We use cookies to enhance your experience on our website. By continuing to use our website, you are agreeing to our use of cookies. You can change your cookie settings at any time. Find out more
Lloyd, Sir John Edward (1861–1947), historian, was born in Liverpool on 5 May 1861. His parents—Edward Lloyd JP, a draper, and his wife, Margaret Jones—both came from northern Montgomeryshire and kept a house there; throughout his life Lloyd was very proud of his roots in the old principality of Powys. He was educated at the recently established University College of Wales, Aberystwyth, before proceeding to Lincoln College, Oxford, where he secured first-class honours in both classical moderations (1883) and modern history (1885). He returned to Aberystwyth as lecturer in history and Welsh in 1885, and was sufficiently confident of his abilities and standing to apply for the post of principal of the college in 1891. In the next year he left for Bangor, where a new university college had been founded in 1884, and was to remain there for the rest of his life. He was registrar of the college for almost thirty years (until 1919) and played a key role in developing and shaping the college (including its library, of which he had charge until 1926). From 1899 he was also professor of history and held that post until his retirement in 1930. In 1893 he married one of his former Aberystwyth students, Clementina Clunes (d. 1951), daughter of John Clunes Millar of Aberdeen, with whom he had a son and daughter.

Lloyd's early career was shaped at a momentous period in the history of modern Wales; these were years of remarkable literary renaissance and political assertiveness. One of the manifestations of this newly found self-confidence was a fascination with the history and character of Wales as a country, manifested for example in John Rhys and Brynmor Jones, The Welsh People (1900) and O. M. Edwards, Wales (1901). Lloyd himself was a product and promoter of this revival. As early as 1884 he had won the prize at the national eisteddfod in his native Liverpool for a handbook (in Welsh) on the history of Wales to 1282. It set the agenda for the rest of his life. Between 1893 and 1912 he served an invaluable apprenticeship as a young historian by contributing over 120 entries on Welsh subjects to the Dictionary of National Biography.

The appearance of Lloyd's two-volume work A History of Wales from the Earliest Times to the Edwardian Conquest (1911; 3rd edn, 1939) may be said, without exaggeration, to inaugurate the history of Wales as a modern academic subject. It was to be followed in 1931 by his classic biography Owen Glendower, Owain Glyn Dŵr, based on the Ford lectures delivered at Oxford in 1920. As well as those two masterpieces, Lloyd produced a steady flow of articles and associated papers. Among the most influential was his fundamental analysis of the various redactions and likely provenance of Brut y tywysogyon (The Chronicle of the Princes), the primary narrative source for the study of medieval Wales. He was also the editor of, and substantial contributor to, the two-volume History of Carmarthenshire (1935–9) and wrote single-handedly The Story of Ceredigion, 400–1277 (1937).

All Lloyd's œuvre shared the same broad characteristics. He was the most meticulous of scholars, weighing each item of evidence with the greatest care and, in his own words, ‘clearing away a good deal of the undergrowth of legend and error’ (Owen Glendower, Owain Glyn Dŵr, Preface). In terms of the sources he used and the approach he adopted, his was work which would never need to be done again. He had an exceptional command of the topography and toponomy of Wales and the ability to reconstruct the historical personality of each of the country's regions (as he showed in the remarkable eighth chapter of his History). Having first secured the scholarly foundations of his subject matter, he then wove the disparate histories of the fragmented polities of medieval Wales into a single whole and constructed a compelling historical narrative in the grand manner—and not without the occasional rhetorical flourish—out of them.

Lloyd's forte lay in narrative political history; he was less successful in analysing and depicting the social and economic forces which transformed medieval Wales after the coming of the Normans. Even on the political front his anxiety to construct a single, dramatic political story did less than justice to the plurality of Wales and, arguably, over-privileged the history of pura Wallia (the area of Wales under native control until 1282) in general and of Gwynedd in particular. But by any standard the scale of his achievement was monumental: he was the father of the modern academic historiography of medieval Wales. In that respect he stands shoulder to shoulder with two of his other famous contemporaries: Sir John Morris Jones, the pioneer student of the study of Welsh grammar, and Sir Ifor Williams, the founder of the modern study of medieval Welsh literature and language. Furthermore, he set scholarly standards which those who worked on the later, post-medieval, study of the history of Wales would be expected to follow.

Lloyd never shirked his public responsibilities in Wales. He was a lifelong lay preacher, and no honour gave him greater pleasure than the chairmanship of the Union of Welsh Congregationalists from 1934 to 1935. Throughout his long life he played an active part in the cultural and historical institutions of Wales, notably as a member of the councils of the National Museum and National Library, the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales, and the Cambrian Archaeological Association (of which he was twice president and whose summer tours he regularly addressed). His organizing skills and vision were critical in launching two projects which were cardinal to the literary and historical life of twentieth-century Wales. It was he who prepared the draft constitution of the Board of Celtic Studies, served as its first chairman (1919–40), and oversaw the appearance of its Bulletin and of its various series of publications. He was also the original editor of The Dictionary of Welsh Biography, eventually published (originally in Welsh) in 1953; he had completed sixty-two articles to it before his death. He received honorary degrees from the universities of Wales and Manchester, was elected a fellow of the British Academy in 1930, knighted in 1934, and given the freedom of his adopted city of Bangor in 1941.

Sir John Lloyd had been brought up in the Victorian era and there was a certain Victorian formality about his character. He had a tidy, well-ordered mind; the deliberateness of his judgements and grasp of detail made him an outstanding chairman and promoter of causes at a critical stage in the development of Welsh scholarship. His patriotism was natural and unchallengeable, rather than showy; as he himself said in the Preface to his History, he had ‘not written in support of any special theory or to urge any preconceived opinion on the reader’. He was active in the Welsh Language Society and wrote three handbooks on the history of Wales in Welsh. Publicly rather aloof, he had a puckish sense of humour, as his closest friends acknowledged and as his correspondence reveals. He died at the Caernarvonshire and Anglesey Infirmary, Bangor, on 20 June 1947 and was buried at Llandysilio, on the Menai Strait.

R. R. Davies


J. G. Edwards, ‘Sir John Edward Lloyd’, PBA, 41 (1955), 319–27 · R. T. Jenkins and T. Richards, Y Llenor, 26 (1947), 67–87 · R. Richards, ‘Sir John Edward Lloyd’, Archaeologia Cambrensis, 99 (1946–7), 302–3 · ‘A bibliography of J. E. Lloyd's writings’, BBCS, 12 (1946–8), 96–105 · [R. T. Jenkins, E. D. Jones, and W. L. Davies], eds., Y bywgraffiadur Cymreig, 1941–1950 (1970), 40–42 · E. L. Ellis, The University College of Wales, Aberystwyth, 1872–1972 (1972) · J. G. Williams, The University College of North Wales: foundations 1884–1927 (1985) · CGPLA Eng. & Wales (1947)


NL Wales, corresp. · U. Wales, Bangor |  Gwynedd Archives Service, Caernarfon, W. G. Williams MSS · NL Wales, W. J. Gruffydd MSS


W. Stoneman, photograph, 1932, NPG · E. J. Walters, oils, 1937, NL Wales · R. Dobson, portrait, priv. coll. · photographs, repro. in Richards, 312

Wealth at death  

£31,832 18s. 9d.: probate, 10 Sept 1947, CGPLA Eng. & Wales