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In memory of Prof. Emeritus Christopher Crowder

In memory of Prof. Emeritus Christopher Crowder

Adele Jeffares, the widow of Prof. Emeritus (History) Christopher Crowder, shares some fond memories of this distinguished medieval historian.

Flags at Queen’s recently were at half-mast for Christopher Crowder, Professor Emeritus in the Department of History at Queen’s University, who died aged 88.

Prof. Emeritus (History) Christopher CrowderProf. Emeritus (History) Christopher Crowder, circa 1960.

He was born in Weybridge, Surrey, the third son of Bertram and Marion Crowder; his father belonged to a legal dynasty and his mother’s Scottish family included farmers, soldiers and artists. After attending a preparatory school near Amesbury he followed his brothers to Haileybury , where he excelled both academically and in sports. In his last year he was Head of School and captained a cricket team and the Rugby First Fifteen. In 1941 he won an open scholarship to Oxford and went up to Merton College, following a deferred call-up programme which combined academic work and army training. In 1943 he was commissioned into the 83rd Regiment of Field Artillery, following his father’s choice of unit in WW1. The regiment of 25- pounders fought from Normandy through France, Belgium and Holland into Germany , sustaining losses, and Christopher became Regimental Survey Officer, scouting ahead on a motor bike or in a jeep to select gun sites. After VE Day he trained as a pilot to work as an air observation post, remarking that it might be preferable to fly over Asian jungles than slog through them.

On returning to Merton after demobilization he concentrated on medieval history and graduated in 1947 with a first class degree. He greatly enjoyed crowded, sociable, post-war Oxford, becoming president of Merton Junior Common Room, acting in Merton Floats, playing hockey, cricket, tennis and squash and making many friends. Having been influenced by his regimental chaplain, an Anglican monk, he considered a clerical career and went to Wells Theological College for two terms, but decided that he was a secular Christian. He returned to graduate work in Merton, under the supervision of Dr. E. Jacobs, funded by a Harmsworth Scholarship. His thesis, on the English Nation at the Council of Constance, has recently been described as ‘the best conciliar source in English.’

In 1950 Chris was appointed to a lecturership at King’s College in Aberdeen, and in 1953 went to The Queen’s University in Belfast as Lecturer in Palaeography and Diplomatic. With the archivist Dr. Ken Darwin he organized a large exhibition of medieval Ulster manuscripts there, and began publishing papers on conciliar topics such as the political relationships of the ‘nations’. Shortly after publication of Society and Government in the Fifteenth Century he moved to Kingston as a professor in the History Department. The department was then housed in Kingston Hall, and Christopher had a room in a house on what is now Bader Lane. After the move to Watson Hall he was in charge of graduate studies in the History Department, ably helped by Ruth Bryson.

Queen’s quickly made use of his administrative ability, appointing him chairman of the Faculty Board of Arts and Sciences in 1968. His experience of three models of university organization, the Oxonian, the Scottish , and the German ( most conciliar scholars were German) was useful at this time of rapid expansion of Canadian universities. As Ontario representative on the Woodrow Wilson Scholarship Foundation his travels to universities in the U.S. soon added another dimension. Colleagues remember his insistence on including students in university governance, his fairness and openness, and toughness tempered with kindness and humour. As chairman he needed to recall the names and titles of all the members of the Board and once caused hilarity by absent-mindedly addressing his daughter, then President of ASUS, by her nickname! In 1976 he began another round of administrative duties when he and John Beal both became Associate Deans in the School of Graduate Studies.

Teaching and research provided the pleasures of academic life. Chris taught not only in the History Department, meeting undergraduate and graduate students who became lifelong friends, but in the Theological College (where he encountered feminist fury for speaking of ‘mankind’) and at Herstmonceux Castle after retirement. He loved to fire up the curiosity of students and found this easy when talking of the medieval history of the Herstmonceux area, “living on top of the students, the constant interaction, the presence of other active disciplines in the castle was a lot of fun, let alone the excellent meals and the bar.”

Unity Heresy and Reform 1378-1460 : the Conciliar Response to the Great Schism was published in 1977, and by 1980 Chris, free of administration, had time to write an article on four law cases before the Roman Curia during 1414-18 for Annuarium Historiae Conciliorum. He began a collaboration with the late Dr. Edgar Graves of Hamilton University at Clinton on a collection of manuscripts in the Vatican Library dealing with law cases before the Rota ; just before Chris died he finished a complex article describing their methodology ,detailing a case about the jurisdiction of two English dioceses fighting over the small parish of East Meon.

In accord with his decision to be a secular Christian, Christopher devoted energy and resources to helping others throughout his life. He did this on a personal level, for example as a regular prison visitor for decades, and on an institutional level ,championing prison reform and chairing the local John Howard Society. He worked for whatever parish he lived in and helped organizations such as those concerned with youth employment and literacy.

In 1951 Christopher married Adele Jeffares, then a lecturer in Trinity College Dublin, now an Emeritus Professor at Queen’s. Queen’s graduates in their family, in disciplines ranging from art history, drama , psychology, history and biology to engineering physics, are Eleanor Crowder, Artsci'74; Adrienne Crowder, Artsci'79; Danby Crowder, Artsci'88; Suzanne Biro, Artsci'86; Niall Filewod, Artsci'06; and, Martin Esche, Sc'10. Eleanor Crook is a third year undergraduate, and the most recent degree is Suzanne’s M.P.H., finished in December 2010.