Famous British Biographers

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Find out more about the greatest British Biographers, including Samuel Johnson, G. K. Chesterton, David Irving, Stefan Zweig and William Hague.
Vote for Your Favourite British Biographers
 1 
Jane Hawking
(Writer)
Jane Hawking
6
Birthdate: March 29, 1944
Sun Sign: Aries
Birthplace: St Albans, Hertfordshire, England

Jane Hawking is an English teacher and author. She is best known as the ex-wife of popular physicist and cosmologist Stephen Hawking. She was married to Hawking for 30 years, during which she doubled up as his caretaker. Jane Hawking took good care of Stephen Hawking despite struggling from depression, for which she is much-respected in the scientific community.

 2 
Samuel Johnson
4
Birthdate: September 18, 1709
Sun Sign: Virgo
Birthplace: Lichfield, England
Died: December 13, 1784

Essayist, biographer, lexicographer, and literary critic Samuel Johnson, or Dr. Johnson, is remembered for his A Dictionary of the English Language and Lives of the Most Eminent English Poets. He was also a poet, a playwright, and a staunch Tory. His mannerisms indicated he had Tourette syndrome.

 3 
Anne Lister
(English Diarist)
Anne Lister
4
Birthdate: April 3, 1791
Sun Sign: Aries
Birthplace: Halifax, West Yorkshire, England
Died: September 22, 1840

Apart from being a traveler and a mountaineer, Anne Lister was also known as the world’s "first modern lesbian". Nicknamed Gentleman Jack for her androgynous fashion, which almost always included the color black, she penned diaries that contained many secret codes that were deciphered much after her death.

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 4 
Mary Soames
(Youngest Child of Winston Churchill)
Mary Soames
4
Birthdate: September 15, 1922
Sun Sign: Virgo
Birthplace: Chartwell
Died: May 31, 2014

Mary Soames was a British author and the youngest child of Winston Churchill and Clementine. From 1939 to 1941, Soames worked for several public organizations, such as the Women's Voluntary Service and Red Cross. She then joined the Auxiliary Territorial Service. In 1945, she was appointed a Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE), in recognition of meritorious military services.

George Lascelles, 7th Earl of Harewood
4
Birthdate: February 7, 1923
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Birthplace: Chesterfield House, London, England
Died: July 11, 2011

George Lascelles, the 7th Earl of Harewood, was one of those British royalty members who gained more fame for their work than for their lineage. An art and music lover, he headed the English National Opera. An avid football fan, too, he was also the Leeds United president.

 6 
Anna Leonowens
(British Travel Writer, Educator, and Social Activist)
Anna Leonowens
4
Birthdate: November 5, 1834
Sun Sign: Scorpio
Birthplace: Ahmednagar, India
Died: January 19, 1915

Indian-born British author Anna Leonowens is best remembered for her memoir The English Governess at the Siamese Court, which related her experience as a governess of the children of King Mongkut of Siam. The musical The King and I and the novel Anna and the King of Siam were inspired by her life.

 7 
Nancy Mitford
(English Novelist and Biographer Who is Known for Writing Popular Historical Biographies)
Nancy Mitford
3
Birthdate: November 28, 1904
Sun Sign: Sagittarius
Birthplace: London, England
Died: June 30, 1973

Born to the 2nd Baron Redesdale, Nancy Mitford and her siblings were all homeschooled. Known as one of the brightest of the Mitford sisters, she became famous for writing semi-autobiographical novels such as The Pursuit of Love. She pioneered the use of language to distinguish between social classes in books.

 8 
Bill Bryson
(American–British author of Nonfiction Books on Topics Including Travel, the English language, and Science)
Bill Bryson
4
Birthdate: December 8, 1951
Sun Sign: Sagittarius
Birthplace: Des Moines, Iowa, United States
Best known for his books on travel, travel, languages, and science, Bill Bryson had been a journalist before he ventured into writing. Notes From a Small Island gained him the initial attention, while the award-winning and bestselling A Short History of Nearly Everything established him as a seasoned author.
Deborah Cavendish, dowager duchess of Devonshire
3
Birthdate: March 31, 1920
Sun Sign: Aries
Birthplace: Asthall Manor, England
Died: September 24, 2014

Deborah Cavendish, the duchess of Devonshire, was the youngest of the popular Mitford sisters. An aristocrat and a socialite, she was one of the rare people who had met both Adolf Hitler and John Kennedy. She played a key role in commercializing Chatsworth Estate and also wrote books on it.

 10 
Margaret Drabble
(English Novelist, Biographer and Critic)
Margaret Drabble
3
Birthdate: June 5, 1939
Sun Sign: Gemini
Birthplace: Sheffield, England

English author Margaret Drabble mostly writes about women protagonists and their experiences through marriage, motherhood, and intellectual development. Her novels such as The Gates of Ivory and A Summer Bird-Cage have earned her honors such as the DBE. She is the younger sister of novelist A.S. Byatt.

 11 
Nasser Hussain
(Cricketer)
Nasser Hussain
3
Birthdate: March 28, 1968
Sun Sign: Aries
Birthplace: Madras, India

Born to an Indian Muslim father and a British mother in Madras, Nasser Hussain moved to England with his family, as a child. At 12, he was the youngest to join the Essex Under-15 cricket team. He grew up to become one of the best English Test cricket captains.

 12 
Merlin Holland
(writer, editor, poet, journalist)
Merlin Holland
3
Birthdate: 1945 AD
Birthplace: London

Better known as legendary author Oscar Wilde’s grandson, Merlin Holland is also a renowned biographer and journalist. His research on his grandfather has resulted in numerous collections such as The Complete Letters of Oscar Wilde. He has also worked as a wine writer and a features writer.

 13 
Peter Ackroyd
(British Biographer, Novelist and Critic with a Particular Interest in the History and Culture of London)
Peter Ackroyd
3
Birthdate: October 5, 1949
Sun Sign: Libra
Birthplace: East Acton, London, England

English author and critic Peter Ackroyd is mostly known for his novels that depict the history of London. The Cambridge and Yale alumnus had initially worked at The Spectator. Apart from writing award-winning novels such as Hawksmoor, he has also penned biographies of T.S. Eliot and Dickens, among others.

 14 
Thomas De Quincey
3
Birthdate: August 15, 1785
Sun Sign: Leo
Birthplace: Manchester
Died: December 8, 1859

Essayist Thomas De Quincey is best remembered for his iconic book Confessions of an English Opium-Eater, which initially appeared in the London Magazine. The work was an autobiographical account of his own addiction to opium, which he had begun consuming to help him deal with the pain of his facial neuralgia.

 15 
Andrew Strauss
(Cricketer, Autobiographer)
Andrew Strauss
0
Birthdate: March 2, 1977
Sun Sign: Pisces
Birthplace: Johannesburg, Transvaal Province, South Africa
 16 
Karl Pearson
(Mathematician, Historian of mathematics, Statistician, Historian, Philosopher, Biographer)
Karl Pearson
3
Birthdate: March 27, 1857
Sun Sign: Aries
Birthplace: London
Died: April 27, 1936

One of the greatest statisticians of all time, Karl Pearson established the first university-level statistics department at UCL and also launched the statistics-oriented journal Biometrika. He was also well-versed in law and believed in eugenics. His The Grammar of Science later inspired Albert Einstein and other scientists.

 17 
Gitta Sereny
(Biographer and Investigative Journalist Known for Her Interviews and Profiles of Infamous Figures, Including 'Mary Bell')
Gitta Sereny
3
Birthdate: March 13, 1921
Sun Sign: Pisces
Birthplace: Vienna, Austria
Died: June 14, 2012

Known for her persistent researches on some of history’s most reviled characters, Gitta Sereny was an investigative journalist and author of five biographical works that attempted to make sense of their crimes. Notable among her works are Albert Speer: His Battle with Truth and The Case of Mary Bell: A Portrait of a Child Who Murdered.  

 18 
Izaak Walton
(British Writer Best Known as the Author of 'The Compleat Angler')
Izaak Walton
3
Birthdate: August 9, 1593
Sun Sign: Leo
Birthplace: Stafford, England
Died: December 15, 1683

One of the greatest biographers of the 17th century, Izaak Walton was also a lover of fishing and had penned one of the most detailed treatises on fishing, The Compleat Angler. His notable works also include his biographies on John Donne and Henry Wotton. He was also a staunch Royalist.

 19 
Lytton Strachey
(British Writer, a Founding Member of the 'Bloomsbury Group' and Author of 'Eminent Victorians')
Lytton Strachey
3
Birthdate: March 1, 1880
Sun Sign: Pisces
Birthplace: London, England
Died: January 21, 1932

English biographer Lytton Strachey is best remembered for his masterpiece Eminent Victorians, which looks at the lives of Victorian figures such as Florence Nightingale and Thomas Arnold, using tools such as irony and paradox. He had also penned an award-winning biography of Queen Victoria. His short biographies discarded irrelevant details.

 20 
Samuel Smiles
(British Author and Government Reformer)
Samuel Smiles
3
Birthdate: December 23, 1812
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Birthplace: Haddington, East Lothian, Scotland
Died: April 16, 1904

Though a qualified doctor, Samuel Smiles later never practiced and switched to journalism instead, working for Leeds Times. His best-known work remains Self-Help, a motivational self-improvement guide for the youth, which denounced materialism and advocated thrift. His other significant work was the 5-volume Lives of the Engineers.

 21 
E.F. Benson
(British Writer and Archaeologist Best Known for His Collection of Novels 'Mapp and Lucia')
E.F. Benson
3
Birthdate: July 24, 1867
Sun Sign: Leo
Birthplace: Wellington College, Berkshire, England
Died: February 29, 1940

Chiefly known as a novelist, biographer, and memoirist, Edward Frederic Benson began his career with the British School of Archaeology in Athens, publishing his first successful novel, Dodo: A Detail of the Day, during this period. Its popularity encouraged him to continue publishing, the most significant works among them being Mapp and Lucia series, and the biography of Queen Victoria.

 22 
George Cohen
(Football player)
George Cohen
3
Birthdate: October 22, 1939
Sun Sign: Libra
Birthplace: Kensington, England

Part of the English football team that won the 1966 World Cup, George Cohen is a former football right-back who has played for Fulham for over a decade. He has also had a 14-year struggle with cancer, which he eventually won. He’s the uncle of English rugby player Ben Cohen.

 23 
Margaret Forster
(British Writer Novelist, Literary Critics, Biographer and Historian Best Known for the 1965 Novel 'Georgy Girl')
Margaret Forster
3
Birthdate: May 25, 1938
Sun Sign: Gemini
Birthplace: Carlisle, England
Died: February 8, 2016

English author and freelance critic Margaret Forster is best remembered for her bestselling novel Georgy Girl, which was made into a film later. She also penned biographies and contributed to BBC Radio 4 programs. She had also been a Booker Prize judge but mostly remained away from book-signing events.

 24 
Leslie Stephen
(British Author, Critic, Historian, Biographer, and Mountaineer)
Leslie Stephen
3
Birthdate: November 28, 1832
Sun Sign: Sagittarius
Birthplace: Kensington Gore, London, England
Died: February 22, 1904

Sir Leslie Stephen was an English historian, biographer, author, critic, and mountaineer. Leslie Stephen also took an active part in the organized humanist movement, serving as the president of the West London Ethical Society on multiple occasions. He was the father of famous author, Virginia Woolf, and painter, Vanessa Bell.

 25 
Andrew Motion
(British Poet, Novelist, Biographer and Poet Laureate From 1999 to 2009)
Andrew Motion
3
Birthdate: October 26, 1952
Sun Sign: Scorpio
Birthplace: London, England

English Poet Laureate Andrew Motion, the first laureate to serve a fixed term, is best known for his narrative poetry and works such as The Pleasure Steamers. He has also penned biographies of John Keats and the Lambert family members. He has also been knighted for his achievements.

 26 
Ethel Smyth
(The First Female Composer to be Granted a Damehood.)
Ethel Smyth
3
Birthdate: April 22, 1858
Sun Sign: Taurus
Birthplace: Sidcup, England
Died: May 8, 1944

Ethel Smyth was an English composer whose compositions include songs, chamber music, works for piano, orchestral works, operas, and choral works. She was the first female composer to be granted a damehood. Ethel Smyth was also involved in the women's suffrage movement and is credited with composing The March of the Women, which became the anthem of the movement.

 27 
Penelope Mortimer
(British Journalist, Biographer, and Novelist Best Known for Her Novel the 'Pumpkin Eater' )
Penelope Mortimer
2
Birthdate: September 19, 1918
Sun Sign: Virgo
Birthplace: Rhyl, Flintshire, Wales
Died: October 19, 1999

Costa Book Award-winning Anglo-Welsh journalist Penelope Mortimer is best remembered for her iconic novel The Pumpkin Eater, which was later made into a film. An expert in writing feminist fiction, her works included plots of broken marriages. Her father, a clergyman, had apparently sexually abused her in childhood.

 28 
Kevin Myers
(Journalist)
Kevin Myers
3
Birthdate: March 30, 1947
Sun Sign: Aries
Birthplace: Leicester, England

Best known for The Irish Times column An Irishman's Diary, journalist Kevin Myers was accused of misogyny after his controversial comment that stated equal pay was to be “earned.” He has reported from places such as Africa, Central America, and India, and penned books such as Watching the Door.

 29 
Sheridan Morley
2
Birthdate: December 5, 1941
Sun Sign: Sagittarius
Birthplace: Ascot, England
Died: February 16, 2007

Born to actor Robert Morley, Sheridan Morley was named after a character his father played. He started as a BBC broadcaster and then worked with Punch and The Spectator, as a drama critic. He had also penned biographies of personalities such as Audrey Hepburn and Marilyn Monroe.

 30 
Robert Lacey
(Biographer, Historian)
Robert Lacey
3
Birthdate: January 3, 1944
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Birthplace: England

Historian Robert Lacey has soared to fame with his biographies such as Majesty, which chronicled the life of Queen Elizabeth II. He has also been a historical consultant for the Netflix series The Crown. He has penned the history of Saudi Arabia and has also stayed in Jeddah for a while.

 31 
Alistair Horne
(Journalist, Biographer and Historian of Europe)
Alistair Horne
2
Birthdate: November 9, 1925
Sun Sign: Scorpio
Birthplace: London, England
Died: May 25, 2017
 32 
Lord David Cecil
(British Biographer, Historian, and Scholar)
Lord David Cecil
2
Birthdate: April 9, 1902
Sun Sign: Aries
Birthplace: Hatfield House, Hertfordshire, England
Died: January 1, 1986

Lord David Cecil was a British biographer, scholar, and historian. He also served as a professor, teaching at universities like the University of Oxford. While working at New College, Cecil taught Kingsley Amis and John Bayley, who would go on to become respected writers themselves. Cecil is also credited with mentoring personalities like R. K. Sinha and Bidhu Bhusan Das.

 33 
James Anthony Froude
(British Historian, Novelist, Biographer, and Editor of Fraser’s Magazine)
James Anthony Froude
2
Birthdate: April 23, 1818
Sun Sign: Taurus
Birthplace: Dartington Rectory, Devon, England
Died: October 20, 1894

James Anthony Froude was an English novelist, biographer, and historian. He also contributed as an editor for Fraser's Magazine for Town and Country. Froude was often counted among the best-known historians of his time. A controversial personality, Froude's writings were often polemical which earned him many outspoken opponents.

 34 
Edward John Trelawny
(British Biographer and Novelist Known for His Friendship With the Romantic Poets 'Percy Bysshe Shelley' and 'Lord Byron')
Edward John Trelawny
2
Birthdate: November 13, 1792
Sun Sign: Scorpio
Birthplace: London, England
Died: August 13, 1881

Edward John Trelawny was a British biographer, novelist and adventurer. He is famous for his friendship with Percy Bysshe Shelley and Lord Byron. Handsome and dashing, he joined the Royal Navy at the age of thirteen, later writing about his experiences in Adventures of a Younger Son. His other well-known work is Recollections of the Last Days of Shelley and Byron.

 35 
Aminatta Forna
2
Birthdate: 1964
Sun Sign: Scorpio
Birthplace: Bellshill, Lanarkshire, Scotland

Aminatta Forna is a writer whose novel The Memory of Love won the Commonwealth Writers' Prize in 2011. Forna was also honored with the prestigious Windham–Campbell Literature Prize in 2014. She also teaches creative writing at many universities and supports several young and aspiring writers. In the 2017 New Year Honours, Forna was appointed OBE for services to literature. 

 36 
Mary Anne Clarke
2
Birthdate: April 3, 1776
Sun Sign: Aries
Birthplace: London, England
Died: June 21, 1852

Mary Anne Clarke was Prince Frederick's mistress. Her memoirs, which documented her relationship with Prince Frederick, were published in 1809. Her life and career inspired the famous novel Mary Anne which was written by her great-great granddaughter Daphne du Maurier.

 37 
Michael Holroyd
(Biographer)
Michael Holroyd
2
Birthdate: August 27, 1935
Sun Sign: Virgo
Birthplace: London, England

Michael Holroyd is an English biographer whose two-volume work on the life of Lytton Strachey inspired the screenplay for the British biographical film Carrington. Over the course of his career, Holroyd has won several awards like the Heywood Hill Literary Prize, David Cohen Prize for literature, and Golden PEN Award. He was knighted in 2007 for services to English Literature.

 38 
Malcolm Hardee
(Comedian, Writer)
Malcolm Hardee
0
Birthdate: January 5, 1950
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Birthplace: Lewisham, London, England
Died: January 31, 2005
 39 
Humphrey Carpenter
(Biographer)
Humphrey Carpenter
2
Birthdate: April 29, 1946
Sun Sign: Taurus
Birthplace: Oxford, England
Died: January 4, 2005

Humphrey Carpenter was an English writer, biographer, and radio broadcaster whose work Charles Williams and their Friends won the 1978 Somerset Maugham Award. Carpenter was also a musician who played the piano, double-bass, and saxophone. In 1983, Humphrey Carpenter formed a band called Vile Bodies. He also founded a children's drama group called the Mushy Pea Theatre Group.

 40 
Hartley Coleridge
(British Poet, Biographer and Essayist Best Known for His Sonnets and for a Lyrical Play Entitled Prometheus)
Hartley Coleridge
2
Birthdate: September 19, 1796
Sun Sign: Virgo
Birthplace: Clevedon, Somerset, England
Died: January 6, 1849

The eldest son of Romantic poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Hartley Coleridge grew up spending most of his time reading and was closely associated with poets Robert Southey and William Wordworth. Though he gained a fellowship at Oriel, he later lost it due to his alcoholism and his inconsistency.

 41 
George Cavendish
2
Birthdate: 1497 AD
Birthplace: Suffolk, England
Died: 1562 AD

George Cavendish was an English writer best remembered for his biography of Cardinal Thomas Wolsey. Apart from describing in detail Thomas Wolsey's life, his biography Thomas Wolsey, Late Cardinall, his Lyffe and Deathe also describes the political events of the 1520s and early sixteenth-century court life.

 42 
Anthony Sampson
2
Birthdate: August 3, 1926
Sun Sign: Leo
Birthplace: Billingham, England
Died: December 18, 2004
 43 
Paul Bailey
(British Novelist Best Known for His Brief, Intense Novels)
Paul Bailey
2
Birthdate: February 16, 1937
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Birthplace: England

Paul Bailey is a British novelist, biographer, and critic whose novel At The Jerusalem won an Arts Council Writers' Award as well as the prestigious Somerset Maugham Award. Over the years, he has also been an important contributor to The Guardian, a popular British daily newspaper.

 44 
John Forster
(Biographer)
John Forster
2
Birthdate: April 2, 1812
Sun Sign: Aries
Birthplace: Newcastle upon Tyne, England
Died: February 2, 1876

John Forster was an English critic and biographer who contributed to prominent publications like The Examiner, The Morning Chronicle, and The True Sun. He also contributed as an editor for the Foreign Quarterly Review and the Examiner. As he was a close friend of Charles Dickens, Forster's life is often covered extensively in the biographies of Charles Dickens.

 45 
Juliana Berners
2
Birthdate: 1388 AD
Birthplace: Unknown
Died: 1460 AD
 46 
Robin Maugham
2
Birthdate: May 17, 1916
Sun Sign: Taurus
Birthplace: England
Died: March 13, 1981
 47 
Maxwell Fry
(Architect)
Maxwell Fry
2
Birthdate: August 2, 1899
Sun Sign: Leo
Birthplace: Liscard, England, United Kingdom
Died: September 3, 1987
 48 
Lillian Beckwith
(Writer best known for her series of semi-autobiographical books set on the Isle of Skye)
Lillian Beckwith
2
Birthdate: April 25, 1916
Sun Sign: Taurus
Birthplace: Ellesmere Port, England
Died: January 3, 2004
 49 
W. N. P. Barbellion
2
Birthdate: September 7, 1889
Sun Sign: Virgo
Birthplace: Barnstaple, England
Died: October 22, 1919
 50 
Frances Partridge
1
Birthdate: March 15, 1900
Sun Sign: Pisces
Birthplace: London, England
Died: February 5, 2004