OBITUARY : Jennifer Loach

Barbara Harvey,Paul Slack
Tuesday 02 May 1995 23:02
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As a historian, Jennifer Loach was in the front rank of those who revised the traditional picture of mid-Tudor England. Her scholarly interests found their focus in the political history of 16th-century England and in the history of religion, in which politics were then inextricably involved, but they also embraced architecture and art history. Her intellectual gifts won the respect of all who knew her, and her vitality and warm personality their affection.

As Jennifer Baines, from King Edward VI School for Girls, Birmingham, she entered St Hilda's College, Oxford, with an Open Scholarship in 1964. At St Hilda's, she became a pupil of Menna Prestwich, whose influence on her as teacher and scholar was to be profound and enduring. In 1967, having taken a First of legendary distinction, she embarked on a thesis on the reign of Mary Tudor, under the supervision of Penry Williams. After a year as a Senior Scholar of St Hugh's College, she became a Research Fellow and Lecturer of Somerville College, and in 1974 a Tutorial Fellow of Somerville and a University Lecturer. For several years she also held a Lecturership at Corpus Christ College. Her marriage, in 1968, to Alan Loach, and the birth of their two children, Hannah and Oliver, brought her deep happiness.

Jennifer Loach showed that the mid-Tudor period could no longer be seen as an interval of crisis and sterility between the stable and creative reigns of Henry VIII and Elizabeth. The revisionist tone was first set in The Mid-Tudor Polity (1980), which she edited with Robert Tittler, and it was given substance and authority in her Parliament and the Crown in the Reign of Mary Tudor (1986), which fundamentally corrected every previous account of its subject.

She displayed her insight into the intricacies of parliamentary history across a broader canvas in her Parliament under the Tudors (1991) and at the time of her death she was completing a study of Edward VI. Some hint of its originality emerges from her short essays A Mid-Tudor Crisis? (1992), where the question expects a subtly qualified but firm negative, and Protector Somerset: a reassessment (1994), which cuts the good duke down to life-size.

Her most recent work on royal ceremony, like her early studies of Parliament, was characterised by an acute perception of the importance of historical continuities and immediate political realities, and by a suspicion of alleged novelties and sudden transformations. Her wri- ting was marked also by a striking economy of expression. She liked to say that the process of revising her work was always a process of shortening, of paring away irrelevancies in order to get at what was essential.

Her empirical approach and profound respect for scholarly accuracy were at odds with some of the more speculative and fashionable trends in current historical writing; and she was a severe critic of work which rested on insecure evidence, however brilliant its exposition. She took pride in her mastery of traditional and austere historical skills and in showing how they could still transform the historical scene.

She was a formidable tutor, well-read, tenacious in argument, and uncompromising in standards. Her pupils, for their part, could not have too much of this treatment, and towards the end of her life made clear their conviction that Jennifer Loach, even when ill, was a better tutor than others in perfect health.

She was critically minded, and one well-directed question from her could puncture a colleague's pretension or pomposity. Yet the question would be put with such grace that the victim was often unaware of the disaster that had occurred. Perhaps only her closest friends knew that her modesty was allied to a real diffidence. She was an intensely loyal friend, who expected the same degree of loyalty in return.

A beautiful woman, she did everything with style. On her many visits to sixth forms, the paper on Edward VI or Mary lost none of its intellectual impact from the knowledge that the exquisitely dressed speaker had arrived at the wheel of a fast car.

Although she never put herself forward in college, she was an influential Fellow, whose views on a wide range of issues, including the choice of architects, often prevailed. She was Senior Tutor for a period, and for many years the Fellow chiefly responsible for the College Nursery. She was also a member of the university's Hebdomadal Council from 1989, but she was not the kind of person who finds or makes time- consuming committees comfortable. She spoke only when she had something important to say, and then without fear or favour, for she had a respect for conscience, in public and in private, which she was the first to attribute to her Quaker upbringing.

She was far from austere in personality. Generous with hospitality and marvellous company, she took an infectious delight in her pleasures: in paintings and architecture (of which she was a knowledgeable and sensitive historian), in music and travel (especially in France, where she was well- known among scholars). She was a person of rare contrasts and held them together in perfect harmony.

Barbara Harvey

and Paul Slack

Susan Jennifer Baines, historian: born Darlington 4 May 1945; Research Fellow, Somerville College, Oxford 1969-73, Lecturer 1970-73, Tutorial Fellow 1974-95; Lecturer, Corpus Christi College, Oxford 1973-80; married 1968 Alan Loach (one son, one daughter); died Oxford 29 April 1995.

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