Saturday, 8 August 2020
Conservative Revolutionary: The Lives of Lewis Namier - by D.W. Hayton. Manchester, 472 pp., £25, August 2019,
Wednesday, 5 August 2020
Evan Smith and Matthew Worley (eds), Waiting for the Revolution: The British far left from 1956, Manchester University Press, 2017; 279 pp.; £75.00 hbk; ISBN 9781526113658
Tuesday, 4 August 2020
I first met Valerie Pearl in the summer of 1966 when she was a lecturer at Somerville College, Oxford. I had gone to see her at the suggestion of my supervisor, Christopher Hill, to ask her advice on the 2nd Earl of Warwick’s mercantile connections in London in the 1640s. She impressed me with her depth of knowledge and her scholarship as she did when I met her by accident the following autumn on a train from Oxford to Paddington.
I was not, I fear, a very good conversationalist and had to improve greatly in the following spring when Hugh Trevor-Roper asked me to assist her on a project then being funded by the University’s Faculty of Modern History. I got to know her in the Manuscript Room of the British Library where she was pursuing her research into the Parliamentary politics of the 1640s. After a while, I learnt how well-informed she was about academic politics and what a good sense of humour she had.
I was saddened to note how little attention her death in 2016 attracted at that time. She had been born in 1926, the daughter of a trades union official, Cyril Bence, who was later Labour M.P. for East Dunbartonshire from 1959 to 1970. Valerie Bence was educated in Birmingham before entering St Anne’s College, Oxford. Hugh Trevor-Roper’s letters suggest that she was at that stage of her life attracted to Marxism: her doctoral research on the city of London in the early stages of the English Civil War was certainly supervised by Christopher Hill of Balliol College, the leading Marxist historian of the period then in Oxford even though she was later more drawn to Trevor-Roper’s views.
Her thesis was, so I understand, lent by Hill to Perez Zagorin, then on the far left himself, and had to be published rather hurriedly by the Oxford University Press in 1961 under the title London and the Outbreak of the Puritan Revolution: City Government and National Politics. It was to be her only book but was seminal in inspiring later work on the city of London in the latter part of the twentieth century.
The 1960s were undoubtedly her best period as an historian. Tall, blond-haired with dark spectacles and very elegantly dressed, she wrote and published important articles on the middle group in the House of Commons after John Pym’s death and on the Royal Independents whilst a lecturer at Somerville College, Oxford. Unfortunately, her husband became ill and she was unable to take up a Fellowship at Somerville College because she could not move full-time to Oxford. Instead, she accepted a Readership in London History at University College, London at the invitation of Joel Hurstfield and Robin Humphreys.
The History Department there lacked the stellar figures to be found in Oxford (with the exception of the young Nicholas Tyacke) and, after producing articles on Puritans and Fifth Columnists in the capital and on London’s Counter-Revolution, her output came effectively to a halt. In 1981, she accepted an invitation to become President of New Hall, Cambridge in succession to Rosemary Murray and found herself submerged not just in the administrative duties of that post but also in the difficult politics of that college. When she retired in the mid-1990s, she had transformed that college’s fortunes but had not fulfilled her potential as an historian. Sadly, she was never to do so.
The obituaries published after her death were brief and not very informative. In her prime, she was a formidable scholar with extensive knowledge of the politics of the 1640s, far better informed than most contemporaries of hers. Valerie Pearl was a woman of charm and high intelligence as well as someone with a firm conviction in doing what was right for her family, friends and institutions. Her passing needs greater acknowledgement and her historiographical legacy more praise.