Joyce Youings, Emeritus Professor of English Social History at the University of Exeter, was the eldest daughter of Harold and Ruby Youings. She was born in Barnstaple, Devon, on 11 September 1922 and attended Barnstaple Girls' Grammar School, where she excelled in the classroom and on the sports field, playing hockey for Devon County.
Youings resisted the opportunity to join the family concern, Youings Wholesale Tobacco. Rather, in 1941 she went to King's College, London (then evacuated to Bristol) to read mathematics. Within a week a chance conversation with a history student at a hockey match led her to change her course, an impulse she never regretted.
A First in 1944 set her en route to a PhD at University College. There, and at the Institute of Historical Research, lasting friendships were made with, inter alia, Rowena Carus Wilson, Joan Thirsk, David Quinn and Anne Cronne. Ambitious for university teaching, Youings took a safety-net Diploma in Education and taught a little. The doctorate completed, in 1951 – as a Tudor specialist – she joined the Department of History at the University College of the South West, happy to take on, too, the task of encouraging local-history studies across Devon. In 1965 the College became the University of Exeter.
Youings stayed on until she retired in 1986. In 1973, not before time, she became the first woman professor in a (then) somewhat male-orientated institution (elegantly feminine, Youings was not a feminist but an "equalist"). The Chair was a tribute to her scholarship but also to diverse activity within and without the university. For instance, as chairman of the Publications Committee, she stressed the advantage to the University of maintaining its own press. Within the History Department, while continuing her undergraduate teaching, she brought exacting but encouraging supervision to a cohort of doctoral candidates. Most of the contributors to the festschrift, Tudor and Stuart Devon, presented to her in 1992, were grateful former research students.
What marked her out as an outstanding historian of 16th-century Devon was the quality of her substantial body of publications. The range was wide: the disposal of monastic property, the cloth industry, municipal charters, the Western rebellions of 1549, and so on. In The Sixteenth Century (1984), the first volume to appear in JH Plumb's truncated The Pelican Social History of England, she stimulated her interest in Tudor maritime affairs generally, and in particular early English colonial development in North America, where she often lectured. Her attention began to focus on that egregious Devonian, Sir Walter Ralegh. It culminated in the meticulous collected edition of his letters. More than the doubtful canon of Ralegh's poetry, the letters are likely to be rewarding in the pursuit of the elusive inwardness of that "man so various".
In 1999, shortly before the publication of The Letters, Joyce had been diagnosed with Parkinson's disease. Soon (reluctantly) in a residential home, intending to continue research, she had her room turned into an office with desk, computer, documents, books and papers. It could not last. The disease took over her body but would never conquer her working mind.
Youings died on 28 June and was buried in the churchyard at Thorverton near Exeter, where she was a respected member of the village community. A large congregation of friends, colleagues and Youings celebrated the life of a remarkable woman.