Obituary: Professor Lewis Warren
Tuesday 19 July 1994
LEWIS WARREN, Professor of Modern History at Queen's University, Belfast, was a distinguished historian of the Normans and Anglo-Norman Kingship and a great defender of liberal academic values.
Born in 1929, he was educated at the High School, Newcastle-under-Lyme, and at Exeter College, Oxford, where he was an Open Scholar in History. On graduating in 1952 he embarked on research and was awarded his D Phil, a commendable three years later, for a thesis on Simon Sudbury, Bishop of London and Archbishop of Canterbury, 1361-81. Having tutored at Oxford in history and political science, he was appointed assistant lecturer at Queen's, Belfast, in 1955 and was promoted to Lecturer and Reader before being appointed to the Chair in 1973.
Warren's first publication, not uncharacteristically, was on a new subject and in a journal designed for a general as opposed to a specialist readership: a reappraisal of King John in History Today (1957). There then followed four books, King John (1961), 1066: the year of the three kings (1966), Henry II (1973) and The Governance of Norman and Angevin England 1086-1272 (1987); as well as many articles and reviews. In addition, he wrote six television programmes on the Normans and their conquests and presented each one of them with great style and panache. He wrote with an elegance and accessibility rare amongst academic historians - a distinction acknowledged by Henry II's winning the Wolfson Literary Prize for History in 1973; and, as the successive reprinting of King John and Henry II in Britain and the United States attests, he reached a very wide audience.
Warren also exerted a strong influence on other aspects of academic life. He was a firm believer in universities' being places where students are encouraged to think for themselves, to develop their own interests and to be responsible participants in the shaping of their own education. He practised this philosophy as a gifted tutor and lecturer (always in a gown in the latter capacity); and as a planner, and the first Warden, of new Halls of Residence at Queen's in the 1960s. It was no surprise when he devoted his inaugural lecture to the subject of undergraduate teaching and that on becoming Head of Department he established student membership of its governing body.
As Head of Department and as a senior member of Queen's in a large number of capacities, he demonstrated a distinctive approach to the problems that confronted universities in the 1970s and 1980s; one that gave priority to the integrity of the subject, to imaginative and long-lasting research and to academic and pastoral care for students. As Head he established an extremely efficient administrative system and presided over it in a spirit of tolerance. In the wider context of Queen's he pursued the same ends, often deploying his gift for a well- turned speech that cut through the fog that sometimes envelops academic discussion.
His influence extended well beyond Queen's. Within Northern Ireland he served on the Board of the Arts Council and was a member of the Alliance Party in its formative stages in the 1970s, being the author of 24 monthly articles in its newspaper, between 1971 and 1974. In the wider academic world he was a prominent lecturer, consultant, editor and external examiner. But he said to me on more than one occasion that he derived particular pleasure from two appointments, his election to the Royal Irish Academy in 1976; and his membership from 1984 to 1989 of the University Grants Committee Arts sub-committee which pioneered the assessment of research in history and related disciplines.
The arena in which Warren's many talents were perhaps most effectively displayed to colleagues and other historians was the Wiles Lectures - annual lectures and discussions which brought together experts from all over the world on a different subject every year. Here were demonstrated his gift for unobtrusive but efficient administration, his love of food and wine, his pride in the hospitality and beauty that Northern Ireland could offer the visitor and, most of all, his ability to put a subject into a wider context, to present a fresh thesis, to make comparisons over space and time and to take risks in interpretation.
He once said that he regarded himself, first and foremost, as a communicator. Apart from all the other ways that he communicated his extensive knowledge of the past, the Wiles proved an ideal and influential vehicle.
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