Academic journal article The Seventeenth Century

Christopher Wl Brooks, 1948-2014: A Tribute

Academic journal article The Seventeenth Century

Christopher Wl Brooks, 1948-2014: A Tribute

Article excerpt

Christopher Brooks was a member of the Board of Editors for The Seventeenth Cen tuiy since 1987. Born in Salisbury, Maryland, in December 1948, and educated at McDonogh School, Chris initially contemplated a career in journalism before becoming hooked on seventeenth-century English history. Chris spent most of his academic career as a member of the History Department at Durham University: appointed in 1980; promoted to Reader in 1997 and Professor in 2001. Chris was due to retire in October 2014 at the age of 65 and was planning to continue to write for perhaps another decade in the Florida sunshine. Denied the full benefit of what seventeenth-century folk called a "green old age", his life was cut short by a heart attack in August 2014. Damn those Gitanes cigarettes! He is survived by his wife Sharyn, who supported him throughout his career in a loving marriage that lasted 45 years to the day.

Chris will be remembered as a true scholar, who dedicated his life and an impressive mind to the study of society, politics and the law in early modern England. Chris was in the process of completing a volume on the tumultuous period 1625-1689 for the Oxford History of the Laws of England, having received a Leverhulme Major Research Fellowship to complete this monumental work. Characteristically, Chris was eager to finish this beast of a book, so as to get on with other projects. Chris had long been mulling over the "common law mind" and was poised to make a significant contribution to the place of the English legal tradition in intellectual history. He was also keen to join me in a planned project on the legal aspects of inheritance, focusing on the executorship process and the social consequences of wealth dispersal through probate. We had planned to write a book on inheritance together in a few years' time. And he never stopped thinking about the causes and course of the English Civil War, in which the law-abiding society he studied so carefully tore itself apart while disputing the place of high authority.

Chris was first "turned on" to the study of early modern England while an undergraduate at Princeton, where he was taught by Lawrence Stone among other members of that distinguished Faculty. One of the titans of twentieth-century English historiography, Stone's influence as a teacher had an abiding effect on Chris. Though Stone later chided Chris for taking "too lawyerly" an approach, and Chris was the most careful of scholars, he remained surprisingly committed to some of Stone's larger hypotheses. Chris admired Stone's boldness, and believed he had reached deep insights into the nature of English society between the fifteenth and the eighteenth centimes, especially in relation to the history of the family, which revisionist criticism could not entirely disprove.

Chris left Princeton in 1970 for an MA at Johns Hopkins, with Wilf Prest his first PhD supervisor, and where he hoped to be taught by the figure many would regard as the most impressive English-speaking historian of the era, J. G. A. Pocock. Before Pocock arrived to replace Prest (who was departing for Australia), however, Prest managed to persuade Chris to transfer to Oxford, where he would have limited funding but abundant access to the manuscript sources necessary for his doctoral project on the English common law and society. His Oxford D.Phil was awarded in 1978, having been supervised by J. P. Cooper of Balliol, whose exacting approach to documentation left as deep a mark on Chris's approach as Stone's ideas. Cooper died of a heart attack while driving to meet Chris to discuss the final revisions to the thesis; crashing his car with the annotated manuscript on the passenger seat. In a rare display of superstition, Chris was always a bit twitchy when his own PhD students submitted their theses and underwent their viva. At Oxford, Chris held a Junior Research Fellowship at Brasenose from 1976 to 1980 and a college lectureship at Wadham. During his Oxford days, he encountered and formed friendships with Andrew Foster, Kenneth Fincham, Anne Laurence, Kevin Sharpe, George Bernard, Martin Ingram and Simon Schama, among many others. …

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