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Early modern history (British & W European c. 1500-c. 1800): Biographical sources

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Biographical resources

World Biographical Information System (WBIS). WBIS, the online version of the World Biographical Archive, is one of the most comprehensive biographical databases available, providing short biographical information on 4 million people with a historical coverage from the 4th century BC to the present. It contains 3.85 million digital facsimile articles from more than 3,700 reference works, including biographical information on 2.3 million people worldwide. The microfiche version stands in the LRR, Bodleian Library.

i. National Biographies


Dictionnaire de biographie française. 19 vols. (Paris, 1929-). Incomplete and only goes up to letter L at the moment.


Allgemeine deutsche Biographie / Neue deutsche Biographie.

Great Britain

Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. New ed. An illustrated collection of 50,000 specially written biographies of the men and women who shaped all aspects of Britain's past, from the fourth century BC to the year 2000. Remarkable people in any walk of life who were connected with the British Isles - excluding living people. It includes not just the great and good, but people who have left a mark for any reason, good, bad, or bizarre.


Dictionary of Irish Biography. An important reference work, it offers biographical information about Irish men and women who made a significant contribution in Ireland and abroad. It also includes information about the lives of people born outside Ireland, but who made a significant contribution in that county. You have a choice of full-text searching, advanced searching, browsing or trying the lucky dip (“Read a random life”).


Dizionario biografico degli italiani. Currently runs from A to M and publishes two volumes each year, with ca. 300 entries in each volume. Also available online.


Diccionario Biográfico Electrónico (Español). 50 vols. Spain : Real Academia de la Historia, 2009-


Historisches Lexikon der Schweiz. (Basel, 2002-).


Cokayne, George E., The complete peerage of England, Scotland, Ireland, Great Britain, and the United Kingdom, extant, extinct, or dormant. 14 vols. in 7. New ed, revised and much enlarged. (Gloucester : A. Sutton, 1982-1998)

Mosley, Charles, Burke's peerage, baronetage & knightage : clan chiefs, Scottish feudal barons. 3 vols. 107th ed. (Wilmington, Delaware : Burke's Peerage & Gentry, 2003)

Burke's genealogical and heraldic history of the landed gentry. 3 vols. 18th ed. (London : Burke's Peerage, 1965-1972)

Aubert de la Chenaye Desbois, François Alexandre Badier, Dictionnaire de la noblesse ... de France. 3e éd. 19 vols. (Paris, 1863-77).


Venn, John: Alumni cantabrigienses: a biographical list of all known students, graduates and holders of office at the University of Cambridge, from the earliest times to 1900 / Compiled by John Venn and J.A. Venn. 10 vols.

Foster, Joseph: Alumni Oxonienses: the members of the University of Oxford, 1500-1714 [& 1715-1886].

A. B. Emden: A biographical register of the University of Oxford to AD 1500. (Oxford, 1957- 59)

There are similar lists for colleges, schools, etc.

Clergy, etc.

Fasti ecclesiae Anglicanae, 1300-1541. 12 vols. [Higher Clergy of the Church of England].

Fasti ecclesiae Scoticanae medii aevi ad annum 1638. [also online in MEMSO.]

Fasti ecclesiæ Hibernicæ: the succession of the prelates and members of the Cathedral bodies of Ireland [also online in MEMSO.]

The seminary priests : a dictionary of the secular clergy of England and Wales, 1558-1850. 4 vols. (Ware : St. Edmund's College, 1969)

Politicians, judges, administrators

Office holders in Modern Britain (via BHO). Listings of holders of offices in central government (17th-19th centuries). 11 volumes.

Register of admissions to the Honourable Society of the Middle Temple, from the fifteenth century to the year 1944 / Compiled by H. A. C. Sturgess. (London, 1949). 3 vols.

The register of admissions to Gray's Inn, 1521-1889 / compiled by J. Foster. (1889)

Army & Navy

Dalton, Charles, 1850-1913, English army lists and commission registers, 1661-1714. 6 vols. (London : Eyre and Spottiswoode, 1892-1904)

The commissioned sea officers of the Royal Navy, 1660-1815. 3 vols. [1954?]