Professor Paul Hyams at CampbellFest in May 2022

Professor Paul Hyams

13 December 2022

Worcester College is deeply saddened to learn of the death of Professor Paul Hyams (Modern History, 1960).

Paul came up to Worcester to study under the legendary James Campbell and returned to College most recently in May this year to speak at CampbellFest, the weekend seminar organised in Professor Campbell's memory (pictured above). All the attendees were very grateful for Paul's presence as, in spite of his worsening health, he gave a typically broad and vivid paper on the place of the Doomsday Inquest in the history of England's law.

Professor Hyams was a distinguished medieval and legal historian renowned for his work on England's common law. For many years, he was a fellow of Pembroke College, Oxford before taking up a Professorship at Cornell University in 1989. Paul then retired to Oxford and rejoined the community of which he had been a part for 60 years. His publications include Rancor and Reconciliation in Medieval England (2003) and Vengeance in the Middle Ages: Emotion, Religion and Feud (2010) as well as numerous journal papers and dictionary entries. In 2014 his colleagues and students published a festschrift as a special edition of Reading Medieval Studies - it can be read on the University of Reading website.

Professor John Hudson FBA, Bishop Wardlaw Professor at the University of St Andrews, writes:

"Paul Hyams was responsible for what I’ve been doing for the last 40 years. As a Worcester undergraduate in 1981-2, at the recommendation of James Campbell, I attended two series of lectures which Paul gave on English law in the tenth to thirteenth centuries. They were the very best type of lectures, filled with research that the lecturer was undertaking, and with a multiplicity of questions plus the occasional tentative answer. When I came to write a book on this very subject, aiming for it to be accessible and stimulating to undergraduates, I had no hesitation in acknowledging in the Author’s Preface that at times I felt as if I were merely Paul’s amanuensis (The Formation of the English Common Law, 1996, p. xi).

I then moved on to a DPhil under Paul’s supervision. Our meetings were always fertile, with Paul characteristically suggesting new concentrations, each very original and important, each in effect another thesis that I might write. Having started my thesis on a typewriter, I also was introduced to the possibilities of new computing software … although I suspect that anything composed using Paul’s then favourite, ThinkTank, would now be considerably harder to read than a thirteenth-century plea roll. As I neared completion, he provided the most meticulous reading of the final draft of my thesis, the printout with his careful annotations in red pencil still preserved in my office. And ever since, I have been returning to his writings, particularly favourite articles such as his study of ‘Feud and the State in Late Anglo-Saxon England’ (2001) or his ahead-of-its-time foray into Law and Literature, ‘Henry II and Ganelon’ (1983)."

Professor Paul Hyams died on Sunday 4th December 2022. The College extends its condolences to his wife Elaine and their children Deborah and David. We hope to be able to commemorate Paul's life and scholarship in due course.