Ada Lovelace (1815-1852)

Ada Lovelace, an English Mathematician and writer of the first computer program, daughter of the English poet Lord Byron.

portrait of ada by margaret sarah carpenter
Portrait of Ada by British painter Margaret Sarah Carpenter c.1836

10th December 1815 Augusta Ada Byron was born in Piccadilly, London. Her parents were the famous English poet Lord George Gordon Byron (6th Baron Byron) and Lady Anne Isabella Milbanke Byron, also known as 'Annabella' 11th Baroness Wentworth.

Lord Byron was disappointed that his wife Annabella had given birth to a daughter. George was looking forward to haveing a son and heir. George named his newly born daughter Augusta after his half-sister Augusta Leigh. Ada was Lord Byron's only legitimate child.

16th January 1816 Ada was barely a month old when George and Annabella separated, she was taken from Piccadilly Terrace in London to her mother's parents home at Kirkby Hall in Kirkby Mallory, Leicestershire.

21st April 1816 Due to English Law that gave the father full custody over children in the event of separation, George signed a deed of separation for Annabella to have full parental custody over Ada. Shortly after the deed was signed on 23rd April, Lord Byron boarded a ship at Dover for the continent, he would never return to England, he would die of disease in Greece during 1824.

Annabella would often leave Ada in the care of her mother, Lady Judith Milbanke at Kirkby Hall. Society at the time did not favour the wife in any separation, so Annabella would write to ask of Ada's wellbeing, asking her mother to keep the letters just in case they were needed to prove that she was a loving mother.

Ada suffered with her health during her younger years, often headaches which obscured her vision. Annabella wished her daughter to be unlike her poetical father; Ada was kept away from poetry and was privately schooled in mathematics and science at Kirkby Hall under the supervision of William Frend, William King and Mary Somerville.

June 1829 Ada fell ill with a bout of measles leaving her paralysed for almost a year. She would slowly recover and by 1831 Ada would be able to walk again with the aid of crutches.

1832 Ada was being tutored by the mathematician and logician Augustus De Morgan. In a letter written by Augustus to Annabella, he stated that Ada's skill in mathematics could lead her to become an original mathematical investigator and perhaps a first-rate eminence.

an engraving of ada king, countess of lovelace.
An engraving of Ada King, Countess of Lovelace c.1839

1833 Ada had an affair with a tutor and was caught by his relatives, who in turn contacted her mother. The affair was covered up by Annabella and her friends to stop a public scandal from damaging her name. Ada became close friends with Mary Somerville, a tutor that she greatly respected. During the month of June, Mary introduced Ada to the British mathematician Charles Babbage.

After meeting Charles Babbage, Ada described seeing the working prototype of the Difference engine (an automatic mechanical calculator); "We both went to see the thinking machine (for so it seems) last Monday. It raised several Nos. to the 2nd and 3rd powers, and extracted the root of a Quadratic equation.." Ada was fascinated with the machine and she used her friendship with Mary Somerville to visit Charles Babbage as often as she could.

1834 Ada had started to attend various events and had become a regular at Court where the likes of scientists Andrew Crosse, Sir David Brewster, Charles Wheatstone and Michael Faraday would attend. The English author Charles Dickens would also frequent Court while Ada was there.

8th July 1835 Ada now 19 years of age, married Lord William King-Noel (8th Baron King). Their honeymoon was spent at Worthy Manor (built in 1799), a hunting lodge in Ashley Combe, Somerset. Worthy Manor would have alterations made and then became used as their summer retreat.

12th May 1836 Ada gave birth to her first child, he was named Byron in honouro of Ada's father. He would later become the 12th Baron Wentworth (styled Viscount Ockham), he died unmarried and childless at the age of 26 in 1862.

During 1837 William and Ada relocated to a house they had built at No.10 St.James Square, London (later renumbered to No.12). The house was in the Italianate style of Thomas Cubitt (builder of Queen Victoria's Osborne House on the Isle of Wight), they would remain in the house until 1846.

22nd September 1837 Ada gave birth to her second child, a daughter she named Annabella after her mother. Ada contracted cholera after the birth, doctors gave her laudanum and opium, which were painkillers at the time. She would suffer mood swings and hallucinations, these symptoms took months to overcome. In Ada's daughter's later life, she would become 15th Baroness Wentworth. She died age 80 in 1917.

portrait of ada king, countess of lovelace
Portrait of Ada King, Countess of Lovelace c.1840

1838 William became the 1st Earl of Lovelace and Viscount Ockham, this made Ada the Countess of Lovelace.

2nd July 1839 Ada gave birth to her third child and second son, he was named Ralph Gordon. In later years he would become the 2nd Earl of Lovelace, he died aged 67 at Ockham Park, Surrey during 1906.

During the 1840s, Ada became a keen gambler which contributed to her dwindling finances. She had to secretly pawn the family's diamonds to pay her debts. Ada bet on a horse that did not win at the Epsom Derby, the result of this was a loss of £3,200.

1842 Over the course of the year, Ada translated an article that Luigi Menabrea's (Italian Military engineer who would later become the Italian prime minister) wrote in French on the Analytical Engine. Ada supplemented the translated article with further notes of further findings. It is the content of these notes which is considered to be the first computer program, an algorithm that was designed to be carried out by a machine to compute Bernoulli numbers. Based on these notes that were labelled alphabetically from A to G, Ada is widely considered as the first computer programmer, her method is also recognised as the first computer programme.

Ada had become Charles Babbage’s protégé, working closely with him on the design of the Difference engine which required Ada's written programme to carry out complex calculations, the forerunner of the computer. Being good friends, Charles Babbage affectionately called Ada 'The Enchantress of Numbers'.

1845 William was now the largest landowner in Surrey, his and Ada's main residence was Horsley Towers in Ockham Park, Surrey. The house had been recently rebuilt and designed by Charles Barry (Architect of the Houses of Parliament) in the Victorian Gothic style.

12th August 1851 Ada found that she was dying of cancer. She wrote to Charles Babbage asking him to be her executor, the letter did not give him the legal authority of being the executor. Ada and Charles would walk around part of the terrace of Worthy Manor, discussing mathematical principles. Ada named the terrace as Philosopher's Walk.

the first published computer algorithm
Ada Lovelace's diagram from Note G, the first published computer algorithm.

During August 1852, Ada had a visit from the Charles Dickens, she had attended dinners at the writer's home in London. At Ada's request, Charles read a well-known scene from his popular 1848 novel 'Dombey and Son' in which the 6-year-old boy Paul Dombey dies.

30th August 1852 Ada confessed something to her husband William; it is unknown what was said, but it caused him to abandon her side and she lost contact with him.

Ada fell ill for several months with the cancer she was suffering with, thought to be caused by bloodletting by her physicians. Ada made her mother Annabella her executor. Annabella took control of Ada's affairs and stopped all her friends and confidants visiting her.

27th November 1852 Ada, Countess of Lovelace died of uterine cancer at the age of 36 at Marylebone, London.

By Ada's request, she was buried next to her father, Lord Byron (died, aged 36 in 1824) inside the Byron family vault in the Church of St. Mary Magdalene in Hucknell, Nottinghamshire.

Annabella had a Gothic-styled memorial to Ada built close by to Kirkby Hall, in the grounds of the All Saints Church in Kirkby Mallory, Leicestershire.


church of st. mary magdalene in hucknell, nottinghamshire adas memorial at all saints church in kirkby mallory, leicestershire.
(Top/Left) Church of St. Mary Magdalene in Hucknell, Nottinghamshire.
(Bottom/Right) Ada's Memorial at the All Saints Church in Kirkby Mallory, Leicestershire.

Acknowledgements to Ada Lovelace

1979 The United States Department of Defense chose to name its new software Ada in her honour.

1992 English Heritage placed a Blue Plaque at No.12 St.James Square, London. The Blue Plaque reads 'Ada Countess of Lovelace (1815-1852) Pioneer of Computing lived here'.

10th October 2017 A Blue Plaque in the name of Ada Lovelace was unveiled at the coach house at Mallory Park Racing Circuit, the former site of Kirkby Hall in Kirkby Mallory, Leicestershire.


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