Rowse Collection

  • This material is held at
  • Reference
      GB 29 EUL MS 113
  • Dates of Creation
  • Name of Creator
  • Language of Material
  • Physical Description
      Approx. 300-400 boxes

Scope and Content

Manuscripts (literary and historical): Rowse wrote his books in longhand, so copies of many drafts survive. Also held at manuscripts, typescripts and proofs of various published and unpublished works including articles, poetry, short stories, memoirs, research materials, lecture notes and autobiographical material.

Journals and notebooks: Rowse kept these from childhood at sporadic intervals throughout his life, with particularly intense periods of writing from the 1950s to early 1970s. There are also typescript copies of the run of journals and excerpts, calendars and engagement books and personal notebooks.

Correspondence: Rowse was a dedicated correspondent and exchanged letters with an extensive range of people. He also arranged occasionally to have his own letters returned, so often both sides of the correspondence are available for consultation.

Lecture notes: these are currently unsorted

Pamphlets: these are currently unsorted

Personalia: these are currently unsorted

Administrative / Biographical History

Alfred Leslie Rowse (1903-1997), historian, poet, diarist, biographer and critic, was born in Tregonissey near St. Austell, Cornwall, to Dick Rowse (china-clay worker) and Annie Vaston. He attended St. Austell grammar school and won a scholarship to Christ Church, Oxford, gaining a first class honours degree in history in 1925 when he was also elected Fellow of All Souls (the first man from a working-class background to do so). It was during this period that he established so many of the social contacts with academic, political and literary circles within which he was to move for the remainder of his life. He stood unsuccessfully for parliament at Penryn and Falmouth in 1931 and 1935. He became Sub-Warden of the All Souls but was defeated in his election as Warden in 1952, shortly after which he retired to Trenarren, his Cornish home, for the remainder of his life.

He began to publish relatively late in life, with his first commercial full-length historical monograph Sir Richard Grenville of the Revenge being published in 1937. Tudor Cornwall (1941) further strengthened his reputation and readership. He produced a tremendous output of works on both history and Shakespeare between the 1950s and 1980s, and published 65 of his 105 books after the age of 65.

He was awarded an Honorary doctorate by the University of Exeter in 1960, was elected to Athenaeum under Rule II in 1972, received the Benson Medal of the Royal Society of Literature in 1982 and was made a Companion of Honour in 1996, a year before his death in 1997.


The collection is arranged according to the following sub-fonds:

MS 113/1 Manuscripts (literary and historical); MS 113/2 journals and notebooks; MS 113/3 correspondence; MS 113/4 lecture notes; MS 113.5 pamphlets; MS 113/6 personalia.

This arrangement is loosely based on Rowse's own description of the papers in 1981. It is anticipated that further sub-fonds may be added as cataloguing progresses. Part of the collection was partly sorted during Ollard's research on the collection.

Access Information

Usual EUL arrangements apply. Please make enquiries well in advance of any visit if you intend to consult unlisted items from the collection.


Hub description compiled by Charlotte Berry, Archivist, 9 September 2003.

Other Finding Aids

Part listed only (a rough handlist is available for journals and some of the manuscripts). Large parts of the personal correspondence and manuscripts sections of the collection remain unlisted, together with lecture notes, pamphlets and personalia: please enquire with the archivist well in advance of any visit to access the collection.

Conditions Governing Use

Usual EUL restrictions apply.

Custodial History

The collection was bequeathed to the University of Exeter by Rowse together with part of his book collection, despite his original intentions to sell it to an American institution in the 1980s. An endowment to create a 'Rowse Room' in which to store the papers was also given at the same time. The bulk of his papers arrived in a single batch shortly after his death, in 1997. One of the terms of this gift dictated that his biographer Richard Ollard was guaranteed exclusive access to the collection during his research for Rowse's authorised biography A Man of Contradictions.

Related Material

Other Rowse papers are held at the following repositories: Sussex University Library Special Collections; King's College London (Liddell Hart Centre for Military Archives); British Library (Modern English and Reader Services); Wightwick Manor and the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust Records Office.


See Richard Olland, A Man of Contradictions (London, Allen Lane 1999); Sydney Cauveren, A.L. Rowse: A Bibliophile's Extensive Bibliography (Lanham, Scarecrow Press 2000); Richard Olland (ed.), The Diaries of A.L. Rowse, (London, Allen Lane 2003).

Geographical Names