Antonia Gransden obituary

Other lives: One of the foremost medievalists of her generation

My friend Antonia Gransden, who has died aged 91, was among the foremost medievalists of her generation. Her substantial and sustained scholarship spanned seven decades and continues to guide today’s students and researchers.

She will be best remembered for her two-volume, 1,000-page survey Historical Writing in England (1974, 1982), which covers the period from circa 550 to the early 16th century, from Gildas the Wise to Thomas More. Before that work anyone going in search of the roots of medieval historiography faced churning through the 250 volumes of the Stationery Office Rolls Series, or else had to find and translate the original parchment.

Antonia worked for a number of years at the British Museum, and one day there, when retrieving manuscripts from readers, she was handed back a copy of the Chronicle of the Abbey of Bury St Edmunds. She was fascinated by the document and it set her off on the long task of tracing the abbey’s history.

She eventually went on to edit the records of the abbey and over the years channelled her knowledge of its complex, intensely political existence into A History of the Abbey of Bury St Edmunds, 1182-1301, a narrative in two volumes. She completed the book at the age of 86.

Antonia was born in Compton Dundon, Somerset, the daughter of Stephen Morland, director of the Quaker family firm Morlands, and Hilda (nee Street), who was active in the suffragette movement. She was educated at Dartington Hall, Devon, and Badminton school, Bristol, before gaining a first-class degree in history at Somerville College, Oxford, in 1951. She stayed there for doctoral research at a time when studying for a PhD was unusual for women.

Antonia challenged convention further by working as an assistant keeper at the British Museum’s reading room (1952-62). In 1964 she was appointed as an assistant lecturer at Nottingham University, retiring as reader in 1989.

Outside her academic work, Antonia was a longstanding member of the Labour party and was a strong advocate for the rights of women to an education, equal opportunities and equal pay.

Her husband, the writer and critic KW (Ken) Gransden, whom she married in 1956, died in 1998. She is survived by their two children, Katherine and Deborah, seven grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.

James Clark

The GuardianTramp

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