Patrick Collinson

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Patrick Collinson CBE (10 August 1929 – 28 September 2011) was an English historian, known as a writer on the Elizabethan era. His work has been about Elizabethan Puritanism. He was Emeritus Regius Professor of Modern History, University of Cambridge, having occupied the chair from 1988 to 1996.


He was born in Ipswich, the son of William Cecil Collinson and Belle Hay Patrick. His father came from a Yorkshire Quaker family and both Patrick's parents were Christian missionaries. He later wrote that his childhood home was "an evangelical hothouse where the second coming was expected daily".[1] Before he was 20, he was baptised at Bethesda Chapel in Ipswich.

After a short spell at Goudhurst School for Boys and Huntingdon grammar school, he was educated at King's School, Ely, and Pembroke College, Cambridge from 1949 to 1952. He was also trained as a radar mechanic during his national service in the RAF.[1] He became a postgraduate student at the University of London in 1952 under the supervision of the Tudor historian J. E. Neale. In 1957 Collinson completed his doctorate on Elizabethan Puritanism (the subject recommended to him by Neale).

He was a lecturer at the University of Khartoum and from 1961 assistant lecturer in ecclesiastical history at King's College London (where he taught Desmond Tutu). He was professor at the University of Sydney in 1969, then at the University of Kent at Canterbury and the University of Sheffield.[2] In 1960 he married Elizabeth Albinia Susan Selwyn, a nurse. He thought about becoming an Anglican minister but in the end chose not to.[1]

His 1967 monograph was The Elizabethan Puritan Movement. The work showed Puritanism to be a significant force within the Elizabethan Church instead of merely a radical group of individuals.[3] He emigrated to Australia in 1969 to become chair of the history department of Sydney University. Although he appreciated a more open minded approach, favouring interdisciplinary studies, he opposed what he termed the "fungus" of postmodernism and so returned to England in 1976 as professor of history at the University of Kent.[1] He was chair of modern history at the University of Sheffield from 1984 to 1988 before he succeeded Sir Geoffrey Elton as Cambridge regius professor. Collinson's attempt to reform the tripos there failed due to opposition from within.

By the time of his retirement in 1996, he was one of the doyens of English Reformation history. His short summation of the period, The Reformation, was published in 2003. Collinson's work laid the foundations, in many ways, for what historians of the English Reformation currently term the 'Calvinist Consensus' in the latter decades of the sixteenth century and during the reign of James I/VI. As such, the belief Puritanism was anything but religiously radical in relation to English, and indeed British, culture stands as one of his great achievements as an historian.

Professor Patrick Collinson was awarded an honorary doctorate from the University of Essex in July 2000.[citation needed] In 2011, Boydell Press published Collinson's memoir, The History of a History Man Or, the Twentieth Century Viewed from a Safe Distance. The Memoirs of Patrick Collinson as part of its Church of England Record Society Series.[4] Collinson was the founding President of the society.

Collinson's political views were left-wing; he was a republican and a supporter of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament.[1]


  • Letters of Thomas Wood, Puritan, 1566–1577 (ed.) (1960)
  • The Elizabethan Puritan Movement (1967)
  • Archbishop Grindal, 1519-1583: The Struggle for a Reformed Church (1979)
  • The Religion of Protestants: The Church in English Society, 1559–1625 (1982)
  • The Birthpangs of Protestant England (1988)
  • Elizabethan Essays (1994)
  • Short Oxford History of the British Isles: The Sixteenth Century (editor) (2002)
  • Lady Margaret Beaufort and Her Professors of Divinity at Cambridge: 1502–1649 (2003)
  • Elizabethans (2003)
  • The Reformation (2003)
  • Elizabeth I (Very Interesting People Series, 2007)
  • From Cranmer to Sancroft (2007)
  • Richard Bancroft and Elizabethan Anti-Puritanism (2013)


  1. ^ a b c d e Alexandra Walsham, ‘Collinson, Patrick (1929–2011)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, Jan 2015, accessed 7 June 2015.
  2. ^
  3. ^ The Conventicle November 2007
  4. ^

Further reading[edit]

  • Anthony Fletcher, Peter Roberts (editors) (2006), Religion, Culture and Society in Early Modern Britain: Essays in Honour of Patrick Collinson
  • Patrick Collinson, The History of a History Man Or, the Twentieth Century Viewed from a Safe Distance. The Memoirs of Patrick Collinson. Woodbridge, Suffolk: Boydell Press, 2011. ISBN 978-1-84383-627-8.

External links[edit]