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Stenton [née Parsons], Doris Mary, Lady Stentonlocked

(1894–1971)

Stenton [née Parsons], Doris Mary, Lady Stenton (1894–1971), historian, was born at 40 Radstock Road, Reading, Berkshire, on 27 August 1894, the only child of Joseph Parsons, cabinet-maker, and his wife, Amelia Wadhams. From the Abbey School, Reading, she entered in 1912 the University College at Reading where Frank Merry Stenton (1880–1967) had just been appointed to the first chair of history. In 1916 she took a first-class London degree and even before the end of her undergraduate days had been given small pieces of research by her professor. In 1917 a research grant was obtained for her and she was appointed to an assistant lectureship. In 1919 she married Stenton and for the next forty-eight years, as she says in her memoir of him, 'we did everything together' (Stenton). She became a senior lecturer in 1952 and a reader in 1955 in the department of which she was a member until her retirement.

Before her marriage Doris Parsons went to share the transcription of the charters of the dean and chapter of Lincoln which Canon Charles Wilmer Foster had been urged by Stenton to publish. Her sojourn at Timberland, near Lincoln, for this purpose gave her valuable experience in a countryside very different from Berkshire and also led her to begin her first piece of editing: The Earliest Lincolnshire Assize Rolls, A.D. 1202–1209 (1926).

But while legal records were to absorb half Doris Stenton's academic interest, a conversation in 1922 in Lincoln between the Stentons, Canon Foster, and Professor Leonard Victor Davies Owen led to the resuscitation of the moribund Pipe Roll Society. Discussions with Sir Henry Maxwell Lyte, deputy keeper of the public records, followed and in 1923 she was appointed organizing secretary. From this time, through her remarkable work in securing members, editing, and later securing editors among her pupils, colleagues, and friends, she transformed a nearly extinct body into one of the most important learned societies for medievalists. The society's close connection from its foundation in 1883 with the Public Record Office was continued, and it was appropriate that the presentation of A Medieval Miscellany for Doris Mary Stenton (1962) was made at a gathering of her friends there to celebrate her seventieth birthday.

Doris Stenton's next edition of legal records appeared as the fifty-third volume of the Selden Society in 1934—Rolls of the Justices in Eyre for Lincolnshire, 1218–19, and Worcestershire, 1221. This was followed in 1937 by Rolls of the Justices in Eyre for Yorkshire in 3 Henry III and in 1940 by Rolls of the Justices in Eyre for Gloucestershire, Warwickshire and Staffordshire (recte Shropshire), 1221, 1222. Between 1952 and 1968 Pleas before the King or his Justices, 1198–1202 came out in four volumes, and when she was asked by the American Philosophical Society of Philadelphia to give the Jayne lectures in 1963 she considered this 'a propitious moment to look at the litigation of the 12th century', a subject of equal interest for American and English scholars. She was then nearing the completion of her Selden Society volumes and was able to survey the preceding century and a half, appropriately concluding the volume with a reprint of her Raleigh lecture to the British Academy, 1958: 'King John and the courts of justice'. In 1950 with Lewis C. Loyd she had edited as a presentation for her husband's seventieth birthday Sir Christopher Hatton's Book of Seals and in the following year produced English Society in the Early Middle Ages (1066–1307) as volume 3 of the Pelican History of England. The latter was written most successfully for the general reader, bringing alive from her great knowledge of the original sources the ordinary people of the time as well as the notables. Six years later came The English Woman in History (1957).

In 1948 Doris Stenton took the degree of doctor of letters at Reading; in 1953 she was elected a fellow of the British Academy; in 1958 she received an honorary degree of LLD at Glasgow and in 1968 an honorary degree of DLitt at Oxford. She was also elected an honorary fellow of St Hilda's College, Oxford, that year. She became Lady Stenton in 1948 when her husband was knighted.

Doris Stenton's interests centred in history, to which she and her husband were dedicated, and her life until his death in 1967 was singularly happy. In 1935 Maurice Powicke summed up her qualities when reviewing one of her volumes: 'She is a true historian as well as a fine editor and palaeographer and her insight like a good lamp burns with a clear and steady flame' (English Historical Review, 1935, 521). After her husband's death her concern was to record his life and complete the edition of his collected papers as well as the third edition of Anglo-Saxon England (1971). This done, she had no interest in life, and it was perhaps fortunate for her, with the disability of increasing deafness, that her final illness lasted only one week. She died at Reading on 29 December 1971 and was buried in the same grave as her husband at Halloughton, Nottinghamshire, on 5 January 1972.

Sources

  • P. M. Barnes and C. F. Slade, eds., A medieval miscellany for Doris Mary Stenton, PRSoc., new ser., 36 (1962) [incl. photograph and bibliography to 1962]
  • Liber memorialis Doris Mary Stenton, PRSoc., new ser., 41 (1976) [with photograph, memoir by C. F. Slade, and bibliography, 1963–76]
  • D. M Stenton, ‘Frank Merry Stenton, 1880–1967’, PBA, 54 (1968), 315–423
  • K. Major, ‘Doris Mary Stenton, 1894–1971’, PBA, 58 (1972), 525–35
  • J. C. Holt, ‘Doris Mary Stenton, 1894–1971’, American Historical Review, 79 (1974)
  • personal knowledge (1986)
  • b. cert.

Archives

  • U. Reading L., corresp., diaries, and papers
  • Bodl. Oxf., corresp. with O. G. S. Crawford

Likenesses

  • G. Adams, photograph, repro. in Major, ‘Doris Mary Stenton’
  • photograph, repro. in A medieval miscellany for Doris Mary Stenton
  • photograph, repro. in Liber memorialis Doris Mary Stenton

Wealth at Death

£105,564: probate, 25 Feb 1972, CGPLA Eng. & Wales

Pipe Roll Society
Proceedings of the British Academy