For many generations of history graduates of St Hugh's College, Oxford, Betty Kemp was an inspiring teacher from whom they learned how to think for themselves and to develop and maintain opinions through rigorous analysis and vigorous debate. She was a kind and caring tutor, equally skilful in giving confidence to shy teenagers and in guiding more sophisticated young women as they emerged into the wider world of the university.
Born in Bowdon, Cheshire in 1916, Betty Kemp was the oldest child and only daughter of William Kemp and his wife Gertrude (nee Hampson). Both her parents were schoolteachers and she attended the County High School for Girls at Altrincham from 1923 to 1933, passing the Higher School Certificate Examination when only 16. As a schoolgirl, Betty already demonstrated the high standard of duty to the community, the frank and friendly manner, the intellectual enthusiasm and originality of mind that charac-terised her throughout her long life. Her academic ambitions were not encouraged and she left school to work in the Inland Revenue office at Northwich. Eventually, in 1937, she was able to enrol as a student at Manchester University and in 1939 won the history scholarship for the best performance in the Part I examinations. The following year, she gained a first class honours degree.
In September 1940 she was awarded a research studentship; the letter from the Registrar announcing the award expressed the hope that her health would permit her "to undertake some form of part- time national service during the tenure of the scholarship". In the event, her research in medieval history under Professor E.F. Jacob was curtailed by her appointment to the Treasury in December 1940, where she worked as an Assistant Principal in the Home Finance Division until the end of the Second World War. Kemp returned to Manchester as Lecturer in Modern History in 1945, with Lewis Namier as Professor. A year later, she applied for a vacancy at St Hugh's College, Oxford, where she was appointed Tutor in Modern History in October 1946, becoming Fellow in 1947. She remained at St Hugh's for 32 years. At Kemp's retirement in 1978, the Principal of St Hugh's, Rachel Trickett, paid tribute to her distinguished service to the college, her outstanding scholarship, her untiring devotion to her students, her integrity and charm; while a reference to "her constructive disagreement" hinted at occasionally difficult relations with colleagues and heated contributions to discussions in meetings of the Governing Body.
By the time Kemp came to Oxford she had abandoned medieval studies and turned her attention to the political and especially the constitutional history of the 18th and 19th centuries. Her first and best-known book was King and Commons, 1660-1832, in which she examined the constitutional relationship between the monarch and the elected part of Parliament, showing how the problems of government after the Restoration and the Revolution of 1688 necessitated the development of new conventions to regulate relations, how a modus operandi was achieved by the middle of the 18th century and how it gradually broke down. King and Commons was published in 1957, reprinted in 1965 and again in 1968.
Although dedicated to Namier, a dedication which delighted him, it steered clear of the minute examination of individual Members of Parliament that characterised the Namier "school", painting a broader picture and, according to A. …