Obituary: Daniel Williams

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The Independent Culture
WHEN AS a young graduate Daniel Williams was appointed to his first academic post, as a medievalist in the Department of History at Leicester University, a member of the interviewing board commented that he would make the students love medieval history.

It was a true prophecy: for Danny Williams had an infectious enthusiasm, a talent for vivid presentation, and a wry sense of humour, which made his lectures an experience not to be missed: they were illustrated by anecdotes quoted from original sources, and enlivened by asides, and by the occasional practical demonstration such as how to hold your lance while riding a horse.

His courses were always oversubscribed. He brought historical events to life by bringing home the human side of what had happened: the feel of cold steel between the ribs, the shock of summary execution. But it was not only the drama which enthralled his students: he gave to each of them personal attention and encouragement, creating the confidence to realise their full potential and a love of the subject which remained with them for the rest of their lives.

In his undergraduate days at Aberystwyth, the course in Medieval English History devoted so much time to the early centuries that it failed to proceed further than the Norman Conquest: Williams referred to it as "1066 and that's that!" At Leicester, where he remained until his sudden death, his research and teaching interests came to be focused on the later Middle Ages, prompted by his commitment to the history of the locality, and especially its associations with Richard III.

He was the historical adviser who worked with Leicestershire County Council's team to locate and develop as a tourist attraction the site of the Battle of Bosworth. His account of the battle site has been reprinted many times since its publication in 1973. A new, fuller edition was published in 1996, with a characteristically lively text and illustrations drawn from contemporary and later sources.

From 1975 to 1989 he edited the annual Transactions of the Leicestershire Archaeological and Historical Society (volumes 50-63), to which he was also a valued contributor, notably on William Catesby, Richard III's supporter, and on William Burton's manuscript revisions of his 17th- century Description of Leicestershire. Biographies of William Burton and of Richard III were among his ongoing preoccupations.

When in 1984 the British campus of the University of Evansville, Indiana, began at Harlaxton Manor in Lincolnshire its series of interdisciplinary conferences on the 12th to 15th centuries, Williams was among the first members. He contributed papers on the period chosen each year for attention, and also edited three of the resulting volumes of the annual conference's Proceedings. The continuing publication of what is now known as the Harlaxton Interdisciplinary Symposium on Medieval Studies is an indication of the success of what was a pioneering venture bringing together research-ers in history, art and literature, of which Williams was a founder.

His colourful turn of phrase, apparent and perpetuated in his writing, made his teaching immensely popular not only with university students but also with Adult Education classes, and with the general public in his many outside lectures to local and national history societies and groups. He rapidly established a warm rapport with audiences, whether in lecture halls or out of doors when guiding enthusiasts over Bosworth field, or at his favourite Fotheringhay (where Mary Queen of Scots was executed), with its Yorkist connections.

Always personally hesitant, Danny Williams was perhaps not fully aware of the extent to which his teaching and his human touch were appreciated and valued.

Daniel Thomas Williams, medieval historian: born Farnham, Surrey 30 September 1937; Assistant Lecturer in Medieval History, Leicester University 1966- 68, Lecturer 1968-98; married 1963 Anne Roberts (two sons; marriage dissolved 1994); died Leicester 25 November 1998.