William Stubbs (1825--1901): Victorian historian and churchman

Date of Completion

January 2002


Biography|History, Church|History, European




William Stubbs was among the most learned men of the Victorian age. His life and career exemplified many of the concerns, aspirations and values of that era. He rose from poverty in Knaresborough, Yorkshire, to become a vicar, Regius Professor of Modern History at Oxford and then Bishop, successively of Chester and Oxford. Stubbs was among those Victorians who, while drawing inspiration from the past, helped to lay the foundations for the modern world. His great work and lasting achievement was the introduction of academic, medieval history, into the English universities. ^ Essentially an autodidact, Stubbs was the first professor of history in England, as that term is now understood. Inspired by the Oxford Movement and contemporary German historians, Stubbs revolutionized the curriculum at Oxford and displaced the Classics with the study of English medieval history, an endeavor made possible with his Select Charters (1870) and monumental Constitutional History (1873–1878). Stubbs's other service to medieval scholarship was to edit texts for the Rolls Series. As a historian, Stubbs should be seen within the contexts of German historiography, in the manner of Leopold von Ranke and Georg Waitz, and English narrative history as represented by St. Bede, Matthew Paris, Gibbon and Macaulay. ^ Stubbs saw English history as being unique, if not Providential. He stressed its continuity, Teutonic origins, medieval representative Parliament and the significance of the Lancastrian dynasty in the growth of liberty. His political and ecclesiastical interpretations were to be challenged by F. W. Maitland. ^ The Oxford Movement, with it emphasis on pastoral work and scholarship, also inspired Stubbs's work as a High Churchman. His most notable contributions to the Church were his historical defense of its history and identity, as well as his involvement in the Ritualist controversies. Stubbs died in 1901, soon after Queen Victoria herself. ^