(18251901), historian and bishop of Oxford
, the eldest child of the two sons and four daughters of William Morley Stubbs (18001842), solicitor of Knaresborough, Yorkshire, and Mary Ann (18031884), daughter of William Henlock, was born in High Street, Knaresborough, on 21 June 1825. He could trace his Yorkshire yeoman descent through sixteen generations to another William Stubbs mentioned in 1359; his ancestry mattered to him and for his view of English history. From 1832 Stubbs attended a small private school in his native town, where he laid the foundation of his knowledge of languages, studying Latin, Greek, French, German, andunusuallyOld English, all of which were taught by the proprietor, a Mr. Cartwright. He went on to Ripon grammar school (in 1839), where he received an extremely thorough classical education; the study of Roman history extended to the work of Niebuhr. There he was fortunate in attracting the attention of Bishop Charles Thomas Longley (later archbishop of Canterbury), who secured for him a servitorship at Christ Church, Oxford, in 1844. The death of his father in 1842 left his mother impoverished and with six children. As a servitor Stubbs gained a university education at small expense but had to accept a position of low status; this normally implied an element of social exclusion in the college, which does not, however, seem markedly to have affected him. He took his opportunities and gained a first-class degree in classics and a third in mathematics in 1848. His interest in English medieval history had already been aroused in Knaresborough, where his father had taught him to read old documents and he had worked on medieval records in the court house of Knaresborough Castle. Although Oxford made no provision for the formal study of medieval history Stubbs was able to pursue this interest in Christ Church Library, which contained most of the essential works. His religious opinions were much influenced by E. B. Pusey, and although brought up in an evangelical ambience, he became a lifelong high-churchman, but by no means a ritualist. Immediately after taking his degree he was elected to a fellowship at Trinity College.
Early parochial and historical work
In 1850 Stubbs was ordained priest and presented to the Trinity living of Navestock, Essex, vacating his fellowship. There he succeeded James Ford, a local historian and bibliographer of some note. That Ford left £2000 to endow an Oxford professorship in English history (which ultimately endowed the Ford lectures) is a reminder of how far the roots of the revolution in historical studies, in which Stubbs played so large a part, were local and English. For sixteen years Stubbs worked as a diligent parish priest at Navestock, adding to his pastoral activities administrative duties as a poor-law guardian and inspector of diocesan schools. He supplemented his income by taking occasional resident private pupils, the most remarkable being A. C. Swinburne. On 20 June 1859 he married Catherine (b
. 1838), daughter of John Dellar of Navestock; she had been the village schoolmistress. Five sons, including the colonial governor , and one daughter survived childhood.
It was at Navestock that Stubbs's learning and reputation were largely founded. His first published work on history was Registrum sacrum Anglicanum
(1858) which sought to establish the episcopal succession in all the English sees from the earliest times. It was based on ten years' enquiry into printed and manuscript sources, including visits to diocesan registries to consult episcopal registers. Far in advance of any predecessors, it is the foundation of all later work. In 1861 he published De inventione sanctae crucis
, a late twelfth-century tract chiefly concerned with the history of the collegiate church at Waltham, Essex. At the same time he began to contribute to historical periodicals: some of his early work of this kind was notably mature and original. His papers on the early history of Peterborough and of Worcester, for instance, reveal a remarkable knowledge and judgement in the use of Anglo-Saxon charters, including materials at that time unpublished. These papers were delivered in 1861 and 1862, and published in the Proceedings
of the Archaeological Institute. In 1862 his old patron, now Archbishop Longley, made him librarian of the Lambeth Library. The duties were light and could be discharged by twice-weekly railway visits to London, allowing him to enjoy his easy access to a major library.
Stubbs and the Rolls Series
In 1863 Stubbs was commissioned to edit Chronicles and Memorials of Richard I
for the Rolls Series
. This series had been inaugurated in 1857 to publish Chronicles and Memorials of Great Britain and Ireland during the Middle Ages. The two volumes of his work published in 1864 and 1865 were the first of nineteen which he was to contribute to the series; his last contribution being the Gesta regum
and Historia novella
of William of Malmesbury, published in 18879. Stubbs's work was well paid: he received some £6600 all told for his volumes. As an editor, he made available good texts of sources previously poorly edited, if at all. The great majority of his editions, if outmoded, have not yet been superseded. The generous spirit in which the Rolls Series
was conceived permitted him very long introductions, up to 100 pages or more. His are outstanding in scope and value. On points relating to his texts he could display minute learning: for example, the two pages he devoted to the possible origins of Ralph de Diceto's name. But he took the opportunity to spread himself much more widely. Sometimes he investigated a historical episode in detail: a good (rather moving) instance is his account in his introduction to Diceto of the last days of Henry II. In such passages his lively narrative command displays almost Macaulayesque qualities, hardly to be found in the Constitutional History
. Often he paints on a much larger canvas. Thus the introduction to the second volume of Chronicles and Memorials of Richard I
) contains a substantial account of the history of monasticism in England, and that to Memorials of St Dunstan
(1874) provides a detailed account of English monastic reform in the tenth century. The introduction to the Chronicle
of Roger of Howden (4 vols., 186871) provides a full general account of the reign of Henry II. Secure in judgement, eloquent in conviction, Stubbs's introductions to the Rolls Series
have their deficiencies. He made little use of unpublished record material and seems indeed to have had relatively little sense of the wealth of the Public Record Office. He could have made more use of the published pipe rolls, although he wrote the preface to the Pipe Roll Society's edition of that for 11656 (1888). Finance was not his forte; nor was law, although he could make a passing observation, for example on the continuing influence of Anglo-Saxon law, which anticipates modern research. Very occasionally his rhetoric sinks to fustian, and his style of judging men of the past at the bar of history has dated greatly and can jar. But his introductions put the study of large tracts of English history (above all, between the mid-twelfth century and the early thirteenth) on evidenced foundations on which all later scholars have built.
Regius professor of history at Oxford
To learning Stubbs joined ambition. In 1862 he was a candidate for the Chichele chair of modern history of Oxford; in 1863 for the professorship of ecclesiastical history there; in 1865 for the principal librarianship of the British Museum. All in vain. But on 2 August 1866 Lord Derby offered him the regius professorship of modern history at Oxford. Stubbs was not the most obvious candidate: both E. A. Freeman and J. A. Froude had published more, were better known and more experienced. Nevertheless, Stubbs was moving towards closer friendship and intellectual contact with the two most significant English medievalists of the day, Freeman and J. R. Green, and had already examined in the Oxford school of history and law. The government was particularly anxious to appoint a regius professor whose views would contrast with those of the radical Goldwin Smith, newly resigned. The appointment seems to have been left largely in the hands of Lord Carnarvon, the colonial secretary, who, as high steward of the university, was in touch with its affairs. Carnarvon consulted his former tutor H. L. Mansel, Waynflete professor of moral and metaphysical philosophy, who had been involved in public controversy with Goldwin Smith and who was nominated towards the end of 1866 to the chair of ecclesiastical history, which some had expected to be given to Stubbs. Mansel wrote to recommend Stubbs: he did not know him personally, nor did he mention any of his works, but he characterized him as a good churchman, trustworthy, the nearest approach to a Conservative of all the candidates of whom I have heard. But if Stubbs's appointment was largely determined on political grounds it proved fully justified on others. In the eighteen years in which he held the chair, he consolidated his position as the leading medieval historian, one might say the leading historian, in the country.
This was a time of determinative transition in the position of historical study at Oxford and in British higher education generally. Although the Oxford regius chair of modern history had been established in 1724, its significance was minor because no degree syllabus included modern (that is, post-ancient) history. In 1850 a joint degree in law and history was established, but it was of no more than marginal significance until the system was reformed in 1864. A crucial change came with the establishment of an independent degree in modern history in 1872. Within a generation modern history became the largest school in the university.
As professor, Stubbs lectured with great care, chiefly on English and German medieval history. Many of his lectures were published: one volume in his lifetime (Seventeen Lectures on the Study of Medieval and Modern History and Kindred Subjects
, 3rd edn, 1900); posthumously there appeared one on English history, two on German history, and one on European history extending into the seventeenth century. His lectures, particularly those on European history, could have a brisk, opinionated tone, considerably more strident than that almost universally adopted in the Constitutional History
. He expressed vigorous judgements on whole countries: French ambition has brought infinitely more misery upon Europe than all the repressive policy of Austria in all the years of her influence. Stubbs had considerable sympathy with Habsburg rulers whom he felt to have been unjustly treated by Robertson and by Motley. He could be sweeping on whole centuriesfor example, his comment that the best men of the sixteenth century were men of impulse rather than principle.
Stubbs's relationship to the new school of modern history was not altogether happy. His personal influence (as contrasted with that of his books) on the new systems for examination and teaching of history was modest. His lectures were ill-attended, and he was marginalized, to an extent deliberately, by the college tutors, whose offerings were nearer to the level of what undergraduates felt they required. Stubbs resented the thinness of his audiences and complained that the system of historical education at Oxford was too much directed towards pupils' classification in the final examination. At the same time his personal influence on and help to historians were important. Although, as regius professor, Stubbs was a fellow of Oriel College, he had a special connection with Balliol, where he acted as chaplain from 1876. He was, somewhat surprisingly granted the differences in their religious and other views, on friendly terms with Benjamin Jowett and from 1870 he lived in Kettel Hall in Broad Street, virtually next door to Balliol. He taught a number of Balliol undergraduates as personal pupils, among whom were future historians of the highest distinction, in particular J. H. Round, C. H. Firth, R. L. Poole, and T. F. Tout.
Select Charters and The Constitutional History of England
Stubbs's commanding influence at various levels of historical study came, above all, from four volumes: Select charters and other illustrations of English constitutional history from the earliest times to the reign of Edward I
(1870), and The Constitutional History of England in its Origins and Development
, volumes 1 (1873), 2 (1875), and 3 (1878). The Select Charters
is a collection of documents and excerpts beginning with passages from Caesar and Tacitus. It concludes with the reign of Edward I, although it includes the tract Modus tenendi parliamentum
, which Stubbs thought to be of the mid-fourteenth century, but is now known to be somewhat earlier. (In the second edition of 1874, he appended a handful of seventeenth-century documents.)
The Select Charters
is most carefully disposed: an introduction of some fifty pages outlines the early constitutional history of England, and the chapters are chronologically arranged, each with a general introduction. All major documents are preceded by a commentary. Stubbs's introduction is programmatic: it is, he says, of the greatest importance that English constitutional history should become a recognised part of a regular English education. It is not creditable to us as an educated people that students while well acquainted with the state machinery of Athens and of Rome should be ignorant of the corresponding institutions of our own forefathers which have exercised on the civilised world an influence not inferior certainly to that of the Classical nations. So he commended this little book to the good offices of teachers, and to the tender mercies of pupils. (The humour here is characteristic: Stubbs was a very humorous manalthough this is hardly evident from the Constitutional History
and was given to writing comic verses.)
The Constitutional History
was the keystone of Stubbs's achievement. Its first words are: The History of Institutions cannot be mastered,can scarcely be approached, without an effort. This recommendation (as he saw it) misleads if it conveys an impression that Stubbs was concerned only with institutional history in a narrow sense. He saw English constitutional history in quasi-organic and teleological terms; as he put it in the preface to the Select Charters
, it was: the examination of a distinct growth from a well-defined germ to full maturity … a growth whose life and developing power lies deep in the very nature of the people. He continued: It is not then the collection of a multitude of facts and views, but the piecing of the links of a perfect chain.
Thus the Constitutional History
is not only a tremendous manual, but a major work of interpretation; almost a statement of faith. Considered simply as a manual its virtues are great: it is founded on wide learning, strongest on the twelfth century, not so strong on the early Anglo-Saxon period, where it begins, or on the fifteenth century, where it ends. It rests very largely on original sources: its extensive annotation includes references to secondary authorities only occasionally, except in relation to the earliest period where Stubbs depended greatly on German work, particularly that of Georg Waitz. No such comprehensive and learned a work on English medieval history had been written before. It was not only epoch making, but orderly: among Stubbs's gifts was that of organized exposition. His alternation of the descriptive and the analytic, his combination of narrative and interpretation were masterly. Massive though it is, the Constitutional History
is an easy book to use. A characteristically handy device is the separate numbering of each paragraph; the numbering of the paragraphs remained consistent from edition to edition: all references below to the Constitutional History
are by paragraph numbers.
The Select Charters
and Constitutional History
very soon became major educational instruments in growing undergraduate schools of history. As the Oxford honour school of modern history developed, much stress was laid on the study of constitutional history, felt to give a strength and dignity to the School which it might otherwise lack (Slee, 91). Constitutional history was difficult and complicated, required the study of original texts, and was a barrier against descent into mere discourse. The work of Stubbs was deeply valued at Oxford and also at Cambridge (the only other university in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries with a large history school). J. R. Tanner described the study of history at Cambridge about 1880: The lecturer lectured on Stubbs; the commentator elucidated him; the crammer boiled him down. Within those covers was to be found the final word on every controversy and in this faith the student moved serene (F. W. Maitland and others, The Teaching of History
, 1901, 54). The great influence could reach into schools. G. M. Trevelyan, writing of his time at Harrow in the early 1890s, recalled that he was set to read Stubbs as a strict regimen of the modern type of scientific history at its best to supplement the sweet cake of Gibbon, Macaulay, and Carlyle. He analysed Stubbs in three massive notebooks (G. M. Trevelyan, An Autobiography and other Essays
, 1949, 12). The influence of Stubbs on the university study of history was not only strong, but long; it was ultimately thanks to Stubbs that as late as 1968 all twenty-five of the British universities founded before 1949 required undergraduate historians to study English medieval history.
The main line of thought in the Constitutional History
is a devoted, teleological interpretation of the English state. For Stubbs the origins of the English constitution, of English liberties, lie in Germany as described by Tacitus. He saw the organization of Anglo-Saxon England as containing crucial elements which continued the liberties of early Germany, not least in the quasi-representative or popular courts of hundred and shire which survived the impact (drastic but in major ways beneficial) of the Norman conquest. Under the Angevins the administrative and legal systems were developed in ways intimately connected with arrangements and ideas which came from the Anglo-Saxon and early German pasts. The nation had begun to realise its unity and identity (Constitutional History
, para. 134): Magna Carta
, argued Stubbs, was the first act of a corporate life that had reached full consciousness (ibid., para. 155). The reigns of Henry III and Edward I were determinative: under the former, the effect of civil war was that England was reclaimed for the English (ibid., para. 229), while under his son came the crucial development of parliamenta national representative institution intimately connected with the local representative institutions which had preserved German freedom. By 1307 parliament was established in definiteness and completeness (ibid., para. 455). Stubbs regarded the later middle ages as a somewhat unhappy period for England, marred by the misadventure of premature constitutionalism under the Lancastrians. But the Tudors restored order and in the seventeenth century constitutional liberty revived, rising as it were from the dead; from then, it survived and flourished into Stubbs's own day.
In perspective Stubbs's Constitutional History
is necessarily a period piece, though aptly described by Professor J. W. Burrow as one of the great books of the nineteenth century … the most perfectly realised embodiment of English Burkean ideas (Burrow, 300). A leading example of nineteenth-century historicism, it was dominated by such concepts as that of the historically determined individuality of the nation and of the importance of the development of a nation's self-consciousness. The origins of such views are diverse and take us from Burke and Coleridge to Germany. Stubbs was greatly indebted to German historians as guides and models, not least to the Verfassungsgeschichte
of Georg Waitz. Stubbs's competence in German and involvement with German historical scholarship were a counterpart to Pusey's determination to master German theological learning. (One of Stubbs's first published works was a translation (and continuation) of Mosheim's Ecclesiastical History
, 1863.) Among English historians Stubbs may not unfairly be regarded as sharing some of the views of what has been characterized as the liberal Anglican school of historicist historians, prominent among whom was Thomas Arnold. Not all Arnold's views, let alone the adjective liberal, could have been congenial to Stubbs. However, his interpretation is distinctly Arnoldian, in its repeated emphasis on the analogy (or by diffuse implication, something more than analogy) between the progress of the life of a nation and that of an individual. On some specific points Stubbs's views were precisely Arnold's: he too saw Lancastrian constitutionalism as, to use Arnold's term, a false Spring.
Stubbs's historical work extended even beyond the Rolls Series
and constitutional history. He undertook (in co-operation with A. W. Haddan) an edition of materials relating to the pre-Reformation councils of the churches of Britain and Ireland. The whole projected work was never completed; but Stubbs's volume (3), Councils and Ecclesiastical Documents Covering the History of the Anglo-Saxon Church
, published in 1878, was and is an invaluable collection (Stubbs characteristically extended it well beyond merely conciliar documents). His devotion to work such as that involved in the preparation of this volume is a reminder of the intimate relationship between his position as a churchman and as a historian. The continuity of the Church of England, through its medieval past to apostolic times, was of fundamental importance to him. It was largely in connection with his work for Councils and Ecclesiastical Documents
that he wrote approximately 400 lives of Anglo-Saxons for the Dictionary of Christian Biography
between 1877 and 1887. He also contributed to the Dictionary of Christian Antiquities
The success of the Constitutional History
is indicated by its having reached its ninth edition before Stubbs's death, while the Select Charters
reached its eighth (the additions or corrections made by him in successive editions of his works were by no means extensive). Stubbs's reputation extended far: he received honorary doctorates from Heidelberg, Cambridge, Edinburgh, Oxford, and Dublin, membership of the Bavarian, Prussian, and Irish academies, and of the Académie des Sciences Morales et Politiques of the Institut de France. The most outstanding foreign honour was his appointment in 1897 to the Prussian order of merit: one of the thirty foreign members of its division chosen for distinction in the arts or sciences. Stubbs was consistently anti-French, regarding France as originally and essentially absolutist. Thus it is the more remarkable that not only was a French translation of the Constitutional History
published between 1907 and 1927, but it was accompanied by a series of studies supplementary to Stubbs (the translation and many of the studies were among the earliest works of Georges Lefebvre).
Though a professor, Stubbs by no means abandoned the activities and career of a clergyman. From 1875 to 1879 he held the Oriel College living of Cholderton, Wiltshire, residing there during the long vacations, while a curate officiated at other times. (An important consideration here must have been that while he had been appointed to the regius chair at an annual salary of £350, Cholderton was worth £300; Crockford, 1870.) In 1878 he was tempted to accept the living of the university church of St Mary. In 1879 Disraeli made him a canon of St Paul's, an appropriate (and remunerative) distinction for a scholar who had three years before, in the introduction to his edition of the works of Diceto, provided an outstanding account of St Paul's in the late twelfth century. So Stubbs became a member of a most distinguished chapter, regularly performed his turn of duty in the cathedral and lived in London for part of the year at no. 1 Amen Court, where he found a quantity of long-forgotten muniments in the garret.
In 18813 Stubbs's eminence both as a churchman and as a historian was brought out by the prominent role he played as a member of the royal commission on ecclesiastical courts. Its subject was of the first importance in the great ecclesiastical conflicts of the day. Stubbs, who attended all the commission's sittings, sought to maintain a firm distinction between, on the one hand, the authority of the state, which included the power to endow or disendow and to exercise coercive jurisdiction, and, on the other, the spiritual authority of the church. He contributed five appendices to the commission's report and in these investigated major elements in the history of ecclesiastical authority and jurisdiction in England. He contended that the medieval English church had enjoyed a substantial degree of independence from papal authority. A major issue here was that, in historical terms, royal authority over the church, not least as expressed in the judicial authority of the privy council, derived from Henry VIII's legislation to replace the powers of the pope. Stubbs's views were powerfully controverted by F. W. Maitland in papers subsequently published as Roman Canon Law in the Church of England
(1898). Once again Stubbs had been deeply concerned with the historic Catholic continuity of the Church of England with its medieval past. When he prepared the text of Tractatus de veritate conceptionis beatissimae virginis
by Cardinal de Torquemada for Pusey's edition (1869) it was not with strictly historical intent but, rather, to assist in an effort to deter the coming Vatican Council from moving Roman Catholic doctrine too far from that of the Church of England.
Bishop of Chester and then of Oxford
Thus Stubbs's acceptance in 1884 of Gladstone's offer of the see of Chester was not a divergence from the main path of his life, even though it marked almost the end of his career as a historian. He was an active bishop, unwearying in visiting his parishes. Part of Chester diocese was industrialized, populous, and under-churched, and Stubbs immediately launched an appeal for the creation of nine new parishes, each with church, school, and vicarage, and for fifteen mission rooms. The estimated cost was £84,000, of which the bishop contributed £1000 (he was believed to give away half his episcopal income for such purposes). The appeal was largely successful, and in general, Stubbs played a prominent part in local affairs. At this time he was also highly regarded in the central affairs of the Church of England: in 1886, at the request of the archbishop of Canterbury, E. W. Benson, he drew up a paper on the possibility of establishing a national synod. He was also largely responsible for the encyclical letter issued by the Lambeth conference of 1888.
Stubbs's distinction and justified reputation for sound judgement explain his translation, by Lord Salisbury, to the see of Oxford in 1888. Bishops of Oxford were felt to require special qualities because of the presence of the university and not least because of the ambiguous position of Christ Church and of its dean. Stubbs was well qualified to relate to the university; in due course he became a curator of the Bodleian Library, a delegate of the university press, and a member of the board of the faculty of modern history. His episcopal activity was hindered by his being required to live in the palace at Cuddesdon. Doubtless with an episcopal income of £3000 annually (increased to £5000 on the death of his predecessor in 1889) the cost of living in quite high style at Cuddesdon cannot have troubled him seriously. But the inconvenience did: the diocese was a large one with 645 parishes, and Cuddesdon was not on a railway. Stubbs attempted, in vain, to have the episcopal residence moved. His pupil and friend T. F. Tout wrote in his account of Stubbs, in the Dictionary of National Biography
, that at this period of his life
Age … began to tell upon him, and he found his routine work increasingly laborious and irksome, and his clergy did not appreciate his attempts to distinguish between his strictly episcopal functions, which he rigidly discharged, and the conventional duties which modern bishops are expected to fulfil and for which he did not conceal his distaste.
His episcopal policy and stance were aptly expressed in his ordination addresses and visitation charges, many of which were published:
In all these addresses can be seen his ardent faith, his strong sense of personal religion, his kindly tolerance, his strenuous maintenance of the ancient ways in all matters of dogma and church usage and his increasing dislike of all ecclesiastical innovations. (DNB)
In 1889 Stubbs unwillingly agreed to be one of the assessors at the trial before Archbishop Benson of Edmund King, bishop of Lincoln, for ritualistic practices. He felt that the archbishop was acting ultra vires
and was glad of King's acquittal on nearly all matters of substance. His administrative burdens were lightened by the appointment of a suffragan bishop of Reading in 1889.
Last years, and reputation
Stubbs's health began to fail early in 1898. He discharged his last public duty on 3 February 1901 when (presumably in his capacity of chancellor of the Order of the Garter) he preached at Windsor a sermon before Edward VII and Wilhelm II of Germany, in memory of Queen Victoria, who had died on 22 January. Stubbs died on 22 April 1901 at Cuddesdon, where he was buried on 25 April in the churchyard. He was survived by his wife. Stubbs's gifts were great. Not least were his extraordinary powers of work. I will work, he said, while there is day, and so he did. He was a very fast reader and writer and worked with extraordinary rapidity, accuracy, and sureness (DNB
). A foundation of his achievement was an ordered life, helpfully caricatured in an account he gave of his rules: Never do anything underhand, never get your feet wet, go to bed at ten. He disliked dinner-parties, smoking, late hours, and committees. He conscientiously discharged every duty that lay straight before him, but he did not spend too much time in doing so (ibid.). Unwillingness to fritter time probably accounts for his reluctance to write reviews; he claimed to have written only one.
Stubbs was a commanding figure who bridged changing worlds of action and attitude. His primary devotion to the Christian religion and to the Church of England related strongly to his view of English history: as a historian he saw the united English nation as a great agent for good in this world, and its unity as in large measure the creation of the Christian church. He was very much a thinker of his day in his belief in what he called (in his oration for Queen Victoria) the vitalizing, sympathizing tone and instinct of nationalism, expressing the hope that a nationalism of the whole empire might be created. He played a crucial part in the establishment of modern history as a professional study and a major means of education; yet the historian's professionalism of his kind differed from that of later generations: he sought justice in judgement, they freedom from value judgements. Yet the power of his works was such that he set much of the agenda of research on medieval England for two or more generations and his influence could be denounced as banefully pervasive so late as 1963 (by H. G. Richardson and G. O. Sayles, The Governance of Mediaeval England from the Conquest to Magna Carta