STUBBS, WILLIAM (1825-1901), English historian and bishop of Oxford, son of William Morley Stubbs, solicitor, of Knaresborough, Yorkshire, was born on the 21st of June 1825, and was educated at the Ripon grammar school and Christ Church, Oxford, where he graduated in 1848, obtaining a first-class in classics and a third in mathematics. He was elected a fellow of Trinity College, and held the college living of Navestock, Essex, from 1850 to 1866. He was librarian at Lambeth, and in 1862 was an unsuccessful candidate for the Chichele professorship of modern history at Oxford. In 1866 he was appointed regius professor of modern history at Oxford, and held the chair until 1884. His lectures were thinly attended, and he found them grievous interruptions to his historical work. Some of his statutory lectures are published in his Lectures on Mediaeval and Modern History. He was rector of Cholderton, Wiltshire, from 1875 to 1879, when he was appointed a canon of St Paul's. He served on the ecclesiastical courts commission of 1881-1883, and wrote the weighty appendices to the report. On the 25th of April 1884 he was consecrated bishop of Chester, and in 1889 was translated to the see of Oxford.
Until Bishop Stubbs found it necessary to devote all his time to his episcopal duties, he pursued historical study with unremitting diligence. He rejected the theory of the unity and continuity of history so far as it would obliterate distinctions between ancient and modern history, holding that, though work on ancient history is a useful preparation for the study of modern history, either may advantageously be studied apart. He urged that history is not to be treated as an exact science, and that the effects of individual character and the operations of the human will necessarily render generalizations vague and consequently useless. While pointing out that history has a utility as a mental discipline and a part of a liberal education, he recommended its study chiefly for its own sake, for the truth's sake and for the pleasure which it brings. It was in this spirit that he worked; and his intellectual character was peculiarly fitted for his work, for he was largely endowed with the faculty of judgment and with a genius for minute and critical investigation. He was eminent alike in ecclesiastical history, as an editor of texts and as the historian of the English constitution. His right to be held as an authority on ecclesiastical history was proved in 1858 by his Registrum sacrum anglicanum, which sets forth episcopal succession in England, by many other later works, and particularly by his share in Councils and Ecclesiastical Documents, edited in co-operation with the Rev. A. W. Haddan, for the third volume of which he was specially responsible. His place as a master in critical scholarship and historical exposition is decided beyond debate by the nineteen volumes which he edited for the Rolls series of Chronicles and Memorials. It is, however, by his Constitutional History of England that he is most widely known as a historian. The appearance of this book, which traces the development of the English constitution from the Teutonic invasions of Britain till 1485, marks a distinct step in the advance of English historical learning. Specialists may here and there improve on a statement or a theory, but it will always remain a great authority, a monument of patient and exhaustive research of intellectual power, and of ripe and disciplined judgment. Its companion volume of Select Charters and other Illustrations of English Constitutional History, admirable in itself, has a special importance in that its plan has been imitated with good results both in England and the United States.
Bishop Stubbs belongs to the front rank of historical scholars both as an author and a critic. Among Englishmen at least he excels all others as a master of every department of the historian's work, from the discovery of materials to the elaboration of wellfounded theories and literary production. He was a good palaeographer, and excelled in textual criticism, in examination of authorship, and other such matters, while his vast erudition and retentive memory made him second to none in interpretation and exposition. His carefulness was exemplary, and his references are always exact. His merits as an author are often judged solely by his Constitutional History. The learning and insight which this book displays are unquestionable: it is well planned, and its contents are well arranged; but constitutional history is not a lively subject, and, in spite of the skill with which Stubbs handled it and the genius displayed in his narrative chapters, the book does not afford an adequate idea of his place as a writer of history. What that is cannot be determined without taking into account the prefaces to some of the volumes which he edited for the Rolls series. Several of them contain monographs on parts, or the whole, of the author's work, written with remarkable literary skill. In these his language is vigorous and dignified; he states the results of his labour and thought with freshness and lucidity; tells numberless stories in a most delightful manner, and exhibits a wonderful talent for the representation of personal character; the many portraits of historic persons of all orders which he draws in these prefaces are as brilliant in execution as they are exact and convincing. Among the most notable examples of his work for the Rolls series are the prefaces to Roger of Hoveden, the Gesta regum of William of Malmesbury, the Gesta Henrici II., and the Memorials of St. Dunstan. Both in England and America Bishop Stubbs was universally acknowledged as the head of all English historical scholars, and no English historian of his time was held in equal honour in European countries. Among his many distinctions he was D.D. and hon. D.C.L. of Oxford, LL.D. of Cambridge and Edinburgh, Doctor in utroque jure of Heidelberg; an hon. member of the university of Kiev, and of the Prussian, Bavarian and Danish academies; he received the Prussian order Pour le merite, and was corresponding member of the Academic des sciences morales et politiques of the French Institute.
Stubbs was a High Churchman whose doctrines and practice were grounded on learning and a veneration for antiquity. His opinions were received with marked respect by his brother prelates, and he acted as an assessor to the archbishop in the trial of the bishop of Lincoln. His tastes were those of a student, and he did not disguise his dislike of public functions and the constant little journeys which take up so much of a bishop's time. Nevertheless he fulfilled all his episcopal duties with diligence, and threw all his heart into the performance of those of a specially spiritual nature, such as his addresses at confirmations and to those on whom he conferred orders. As a ruler of the Church he showed wisdom and courage, and disregarded any effort to influence his policy by clamour. In character he was modest, kind and sympathetic, ever ready to help and encourage serious students, generous in his judgment of the works of others, a most cheery companion, full of wit and humour. His wit was often used as a weapon of defence, for he did not suffer fools gladly. An attack of illness in November 1900 seriously impaired his health. He was able, however, to attend the funeral of Queen Victoria on the 2nd of February 1901, and preached a remarkable sermon before the king and the German emperor on the following day. His illness became critical on the 20th of April, and he died on the ,22nd. In 1859 he had married Catherine, daughter of John Dollar, of Navestock, and had a numerous family.
See Letters of William Stubbs, Bishop of Oxford, ed. W. H. Hutton.
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)