William Stubbs

British historian and Anglican bishop (1825–1901)

William Stubbs, Regius Professor of Modern History at Oxford (21 June 182522 April 1901) was a highly influential mediaeval, constitutional and ecclesiastical historian. He was also Bishop of Chester, and later of Oxford.

William Stubbs in 1885


  • The study of Constitutional History is essentially a tracing of causes and consequences; the examination of a distinct growth from a well-defined germ to full maturity: a growth, the particular shaping and direction of which are due to a diversity of causes, but whose life and developing power lies deep in the very nature of the people. It is not then the collection of a multitude of facts and views, but the piecing of the links of a perfect chain.
    • Select Charters and Other Illustrations of English Constitutional History (1870; Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1913) p. xv.
  • Froude informs the Scottish youth
    That parsons do not care for truth.
    The Reverend Canon Kingsley cries
    History is a pack of lies.
    What cause for judgements so malign?
    A brief reflexion solves the mystery –
    Froude believes Kingsley a divine,
    And Kingsley goes to Froude for History.
  • The History of Institutions cannot be mastered – can scarcely be approached – without an effort. It affords little of the romantic incident or of the picturesque grouping which constitute the charm of History in general, and holds out small temptation to the mind that requires to be tempted to the study of Truth. But it…abounds in examples of that continuity of life, the realisation of which is necessary to give the reader a personal hold on the past and a right judgment of the present. For the roots of the present lie deep in the past, and nothing in the past is dead to the man who would learn how the present comes to be what it is.
    • The Constitutional History of England (1873-8; Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1903) vol. 1, p. iii.
  • Without some knowledge of Constitutional History it is absolutely impossible to do justice to the characters and positions of the actors in the great drama; absolutely impossible to understand the origin of parties, the development of principles, the growth of nations in spite of parties and in defiance of principles. It alone can teach why it is that in politics good men do not always think alike, that the worst cause has often been illustrated with the most heroic virtue, and that the world owes some of its greatest debts to men from whose very memory it recoils.
    • The Constitutional History of England (1873-8; Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1903) vol. 1, pp. iii-iv.

Quotes about Stubbs

  • More satisfying because more decisive has been the critical treatment of the medieval writers, parallel with the new editions, on which incredible labour has been lavished, and of which we have no better examples than the prefaces of Bishop Stubbs.
    • Lord Acton, A Lecture on the Study of History (1895), p. 43
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