AHA President, 1949


University of Pennsylvania

From the American Historical Review 65:3 (April 1960)

Conyers Read (April 25, 1881–December 23, 1959), one of the most eminent historians of our time, died at his home in Villa Nova, Pennsylvania, near Philadelphia, on December 23, 1959. Few scholars have made a more distinguished contribution to the understanding of the history of the Elizabethan period; he influenced a whole generation by his writing and by his personal interest in the work of his own students and others with whom he came in contact. Busy though he was, he never was so preoccupied that he could not take time to advise and help a younger scholar. Many on both sides of the Atlantic owe him a great debt and will receive the news of his death as a personal loss.

At the time of his death, Professor Read was seventy-eight years of age, having been born in Philadelphia on April 25, 1881, but he had remained young in spirit. Indeed, until a few weeks before his death he had played golf regularly and carried on a full schedule of research and writing.

From Harvard Professor Read received his first three academic degrees: BA, 1902; MA, 1904; and PhD, 1908. An early recipient of a Rhodes scholarship, he received from Oxford the degree of BLitt in 1909. He retained an interest in Oxford and was a frequent visitor to Great Britain. His professional career began with an instructorship in history at Princeton in the academic year 1909–1910. In the following academic year he went to the University of Chicago as a member of the history faculty and rose by the usual stages to a professorship in 1919.

In 1920 the responsibilities of managing a family business enterprise fell upon his shoulders and he took an indefinite leave from the University of Chicago to become treasurer, vice-president and general manager, and finally president of William F. Read & Sons Company, a textile manufacturing firm of Philadelphia. He remained at the head of this corporation until 1933 when he became Executive Secretary of the American Historical Association. During the years when he was engaged in business, he never relaxed his interest in historical research. In fact, five years after he returned to Philadelphia he published Mr. Secretary Walsingham and the Policy of Queen Elizabeth (3 vols., Oxford, 1925). This epochmaking work was the result of exhaustive research in original documents and was extremely enlightening on the history of the period.

As executive secretary of the American Historical Association, a post which he held from 1933 until 1941, he infused new life into the organization, reorganized its finances, and gave it broader contacts with both the world of learning and the world of contemporary affairs. From 1934, concurrently with his secretaryship, he held a professorship in English history at the University of Pennsylvania. He retired from this post and became professor emeritus in 1951. At the University of Pennsylvania he conducted a lively seminar where many young scholars received the stimulus that sent them to investigate problems in sixteenth-century English history.

Accurate and meticulous in historical detail, Professor Read was never remotely pedantic. History to him was part of a living tradition. It was natural that in 1941 he should offer his services to the nation and become an important figure in the newly organized office of “Co-ordinator of Information,” and a little later in the Office of Strategic Services. He set up and recruited a staff for the British Empire section of the division of research and analysis. His duties required him to make trips overseas during the height of the war. At the end of the hostilities he recruited and organized a group to compile a history of the OSS, but the work was “classified” and never published.

Despite multifarious interests and duties, the sixteenth century was never far from his interests. In recent years, with the assistance of his competent wife, Evelyn Plummer Read, he had set himself the task of searching through the Public Record Office, the British Museum, the Cecil Papers at Hatfield House, and other archives to discover all that could be found about the career of William Cecil, Lord Burghley. The first volume, Mr. Secretary Cecil and Queen Elizabeth (London, 1955), won the Folger Library prize for the best book of the year in English history. The second and final volume was completed last year and is in press. It is characteristic of the man that he completed every task that he undertook.

In 1949 Professor Read served as president of the American Historical Association. Characteristically, he emphasized in his presidential address the social responsibility of the scholar. He took an active part in many scholarly and editorial enterprises and had many honors awarded him.

Last year he published a revised edition of his Bibliography of British History: Tudor Period, 1485–1603. In addition to the volumes already cited, his works include The Tudors (New York, 1936), Social and Political Forces in the English Reformation (Houston, 1953), and the editing of John Clapham’s Elizabeth of England, with Evelyn Plummer Read (Philadelphia, 1951).

Busy with scholarship until the end, the last thing he wrote was The Government of England under Elizabeth, a succinct account of the operation of the Elizabethan state, prepared for the Folger Library’s series of booklets on Tudor and Stuart England. The page proofs, incorporating corrections by the author, went back to the press the day he died.



The Bardon Papers, documents relating to the imprisonment & trial of Mary queen of Scots; ed. for the Royal historical society by Conyers Read. With a prefatory note by Charles Cotton. London, Offices of the Society, 1909.

England and America, by Conyers Read. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1918.

Mr. Secretary Walsingham and the policy of Queen Elizabeth, Oxford, 3 vols. The Clarendon press, 1925; Reprint, Hamden, Conn.: Archon Books, 1967.

Bibliography of British history, Tudor period, 1485-1603, issued under the direction of the American Historical Association and the Royal Historical Society of Great Britain, edited by Conyers Read. Oxford, The Clarendon Press, 1933; 2d ed. Hassocks, Eng.: Harvester Press; Totowa, N.J.: Rowman and Littlefield, 1978.

The Tudors; personalities and practical politics in sixteenth century England, by Conyers Read. New York: H. Holt and Company, 1936.

The Constitution reconsidered; edited for the American historical association, by Conyers Read. New York, Columbia university press, 1938; Rev. ed. New York: Harper & Row, 1968.

Elizabeth of England: certain observations concerning the life and reign of Queen Elizabeth, by John Clapham. Edited by Evelyn Plummer Read and Conyers Read. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1951.

Essays in honor of Conyers Read. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1953.

Social and political forces in the English Reformation. Houston: Elsevier Press, 1953.

Lord Burghley and Queen Elizabeth. New York: Knopf, 1960.

The government of England under Elizabeth. Washington: Folger Shakespeare Library, 1960.

The constitution reconsidered. Rev. ed. New York, Harper & Row, 1968.

The Tudors; personalities and practical politics in sixteenth century England. Freeport, N.Y.: Books for Libraries Press, 1968.