Vivian Hunter Galbraith (18891976), by unknown photographer, 1966
Galbraith, Vivian Hunter (18891976), historian, was born on 15 December 1889 in Sheffield where his father, David Galbraith, who came from Belfast, was secretary at the Hadfield steelworks. His mother was Eliza Davidson McIntosh. He was the youngest of a family of four sons and a daughter. His family moved first to London, where he was educated at Highgate School from 1902 to 1906, and then to Manchester. He went to the university there in 1907 and attended the lectures of T. F. Tout, whose warm support, destined to be lifelong, was a turning point in his career. Galbraith's other teachers were James Tait and F. M. Powicke, with whom he also retained a lifelong friendship. He was later to write the notices of both Tout and Tait for the Dictionary of National Biography. In 1910 he obtained a first class in modern history at Manchester University and gained a Brackenbury scholarship to Balliol College, Oxford. He did his first piece of serious research for the Stanhope prize, which he won in 1911 with an essay on the chronicles of St Albans. He received, however, a severe academic reverse by getting a third class in literae humaniores in 1913a subject to which he was wholly unsuited. It was a bitter blow which set back his prospect of an academic career for many years despite another first class in modern history which he obtained in 1914.
Tout immediately persuaded Manchester University to make Galbraith the Langton research fellow for three years, and he plunged with enthusiasm into the records of the abbey of Bury St Edmunds in the British Museum. War took him by surprise. So far as he thought about it during its early months, he was against it; but not to the point of declining to join up, which he did in January 1915. He served as a company commander in the Queen's regiment with impetuous courage in Palestine in 1917 and France in 1918, being awarded the Croix de Guerre avec palme.
Galbraith returned to academic life in January 1919, first as a temporary lecturer at Manchester and then with a renewed Langton research fellowship which allowed him to live in London and pursue his former research. In January 1921 he joined the Public Record Office as an assistant keeper, and this position determined the shape of his later historical development by giving him daily access to the records of English medieval government. Meanwhile, he began his first important piece of editorial work, an edition of the Anonimalle chronicle of St Mary's, York, which appeared in 1927. In June 1921 he married a fellow medievalist, whom he had met at Manchester, Georgina Rosalie, daughter of Lyster Cole-Baker MD; they had one son and two daughters, including (Georgina) Mary Moore, later principal of St Hilda's College, Oxford.
In 1928 Galbraith returned to Oxford to succeed R. L. Poole as reader in diplomatic; he was also elected a tutorial fellow of Balliol. Thus began the golden years of his life. His effervescent vitality, and his intimate knowledge of documents, gave his pupils the feeling that this was the real thing in historical scholarship. His bold judgements on historical issues and his uninhibited comments on contemporary masters of the subject brought a breath of freedom to the most timorous pupils. In the intervals of teaching, lecturing, talking, and golfing he continued his work on chronicles and charters, including the important edition of the St Albans chronicle 140620, in 1937. In 1934 he published his readable and stimulating Introduction to the Use of Public Records. In 1937 he became professor of history at Edinburgh; in 1939 he was elected a fellow of the British Academy; and in 1940 he was Ford's lecturer at Oxford. In 1944 he succeeded A. F. Pollard as director of the Institute of Historical Research, and in January 1948 Sir Maurice Powicke as regius professor at Oxford.
Galbraith brought to all these posts the same unflagging zest. The main themes of his historical interests never changed, though he extended his range in two ways. First he undertook a fundamental reappraisal of the purpose of Domesday Book. Next he initiated a series of critically edited texts and translations of medieval sources. His detailed study of Domesday Book had its origin in the discovery of a late twelfth-century annotated copy of the Herefordshire portion of the survey in a manuscript in the Balliol Library. From this, he was led to challenge the accepted orthodoxy about the purpose and method of compilation of the great survey which had been formulated by J. H. Round. Galbraith's views were expressed in a series of works from 1942 to 1974 culminating in Domesday Book: its Place in Administrative History. The series of medieval texts arose from discussions with H. P. Morrison, the managing director of the Edinburgh publishing firm of Nelson, and it developed into one of the most successful attempts to make original sources of medieval history widely available to students.
Galbraith retired in 1957 and died on 25 November 1976 in Oxford, where his home was 20A Bradmore Road. He was an honorary fellow of Balliol (1957) and Oriel (1958), and he received many honorary doctorates.
Galbraith was the last important representative of the modern history school at Oxford in the period when it concentrated on the continuous institutional and constitutional development of England from the early middle ages. His talk and presence suggested his power as a teacher. His early white hairs and stooping gait would have suggested premature old age if they had not been contradicted by a general appearance of intense vitality. Next to the study of medieval charters, golf was the activity which gave him most pleasure. His features were mobile and striking, and his outspoken judgements were without malice. His family life was exceptionally harmonious and hospitable, and he found a deep satisfaction in his son and two daughters. His appearance is best preserved in photographs of which two good examples can be found in Facsimiles of English Royal Writs to A.D. 1100, the volume presented to him on his retirement in 1957, and in the Proceedings of the British Academy, 1978.
R. W. Southern, rev.
R. W. Southern, Vivian Hunter Galbraith, 18891976, PBA, 64 (1978), 397425 · JRL, T. F. Tout and J. Tait MSS · Bodl. Oxf., MSS Galbraith · personal knowledge (1981) · private information (1981) · CGPLA Eng. & Wales (1977)
Bodl. Oxf., MSS | GL, corresp. with M. B. Honeybourne
U. Glas. L., letters to E. L. G. Stones
U. Reading, letters to Sir Frank Stenton and Lady Stenton
University of Manchester Library, J. Tait MSS
University of Manchester Library, T. F. Tout MSS
photograph, 1966, British Academy [see illus.] · G. Spencer, drawing, Balliol Oxf. · bust, U. Oxf., modern history faculty · photograph, repro. in T. A. M. Bishop and P. Chaplais, eds., Facsimiles of English royal writs to A.D. 1100, presented to Vivian Hunter Galbraith (1957) · photograph, repro. in Southern, Vivian Hunter Galbraith
Wealth at death
£22,225: probate, 18 April 1977, CGPLA Eng. & Wales