Peter le Page Renouf

Sir Peter le Page Renouf (23 August 1822 – 14 October 1897) was a British professor, Egyptologist, and museum director, best known for his translation of The Book of the Dead.

Personal life

Renouf was born in Guernsey on 23 August 1822. He married Ludovica von Brentano, member of a well-known German literary family in 1857. He died in London on 14 October 1897.[1]


Renouf was educated at Elizabeth College there, and proceeded to Oxford, which, upon his becoming a Roman Catholic, under the influence of John Henry Newman, he quit without taking a degree as he was unable to subscribe to the Thirty Nine Articles as required in those days.[1]

Religious background

Like many other Anglican converts, he proved a thorn in the side of the Ultramontane party in the Roman Church, though he did not, like some of them, return to the communion of the Church of England. He opposed the promulgation of the dogma of Papal Infallibility, and his treatise (1868) upon the condemnation of Pope Honorius for heresy by the council of Constantinople in AD 680 was placed upon the index of prohibited books.



He had been from 1855 to 1864 professor of ancient history and Oriental languages in the Roman Catholic university which Newman vainly strove to establish in Dublin, and during part of this period edited the Atlantis and the Home and Foreign Review, which latter had to be discontinued on account of the hostility of the Roman Catholic hierarchy.

Renouf was one of the defenders of Champollion and of his method of decipherment of Egyptian hieroglyphics in England when he was being criticized unfairly by other scholars.

Museum directorship

In 1864 he was appointed a government inspector of schools, which position he held until 1886, when his growing celebrity as an Egyptologist procured him the appointment of Keeper of Oriental Antiquities in the British Museum, in succession to Dr Samuel Birch. His understudy was E. A. Wallis Budge with whom he had an acrimonious relationship. He didn't want Budge to succeed him as keeper, through a perceived lack of social skills (Budge didn't come from a privileged background) and doubts about his abilities, objecting strongly to Budge being appointed as his successor and preferring Edouard Naville instead. Renouf was elected in 1887 president of the Society of Biblical Archaeology, to whose Proceedings he was a constant contributor.

Renouf was removed from his position as Keeper in the British Museum on reaching retirement age despite the signed opposition of twenty-five leading European Egyptologists of the day who wrote to the Prime Minister. Renouf gave "excoriating evidence in court against Budge" when the latter was found to have "falsely accused Hormuzd Rassam of being corruptly involved in illicit trade of cuneiform tablets." Renouf continued to feel animosity towards Budge, accusing him of plagiarism and being a charlatan.[1]

Academic works

The most important of his contributions to Egyptology are his Hibbert Lectures on The Religion of the Egyptians, delivered in 1879; and the translation of The Book of the Dead, with an ample commentary, published in the Transactions of the society over which he presided. He retired from the Museum under the superannuation rule in 1891 and was knighted for services to the British Museum in 1896.

His letters show unstinting praise for Renouf's scholarship from all the leading Egyptologists of his day.[1]


  • "Lectures on the Origin and Growth of Religion as Illustrated by the Religion of Ancient Egypt", Delivered in May and June 1879, republished Adamant 2001, ISBN 1-4021-7377-6


  1. The Letters of Peter le Page Renouf (1822-1897), edited by Kevin J. Cathcart, 4 vols. (University College Dublin Press, 2002-2004), reviewed by Patricia Usick (British Museum), retrieved 25 May 2009


  •  This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Renouf, Sir Peter le Page". Encyclopædia Britannica. 23 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. pp. 101–102.
  • Thomasson, Fredrik (2013). The Life of J. D. Åkerblad: Egyptian Decipherment and Orientalism in Revolutionary Times. BRILL.
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