A life in parliamentary history: Linda Clark

Today, editor of our newest project, the Commons 1461-1504, Dr. Hannes Kleineke pays to tribute to the recently retired editor of the Commons 1422-1461 volumes, and long-serving History of Parliament colleague, Dr. Linda Clark.

Dr. Linda Clark with the History’s director, Dr. Stephen Roberts

At close of play on 30 September 2019 Linda Clark formally retired from the full-time staff of the History of Parliament after a full fifty years of distinguished service. Linda first joined the 1386-1422 section of the History on 1 October 1969. By her own account, the History was then a very different place: the editor of the medieval section, Professor John Roskell, was based at the University of Manchester, and his research staff would post their work to him, which would be returned in the same way embellished with extensive editorial commentary in longhand. Roskell’s absenteeism proved problematic in more ways than one: neither he nor anyone else at the History thought to tell Linda that the start date of the project had been changed from 1377 to 1386, so she spent her early months researching and drafting a number of articles that would never (to date) find their way into any of the History’s volumes.

In the event, however, it was Linda who, alongside her longstanding friend and colleague Carole Rawcliffe, went on to see the History’s volumes for 1386-1421 through the press, both being rightly credited with the co-editorship on the book’s spines. The Editorial Board wished to continue Linda’s and Carole’s successful partnership, appointing them to the joint editorship of the follow-on section, intended to cover 1422-1504, but shortly before inception of this new project in 1992, Carole Rawcliffe accepted an appointment to the University of East Anglia, leaving Linda to lead the work on the reigns of Henry VI and his successors by herself.

In one of the section’s early homes, at 15, Woburn Square, Linda would preside over her section from her central desk, her research assistants’ desks being positioned around the outside walls of the room, an arrangement that might have suggested a dominant style of management that did not in reality exist.  One of the challenges faced by any new colleague was a lunch with the then director of the History, Valerie Cromwell, rendered less daunting only by Linda’s calming presence.  It was in the course of one such lunch that Valerie uttered a key truth about the project led by Linda: ‘This has always been a very happy section.’

Linda’s unassuming manner disguises a sharp intellect, an encyclopaedic knowledge of the characters of fifteenth-century political history, and above all, a keen editor’s eye: when receiving back work edited by her, there was always the dual apprehension of the quantity of comments in red pen, indicating obvious errors and infelicities of style (oh, the dangling dooh-dahs), and marks in pencil which, perhaps more worryingly, suggested potential disagreement with interpretations or omissions of information, often found in other biographies already on the section’s files.

Outside the History of Parliament, for which she has written hundreds of biographies, many of them the length of articles in edited volumes, Linda has shown a remarkable reluctance to publish her own research, preferring instead to devote her time and energy to promoting the work of others, in particular more junior, scholars. Since 2003 she has been editor the Fifteenth Century series, which has provided many younger historians with their first publications, and for a number of years, she also served on the IHR’s Junior Fellowships Committee.  Many colleagues, ranging from graduate students to established colleagues, have benefited from her insights and advice in the context of the IHR’s Late Medieval Seminar of which she has been a convenor for many years.

Frustratingly for those familiar with her work, Linda intensely dislikes giving conference and seminar papers herself, and it is thus notable that a few years ago she agreed to read a paper about Women at the History of Parliament at a day-conference hosted at the Institute of Historical Research, perhaps an indication of her awareness of the comparative exceptionality of her own distinguished scholarly career among women of her generation. Those who enjoy spurious statistics may like to reflect that Linda’s time at the History spanned fourteen Parliaments, ten Prime Ministers (Harold Wilson serving twice), seven Speakers of the House of Commons, five general editors or directors of the History of Parliament and six chairmen of its editorial board, thirteen Presidents of the Royal Historical Society, eight Directors of the Institute of Historical Research, and fourteen Vice-Chancellors of the University of London – only a small minority of whom were women!

While enjoying a well-deserved retirement, Linda continues her editorial work, both under the auspices of the Fifteenth Century series, and in a new role as editor of the Texts and Studies series associated with the journal Parliamentary History, and will thus continue to be a regular and welcome presence in the History’s offices.


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