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Born in Bremen, Germany, he trained in theology and received his degree on 2 November 1639. His movements during the 1640s are unclear, but he is thought to have worked as a tutor in England for much of the decade. In 1648 he left England and travelled, returning in the end to Bremen.
He went to London in 1653, as a diplomat, and settled in England of the Interregnum. He forged a strong relationship with his lifelong patron Robert Boyle, and was tutor to Boyle's nephew, the politician Richard Jones. Oldenburg married his second wife, Dora Katherina Dury (1654-77), the daughter of John Dury. Either through John Milton, whom he met early in his mission, or through Lady Ranelagh, sister to Boyle and the mother of Richard Jones, Oldenburg gained entry to an important intellectual circle, including Samuel Hartlib, whose extensive web of correspondents Oldenburg was to take over, John Dury who became his father-in-law, and others such as the economist William Petty. Among Oldenburg's correspondents at this time was Baruch Spinoza, whom he was introduced to on a trip to the Netherlands, and to whom he presented a volume of writings on scientific topics by Boyle.
Secretary of the Royal Society
After the Restoration he became an early member (original fellow) of the Royal Society (founded in 1660), and served as its first secretary along with John Wilkins, maintaining an extensive network of scientific contacts through Europe. He also became the founding editor of the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society. Oldenburg began the practice of sending submitted manuscripts to experts who could judge their quality before publication. This was the beginning of both the modern scientific journal and the practice of peer review.Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society continues today and is the longest running scientific journal in the world.
Oldenburg's correspondence was linked to support from the politician Sir Joseph Williamson; in part Oldenburg supplied Williamson with intelligence information.
Oldenburg enjoyed good health in his lifetime, but he fell seriously ill on 3 September 1677, and he died two days thereafter at his Pall Mall, London home. He was interred on 7 September at St Mary the Virgin, Bexley. His widow died ten days later.
Jean-Pierre Vittu, "Henry Oldenburg 'Grand intermédiaire'", in "Les grands intermédiaires culturels de la République des Lettres", pub. by Christiane Berkvens-Stevelinck, Hans Bots and Jens Häseler, Paris, Honoré Champion, 2005, pp. 184-209
McKie, Douglas. "The arrest and imprisonment of Henry Oldenburg". Notes and Records of the Royal Society of London. 6 (1948/49): 28-47.
Thomas Elsmann: Im Schatten des Kaufmanns - Bremische Gelehrte 1600-1900, Bremen: Schünemann 2012, S. 80-99