Professor Peter Jupp

Historian of the 'long' 18th century


Peter Jupp, historian: born London 20 August 1940; Lecturer, then Reader, in History, Queen's University, Belfast 1964-93, Professor of British History 1993-2005 (Emeritus); married 1964 Belinda Penney (one son, one daughter); died Belfast 14 September 2006.

Peter Jupp was one of Britain's most eminent historians of the "long" 18th century. He was the author of several acclaimed works of scholarship, including a classic biography of the early-19th-century prime minister Lord Grenville. Teaching at Queen's University, Belfast for over 40 years, he exercised an enormous influence as a highly gifted lecturer, and contributed to the stability of the academic and wider communities in Belfast at a time of intense civil unrest.

He was born in Hackney, London, in 1940, and educated at Dame Alice Owen's School in Islington and at Reading University, where he read Modern History (and met his future wife, Belinda Penney). Jupp was part of the circle of gifted research students working alongside Arthur Aspinall, Professor of Modern History at Reading, and a formidably learned historian of Hanoverian Britain. Aspinall's enthusiasms for high political history, and for the assiduous collection and editing of original manuscripts, left a clear impression on Jupp, whose own scholarship was distinguished by a passion for original source materials.

Under Aspinall's supervision Jupp completed his doctorate, the conclusions of which were later partly incorporated into his British and Irish Elections, 1784-1831 (1973). Like Aspinall, Jupp contributed extensively to the great History of Parliament project, founded by the Labour MP Josiah Wedgwood, and decisively shaped by Sir Lewis Namier. Jupp, too, was concerned with the discovery and collation of manuscript materials: he edited The Letter-Journal of George Canning for the Royal Historical Society in 1991, and was working on an edition of the diary of the third Earl Grey at the time of his death.

However, his reputation was chiefly anchored in three great works of interpretation and analysis. His study of William Wyndham, Lord Grenville, William Pitt's foreign secretary from 1791 to 1801 and successor as prime minister, 1806-07, Lord Grenville, 1759-1834 (1985), demonstrated a meticulous archival scholarship, and is widely regarded both as the definitive treatment of its subject, and as a leading example of British political biography.

Jupp had a lifelong fascination with the career of the first Duke of Wellington, and combined this enthusiasm with his concern for the structure of early-19th-century politics in his British Politics on the Eve of Reform: the Duke of Wellington's administration, 1828-1830 (1998). The centre of gravity of the work was high politics (which was Jupp's abiding passion), but the work's themes also embraced the extra-parliamentary and the popular: it has been ranked alongside similarly focused work on other periods by Lewis Namier and Norman Gash.

His last book, published weeks before his death, was The Governing of Britain, 1688-1848 - a fitting professional culmination, in so far as it was the most ambitious of his scholarly enterprises, and united so many of his political historiographical concerns.

Jupp's public and national significance stems from his pre-eminence as a scholar and as a researcher. But his influence was also achieved through the generations of undergraduate and research students whom he taught. His developing talents had been recognised and nurtured both by Aspinall and by Michael Roberts, Professor of Modern History at Queen's University, Belfast; Jupp was appointed by Roberts to a lectureship there in 1964.

His arrival in Belfast coincided with an upsurge in student radicalism, and indeed popular mobilisation against the failings of the devolved government at Stormont: it was thus a period of mounting communal tensions, and - after 1969-70 - increasing violence. In these unpropitious circumstances, Jupp shone: he had strong opinions on many scholarly issues, was often teasingly provocative in his statements, was sometimes genially outrageous, but was also uniformly generous with his knowledge and with his time. He sustained an unusual combination of charisma and affability. He was an elegant and stimulating lecturer, and a highly patient tutor: the field-trips that he led gravitated inevitably towards the Big Houses of the 18th-century political class that he so loved, but were also both convivial and intellectually stimulating.

If Jupp helped to hold together academic life in Belfast at a time of political crisis - his contributions to Queen's were recognised by promotions to a readership and, in 1993, to a personal chair in British History - then he also helped to bolster the city's sometimes ailing cultural scene in the 1970s. He had wide musical tastes, but a particular, and deeply informed, enthusiasm for jazz. He was the organiser, for many years, of the Guinness Jazz Spot, one of the highlights of the annual Belfast International Arts Festival. At a time when war-torn Belfast was a hard sell to the outside world, Jupp succeeded (through patience and persistence) in tempting many leading jazz musicians to his adopted city. Here, as in his academic life, he worked easily with established figures such as John Dankworth, Humphrey Lyttelton or Ronnie Scott, but also took care to encourage aspiring talent.

Music was not his only recreation. His research interests were complemented by a love of books, prints and caricatures: he collected the works of Gillray, Rowlandson and other late-18th-century artists with knowledge and avidity. He had a passion, too, for cars, lavishing money and affection on an ageing hard-top Triumph TR4 as well as a battered Austin 1800: he defended his purchase of an unlovely Austin Maxi and plotted the acquisition of a superannuated Rolls-Royce. He was an enthusiastic fisherman and an equally keen rackets player.

Peter Jupp was a great political historian, whose published work will have a lasting scholarly value. He was an important unifying and normalising force in Northern Ireland in the years of the "Troubles". But he had also a great gift for friendship: his easy and urbane manner, hints of vulnerability, perennial smile, ready barks of laughter, combined with his myriad enthusiasms to create a special and attractive personality.

Alvin Jackson

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