Papers of Edward Augustus Freeman

  • Reference
      GB 133 EAF
  • Dates of Creation
  • Name of Creator
  • Language of Material
  • Physical Description
      9 li.m. 7509 items
  • Location
      Collection available at John Rylands Library, Deansgate.

Scope and Content

Papers of Edward Augustus Freeman, historian. The Freeman papers have a two-fold value to the student of Victorian Britain. First, they throw much new light on the religious, political, architectural, educational and cultural life of the period, and the careers and opinions of many of its prominent figures. Secondly, they contain contributions towards a knowledge and an understanding of a versatile, contentious and paradoxical scholar; a man who brought a complex blend of passionate humanitarianism, fierce intolerance and broadly-ranging erudition to bear upon the issues of his times.

Freeman is best remembered as one of the leading writers of his time on English medieval history, and his most enduring monument is his six-volume The History of the Norman Conquest of England published between 1867 and 1879. The virtually complete original manuscript of this work is preserved among Freeman's papers (EAF/3/1/4), along with that of The Reign of William Rufus and the Accession of Henry I (1882) (gb133-eaf/eaf/3/1/6 EAF/3/1/6) and his Old English History for Children (1869) ( EAF/3/1/3).

Freeman was also an authority on the history of the ancient world, especially the development of Greek civilization, and this theme, which featured in his History of Federal Government (1863), of which the manuscript survives as (EAF/3/1/1 ), came to dominate his later years. As well as the manuscripts of two works on Sicily published between 1891 and 1892 (EAF/3/1/7-8 ), there are early chapters of an unpublished 'European History' extending only to early Roman times ( EAF/3/2/1), and chapters intended for two works on Greek history ( EAF/3/2/2-3).

Freeman's historical interests are reflected in much of his correspondence, which includes letters from his publisher, Alexander Macmillan, and the historians John Richard Green, William Stubbs and A.W. Ward ( EAF/1/7), and also 106 letters from Freeman to Green (EAF/1/8 ). The large general series of correspondence (EAF/1/7/1-849 ) consists of incoming correspondence on a very wide range of topics, reflecting the diversity of Freeman's interests and acquaintances. EAF/1/8  comprises copies of Freeman's own letters.

Freeman made three attempts to obtain a professorship at Oxford before his very belated appointment in 1884 to the Regius Professorship of Modern History. He had previously failed to secure this post in 1858 and was also unsuccessful in his application for the Camden Professorship of Ancient History in 1861 and the Chichele Professorship of Modern History in 1862. A collection of correspondence and testimonials relating to the latter post ( EAF/1/3) provides much insight into the workings of nineteenth-century university 'politics'.

In the 1840s, Freeman seriously considered entering the profession of architecture, and his first published book was in fact A History of Architecture (1849), dealing principally with ecclesiastical buildings. His life-long interest in the subject is reflected in his correspondence with such men as Lord Dunraven, perhaps better known for his interest in spiritualism; the Conservative politician and prominent Anglican Alexander James Beresford Hope; the Gothic architectural artist John Louis Petit; the antiquary and draughtsman Albert Way; the MP and antiquary Sir Stephen Glynne; and, above all, Sir George Gilbert Scott, one of the great Victorian Gothic architects whose work included the restoration of several medieval cathedrals and Westminster Abbey, and the building of St Pancras Station and the Albert Memorial.

The collection also contains over 6,200 of Freeman's pen-and-ink sketches, mainly of ecclesiastical architecture ( EAF/4). These have been arranged by county for England & Wales, and otherwise by country. About 3,600 are of English locations, mainly from the South and Midlands, with Northamptonshire (695 items), Somerset, Freeman's home county from 1860, (415 items), Gloucestershire (230 items), Oxfordshire (182 items), Norfolk (181 items), Leicestershire (178 items) and Kent (170 items) particularly well represented. A wide range of drawings from other parts of Britain and Western Europe also feature, in particular, Wales (446 items), France (906 items), Germany (380 items), Italy (299 items), and Switzerland (213 items), as well as a few items for Greece and Austrian Dalmatia (now Croatia/Slovenia/Italy).

Freeman's enthusiasm for ecclesiastical architecture was closely bound up with his High Anglican beliefs at a time when the Oxford Movement was making its greatest impact upon the Church of England. His correspondence contains letters from prominent churchmen involved in the ecclesiastical controversies of his day, including Henry Parry Liddon, canon of St Paul's and Oxford lecturer; Walter Farquhar Hook, dean of Chichester and author of Lives of the Archbishops of Canterbury; and Richard William Church, dean of St Paul's and friend of Cardinal Newman. With the exception of Sir Stephen Glynne, who appears in general correspondence section (EAF/1/7 ), these men figure prominently in the special section of correspondence concerning ecclesiastical architecture and related topics (EAF/1/1 ). Freeman was appointed to the Royal Commission on Ecclesiastical Courts (1881-82), and his papers contain a collection of printed Minutes of Evidence and miscellaneous related documents (EAF/6 ).

Freeman's concern for Christian history and tradition, and his enthusiasm for the classical world combined to determine his principal interests in contemporary international affairs. His enduring interest in the past and present government of Greece is reflected in the letters of George Finlay, a friend of Lord Byron and an early advocate of Greek independence who eventually took up residence in Athens and who wrote to Freeman at length on contemporary Greek constitutional and political matters. The converse of Freeman's love of Greek civilization was his hatred of the Turkish Empire, which came to a head in his passionate support for the independence of the Christian Balkan peoples during their struggle with Turkey between 1875 and 1878. A separate section of correspondence ( EAF/1/2) deals primarily with Greece and the Eastern Question, and includes letters from the Serbian politician Philip Hristik Humphry Sandwith, an army physician involved in relief operations and in campaigning for the Serbian cause; the marquess of Bath, an opponent of Disraeli's 'pro-Turkish' eastern policies; and Adeline Paulina Irby, who was actively involved in the welfare of Balkan refugees. Other references to the Eastern Question may be found throughout the general correspondence section ( EAF1/7), notably in the letters of Henry Parry Liddon and Professor Wilhelm Ihne of Heidelberg, while the early letters from Sir Arthur Hallam Elton deal with the controversies of the Crimean War. Freeman's own views, which were to involve him in personal publicity at the national level, may be found among the compilations of newscuttings in his scrapbooks, especially those listed as ( EAF/5/2-4). His support for the Greek and Balkan causes was acknowledged by his receipt of a number of diplomas and medals (see EAF/7/1 ).

Freeman's support of the Orthodox Christian peoples against the Muslim Turks was only the most obvious, and in some respects the least controversial, facet of his highly idiosyncratic attitudes of national and racial prejudice. His great work on the Norman Conquest had reflected his bias towards an Anglo-Saxon culture challenged by alien Latin influences, and his belief in the corporate identity and racial superiority of the Germanic peoples influenced his support, in 1870, for the Prussians against the French under Napoleon III, whom he despised and detested. His correspondence with the German expatriate philologist Friedrich Max Müller, and letters from the geographer Sir Clements Robert Markham (EAF1/7 ), record different attitudes to a war which divided English political opinion. Freeman's more extreme racial prejudices relating, for instance, to American blacks and Indians, and to the Chinese and Jews are not immediately evident in the absence of a substantial body of his own correspondence within this collection, but deserve serious examination in conjunction with this material.

There were few contemporary issues on which Freeman was not prepared to offer an opinion. He was an indefatigable contributor to virtually all the major periodical publications of the second half of the nineteenth century, most particularly the Saturday Review, but also the Edinburgh Review, Fortnightly Review, Pall Mall Gazette, British Quarterly Review and Contemporary Review, as well as the Evening Star, Manchester Guardian and Archaeological Journal. Many of his articles have survived in his papers (EAF/2/2/1-268 ), and see also Scrapbooks, (EAF/5/1), predictably dealing with architecture, the University of Oxford, archaeology, the Eastern Question, and the Church, but also parliamentary affairs, constitutional issues, the Greek, Latin and English languages, and travels in France and Sicily. If the Eastern Question was Freeman's 'great cause', the lesser cause for which he was most popularly known was his campaign against cruelty to animals, especially in blood sports. This can be traced here both in published articles expressing opposing viewpoints (Freeman's leading adversary in the debate was the novelist Anthony Trollope), and in a small group of letters to Freeman from sympathizers (EAF/1/5 ) including correspondence on vivisection.

Amongst Freeman's correspondents on a wide variety of subjects (EAF/1/7 ), mention should be made of Walter Bagehot, the economist, political analyst and journalist; Sir Henry James Sumner Maine, prominent jurist and a leading contributor to the Saturday Review; Viscount Strangford, eccentric traveller, oriental scholar and philologist; John Byrne Leicester Warren, 3rd Baron de Tabley, poet, botanist, numismatist, and acquaintance of many literary and political figures; the Revd Henry Thompson, religious author, classical scholar, and translator; Richard Holt Hutton, theologian and journalist, and contributor to many nineteenth-century periodicals; Friedrich Max Müller, mentioned above in connection with the Franco- Prussian War, best known as a Sanskrit scholar and student of Eastern religions and of comparative philology; Mountague Bernard, international lawyer and a leading participant in the redrafting of the 'constitution' of the University of Oxford; and Alexander Fraser, Scottish philosopher and editor of the North British Review.

Miscellaneous material in the papers includes Freeman's journal, unfortunately only covering his last years 1888-92 (EAF/3/8 ); manuscripts of poems and other writings of his youth (EAF/3/3 ); newscuttings relating to his tour of the United States in 1881-82 (EAF/5/10); and printed material relating to his writings and career, including obituary notices (EAF/6/2 ); similar material is also covered in the series of scrapbooks ( EAF/5).

Administrative / Biographical History

Edward Augustus Freeman was born at Harborne, Staffordshire in 1823. Both his parents died during his infancy, and he was brought up by his paternal grandmother and other relatives. He attended various private schools, before winning a scholarship to Trinity College, Oxford in 1841. During his time at Oxford, Freeman was strongly influenced by the prevailing high church atmosphere, and originally considered taking orders. In 1845, following graduation, he was elected to a probationary fellowship at Trinity. This was relinquished on his marriage to Eleanor Gutch in April 1847, after which Freeman devoted himself full-time to scholarly work.

Freeman's original interests lay in the field of architecture, particularly church architecture; his first book, A History of Architecture was published in 1849 and his interest in the subject remained for the rest of his life. He had great skills in sketching, producing numerous drawings of ecclesiastical buildings, and some of this work was published in Sketches of Travel in Normandy and Maine (1897).

In the early part of his career, Freeman earned a living through journalism (although he also possessed private means). He was an assiduous contributor to the periodical press, his name being particularly associated with the Saturday Review. Freeman's diverse interests were reflected in articles on architectural and historical subjects, vivisection and hunting, domestic politics, and on foreign policy, particularly Balkan politics, where he was an outspoken critic of the Ottoman Empire and its activities in the Balkans. Freeman also raised funds for Christian refugees expelled by the Turks.

Freeman's political outlook was generally sympathetic to the radical wing of the Liberal party. He considered a political career but his attempts to stand for parliament were unsuccessful: he withdrew from contests at Cardiff and Wallingford in 1857-1858, and lost at Mid-Somerset in 1868. Freeman's attempts to secure an academic post were also initially unsuccessful. He failed in his applications for the posts of Regius Professor of modern history in 1858, the Camden Professorship of ancient history in 1861 and the Chichele Professorship of modern history in 1862, all at Oxford University.

In the 1860s however he began to achieve a considerable reputation as a historian. In 1863 he published the first volume of his unfinished History of Federal Government, and in 1867, the first volume of A History of the Norman Conquest appeared, which eventually ran to six volumes (1867-1879) and proved to be his best known work. Freeman had a life-long interest in this subject, and wrote with strong sympathies for the defeated Anglo-Saxons. Even so, he argued for an essential continuity between Anglo-Saxon and Norman political institutions after 1066. He also wrote Old English History for Children (1869), a History of the Cathedral Church of Wells (1870), The reign of William Rufus (1882), English Towns and Districts (1883), and a four volume History of Sicily (1891-1894).

As a result of his writings, Freeman was finally appointed Regius professor of modern history at Oxford in 1884, succeeding William Stubbs. In the last decade of his life, he was much involved in a history of Sicily, for which he travelled to the continent to gather material. He died on one such trip at Alicante in 1892. By the time of his death, his significance was waning suffered from the criticisms of a new class of academic historians, who were emerging during the last years of his life.


The Freeman papers are arranged into the following series:

  • EAF/1 - Correspondence
  • EAF/2 - Published works by Freeman
  • EAF/3 - Manuscript writings by and relating to Freeman
  • EAF/4 - Architectural sketches
  • EAF/5 - Scrapbooks
  • EAF/6 - Royal Commission on Ecclesiastical Courts, 1881-2.
  • EAF/7 - Diplomas, honours, decorations awarded to Freeman
  • EAF/8 - Miscellaneous material relating to freeman
  • EAF/9 - Printed material not relating to Freeman.

Some series are further divided into subseries.

Access Information

The collection is open to any accredited reader.

Other Finding Aids

The catalogue of the Freeman papers was originally published as P. McNiven, 'Handlist of the Papers of Edward Augustus Freeman in the John Rylands University Library of Manchester', Bulletin of the John Rylands University Library of Manchester, vol. 72, no. 2 (1990), pp. 27-71. The current catalogue is a revised version of that list.

Separated Material

There is also a collection of Freeman's papers at Oxford University: Bodleian Library, Department of Western Manuscripts (ref.: MSS Eng hist d 119-32, 145; Dep a 30). c1856-90, and letters (144) from William Stubbs (reference: MS Eng misc e 148). Freeman's papers relating to Glastonbury Abbey are held by Bath Central Library.

Conditions Governing Use

Photocopies and photographic copies of material in the archive can be supplied for private study purposes only, depending on the condition of the documents.

A number of items within the archive remain within copyright under the terms of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988; it is the responsibility of users to obtain the copyright holder's permission for reproduction of copyright material for purposes other than research or private study.

Prior written permission must be obtained from the Library for publication or reproduction of any material within the archive. Please contact the Head of Special Collections, John Rylands University Library, 150 Deansgate, Manchester, M3 3EH.

Custodial History

Between 1902 and 1908, members of Freeman's family donated his personal papers to the University of Manchester. This followed the acquisition of Freeman's library by Owens College in 1892 through the support of the legatees of the Manchester engineer, Sir Joseph Whitworth.


No accruals expected.

Related Material

JRUL also has custody of the Edward Freeman Printed Book Collection. Eng Ms 1440/7 is a letter from E.A. Freeman to Sir Clements Robert Markham, 18 April 1871, concerning the Battle of Hastings.

Material relating to Freeman in other repositories includes:

correspondence and papers relating to Fitzalan Chapel at Arundel Castle, Sussex;

letters (52) to Henry Allon, 1871-83 at Dr Williams's Library, 14 Gordon Square, London (reference: 24.110);

letters (18) to G C Boase 1870-1891 at the British Library, Manuscript Collections (reference: Add MS 35073);

correspondence with WE Gladstone 1854-90 at the British Library, Manuscript Collections (reference: Add Mss 44377-786);

correspondence with Lord Bryce at the Bodleian Library, Department of Western Manuscripts (reference: Mss Bryce);

correspondence with J.T. Danson 1879-92 at Manchester Metropolitan University, Department of Textiles/Fashion (reference: Danson);

letters (c250) to Sir William Boyd Dawkins 1866-92 at Jesus College, Oxford (reference: Mss 192-93);

correspondence with Lord De Tabley 1861-75 at Cheshire Record Office (reference: DLT);

letters (34) to Alexander Campbell Fraser 1851-63 at the National Library of Scotland, Manuscripts Division (reference: Dep 208);

letters (156) to J T Fowler etc. at Durham University Library, Archives and Special Collections: Palace Green Section (reference: Add MSS 206-76, 630-731);

letters (50) to Charles Henry Hart 1881-95 at the University of Michigan Library, Department of Rare Books and Special Collections (reference: NUC MS 82-957);

letters (c.40) to W A Jones rel to antiquarian, matters 1866-73 at the Somerset Archive and Record Service (reference: DD/FJ/19);

Freeman's correspondence with Macmillans 1862-92 is held at the British Library, Manuscript Collections (reference: Add MSS 55049-53);

letters to Sir Edward Strachey 1871-85 at the Somerset Archive and Record Service (reference: DDSH/71/6);

letters and cards (189 items) to Edith Thompson c. 1868-92 at Hull University, Brynmor Jones Library.


The DNB entry for Freeman by Frank Barlow has been used for the headnote in this description. The standard life of Freeman is H W Stephens, The life and letters of Edward A. Freeman, 2 vols, (London: Macmillan & Co. 1895). . For Freeman's historical ideas see M. E. Bratchel, E. A. Freeman and the Victorian interpretation of the Norman conquest (Ilfracombe 1969) and J.W. Burrow, A liberal descent: Victorian historians and the English past (Cambridge 1981) For Freeman's architectural ideas see Christine Dade-Robertson, 'Architecture as past history and present politics: the architectural writings of Edward Augustus Freeman' (Lancaster University Ph.D. 2005), and 'Edward Augustus Freeman and the Foreign Office debate", Bulletin of the John Rylands University Library of Manchester 88.1, 2006, pp.165-190.