She has a statue in London, her image hangs in the National Portrait Gallery, and her inspirational life story is taught in schools.
However, two decades of painstaking research has revealed we knew far less about rebel nurse and holistic pioneer Mary Seacole than we thought.
The Scottish-Jamaican nurse, who was voted the greatest Black Briton in 2004, defied the sexist and racist 19th Century establishment to care for soldiers in the Crimean War and become an enduring cultural icon.
Much of her life has remained shrouded in mystery but historian Helen Rappaport believes her new biography of Seacole proves her life was more remarkable than the legend.
Rappaport began her research in 2003 after being asked to identify a portrait that had initially turned up at a car boot sale. Confirming it was Seacole, the writer bought it and passed it on to the National Portrait Gallery.
She said: “Finding the painting was what put me on the trail for Mary Seacole because there were so many gaps in her story. She carefully hid away the truth of her illegitimate parentage, for example. She was writing a memoir to sell to a white, Victorian audience. It was all about Victorian propriety.”