The Nine Lives of John Ogilby

The Nine Lives of John Ogilby
Alan Ereira
Price: £
  • Hardback
17 Nov 2016
  • Non-Fiction
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Four hundred years ago, every barrister had to dance – because dancing put them in harmony with the universe. John Ogilby’s first job, in 1612, was to teach them. By the 1670s, he was Charles II’s Royal Cosmographer, creating beautiful measured drawings that placed roads on maps for the first time. During the intervening years, Ogilby had travelled through fire and plague, war and shipwreck; had been an impresario in Dublin, a poet in London, a soldier and sea captain, as well as a secret agent, publisher and scientific geographer. The world of his youth had been blown up and turned upside down. Beset by danger, he carefully concealed his biography in codes and cyphers, which meant that the truth about his life has remained unknown until today.

In this book, Alan Ereira brings a fascinating hidden history to light, and reveals that Ogilby’s celebrated Britannia is far more than a harmless road atlas: it is, rather, filled with secrets designed to serve Charles II’s sinister purpose…

The Nine Lives of John Ogilby is the story of a remarkable man, and of a covert journey which gave birth to the modern world.

With 41 black-and-white illustrations including 6 maps

Read an extract

Dancer... Soldier...Impresario... Sea Captain...Poet... Publisher...Gentleman... SECRET AGENT

Meet the man who put Britain on the Map



‘A spectacular book, with a wide range of insights into the seventeenth century’ Terry Jones

'Contains much uncharted territory… makes legible an astonishing life-story that was almost blotted out [and] opens some of the strangest locked cabinets of the strange and dangerous 17th century' Financial Times

'Ereira is… justly proud of filling in… the gaps [of] one of the 17th century’s most mysterious lives. [This book] situates Britannia in its political context, connecting it to Charles II’s military purposes and need to crush rebellion' Guardian 

'A fascinating biography about a little-known character... which will entertain those who enjoy conspiracy theories' Who Do You Think You Are? Magazine

'[An] entertaining account [which] tells the story of a remarkable book – and its remarkable creator' New Statesman

'Acutely observe[d]... An enthralling way of reading about the connections between culture and monarchical power in the 17th century. Ereira has an expert grasp of all primary biographical material and has done the heavy lifting in the archives... [An] informative and entertaining book' Spectator

'A fascinating tale, and Ereira writes with a light touch that belies his considerable knowledge of the less-travelled byways of 17th-century British history' Literary Review

'[An] absorbing biography… a glorious insight into the life of the man who really did put Britain on the map' Family Tree Magazine

'Reveal[s] the amazing secret lives of the man who worked for King Charles II' Daily Record

'With its real scholarship, playful love of getting every detail to connect and framework of the big picture [it] is both a pleasure and an education' Robert Bud, Research Keeper Science Museum

‘A bizarre life entertainingly toldThe Historic Gardens Review

‘Ereira is a master story-teller, and his biography of Ogilby is a riveting ride never dulled by its meticulously referenced detail.... Ereira has given new life to this extraordinary man and his meticulously compiled roadmap’ Nature

'What Ereira has done in his exhaustive combing of archives and libraries, and looking at even familiar documentation with a new and searching eye, is to join the dots of [Ogilby's] remarkable career, and to place them firmly in the context of their feverish age. The details he unearths are thrilling... the sheer heft of evidence culled from such a wide array of sources compels, and it all fits' Mike Parker, author of Map Addict, at Sheetlines, the Charles Close Society journal

'Britannia was created by a cunning Scot, to help the monarch’s absolute ascendancy over the whole of Britain. [The] secret is finally out.' Scotsman

‘Ereira has gone further than ever before in stitching together the often sketchy details, and the portrait he draws in conclusion breaks wholly new ground.’ New Welsh Review

‘Full of vibrancy, a vivid, surprising and supremely colourful life.  I loved the dancing lawyers, the way-wiser, the story of the Great Fire.’ Jay Griffiths, author of Wild: An Elemental Journey

‘Compelling... a terrific subject for a biography... Ereira’s enthusiasm is infectious [and his] generous biography conveys both the irrepressible energy and the shifty elusiveness of Ogilby.’ TLS

Alan Ereira

About Alan Ereira

Alan Ereira is an award-winning British author and documentary film-maker. Educated at Queens’ College Cambridge, he is the author of several history books and was a BBC producer for thirty years, making a number of documentaries for radio and television. Among many others, he wrote and presented the series Kings and Queens of England for UK TV, and wrote and produced Terry Jones’s series The Great Map Mystery for BBC Wales. 

Ereira is an honorary research fellow at the University of Wales, Trinity Saint David, and has been investigating the seventeenth century for several decades, seeking the roots of the modern mind.

Meet him here