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  Andrew George Little (1863–1945), by Walter Stoneman, 1923 Andrew George Little (1863–1945), by Walter Stoneman, 1923
Little, Andrew George (1863–1945), historian, was born at Marsh Gibbon, Buckinghamshire, on 28 September 1863, the second of the three sons of the Revd Thomas Little, curate, who in 1864 became rector of Princes Risborough, and his wife, Ann Wright, of Chalfont St Giles. Thomas Little, who was of Scottish birth, was the eldest of eleven children. One of these, David Little, a distinguished ophthalmic surgeon in Manchester, provided a home for Andrew and his brothers after the death of their father and mother in 1876 until his own death in 1902. Andrew owed much to his parents and uncle and to the latter's young wife, all of whom were widely loved and respected.

Little was educated at a preparatory school at Folkestone and then went to Clifton College in 1878. At Clifton he was deeply influenced by Charles Edwyn Vaughan, who became a lifelong friend. Little edited Vaughan's fine Studies in the History of Political Philosophy: before and after Rousseau in two volumes in 1925, three years after Vaughan's death. In 1882 Little entered Balliol College, Oxford, and there formed another permanent friendship, with his tutor A. L. Smith. After obtaining a first class in modern history in 1886 he studied in Dresden and Göttingen until the spring of 1888. At Göttingen, although he failed to make much headway with the problems of Domesday Book, upon which he had embarked, he was introduced by Ludwig Weiland to ‘the principles and practices of the critical examination of original historical documents’, a discipline for which he remained grateful throughout his life. He deserted Domesday Book for ecclesiastical and academic history, making the Franciscans or Greyfriars the centre of his studies.

After four years of private investigation in London and Oxford, Little was appointed the first independent lecturer in history in the University College of South Wales at Cardiff in 1892. Vaughan, who since 1889 had been professor of English and history, relinquished the teaching of history to his former pupil. Little married, in 1893, Alice Jane, daughter of William Hart, of Fingrith Hall, Blackmore, Essex. In 1898 Little was given a professorial chair at Cardiff, but resigned in 1901 on account of the poor health of his wife, and he settled at Sevenoaks. He had been a successful professor and had done much for the new University of Wales, but apart from a visiting lectureship (from 1920 a readership) in palaeography in the University of Manchester (1903–28), an engagement most fruitful in results, he undertook no regular teaching work and devoted himself to writing history and to promoting, in every way open to him, educational and learned enterprises.

Although Little did not write the big book which he planned on the history of the Greyfriars in England, he wrote much. A bibliography may be found in a little volume presented to him on 14 June 1938 by more than two hundred friends, and, for the years 1938–45, in the memoir published in the Proceedings of the British Academy. His first book, The Grey Friars in Oxford (1892), was of the first importance, not only for Little's thorough treatment of his subject, but also because he gave a fresh and influential impetus to the study of academic history in England. Moreover, it led to wider investigations and friendly co-operation with foreign scholars. Paul Sabatier's famous book on St Francis happened to follow close on Little's volume, and the two scholars became friends and allies. In July 1901 Sabatier established a society of Franciscan studies: in September 1902 Little founded a British branch of this society. In order to emphasize the need for the publication of texts, the British branch in 1907 was reconstituted on an independent basis as the British Society of Franciscan Studies. Little was chairman and honorary general editor of the new society but Sabatier was retained as honorary president until his death in 1928. While its publications were mainly texts and studies relating to the English friars, the society never took a narrow view of its opportunities and one of Little's most important publications—a new edition (based on Sabatier's papers, but containing a great deal of his own original work) of Sabatier's edition of Speculum perfectionis (2 vols., 1928–31)—was issued by the society. Before it was dissolved in 1936–7, the society published twenty-two volumes.

Little's own works express his twofold interest in local history and medieval life and thought as a whole. On the one hand is the long series of studies, many of them contributed to the Victoria History of the Counties of England, on Franciscan and other houses of friars in the British Isles, culminating in his Ford's lectures, Studies in English Franciscan History (1917), which he had delivered at Oxford in 1916; on the other hand are the Initia operum Latinorum quae saeculis xiii., xiv., xv. attribuuntur (1904), his edition of Eccleston's Tractatus de adventu Fratrum Minorum in Angliam (1909), his various papers on Roger Bacon, his important paper on the Franciscan school at Oxford (Archivum Franciscanum historicum, 19, 1926), his contributions to the Proceedings of the British Academy, and, most notable of all, the volume prepared in co-operation with his friend Father Franz Pelster SJ, Oxford Theology and Theologians, c. A.D. 1282–1302 (1934). Little—with a profound knowledge of manuscripts at home and abroad, and in close touch with colleagues in England, France, Belgium, and Italy—illuminated in his numerous writings nearly every side of medieval life and thought.

Little was anything but a recluse. He welcomed every opportunity to assist historical movements and to guide the studies of younger scholars. At Cardiff he prepared popular lectures on Welsh history, which grew into a little book, Mediaeval Wales (1902). From Sevenoaks he exerted a quiet and continuous influence which penetrated far. His physique was not robust, but he rode regularly until 1918, and in his youth rode to hounds. He did much to encourage the study of local history and to maintain a knowledge of current historical literature among the members of the Historical Association, over which he presided from 1926 to 1929. He chaired a committee which prepared for the Institute of Historical Research a report on how to edit documents. In Pelster's words, ‘he maintained with vigour the old principle that history is to be founded in facts and not on reveries … He will remain in my mind as a sincere, upright and gifted man of unselfish kindness’ (letter, 9 Dec 1946). Many who knew him well observed in him something of the spirit of St Francis.

Little was elected a fellow of the British Academy in 1922. He received honorary degrees from the universities of Oxford (1928) and Manchester (1935). He gave his collection of manuscripts to the Bodleian Library and left his interleaved and annotated copy of his Initia operum to the Institute of Historical Research. He died at his home, Risborough, 26 Vine Court Road, Sevenoaks, Kent, on 22 October 1945.

F. M. Powicke, rev. Mark Pottle


F. M. Powicke, ‘Andrew George Little, 1863–1945’, PBA, 31 (1945), 335–56 · J. R. H. Moorman, ‘A. G. Little: Franciscan historian’, Church Quarterly Review, 144 (1947), 17–27 · An address presented to Andrew George Little, with a bibliography of his writings (1938) · The Times (23 Oct 1945) · personal knowledge (1959) · private information (1959) · CGPLA Eng. & Wales (1946)


Bodl. Oxf., notes and collections relating to Franciscans in England · Greyfriars Priory, Oxford, corresp. and notes relating to Franciscans in Britain |  BL, letters to J. P. Gilson, Add. MS 47687


W. Stoneman, photograph, 1923, NPG [see illus.]

Wealth at death  

£36,248 9s. 11d.: probate, 31 Jan 1946, CGPLA Eng. & Wales