John Philipps Kenyon

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John Philipps Kenyon (18 June 1927 – 6 January 1996) was an English historian. He was one of the foremost historians of 17th-century England, a prolific writer and reviewer, and a Fellow of the British Academy.


Kenyon was born in Sheffield where he attended King Edward VII School and then Sheffield University[1] where he obtained a first class degree in History in 1948[2] before going to Cambridge to take a doctorate as a pupil of J. H. Plumb. He obtained his doctorate in 1954 and was appointed a fellow of Christ's College, Cambridge,[3] before going on to become Hull's history professor for 19 years, followed by six years at St Andrews. From 1987 to 1994 he was Distinguished Professor of early modern British history at the University of Kansas.


In 1983 his venture into historiography, The History Men, was published, which like his Observer reviews was aimed at a broad audience. But his work was focused on the Stuart age. His rugged individualism and attachment to conservative, scholarly values (unlike many of his fellow academics he expressed admiration for Sir Arthur Bryant, for instance) meant that he was never really seen as an innovator, nor did he establish a "school" in the way other historians have done. He had little time for academic social climbing and had a healthy attitude to posterity, declaring that much of his work would be out of print within 10 years of his death (which it is). He taught at Harvard and Columbia University in the 1960s and 1970s, and his only professional regret was his failure to secure the seat in Modern History at Oxford. This professorship eventually went to Norman Stone.

Kenyon's 1958 doctorate book, Robert Spencer, Earl of Sunderland, matched attention to detail with an ability to pick up every nuance from his sources. Apart from its portrait of Sunderland, it offers sophisticated analyses of both the deluded and introverted court of James II and the world of political management and intrigue under William III. The two biggest commercial successes that Kenyon enjoyed were The Stuarts and Stuart England. Another notable volume of his was The Popish Plot (1972), which was conspicuously fair-minded in its treatment of one of the most notorious events in English history. All three were standard 'A" Level and undergraduate sources for many years.

A subsequent book of Kenyon's, Revolution Principles: The Politics Of Party 1689-1720 (1977), focussed on the realm of ideas, on the ferment of political debate as Whig and Tory polemicists sought to adapt to the changed political world after the revolution of 1688-99 - and then to the Hanoverian Succession - an analysis that is at once coherent and original. The book stemmed from the Ford Lectures that Kenyon gave at Oxford in 1975-76.

His works may suggest a cynical view of human nature, but frequently his relationships with colleagues and students were warm and long-lasting. Many of his numerous book reviews were abrasive and dismissive, but as they were often very perceptive too, they made him enemies. He was delighted at one point to be described on television by A. L. Rowse (himself not exactly deficient in abrasiveness) as "a monster". In addition to his journalistic output for various publications under his own name, he wrote a great many science fiction reviews for The Observer, during the 1970s and early 1980s, under the pseudonym of "Kelvin Johnston". When moving to the US in 1987, Kenyon was amused to discover that Observer readers had no complaints upon losing his writing about history (which he had to give up in preparation for his transatlantic departure), but there were a number of plaintive letters from readers asking for the return of Kelvin Johnston. One of his proudest moments, he said, was having been cited in the "Pseud's Corner" section of Private Eye in the 1970s.


  • The bulk of this article is from the obituary of John Kenyon written by John Miller. ©.Guardian Newspaper. January 15, 1996.
  1. ^ McKendrick, Neil (1996-01-10). "Obituary: Professor John Kenyon - People, News". London: The Independent. Retrieved 2010-04-07. 
  2. ^ "KES SPEECH DAY JUNE 23rd, 1949". 1949-06-23. Retrieved 2010-04-07. 
  3. ^ "KES MAGAZINE SPRING 1954". Retrieved 2010-04-07.