James Holt (historian)

Sir James Clarke Holt FBA FRHS (26 April 1922 – 9 April 2014), also known as J. C. Holt and Jim Holt, was an English medieval historian, known particularly for his work on Magna Carta. He was the third Master of Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge, serving between 1981 and 1988.[3]

Sir James Holt
Born(1922-04-26)26 April 1922
North Bierley (Bradford), Yorkshire, England[1]
Died9 April 2014(2014-04-09) (aged 91)[2]
Alma materBradford Grammar School
Oxford University
Scientific career
InstitutionsUniversity of Oxford
University of Nottingham
University of Reading
University of Cambridge


Educated at Bradford Grammar School, Holt's studies at The Queen's College, Oxford were interrupted by war service with the British Army, including 14 months in north-west Europe in 1944-45. Returning to The Queen's College in 1945, he graduated with a first class degree in History in 1947, and subsequently took his DPhil with a thesis titled The 'northern' barons under John in 1952, at Merton College, Oxford.[4]

He held the positions of Lecturer (1949–1962)[4] and then Professor of Medieval History (1962–65) at the University of Nottingham,[4] Professor of History at the University of Reading (1965–1978) and Professor of Medieval History at the University of Cambridge from 1978 until his retirement in 1988. From 1981 until 1988 he served as the Master of Fitzwilliam College.[3]

He was on the governing body of Abingdon School from 1969–1979.[5]


Holt became a Fellow of the British Academy in 1978 and was its Vice President from 1987–1989,[3] was president of the Royal Historical Society (1981–1985),[6] and was knighted for his work as an historian.


Holt made his name with the book Magna Carta, which came out in its original edition in 1965. In this work he treated the charter in the context of the political framework of its time. The book has since been fully revised, and is still considered authoritative within its field.

He also published other works on the same period, such as The Northerners: A Study in the Reign of King John, and Robin Hood.

Selected works

  • The Northerners: A Study in the Reign of King John, (1961)[4]
  • Magna Carta, (1965)
  • What's in a name? Family nomenclature and the Norman Conquest. (The Stenton Lecture 1981). University of Reading, 1982.
  • Robin Hood, (London, 1982)
  • Magna Carta and Medieval Government, (1985)
  • Foundations for the Future: The University of Cambridge, (1995)
  • Colonial England, 1066-1215, (1997)
  • Magna Carta (Cambridge, 2015)

Personal life

Holt married Alice Suley in 1951; they had one son. Holt was "passionate about cricket".[7]


He died on 9 April 2014, aged 91.[8]


  1. "Index entry". FreeBMD. ONS. Retrieved 28 August 2014.
  2. "Sir James Holt - obituary". The Telegraph. 12 May 2014. Retrieved 13 May 2014.
  3. British Academy Fellowship entry Archived 13 April 2014 at the Wayback Machine
  4. Levens, R.G.C., ed. (1964). Merton College Register 1900-1964. Oxford: Basil Blackwell. p. 372.
  5. "Governors" (PDF). The Abingdonian.
  6. "A List of Presidents" (PDF). Royal Historical Society. Archived from the original (PDF) on 3 February 2013. Retrieved 20 December 2010.
  7. Rosamond McKitterick and Christine Carpenter (August 2014). "Jim Holt [Obituary tribute]". The Seeley History Faculty News Letter. nbr 5/2014: 10.
  8. Professor Sir James Holt dies Archived 13 April 2014 at the Wayback Machine Fitzwilliam College News accessed 11 April 2014
Academic offices
Preceded by
Walter Ullmann
Professor of Medieval History, University of Cambridge
Succeeded by
Barrie Dobson
Preceded by
Edward Miller
Master of Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge
Succeeded by
Gordon Cameron
Preceded by
John Habakkuk
President of the Royal Historical Society
Succeeded by
Gerald Aylmer
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