham, highlighting the significance of her scientific contribution:

In the memoir of Mr. Menabrea and still more in the excellent Notes appended by your mother you will find the only comprehensive view of the powers of the Analytical Engine which the mathematicians of the world have yet expressed.

Ada Lovelace's contributions to the science of mathematics, cut short by ill-health, were quickly forgotten. However, as computers increasingly dominated modern science in the postwar period, scientists began to reexamine her role in the field of computing. Ada Lovelace had devised the first complex set of instructions for the Analytical Engine, which delineated the function of input, calculation, output, and printing. Beyond her definition of computer programming, her predictions concerning the future of computers were truly visionary. In 1980, when the U.S. Department of Defense sought a label for its new computer language, the name "Ada" was chosen.


Bernstein, Jeremy. The Analytic Engine. NY: Random House, 1963.

Breaud, Sylvie. "Ada, Analyste et Metaphysicienne," in Pénélope pour l'histoire des femmes. Paris: Publication du Group d'Étude Feministes de l'Université de Paris, 1983.

Moore, Doris Langley. Ada, Countess of Lovelace: Byron's Legitimate Daughter. London: John Murray, 1977.

Moseley, Maboth. Irascible Genius. London: Hutchinson, 1964.

Nabokov, Vladimir. Ada or Ardor: A Family Chronicle. Y: McGraw-Hill, 1969.

Rosenberg, J. The Computer Prophets. NY: Macmillan, 1969.

Stein, Dorothy. Ada: A Life and a Legacy. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1985.

suggested reading:

Baum, Joan. The Calculating Passion of Ada Byron. Hamden, CT: Archon Books, 1986.

Hugh A. Stewart , M.A., Guelph, Ontario, Canada

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Lovelace, Ada Byron, Countess of (1815–1852)

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