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.
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 a rather sumptuous and sociable childhood in a final book illustrated with photographs: An Oxford Childhood.
As a child, Oman wrote several plays that were performed by friends. Another early interest was photography. She was sent in 1906 to Miss Batty's, later Wychwood School in Oxford. 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.
The family moved in 1908 into Frewin Hall, now part of Brasenose College, Oxford. 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. The set designer Julia Trevelyan Oman (1930-2003) was her niece.
Carola Oman worked as a VAD in England and then in France in 1918-19: 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: married to Lenanton 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 would remain childless - would from 1928 reside 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. Oman has been quoted as speaking warmly of fellow villager George Bernard Shaw, who had been the Lenanton's first caller at Bride Hall in 1928. Gerald Lenanton died in 1952 after a period of incapacitation from a stroke.
The novelist Georgette Heyer was a lifelong friend, who even took the time to compile a 16-page index for Oman's Britain against Napoleon, published in 1942 by Faber and Faber. Another writer friend in Oxford was Joanna Cannan, who dedicated her 1931 novel High Table to Oman.
|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.|
Carola Oman's writing career of more than half a century produced over 30 books of fiction, history and biography for adults and children. Her war work as a probationary VAD nurse in Oxford, Dorset, London and France in 1918-1919 sparked her first published work, a book of verse entitled The Menin Road and Other Poems (1919). Oman's verse was subsequently anthologized in the 1931 edition of The Bookman Treasury of Living Poets, edited by Arthur St. John Adcock. However, Oman seemingly abandoned poetry for the genre of historical fiction. Her 1924 debut novel The Road Royal focused on Mary Queen of Scots. It was followed by Princess Amelia (1924),King Heart (on James IV of Scotland/ 1926),Crouchback (on the Wars of the Roses/ 1929),Major Grant (Colquhoun Grant/ 1931),The Empress (on Empress Matilda/ 1932),The Best of His Family (on Shakespeare/ 1933), and Over the Water (on Bonnie Prince Charlie/ 1935). Oman also had two novels published under the pseudonym C. Lenanton (whose identity was an open secret): Miss Barrett's Elopement (1929) focusing on Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Fair Stood the Wind (1930), an early venture of hers into the genre of contemporary fiction.
Although Oman's historical novels were well received, she would herself later speak of them as "very bad"  and from the mid-1930s would channel 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", which remained continuously in print for at least forty years. 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). Oman also wrote two more contemporary novels for adults - her last: Nothing to Report (1941) and Somewhere in England (1943).
Oman's signature work was her 1946 biography of the Horatio Nelson, which drew on a wealth of material not available 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.Nelson: a Biography won for Oman the Sunday Times Prize for English Literature, Oman's 1953 biography of Peninsular War general Sir John Moore was awarded the James Tait Black Memorial Prize. The academic standing of the book 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. The subjects of Oman's later biographical output were David Garrick (1958), Mary of Modena (1962) and Sir Walter Scott: The Wizard of the North (1973). The warm reviews of the last include one by the English poet Elizabeth Jennings in The Catholic Herald. According to an obituary, "She did not so much popularise history as elevate the level of popular history."
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. She died at Ayot St Lawrence on 11 June 1978. There is a memorial to her and her husband in the village church.