Owen Chadwick interviewed by Alan Macfarlane 29th February 2008

0:09:07 Born in Bromley, Kent, in May 1916; very soon I was evacuated to my grandparents in Lancashire because of the zeppelins; both my parents were Lancashire folk; my father went to Pembroke, Cambridge, as an undergraduate; he was later a Lawyer in London; mother was well educated; I immensely enjoyed my father who died when I was fourteen; my mother had three more children after me; I was the third, and she had six children altogether; the time I was closest to her was when I was looking after her when she was around seventy-five; I was not close to her as a boy; my elder brother, the first child, John, went to Corpus, Cambridge, and then into the Diplomatic Service; he became ambassador to Rumania and finished at the OECD in Paris; next was a sister, Frances, who became a leader writer on 'The Economist' until she married an Australian Admiral; my younger brother, Henry, was at Queens’, then a professor at Oxford, Dean of Christ Church, then professor at Cambridge, then Master of Peterhouse; next daughter was a physiotherapist; the youngest boy, Martin, was ordained and became Chaplain of Trinity Hall, Cambridge, later went to the living at Charlbury, north of Oxford, where he was a much valued parish priest

4:47:18 The elder three boys all went to a prep school in Bromley; my father had the amazing doctrine that his sons should all go to different schools and colleges; because there were six of us and there was a slump we were told we must get scholarships; the eldest went to Rugby; I was told I wasn't nearly clever enough to go to a school like that but that Tonbridge was a place I might get a scholarship, so I did; remember a wonderful man called Sladen at the preparatory; during the war he had been buried in a trench for two or three days and came out with white hair and a psychological problem; one of our staff met him in London where he was driving a taxi and persuaded him to come to the school; we were incredibly lucky as I think we were the only prep school in England where there was an Oriental linguist on the staff; he taught the Old Testament absolutely brilliantly; for me it was a lesson in national politics - is the murder of a tyrant OK, and things like that; for my brother, Henry, it was basically how fascinating theology was; the headmaster had two gifts, one he loved music so we had a lovely time with choir, and two he was a genius at teaching Latin grammar, couldn't make it boring; my mother was very musical and wanted all her children to be good at it; the result was that two of them did and four merely loved it; I do as long as it is not too ancient or too modern; my mother loved opera and I remember being taken to see 'Parsifal' at thirteen which I thought was long bore

11:51:20 At Tonbridge, I played rugby and was a hooker in the scrum; I later captained Cambridge and got a blue; loved other sports but didn't excel at them;  my father thought I should become a lawyer and the best way was to read classics; by the time I was fourteen, although I was rather good at Latin though not at Greek, I was bored; these things which I now think are lovely like Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides, I thought were colossal bores; we had a man called D.C. Somervell who did an abridgement of Toynbee's volumes which were coming out when I was at school; he was rather contemptuous of them; he had the merit that he would give us supervisions and individual essays, especially as we got older; I read a lot of his work later, although he admired Lytton Strachey which you can't do as an historian; I look back at him as a benefactor; classics had made me hugely interested in ancient history

17:18:01 My mother had become a Christian Scientist at some point and all her children voted against it as they couldn't believe that matter didn't exist; Somerset Maugham's philosophy seemed to fit mine at the time, which meant I didn't believe much; it was Hitler who made the difference to me; chapel was compulsory but I was not interested; chose St John's, Cambridge, as I was good at rugby football and that was a good college for that; I took a classical exam to get in but I wasn't nearly good enough at it; only got a scholarship in my third year; when I arrived at St John's I asked to change from classics to history but was refused; for two years did not much work but played rugby football; came up in 1935; for the first year or two at Cambridge I wasn't very politically minded; I don't think I was moved by the Spanish Civil War as each side seemed as bad as the other; the first thing that I cared about was Martin Niemöller, when in March 1937 he was tried by the German court and acquitted and as he walked out of court he was rearrested by the Gestapo; I thought that was about the most hellish thing possible, so suddenly I woke up to Hitler; it coincided with the change from classics to history so I wanted to know something, for the first time really; there seemed to be a curious parallel between this barbarism in central Europe with the fifth century AD which I wanted to know badly about; suddenly I was hard at the decline and fall of the Roman Empire, and really working for the first time; in March 1938 he occupied Austria and I had been climbing in Austria and knew the Tyrol; just as some people reacted to Hitler by becoming Communists I reacted against him by becoming Christian, and what were the moral foundations of Europe; knew about Martin Niemöller from newspapers where they had been talking of resistance to Hitler and he had been someone who was prepared to speak; the link with the fall of the Roman Empire was barbarism; the Jewish predicament only became important to me after Kristallnacht in December 1938; I wasn't angry about Munich as some people were; I remember compiling a list of six books to take with me in the army for a war in 1938; it didn't happen and I was pleased as I wanted to finish my degree; the collection was absurd and the only one I remember was 'The Letters of Gregory the Great' in Latin; on the Jewish question, April-May 1933, the Nazis made it absolutely clear, and Hitler made it clear, that the Jews were to get out of Germany or be badly treated there, but I was rather young then to get angry about it; in the middle period where Hitler was trying to look quite nice to the international powers and to be a great defender of Europe against Stalin, the Jewish problem was not as great; I went by train to Germany and was in Munich very soon after Kristallnacht; a friend of mine went to Germany in 1936 to Münster; he got up in the morning and wanted to buy a paper; he went out of the front door of the hotel and the newspaper shop opposite had a Brownshirt standing in front of it and there were great chalk marks across the window saying Jüde; my friend went across the road and into the shop; the Brownshirt didn't try to stop him; behind the counter was a little frightened shopkeeper; so then he bought not a newspaper but ten 'Woodbines' then came out and crossed the road; as he was going up the steps of the hotel he realized he hated Hitler; I remember in Austria in 1937, we were in the Tyrol in a village café; men speaking dialect and only gradually did my friend and I realize that not only were they speaking in Austrian dialect but were using four letter words about Hitler; by 1938 they wouldn't have dared of course

30:25:23 I was keen to study 4th and 5th centuries A.D. so after Part II History, which was when I got the scholarship; in the theology tripos you could do Church history and in that way I could go on with what I was doing; there was no teaching in Church history as the Professor was eighty and gaga; I worked for myself and was hardly supervised; Zachary Brooke was Professor of Medieval History; to me he was a very inspiring lecturer, he was an orator which some historians don't approve of; the man who affected me was Martin Charlesworth the President of St John's who was a very fine ancient historian; he happened to be, at the moment when I was turning to fourth and fifth century Rome, himself turning to the same from Augustus where he started; he was a wonderful teacher; a rip-roaring man, full of go and humour, and generosity; he gave me supervisions in my third year, but we also walked Hadrian's Wall together, unlikely to happen today but was possible when the University was smaller; Philip Grierson was a little older than I was and was just beginning to lecture, I think; I went to Runciman's course on Byzantine history; I have heard Steven Runciman give a lecture at the age of eighty which was brilliant, but when he was lecturing to us at thirty he was stuffed with too much information; I enjoyed lecturing to Part II people, special subjects, because although most of the class would be beta and a few gamma, there would always be three or four minds worth learning from; that was very exciting; I wasn't shy and didn't dis-enjoy but some subjects I was asked to teach didn't really interest me

37:33:21 The curious thing that happened to me was that at the end of Part II Church history, Professor Creed came and said I should go to Germany for a year, to a German university to do more history; this was June 1939; thought it was wonderful that the University of Cambridge had never actually heard there was going to be a war; the College gave me the money so in October 1939 I wrote to the College saying that it couldn't be done at present; they told me to spend the money on something sensible; trouble is that now I can't remember what I did spend it on; I had decided in March 1939 that I really ought to be ordained so by July 1939 I was already at Theological college in Oxford, at Cuddesdon; in September 1939 after one term I considered whether to go on or not; I had no conscientious objection and thought this a just war; as long as the phoney war was on the conflict of conscience was not too bad; all my advisors were suggesting I should get ordained and become a chaplain to the forces; that worked alright until 10th May 1940 when the Germans crossed into France; I think the most conscientiously unhappy period of my life was from June to September 1940; I was doing this to become a chaplain as I thought, and wasn't sure that it was right; while London was being blitzed it seemed rather secure; they sent me to be trained in a curacy in Huddersfield, an industrial place; after that I applied to be a chaplain to forces but you weren't allowed to enlist unless the Bishop agreed; he thought I needed more training; Wellington College offered me a chaplaincy; they had strong military connections in those days; thought that I could do that for a year and then there might be a different Bishop; they had a crisis after I had been at Wellington for a year, where the senior Chaplain left, the Headmaster had been killed by a bomb, and they needed me; I remained as Chaplain for the period of the War, then Trinity Hall invited me to become an historian Fellow; I wasn't sure that I wanted to be an academic and I remember telling them I would try it and see if I liked it; no one would say that today

45:56:20 I very much enjoyed Trinity Hall; the Senior Tutor was Charles Crawley; I taught  mediaeval history as Charles was doing all the modern history; I refused to leave Wellington in 1944 and 1945 to come to Cambridge as I thought Cambridge not war-minded enough for me; also I needed to make sure of a good successor so had to wait for somebody to be demobilized which didn't happen until 1946; I first walked into Trinity Hall 1st January 1947, which was the coldest, snowiest winter that we ever had; in the middle of the War Zachary Brooke had written to me from Cambridge saying a man called David Knowles had published a book on monastic orders in England which was absolutely top class and that I should read it; when I came to Cambridge found that Knowles was a figure, he was in Peterhouse; we became friends; I was lucky enough to get to know Trevelyan pretty well; Louis Clarke, the former Director of the Fitzwilliam, was a fellow of Trinity Hall, and he became a great friend and he was a considerable friend of Trevelyan; Trevelyan and I used to meet at Clarke's house; I was never that sort of English historian, I liked Italians; Knowles was ascetic in the sense that when you went to see him in his room there were two chairs, one of which was extremely uncomfortable, which he was sitting in, and the other was quite comfortable which you had to sit in; I disapproved of this, but Margery Chibnall, who was a mediaeval historian, thought it rather wonderful; after Trevelyan retired from Trinity he lived just next to Selwyn, so after I became Master of Selwyn in 1956 he was at the bottom of my garden; Christopher Morris had a particular place in the History Faculty in my time because he was a born examiner; if you wanted to get the class of some doubtful candidate right, he was much more likely to do so; the person who was bound to get it wrong was Duncan Forbes; John Saltmarsh was a tremendous character and great fun but he was very much a lone man; Harry Hinsley was a contemporary of mine at St John's; Frank Thistlethwaite was trying to create American history with William Brock; in the history tripos one had to do something as well as mediaeval history, and I had wanted to do American history but there was no paper then; I had to go to Oakeshott on the state, which had too philosophical an element for me; in my Part II history I was a member, with Annan, of Oakeshott’s seminar on political thought; I remember thinking I could understand Hobbes before I went to the seminar, but after Oakeshott had dealt with Hobbes I realized I couldn't understand Hobbes at all; he was very good on Marx; he was a good lecturer

55:05:02 Stayed at Trinity Hall for ten years and I loved it; we had four legal Fellows out of about twenty; left because I was elected Master of Selwyn; by then I had a wife and children; moved there in Autumn 1956; in 1958 they elected me Dixie Professor; that had the advantage of giving me a place on both the Divinity Board and the History Board; when I went to Selwyn it was on the way to being fully incorporated into the University; I am sometimes credited with having created the incorporation but actually I was inheriting a thing in process; the difficulty was that John Boys-Smith who was regarded as the infallible man at everything said that it was impossible to incorporate this College because it has still got such a religious content in its statutes; so then being an historian I was able to point out to the Council of the Senate, to its surprise, and to John Boys-Smith, that the law of 1871 (which said that Colleges must not be denominational) didn't apply as the College was founded after 1871