Obituary: Prof. A.G. Dickens

Professor A.G. Dickens, CMG, FBA, historian, died on 31 July 2001 in London at the age of 91. His best known work was The English Reformation published in 1964, a book which remained highly influential even when the changing climate of opinion brought some of its conclusions into question. Such questioning did nothing to obscure Dickens’ leading role in the con-tribution of English scholarship to Reformation studies at international level.

The English Reformation was remarkable for the close attention it paid to the impact of the Reformation on lives of the common people. But in noting this feature, generally acknowledged as innovative for its time, we should not forget the book’s magisterial exposition of the historical and doctrinal development of Protestantism in England. One of his major themes, that the Catholicism of the time was inevitably doomed, came in due course into conflict with the growing acceptance of the strength of Catholic life at the local level and the attachment of many to the old religion. While continuing to maintain many of his central theses against the revisionist view of this social history of the Reformation, Dickens was too profound a scholar to do other than modify his views where he found that the objective facts required it. He left polemic and controversy to others. Among Dickens’ other works were Lollards and Protestants in the Diocese of York (1959), The Reformation in Historical Thought (1985, with John Tonkin), Erasmus the Reformer (1994, with Whitney Jones). His retirement in 1980 was marked by a book of essays, Reformation Principle and Practice.

A graduate of Magdalen College Oxford, he was Professor of History at Hull University from 1949 to 1962 when he moved to the Chair of Modern History at King’s College, London. In 1967 he became Director of the Institute of Historical Research. He was elected to a Fellowship of the British Academy in 1966 and was its Foreign Secretary 1969-79. In 1980 he received the Comm-ander’s Cross of the Order of Merit from W. Germany in recognition of his contribution to establishing the German Historical Institute in London in 1968.

As his obituary in the Times was quick to point out, Dickens was an industrious historian, a master of social, local, and doctrinal history. For a whole generation, he dominated the study of the Reformation in England.

His wife Molly predeceased him in 1978. He is survived by two sons.

Valerie Offord, August 2001

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