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Professor Jonathan Riley-Smith 1938-2016

last modified Mar 10, 2017 09:36 AM

Professor Jonathan Riley-Smith died on Tuesday, 13 September 2016, at the age of 78.  Professor Riley-Smith was a distinguished medievalist and for many years the Dixie Professor of Ecclesiastical History and a Fellow of Emmanuel College.

Born on 27 June 1938, he was educated at Eton College and Trinity College Cambridge.  He received the BA (1960), MA (1964) and PhD (1964) and in 2001 was honoured with the LittD, all from Cambridge.

After his education, Professor Riley-Smith taught first at the University of St Andrews and then at Cambridge, from 1972 to 1978.  From 1978 to 1994, he was professor of history at the University of London and then returned to Cambridge as Dixie Professor of Ecclesiastical History.  In the late 1990s, he was Chair of the Faculty of History.

He was a leading figure in the study of the Crusades, producing many works, both academic monographs and works of general interest, from 'The Knights of St John in Jerusalem and Cyprus, c.1050-1310' (1967) and 'The Feudal Nobility and the Kingdom of Jerusalem, 1174-1277' (1973) to 'The Crusades, Christianity, and Islam' (2008) and 'The Knights Hospitaller in the Levant 1070-1309' (2012).  He was the editor of 'The Atlas of the Crusades' (1991) and 'The Oxford Illustrated History of the Crusades' (1995).  Professor Riley-Smith was a founder and president of the Society for the Study of the Crusades and the Latin East.

 

A former student of Professor Riley-Smith adds:
He held the important posts of Chair of the Board of Management of the Institute of Historical Research in 1988-94, Chair of the Victoria County History between 1989 and 1996, and head of the department of history at Royal Holloway between 1984 and 1990.
 
He was the president of the Society for the Study of the Crusades and the Latin East, which is mentioned in the article, between 1987 and 1995. It is a very successful academic society with hundreds of members in many countries and its own journal, and the conferences it organises are the largest gatherings of historians of the crusades and the Latin East on the academic calendar.

He supervised over thirty doctoral research students, a very large number for a non-scientist, and many of them have gone on to successful academic careers.

Among his other books were What were the Crusades? (1977), which has been through four editions and has been very influential, and The First Crusaders (CUP, 1997), which was very well received and was completed during his tenure as Dixie Professor.

There is some more detail, and Professor Riley-Smith's qualities, achievements and personality are well captured, in Jonathan Phillips' obituary of him in History Today.