Professor Tim Thornton
Tim is a professor of History who studied at New College, Oxford, both as an undergraduate and postgraduate (when he worked under the supervision of Chris Haigh). After a couple of Oxford college lectureships, he had a post at the University of Reading, and from there moved to Huddersfield as a lecturer in 1994.
Tim has served in a variety of roles at the University of Huddersfield, including a secondment as Head of University Centre Barnsley during 2005-6 and time as Dean of the School of Music, Humanities and Media. He was appointed Pro Vice-chancellor (Teaching and Learning) in October 2008 and then became Deputy Vice-Chancellor in September 2015. In these senior roles he has been associated with the University’s achievement of the title of Times Higher Education University of the Year and, more recently, Gold status under the UK Government’s Teaching Excellence Framework and as the first winners of the Global Teaching Excellence Award, ahead of excellent institutions from across the five continents.
Tim works on the late medieval and early modern political and social history of the British Isles, spanning the period c. 1400-1650. He specialises in the non-English territories of the crown. His early work on Cheshire explored the palatinate’s history during the period between Richard II’s reign and the early seventeenth century. More recently, he has published on Wales, the Isle of Man, Durham, the Channel Islands, and the north of England, and on the ways medieval history, especially the history of the ‘Wars of the Roses’, was written and re-written in the late medieval and early modern periods. His 2021 article on the background to Thomas More’s ‘History of King Richard the Third’ has attracted particular attention recently and was featured in an episode of Lucy Worsley Investigates, on the ‘Princes in the Tower’, in 2022.
In 1997 Tim was awarded the Royal Historical Society’s David Berry Prize (for a piece on Scotland and the Isle of Man); in 1999 he was proxime accessit for the Society’s Alexander Prize (this time for a piece on the palatinate of Durham). He was the first scholar based in a new University to win one of the Society’s prizes, and only the second more generally to be recognised in two.
Tim’s first book, on Cheshire from 1480 to 1560, asserts the importance of the semi-autonomous political, administrative and judicial system of the palatinate of Chester, and of other similar jurisdictions, in the early Tudor period. Contrary to the impression conveyed in almost all recent writing, the culture of centre and locality justified and glorified the palatinate: taxation, a crucial issue, was still agreed through a local ‘parliament’ and paid in the traditional manner; and the council of the earl of Chester was potent enough to tap the demand for equitable justice, giving birth to the Chester exchequer. Changes did occur, but despite political imperatives, administrative momentum, and the imperial ideal (present particularly in the work of Thomas Cromwell) the Chester palatinate as a cultural, social and political institution emerged in the 1560s altered but still formidable.
Tim’s work on prophecy includes a study of prophetic traditions in early modern England, their influence and popularity. The influence of the non-Biblical vernacular prophetic traditions in early modern England was considerable; they had both a mass appeal, and a specific relevance to the conduct of politics by elites. Focussing particularly on Mother Shipton, the Cheshire prophet Nixon, and Merlin, this book considered the origins of these prophetic traditions, their growth and means of transmission, and the way various groups in society responded to them and in turn tried to control them. The monograph also sheds light on areas where popular culture and politics were uneasily interlinked: the powerful political influence of those outside elite groups; the variations in political culture across the country; and the considerable continuing power of mystical, supernatural, and ‘non-rational’ ideas in British social and political life into the nineteenth century.
Tim has also worked extensively on the history of the Channel Islands. One of his books is an important part of the curriculum for those studying to be lawyers in Guernsey and Jersey. He also written a book length history of the islands from 1370 to 1640, which charts the crucial importance of Jersey and Guernsey for England in the period. The islands’ regular tangential appearance in histories of England and the British Isles has long suggested the need for a more systematic account from the perspective of the islands themselves. Jersey and Guernsey were at the forefront of attempts by the English kings in the fourteenth and early fifteenth centuries to maintain and extend their dominions in France. During the Wars of the Roses and the early Tudor period, they were frequently the refuge for claimants and plotters. Throughout the Reformation, they were a leading centre of Presbyterianism. Later, they were strategically important during the continental wars of Elizabeth’s reign. The book charts all these events in a comprehensive way. In addition, it shows how the islands’ relationship with central power in England varied but never saw a simple subjection to centralised uniform authority, how Jersey and Guernsey maintained links with Normandy, Brittany and France more widely, and how politics, religion, society and culture developed in the islands themselves.
Working with former PhD student Katharine Carlton, Tim has most recently produced a study exploring pre- and extra-marital relationships among the gentry and nobility of the north of England from 1450 to 1640: the keeping of mistresses, the taking of lovers, the birth of illegitimate children and the fate of those children. In this book, he challenges assumptions about the extent to which such activities declined in the period, and hence about the impact of Protestantism and other changes to the culture of the elite. The book provides a range of important insights into the history of marriage and sexual relationships, family, kinship and gender.
Tim has also been keen to develop wider understanding and engagement with histories in other ways. He is a strong supporter of the award-winning Archives and Special Collections department at Huddersfield, known as Heritage Quay, which combines outstanding collections (for example the leading collection relating to new and experimental music in Britain since the nineteenth century, and the official archive of Rugby League) and with some of the most innovative technology in any UK archive. The development of the facility resulted in Huddersfield winning ‘inspiring HE building of the year’ in the Guardian Awards in 2016. Tim has also strongly advocated for improved access to and support with materials relating to the Holocaust, which resulted in the opening at the University of the Holocaust Exhibition and Learning Centre (currently rebranding as ‘Holocaust Centre North’). Opened in 2019 by the government’s Holocaust Commissioner Lord Pickles, with both the national and regional chairs of the then Heritage Lottery Fund in attendance, the Centre is a partnership with Leeds-based charity the Holocaust Survivors’ Friendship Association, and is based round the stories of their members.
The past 15 years have been particularly dramatic in the changes through which the University has passed. Huddersfield now has a higher proportion of its academic staff with doctorates than Cambridge. And the recent Research Excellence Framework, the assessment covering Business and Management rank Huddersfield higher than Cambridge for what’s known as research power, the multiplier of the number of active researches submitted for assessment by the average quality of their work.
Throughout his career Tim has been an advocate for the transformative power of education, and especially of the study of history.
The gentleman’s mistress – Illegitimate relationships and children, 1450-1640 by Tim Thornton and Katharine Carlton – https://manchesteruniversitypress.co.uk/9781526114068/
Prophecy, Politics and the People in Early Modern England by Tim Thornton – https://boydellandbrewer.com/9781843832591/prophecy-politics-and-the-people-in-early-modern-england/
Cheshire and the Tudor State, 1480-1560 by Tim Thornton – https://boydellandbrewer.com/9781846154430/cheshire-and-the-tudor-state-1480-1560/
The Channel Islands, 1370-1640 Between England and Normandy by Tim Thornton – https://boydellandbrewer.com/9781843837114/the-channel-islands-1370-1640/
Scotland and the Isle of Man, c. 1400-1625: Noble Power and Royal Presumption in the Northern Irish Sea Province by Tim Thornton – https://www.jstor.org/stable/25530803?seq=2
More on a Murder: The Deaths of the ‘Princes in the Tower’, and Historiographical Implications for the Regimes of Henry VII and Henry VIII by Tim Thornton – bit.ly/MoreonaMurder
Holocaust Centre – https://holocaustlearning.org.uk/
Heritage Quay – https://heritagequay.org/