Papers of George Gordon Coulton

Scope and Content

Sketchbooks, drawings, etchings, watercolours, a few photographs, letters, and miscellaneous items.

Administrative / Biographical History

Coulton was born in King's Lynn in 1858 and attended Lynn Grammar School and then Felsted. In 1877 he won a scholarship to St Catharine's College, Cambridge, but a severe case of blood poisoning meant he was awarded an aegrotat degree. After leaving Cambridge, Coulton was briefly a master at a school in Malvern before being ordained deacon in 1883. By 1885 his beliefs led him to forsake his entry into the priesthood and he instead turned to teaching, holding a number of posts in various public schools. In 1896 his employment at a coaching establishment in Eastbourne allowed him time to develop his medieval studies, and he became an expert on the primary sources of the period. From 1900 Coulton began to publish works on the medieval period, probably the most important being two anthologies of medieval sources, 'A Medieval Garner' (1910) and 'Social Britain from the Conquest to the Reformation' (1918). In 1911 Coulton returned to Cambridge to become Birkbeck Lecturer in Ecclesiastical History at Trinity College, and in 1919 he was elected to a lectureship in the English faculty and to a Fellowship at St John's College. He now had the means to concentrate on his scholarship and subsequently published a number of important works, among them 'The Medieval Village' (1925), 'Art and the Reformation' (1928), 'Inquisition and Liberty' (1938), 'Medieval Panorama' (1938), and 'Five Centuries of Religion', published in four volumes between 1923 and 1950, the last appearing posthumously. He was elected a Fellow of the British Academy in 1929.

Coulton was something of a controversialist and much of his work was directed at Roman Catholic historians, whom he accused of having a flagrant disregard for historical accuracy. For Coulton historical truth, which he placed in contemporary sources, accurately cited, was the cornerstone of historical study. Something of a modernist, he considered it his duty as an historian to confront those who proffered what he believed to be a less than accurate view of the past. Coulton, though, is remembered for more than this confrontational reputation. His extensive scholarship, which extended much further than many historical works at the turn of the century, is rightly seen as important. He also contributed to a widening of the range of medieval studies by his attention to social and economic issues. Furthermore, Coulton was keen to extend his learning to a much wider audience than just those in academic circles, being a fine public speaker and a clear and lucid writer.

In 1904 Coulton married Rose Dorothy Ilbert, and together they had two daughters. Coulton died in 1947.

Conditions Governing Access

Open for consultation

Acquisition Information

The collection comprises material given by Coulton himself (March 1945), by Mrs Coulton (1953), and by Coulton's daughter, Bridget Bunn (1991).

Note

Coulton was born in King's Lynn in 1858 and attended Lynn Grammar School and then Felsted. In 1877 he won a scholarship to St Catharine's College, Cambridge, but a severe case of blood poisoning meant he was awarded an aegrotat degree. After leaving Cambridge, Coulton was briefly a master at a school in Malvern before being ordained deacon in 1883. By 1885 his beliefs led him to forsake his entry into the priesthood and he instead turned to teaching, holding a number of posts in various public schools. In 1896 his employment at a coaching establishment in Eastbourne allowed him time to develop his medieval studies, and he became an expert on the primary sources of the period. From 1900 Coulton began to publish works on the medieval period, probably the most important being two anthologies of medieval sources, 'A Medieval Garner' (1910) and 'Social Britain from the Conquest to the Reformation' (1918). In 1911 Coulton returned to Cambridge to become Birkbeck Lecturer in Ecclesiastical History at Trinity College, and in 1919 he was elected to a lectureship in the English faculty and to a Fellowship at St John's College. He now had the means to concentrate on his scholarship and subsequently published a number of important works, among them 'The Medieval Village' (1925), 'Art and the Reformation' (1928), 'Inquisition and Liberty' (1938), 'Medieval Panorama' (1938), and 'Five Centuries of Religion', published in four volumes between 1923 and 1950, the last appearing posthumously. He was elected a Fellow of the British Academy in 1929.

Coulton was something of a controversialist and much of his work was directed at Roman Catholic historians, whom he accused of having a flagrant disregard for historical accuracy. For Coulton historical truth, which he placed in contemporary sources, accurately cited, was the cornerstone of historical study. Something of a modernist, he considered it his duty as an historian to confront those who proffered what he believed to be a less than accurate view of the past. Coulton, though, is remembered for more than this confrontational reputation. His extensive scholarship, which extended much further than many historical works at the turn of the century, is rightly seen as important. He also contributed to a widening of the range of medieval studies by his attention to social and economic issues. Furthermore, Coulton was keen to extend his learning to a much wider audience than just those in academic circles, being a fine public speaker and a clear and lucid writer.

In 1904 Coulton married Rose Dorothy Ilbert, and together they had two daughters. Coulton died in 1947.

Preferred citation: St John's College Library, Papers of George Gordon Coulton

Archivist's Note

18 Dec 2015

Additional Information

Published