Owen Chadwick

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The Reverend
Owen Chadwick
Owen Chadwick.jpg
Born William Owen Chadwick
(1916-05-20)20 May 1916
Bromley, Kent, England, UK
Died 17 July 2015(2015-07-17) (aged 99)
Cambridge, England, UK

William Owen Chadwick OM KBE FBA FRSE (/ˈædwɪk/; 20 May 1916 – 17 July 2015) was a British Anglican clergyman, academic, writer, and prominent historian of Christianity. He played international rugby union in his youth, and he was Master of Selwyn College, Cambridge from 1956 to 1983, Dixie Professor of Ecclesiastical History from 1958 to 1968, and Regius Professor of History from 1968 to 1983.

In his obituaries, he was described as "one of the great religious historians of our time" by the Independent,[1] and as "one of the most remarkable men of letters of the 20th century" by the Guardian.[2]

Early life and education[edit]

Owen Chadwick
School Tonbridge School
University St John's College, Cambridge
Rugby union career
Playing career
Position Hooker
Professional / senior clubs
Years Club / team Caps (points)
1936–1938 Cambridge University
National team(s)
Years Club / team Caps (points)
1936 British Isles XV

Chadwick was born in Bromley in 1916, the third of six children of John Chadwick, a barrister, and his wife Edith (née Horrocks). His father died in 1925. He was the elder brother of the Very Reverend Henry Chadwick, also a distinguished professor and historian of the early Church, and younger brother of Sir John Chadwick KCMG, a diplomat whose senior posting was as British Ambassador to Romania.[3]

His eldest brother was sent to Eton College, but Chadwick was educated at Tonbridge School from 1929 to 1935. He was school captain and captain of the school rugby team.[4] He then studied classics at St John's College, Cambridge. He received three Blues in rugby playing as hooker for Cambridge University in the annual Varsity Match against Oxford University in 1936, 1937 and (as captain) 1938.[5] In 1936, during his first year at Cambridge, he was selected to tour with a British Lions team in their third trip to Argentina.[6] Although no caps were awarded on this tour, Chadwick did play in the one match against the full Argentina side, playing in his favoured position of hooker in a 23–0 victory. [7] The British team won all ten of its matches. During the 1937/38 season, Chadwick played for invitational touring side, the Barbarians.[8]

Chadwick graduated with a First in History in 1938. Having been influenced by Martin Charlesworth and Martin Niemöller in 1938, he took a First in theology at Cambridge in 1939, and then attended Cuddesdon College (a theological college) and was ordained to the diaconate and priesthood of the Church of England in 1940 and 1941 respectively.

He served as a curate in St John's church in Huddersfield for two years, and then he was chaplain of Wellington College in Berkshire until the end of the Second World War.[9]

He also played rugby during the war, for Blackheath, and for an England team that played against New Zealand.

Cambridge career[edit]

After the war, he was made chaplain and Fellow of Trinity Hall, Cambridge in 1947, and then Dean of Chapel. He became a university theology lecturer in 1949, and published his first book, on the 5th-century monk John Cassian, in 1950.

He was elected Master of Selwyn College, Cambridge in 1955, where he was close neighbour and friend of David Briggs, head of King's College School. Installed in 1956, he was the longest-serving Master of Selwyn by the time he retired after 27 years, in 1983. During his time as Master, Selwyn became a full college of the university in 1958, ceased to require its students to be communicant members of the Church of England, and completed several building projects including the new Cripps Court, and the college was one of the first to admit women students alongside its men in 1976. The numbers of postgraduates and of fellows were doubled. He took a keen interest in sport and was elected to membership of the Hermes Club. He was president of Cambridge University RFC from 1973.

In 1958 he was named Dixie Professor of Ecclesiastical History. He became an Honorary Fellow at St John's College, Cambridge, in 1964, and in 1968, he was elected Regius Professor of Modern History, a chair which he held until 1982, and was President of the British Academy during the early 1980s. As Vice-Chancellor from 1969-71, he guided Cambridge through turbulent times in the late 1960s, including the Garden House riot in 1970.

In the 1960s and 1970s, he was suggested as a potential Archbishop of Canterbury, but is thought to have declined the offer of a bishop's mitre more than once. He chaired the Archbishops' Commission on Church and State (1966–1970), known as the Chadwick Commission, which recommended that Parliament should pass the regulation of the church to a General Synod rather than disestablishment.

He was Hensley Henson Lecturer in Theology at Oxford University in 1975-76, and Ford Lecturer in English History at Oxford in 1980-81. He retired as Regius Professor and Master of Selwyn in 1983. He became Fellow of the British Academy in 1962, and was its President from 1981 to 1985. He was also a trustee of the National Portrait Gallery from 1978 to 1994, and was Chancellor of the University of East Anglia from 1984 to 1994.

His brother Henry was the first person in over four centuries to become head of house at colleges at both Oxford and Cambridge, serving first as Regius Professor of Divinity at Oxford and Dean of Christ Church, Oxford, and then as Regius Professor of Divinity at Cambridge and Master of Peterhouse, Cambridge.

He served as a member of the Historical Manuscripts Commission for a period prior to 1992.[10]


Chadwick wrote about such issues as the formation of the papacy in the modern world; about Lord Acton; about the Reformation; about the Church of England in the UK and elsewhere, and about the secularisation of European thought and culture. He participated in the debate[clarification needed] about Pope Pius XII and the Holocaust.

With his brother, Henry, Chadwick edited the Oxford History of the Christian Church (1981-2010), to which he contributed three of its twelve volumes: "The Popes and European Revolution" (1980), "A History of the Popes 1830–1914" (1998), and "The Early Reformation on the Continent" (2003). Chadwick was awarded the Wolfson History Prize in 1981.

Owen Chadwick was also General Editor of the Penguin (formerly Pelican) History of the Church, to which he contributed the third volume (The Reformation) and the seventh (The Christian Church in the Cold War, 1992). His brother Henry Chadwick wrote the first volume in the series (The Early Church, 1967).

Among Chadwick's other books are:[11]

  • John Cassian: A Study in Primitive Monasticism (1950)
  • The Founding of Cuddesdon (1954)
  • From Bossuet to Newman (1957)
  • Mackenzie’s Grave (1959) (on a bishop sent to the Zambesi in the 19th century)
  • Victorian Miniature (1960) (based on parallel diaries of the squire and parson at Ketteringham in Norfolk covering several decades of the early 19th century)
  • The Victorian Church (in two volumes, 1966 and 1970)
  • The Secularization of the European Mind in the 19th Century (1975) (based on his Gifford Lectures in 1973-74)
  • Newman (in the OUP's "Past Masters" series; 1983)
  • Hensley Henson: A study in the Friction between Church and State (1983)
  • A History of Christianity (1995)


He was appointed Knight Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (KBE) in the 1982 New Year Honours.[12] As a clergyman he did not receive the accolade and so remained The Revd Owen Chadwick rather than Sir Owen Chadwick.[13] He was appointed to the Order of Merit (OM) on 11 November 1983.[14]

Personal life[edit]

He married his wife Ruth (née Hallward) in 1949; she died before him, in January 2015. He was survived by two sons and two daughters.[15] Chadwick died at the age of 99 on 17 July 2015.

After retiring, he lived with his wife in Newnham in Cambridge, but also spent time in Cley next the Sea in Norfolk where he was priest in charge.


  1. ^ Obituary, The Independent, 23 July 2015
  2. ^ The Rev Owen Chadwick obituary, The Guardian, 19 July 2015 (updated 20 July 2015)
  3. ^ PHS. "The Times Diary—Chadwick favourite for Dean, OAPs in TV licence rumpus, Holiday Inns here to stay" (News). The Times (London). Wednesday, 9 July 1969. (57607), col D, p. 10.
  4. ^ The Reverend Professor Owen Chadwick, OM - obituary, The Daily Telegraph, 20 July 1915
  5. ^ Marshall, Howard; Jordon, J.P. (1951). Oxford v Cambridge, The Story of the University Rugby Match. London: Clerke & Cockeran. p. 252. 
  6. ^ Owen Chadwick rugby profile ESPN Scrum.com
  7. ^ "La Unión de Rugby del Río de la Plata". UAR.com. 1937. Retrieved 20 March 2011. 
  8. ^ Starmer-Smith, Nigel (1977). The Barbarians. Macdonald & Jane's Publishers. p. 219. ISBN 0-86007-552-4. 
  9. ^ "Owen Chadwick RIP". sel.cam.ac.uk. 
  10. ^ The London Gazette: no. 52987. p. 11676. 10 July 1992. Retrieved 26 June 2008.
  11. ^ The Revd Professor W Owen Chadwick, St John's College, Cambridge
  12. ^ The London Gazette: no. 48837. p. 8. 30 December 1981. Retrieved 26 June 2008.
  13. ^ Honours—Knighthoods from the official website of the British Monarchy. Retrieved 25 June 2008
  14. ^ The London Gazette: no. 49543. p. 15251. 18 November 1983. Retrieved 26 June 2008.
  15. ^ Grimes, William (23 July 2015). "Owen Chadwick, Eminent Historian of Christianity, Dies at 99". New York Times. Retrieved 26 July 2015. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Worden, Blair, Derek Beales, and Geoffrey Best, eds. History, Society and the Churches: Essays in Honour of Owen Chadwick. (1985).

External links[edit]

Academic offices
Preceded by
Norman Sykes
Dixie Professor of Ecclesiastical History, University of Cambridge
Succeeded by
Ernest Gordon Rupp
Preceded by
Herbert Butterfield
Regius Professor of Modern History, Cambridge
Succeeded by
Geoffrey Elton
Preceded by
William Telfer
Master of Selwyn College, Cambridge
Succeeded by
Sir Alan Cook
Preceded by
Eric Ashby, Baron Ashby
Vice-Chancellor of the University of Cambridge
Succeeded by
William Alexander Deer
Preceded by
Lord Franks
Chancellor of the University of East Anglia
Succeeded by
Sir Geoffrey Allen