Jenny Wormald Obituary

Thanks to Sybil Jack for writing this short obituary of Jenny Wormald, who was the keynote speaker at the 1990 ANZAMRS (Australian and New Zealand Association of Medieval and Renaissance Studies) Conference in Otago. As many of you are aware of, ANZAMRS and AHMEME (Australian Historians of Medieval and Early Modern Europe) merged in 1996 to form ANZAMEMS.

Jenny Wormald, born Jenny Brown in 1942, read history at Glasgow university and taught there until she was appointed Fellow and Tutor in Modern History at St Hilda’s College in 1985 where she stayed until she ‘retired’ in 2005. Thereafter she returned to Edinburgh to be an Honorary Fellow at the University. From the start of her career she was both brilliant and provocative — she subjected the accepted ideas and explanations of the medieval and early modern period to devastating criticism that forced her colleagues in Scottish history to re-examine and reconstruct their understanding of the period. In the last fifty years she may well have been the most influential historian of medieval and early modern Scotland and her contribution to the re-writing of its history both in her own work and in her editing of volumes of collected studies. She was an incisive speaker as ANZAMRS discovered when she came to the Otago conference in early 1990 as the keynote speaker — an appropriate one for a city established by Scots. She spoke on Mary Queen of Scots, whom she could not abide and attempted to demolish her romantic image. This unpopular approach, which led to considerable argument, saw her later modify her assumptions as she always held everyone should do.

Her students remembered her as a stimulating teacher who drew out reticent students and encouraged them to debate. Her friends and colleagues found her both supportive and helpful in matters of research and teaching. In her retirement she continued to work and to give lectures and papers at conferences — perhaps the last in August this year at the Scottish Legal History Group Annual Conference when she spoke on James VI and I — another person about whom she changed her mind.

She married Patrick Wormald, a distinguish historian of early English law, when he moved from Oxford to Glasgow in 1974 and they assisted one another to develop penetrating new ideas. She had two sons but domesticity did not impede her research and writing.