Rupert Leo Scott Bruce-Mitford, archaeologist and art historian: born London 14 June 1914; served Royal Signals 1939-45; Keeper of British and Medieval Antiquities, British Museum 1954-69, Keeper, Medieval and Later Antiquities 1969-75, Research Keeper 1975-77; Secretary, Society of Antiquaries 1950-54, Vice-President 1972-76; President, Society of Medieval Archaeology 1957-59; FBA 1976; Slade Professor of Fine Art, Cambridge University 1978-79; Visiting Fellow, All Souls College, Oxford 1978-79; Professorial Fellow, Emmanuel College, Cambridge 1978-79; married 1941 Kathleen Dent (marriage dissolved 1972; one son, two daughters), 1975 Marilyn Luscombe (marriage dissolved 1984), 1988 Margaret Adams; died Oxford 10 March 1994.
FEW PEOPLE can have so significantly influenced the course of postwar studies in Early Medieval Archaeology as Rupert Bruce-Mitford. Many young scholars, myself included, first received their introduction to the subject through meeting him, and being generously shown the key objects of that period. He only came to formal university teaching towards the end of his life, but before that he inspired and instructed several generations of hopeful students who visited the British Museum. He was a person of enormous charm, who always attracted around him a posse of eager helpers for every project he
The youngest of the four sons of C. E. Bruce-Mitford, journalist, geographer and vulcanologist, and Beatrice Allison, of British Columbia, whose father was a pioneer rancher and gold prospector, he was educated at Christ's Hospital and Hertford College, Oxford. After a brief period working at the Ashmolean Museum, he joined the staff of the British Museum in 1938, when he was 24. He returned to the museum after the war, and spent the whole of his working life there, studying and curating its medieval collections as Keeper and Research Keeper until he retired in 1977. From this base he became an influential member of the European community of archaeologists and promoted the research of many younger scholars.
He was not only an "objects man", but also a notable fieldworker; his most famous excavations were conducted at Sutton Hoo, but the excavation which arguably set the trend for much of the interest in marginal rural sites in the Fifties and Sixties was that of the settlement at Mawgan Porth, in Cornwall.
Bruce-Mitford was a perfectionist and stickler for detail and this, combined with the fact that he was required to be a full-time administrator, as well as excavator and researcher, meant that his major works were slow in production. But when they did appear the wait proved to have been worthwhile. His analysis of the ornament of the Lindisfarne Gospels marked a turning point in the study of the manuscript, and his deductions as to how the layout of its ornament was achieved have formed the basis of many studies since. Likewise his evaluation of the Codex Amiatinus, which he first produced as a Jarrow Lecture in 1967, has never been
When Bruce-Mitford became Keeper of British and Medieval Antiquities in 1954, the greatest treasure of the department, the hoard found in the high-status ship burial from Sutton Hoo, in Suffolk, was unpublished. Many scholars both in Britain and abroad felt that there was an obligation to publish such an important find quickly, but Bruce-Mitford approached this task with characteristic circumspection and detailed study. …