E. F. Jacob

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Ernest Fraser Jacob (12 September 1894 – 7 October 1971) was a British medievalist and scholar.


He was educated at Twyford School, Winchester College, and then for a period at New College, Oxford - broken by service in World War I. He won a fellowship to All Souls College, Oxford, and taught there and at Christ Church where his pupils included A. L. Rowse.


He was then Professor of History at Manchester University from 1929 to 1944 before returning to Oxford as Chichele Professor of Modern History at All Souls from 1950 until 1961. He was an able academic politician, and is said to have recruited Sir Lewis Namier to Manchester by reading in his newspaper that Namier had no position, making a phone-call to invite him to take a chair, and only then walking over to tell the Vice-Chancellor of the recruitment. Jacob was a Member of the Chetham Society, serving as a Member of Council from 1931 and as President from 1938 until 1971.[1]


Initially, he studied the thirteenth century, with perceptive 'Studies' in the period of baronial reform, but, disliking the powerful hold of Sir Maurice Powicke, he switched to the unresearched 1350-1500 period. His most important works were a four-volume edition of the register of Archbishop Henry Chichele of Canterbury, 1414-1443, founder of All Souls College, Oxford and a volume in the magisterial Oxford History of England series, England in the Fifteenth Century. The first of these publications secured his reputation as a historian (although in fact his co-editor had actually transcribed the manuscript), but the latter caused considerable controversy. Firstly the book was meant to be written by K. B. McFarlane, who proved unwilling or unable to write a book of its kind. Secondly, after the book was released many academics suggested that Jacob's had plagiarized postgraduates' work and had also made a large number of factual errors. The book also lacked shape or much interpretation of the fifteenth-century political scene, out-of-date the minute it was published. It is true that at Manchester he had his postgraduate students (including Sir Maurice Oldfield, the future security chief), working on aspects of his own projects and incorporated their findings into his own, albeit usually with a general acknowledgment. He was charged with having extended this, for his general book, to drawing on the work of other scholars' students, and without acknowledgment. In response, he declared his gratitude to the many workers in the field but asserted that the conventions of the Oxford History did not allow for specific footnotes. Perhaps significantly, his actual biography of Archbishop Chichele was a slight work from a non-academic publishing house, and he generally favored a lecture/essay approach, as he had done even in his earliest years. His knowledge of German especially allowed him to write vignettes on the Catholic Church in the period of the Great Schism and Conciliar Movement perceptively, although again there was to be no great magnum opus, and again it was muttered that his knowledge of continental scholarship was better than his knowledge of primary sources. Even J.S. Roskell, a devoted disciple, recorded decades later that he found one lecture/subsequently-published essay painfully familiar from just the basic English monograph he himself had used for an undergraduate essay. Nonetheless, Jacob's transmission of continental scholarship to an insular English academia was invaluable and influential.


Nevertheless, he will be remembered as the link between the old school of 'structuralist' medievalists, including distinguished names such as William Stubbs, T. F. Tout and F. W. Maitland, and the subsequent school of more socio-political medieval historiography, to which J.S.Roskell, K.B. McFarlane and C.A.J. Armstrong belonged. His professorships at Manchester and Oxford did much to make the two schools England's academic centres for medieval studies, although he was much less of a force at the latter than in his days of benevolent dictatorship in the north. The tide of 15C studies was swinging over to McFarlane, and even within church history Jacob's influence was not strong, for want of a clear overall direction, loss of touch with post-1950 developments in the field, and consequent lack of effective postgraduate pupils in his later years.

Of diminutive stature, and celibate, he was a well-liked tutor to the talented and a powerful patron of young protégés,[citation needed] although it was said that even his most-able female postgraduates felt a glass ceiling directing them to archival rather than academic careers. He once broke a female student's collar bone while playing musical chairs at a Manchester University History Department Christmas party, J.S. Roskell being witness to this dramatic final round of an otherwise decorous competition.[citation needed] An appalling car-driver, especially when having passengers to talk to, he once missed a turn in the A1 completely en route for Scotland and plunged through a farm gateway (fortunately open) and across a ploughed field (Roskell: passenger and eyewitness) He was a devout Christian, at least of the Anglican kind, which under-wrote his somewhat amiable interpretation of the late medieval church, and spoke French and German, with high competence in Latin and Ancient Greek.[citation needed]


  1. ^ "Chetham Society: Officers and Council" (PDF). Chetham Society. 2015-11-04. Retrieved 2015-11-04. 

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