Jenny Wormald History Fund

About Jenny Wormald

Jenny Wormald was Fellow and Tutor in History at St Hilda’s for twenty years from 1985 to 2005. Her distinguished Oxford career was book-ended by appointments in her native and beloved Scotland, at the University of Glasgow from 1966 to 1985, and, after her retirement from St Hilda’s, as Honorary Fellow in Scottish History at the University of Edinburgh.

It was late medieval and early modern Scottish history in which Jenny originally specialised. From highly influential articles such as ‘Bloodfeud, Kindred and Government in Early Modern Scotland’, Past and Present, 87 (1980), to seminal monographs such as Lords and Men in Scotland: Bonds of Manrent 1442-1603 (1985) and Mary Queen of Scots: a Study in Failure (1988) and edited volumes such as The Oxford Illustrated History of Scotland (2005), Jenny’s work was widely considered game-changing, the highest accolade for any academic. Jenny changed the way that people thought about her subject, unafraid to think and to speak her mind.

She was part of a significant revisionist school, who argued that relations between the Stewart dynasty and the Scottish nobility were more stable and pragmatic than those of their English counterparts, and that the comparison of the English model was profoundly inappropriate in the Scottish context. As one of her reviewers commented in relation to her radical reconception of the nature of late medieval Scottish nobility, ‘in Dr Jenny Wormald they at last have a formidable and skilled advocate’.

The move to Oxford in 1985 opened up new and valuable opportunities to bring this specialism to bear on the wider scope of British History. Although Jenny’s biography of James VI and I never came to publication, James formed the subject of many of her lectures and articles. Jenny’s view of Scotland as a thriving, successful and important kingdom with its own traditions provided a distinctive interpretative framework for understanding James’ actions in England, resulting in an exciting and original perspective on early modern British History.

This combination of intellectual courage, the desire to break the mould and force a re-think, with the meticulous academic underpinning to lend cogency to the argument made Jenny into no less outstanding a tutor than a scholar. She urged her pupils to think big and argue their case and she inspired them with the confidence to do so. The advocacy which she had offered the Scottish nobility was readily applied also to those fortunate enough to be taught and guided by her, combined, as ever, with her indomitable character. As one of her pupils commented after her death: ‘She was a formidable and inspiring woman, who petrified me at interview but was witty, funny and was a lioness for anyone who needed her’.

Within College, Jenny’s passion for academic excellence made her a demanding and very effective Senior Tutor, striving always to ensure the highest aspirations on the part of students at St Hilda’s. Her delight in the college’s record performance in last summer’s Finals was evident. Her devotion to academic life and her efficacy as an advocate made her the perfect Fellow Librarian, a role which she held from 1992-2000. During her tenure, Jenny was a tireless champion in GB for the new library extension, and it was largely down to her efforts that College decided to go ahead with the building. She then devoted all her energies to fundraising for the project. Jenny set the highest standards and held forthright views on many issues whether academic, political or religious. As scholar, tutor, colleague and friend, she was passionate in her opinions, warm in character, and fiercely loyal. The lioness will sorely be missed.

Katherine Clarke


Jenny Wormald History Fund

The Jenny Wormald History Fund has been established to create a Junior Research Fellowship in the history of women, work and social mobility. This Fellowship will, in the first instance, be held by one postdoctoral candidate between 2017 and 2020. The College will continue to seek philanthropic support during the 125th Anniversary Campaign to achieve endowment for a permanent Junior Research Fellowship in women’s history.

Jenny Wormald