[Frederick] Maurice Powicke was born in Northumberland, and grew up in Stockport, Cheshire. He was the son of a Congregationalist minister, who was also a historian of the Puritan movement.
In 1896, Powicke entered Owens College to study history. His teachers included T.F. Tout and James Tait, both important influences in his development as a historian. He took first class honours in 1899, and received a M.A. in 1902. On completing his undergraduate degree, Powicke went with a Brackenbury scholarship to Balliol College, Oxford, following in the footsteps of Tait and Tout. He took degrees in literae humaniores in 1902, and modern history in 1903. He was then elected to a Langton fellowship at the University of Manchester, during which time he undertook research on Furness Abbey. From 1905-6, he was an assistant lecturer in history at the University of Liverpool, and held the same position at Manchester from 1906-8. In 1908 he was elected to a prize fellowship at Merton College, Oxford, and in 1909 he was elected professor of modern history at Queen's University, Belfast. In 1919 he returned to Manchester as professor of medieval history in succession to Tait. In 1928, he became Regius professor of modern history at the University of Oxford, retiring from this post in 1947. Powicke played an important role in building up Oxford's reputation as a centre for historical research, giving particular emphasis to the education of post-graduate students.
Powicke specialised in medieval political history, particularly of the thirteenth century aristocracy, but he also made original contributions in religious and intellectual history. Significant publications included The loss of Normandy (1913), Stephen Langton (1928), King Henry III and the Lord Edward (1947), and The Thirteenth Century (1953), a volume in the Oxford History of England. He also co-wrote a new edition of Hasting Rashdall's Universities of Europe in the Middle Ages (3 vols. 1936), producing the sections on continental universities. Powicke wrote more popular works including Bismarck and the origin of the German Empire (1914) and Christian life in the Middle Ages (1926). He was frequent contributor to the English Historical Review.
Powicke was elected president of the Royal Historical Society in 1933, and did much to enhance its publishing programme. He was Ford's lecturer at Oxford in 1926/7, and was elected F.B.A in 1927. He was knighted in 1946. Powicke married Susan Lindsay (d.1965) in 1909, who was the sister of the philosopher A.D. Lindsay; they had three children.