Open main menu

The Times/1922/Obituary/George Walter Prothero

Sir George Prothero.

A great Cambridge historian.

To Sir George Prothero, whose death is announced on another page, historical studies and their influence in this country, with all that is implied by their indisputable advance during the period of his academical, literary, and what we are warranted in describing as political activity, owe a debt which it would be difficult to over-estimate. The general public were hardly aware of the quality and value of his war work or of the extent to which he sacrificed his health from sheer patriotism.

Among the pamphlets of the Central Committee for the National Political Organization, 1914, was one by Prothero, entitled "Our Duty and our Interest in the War," declaring the national honour, popular government, and an enduring European peace to be the causes at stake; and in 1917 there followed, intended primarily for the American public, a "Conversation" on a lasting peace, demonstrating the necessity of rejecting the proposals to make peace at once—a peace without victory.

The Peace Handbooks.

Early in 1917, when the possibilities of peace came within sight, a scheme was framed on the initiative of the Admiralty and Foreign Office for the preparation of a series of handbooks, containing geographical, historical, and economic information respecting various countries and territories, and dealing with certain international questions, such as the freedom of the seas, internationialization of rivers, European Coalitions, &c. These handbooks were intended primarily for the British negotiators at the impending Peace Conference. Prothero accepted an invitation in ay, 1917, to become general editor of the series, and at once centred on his duties in the Intelligence Division of the Admiralty. Subsequently it was found desirable to bring the work more closely under Foreign Office control. The Historical Section of the Foreign Office thus came into existence in February, 1918, and Prothero was appointed as its head, with the title of Director. As a natural corollary Prothero was, towards the end of January, 1919, summoned to Paris, where his great historical knowledge was placed at the service of the British Delegation in matters concerning especially the establishment of new States.

In 1920 Prothero's public services were recognized by the bestowal of a K.B.E. But the most fitting recognition of his life's work as a whole would be the complete execution by competent works of a project which he had very much at heart, and to which he had very much at heart, and to which he had already set his hand—the production of an "English Historical Bibliography" worthy of the name of himself.

George Walter Prothero was born on october 14, 1848, at Clifton-on-Teme, Worcestershire. His father, the Rev. George Prothero (a son of Thoas Prothero, of Malpas Court, Monmouthshire), afterwards became rector of Whippingham, Chaplain in Ordinaty to Queen Victoria, and Canon of Westminster. Mrs. Prothero, the only daughter of the Rev. William Money Kyrle, of Homme House, Herefordshire, and Whetham, Wilts, was a lady of rare intellectual gifts and deeplyh interested in the study of history. George Walter was their eldest son; the second is Admiral A. W. E. Prothero; the third, Rowland Edmund, is the present Lord Ernle. From Eton, where he became Captain of the School, George Prothero passed in October, 1868, as an Eton scholar to King's College, Cambridge. In the year of his admission he gained the Bell University Scholarship, and in 1872 he graduated as sixth classic. In 1870–1 he had been Captain of the College Boat, in which he is stated to have rowed five years in succession. His election as a Fellow of his College took place in 1872, and soon afterwards he was a time a master at Eton.

Medieval and Tudor England.

Prothero's own experience as an historical lecturer began by his participation in the growing University Extension movement; of his course at Bishop's Stortford a vigorous synopsis is preserved. In 1876 he was appointed Lecturer at King's and exemplified in his own person the advantages of the system of teaching fellowships, which, in the following year, he commended in a pamphlet addressed to the Provost and Fellows of teh College. In 1878 he became assistant tutor, and in 1881 senior tutor. This latter onerous as well as highly responsible office he held for eleven years adding to it, in 1884 that of University Lecturer in History. In 1882 Prothero had married Miss Mary Frances Butcher, daughter of the Bishop of Meath and scientific distinction.

For literary work of a continuous kind Prothero had little leisure. The "Life and Times of Simon de Montfort," published in 1877, is thus the only historical narrative proper produced by him in the field of general medieval and modern history, of which he came to possess a singularly extensive command; but it proved him master of a style marked by both dignity and warmth. The success fo the book was the more notable since Professor Reinhold Pauli, certainly one of the most readable as well as one of the most thorough of the later German historians of Medieval England, had only ten years before published a monograph on the same subject, which Prothero had originally intended merely to translate and supplement; nor had Stubb's second volume yet appeared. Both in its constitutional aspect and in its topography (a branch of inquiry to which the author continued to incline) the English work contained much that was altogether its own. But by far the most successful of his books appeared in 1894, which, in a series of editions, has proved a signal aid to several generation of students of English constitutional history in the reigns of Elizabeth and James I. Prothero's "Select Statutes and Other Constitutional Documents" of these reigns differs in method as well as in range from Dr. Tanner's recent and admirable "Tudor Constitutional Documents"; but the earlier work has a permanent place in our historical literature.

In the midst of the pressing duties of his Cambridge life Prothero, rendered a conspicuous service by superintending the English version of Ranke's "Weltgeschichte"—in its way the masterpiece of a master mind—of which he personally translated the second half of the first volume (1883). He also allowed for himself to humour the "gift for friendship" which (editor as he was during a great part of his life) he never quite succeeded in disguising. His "Memoir of Henry Bradshaw" (1888) is remarkable tribute to the famous Cambridge University librarian. Bradshaw's life-work and had a great attraction for Prothero, among whose later labours bibliography had a prominent place, and who, in 1893, had advocated the establishment (duly carried out) of a special Historical Library for students at Cambridge.

Perhaps the most important service rendered by Prothero to the study of history in England in these years was his editorship of the "Cambridge Historical Series" (from 1894). This collection consists of more than a score of handbooks dealing with the history of the several countries of Europe and their chief colonies, or with particular aspects of that history. There can be no doubt that the labours of the editor attest a capacity for extended historical survey unrivalled in our own historical literature.

Edinburgh and London.

The University of Edinburgh deserved to be congratulated on its choice, in 1894, of a professor of history at a time of great moment for the academical study of that subject. In his admirable inaugural address, "Why should we Learn History?" Dr. Prothero (as he now was, of Cambridge, and was soon to become of Edinburgh and Harvard) justified the inclusion of general history in the organism of university education and examination, and particularly dwelt on its value in connexion with the preparation of students for political life, ore especially on the ethical side. Next year the opportunity for enlarging on this theme offered itself in the memoir prefixed by him to Sir John Seeley's "Growth of British Policy"; but Prothero refrained from going beyond his immediate purpose.

In 1899 he gave up his Edinburgh chair and succeeded his brother Rowland as editor of Quarterly Review. Responsibilities and honours now came thick upon him. In 1901–5 he was president of the Royal Historical Society, which was entering on new plans to encourage original historical work. At a later date. 1910, he was Lowell Lecturer at Boston and Schouler Lecturer at the John Hopkins University, Baltimore, and in 1915 Chichele Lecturer at Oxford. Already, in 1901, he had consented to become of the editors of the "Cambridge Modern History," of which the first volume was published in 1903, four months after the death of its projector, Lord Acton.


This work was published before January 1, 1924 and it is anonymous or pseudonymous due to unknown authorship. It is in the public domain in the United States as well as countries and areas where the copyright terms of anonymous or pseudonymous works are 96 years or less since publication.