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Ada, Countess of Lovelace, is remembered for a paper published in 1843, which translated and considerably extended an article about the unbuilt Analytical Engine, a general-purpose computer designed by the mathematician and inventor Charles Babbage. Her substantial appendices, nearly twice the length of the original work, contain an account of the principles of the machine, along with a table often described as ‘the first computer program’. In this paper we look at Lovelace’s education before 1840, which encompassed older traditions of practical geometry; newer textbooks influenced by continental approaches; wide reading; and a fascination with machinery. We also challenge judgements by Dorothy Stein and by Doron Swade of Lovelace’s mathematical knowledge and skills before 1840, which have impacted later scholarly and popular discourse.