Patrick Collinson

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Patrick "Pat" Collinson CBE (10 August 1929 in Ipswich – 28 September 2011)[1] was an English historian, known as a writer on the Elizabethan era, particularly Elizabethan Puritanism. He was emeritus Regius Professor of Modern History, University of Cambridge, having occupied the chair from 1988 to 1996. He once described himself as “an early modernist with a prime interest in the history of England in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.”[2]


Collinson 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".[3] 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, Collinson 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.[3] He became a postgraduate student at the University of London in 1952 under the supervision of the Tudor historian J. E. Neale, who handed him some notes on East Anglian Puritanism; in 1957 Collinson completed his doctorate on Elizabethan Puritanism, its 1,200-page size causing the administration to impose a word limit on future dissertations; it was published in 1967 as The Elizabethan Puritan Movement, which showed Puritanism to be a significant force within the Elizabethan Anglican Church instead of merely a radical group of individuals, becoming a standard work.[4]

Collinson 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.[5] In 1960 he married Elizabeth Albinia Susan Selwyn, a nurse. He thought about becoming an Anglican minister but in the end chose not to.[3]

In 1969 Collinson emigrated to Australia to become chair of the history department of Sydney University. Although he appreciated a more open-minded approach favoring 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.[3] 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 of History, where his attempt to reform the tripos failed due to opposition from within; his inaugural lecture was entitled "De Republica Anglorum: Or, History with the Politics Put Back."[2]

By the time of his retirement in 1996, Collinson 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 16th century and during the reign of James I/VI. As such, the belief that Puritanism was anything but religiously radical in relation to English, and indeed British, culture stands as one of his great achievements as an historian.

In July 2000 Collinson was awarded an honorary doctorate from the University of Essex.[2] 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.[6] Collinson was the founding president of the society in 1991.[7]

Collinson's political views were left-wing; he was a republican and a supporter of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament.[3]

He died of cancer.



Further reading

  • Anthony Fletcher, Peter Roberts (editors) (2006), Religion, Culture and Society in Early Modern Britain: Essays in Honour of Patrick Collinson
  • John F. McDiarmid, The Monarchical Republic of Early Modern England: Essays in Response to Patrick Collinson (Ashgate Publishing, 2007) read online

External links