Gerald Aylmer was the only child of Edward Arthur Aylmer, from an Anglo-Irish naval family, and Phoebe Evans. A great-uncle was Lord Desborough. Educated at Beaudesert Park School and Winchester College, he went up to Balliol College, Oxford for a term before volunteering for the Navy, where he was a shipmate of George Melly. Returning to Balliol, he was tutored by Christopher Hill. He graduated in 1950, spent a year at Princeton University and completed his thesis, 'Studies on the Institutions and Personnel of English Central Administration, 1625–42' (1954) as a Junior Research Fellow at Balliol. The thesis, in two volumes, was 1208 pages long: the Modern History Board subsequently introduced a word-limit.)
In 1954, Alymer went to Manchester University as an assistant lecturer, and in the following year married Ursula Nixon. Appointed lecturer at Manchester in 1962, he was then invited, aged 36, to become the first Professor of History at University of York. In 1979, he returned to Oxford as Master of St Peter's College, presiding over an improvement in academic performance at the college, increased endowment and building extensions before retiring in 1991. He remained an active publisher for the remaining nine years of his life before dying in hospital following what appeared to be routine surgery.
Aylmer was on the Editorial Board of the History of Parliament Trust from 1968 to 1998, and chaired the board from 1989 to 1997. A Commissioner for Historical Manuscripts from 1978, he chaired the Commission from 1989 to 1989. He was elected Fellow of the British Academy in 1976, and President of the Royal Historical Society between 1984 and 1988.
Aylmer's most substantial historical contribution was his trilogy on seventeenth-century administration before, during and after the Civil War. Alymer brought a prosopographical method to the study of seventeenth-century bureaucracy, as well as an interest in the political sociology of bureaucracy in Max Weber, James Burnham and Milovan Djilas. The first volume – a careful statistical study of Charles I's officials – effectively rebutted Hugh Trevor-Roper's attribution of the rise of the gentry to the profits of royal office, and characterisation of the Civil War as a conflict between 'rising' and 'declining' gentry. The second volume showed that Interregnum reforms had real, if not absolute, effects; the third, published posthumously, treated the partial return to older practices under Charles II. In this final volume, Aylmer described himself as 'an old Whig (and one with some residual Leveller leanings too)".
- The King's Servants. The Civil Service of Charles I, 1961
- The State's Servants. The Civil Service of the English Republic, 1649-1660, 1973. ISBN 978-0-7100-7637-3
- The Struggle for the Constitution 1603-88, 1963. 4th ed, 1975.
- (ed.) The Interregnum: the Quest for Settlement, 1972
- The Levellers in the English Revolution, 1975. ISBN 978-0-8014-0957-8
- (ed. as microfilm edition) The Clarke Manuscripts at Worcester College, Oxford, 1979
- (with John Morrill), The Civil War and Interregnum: Sources for Local Historians, 1979
- Rebellion or Revolution? England 1640-1660, 1986
- The Crown's Servants: Government and Civil Service under Charles II 1660-85, 2002. ISBN 978-0-19-820826-6
Aylmer's publications up to 1990 are listed in his Festschrift.
- The Crown's Servants, 5, quoted in Thomas, 15.
- William Sheils, 'Select Bibliography', in John Morrill, Paul Slack and Daniel Woolf, eds, Public Duty and Private Conscience in Seventeenth-Century England: Essays Presented to G. E. Aylmer, Oxford, 2003.
- Keith Thomas, 'Gerald Edward Aylmer, 1926-2000', Proceedings of the British Academy, 124 (2004), 3-21
- Austin Woolrych, 'Gerald Aylmer: Historian who always blended authority with humanity' (obituary), The Guardian, 29 December 2000
- Obituary, The Telegraph,
- Works by or about Gerald Aylmer in libraries (WorldCat catalog)
- Peter Aylmer, Gerald Aylmer: foremost authority on the 17th century English state
J. C. Holt
|President of the Royal Historical Society
Francis Michael Longstreth Thompson