James Anthony Froude

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James Anthony Froude

The English historian James Anthony Froude (1818-1894) specialized in Reformation and Tudor studies. His work is characterized by vivid description and an orderly narrative style.

James Froude was born in Dartington, Devon, on April 23, 1818. He was educated at Westminster and Oriel colleges, Oxford, and was elected fellow of Exeter College, Oxford, in 1842. He joined the High Church movement at Oxford and helped John Henry Newman with his Lives of the English Saints. He became disillusioned with the High Church party after 1845, and, influenced by the ideas of Thomas Carlyle, his religious views shifted toward Protestantism. He resigned his fellowship in 1849.

The first two volumes of Froude's History of England from the Fall of Wolsey to the Death of the Spanish Armada appeared in 1856, with the remaining 10 volumes completed by 1870. In this work, which altered the whole direction of Tudor studies, Froude condemned the scientific treatment of history, for he saw history as a great drama with emphasis upon personalities. Unlike his historical predecessors, he portrays Henry VIII as a hero of considerable historical importance and Elizabeth I as a weak and uncertain ruler. The Reformation he saw as a struggle of the forces of liberty against the forces of darkness, as represented by the Roman Catholic Church. He viewed the Anglo-Catholic revival of the 19th century as a later clash between the same forces.

In The English in Ireland in the 18th Century (1872-1874) Froude continued to show his admiration for strong rulers and strong government. This work was anti-clerical and anti-Irish. He played down English atrocities and attempted to show that English efforts to conciliate the Irish had been futile. His admiration for heroic figures was also shown in his work glorifying imperialism, Life of Caesar (1879), and in his further defense of Henry VIII, Catherine of Aragon (1891).

At his best Froude presented impressive and powerful accounts of history, laying before the reader a picture of the past magnificently conceived and painted. His descriptive style was most notable in his shorter essays, Short Studies on Great Subjects (1867-1882). However, his inaccurate use of documents brought ridicule from other historians, notably Edward Freeman. Froude's later work was devoted chiefly to a biography of Thomas Carlyle (4 vols., 1882-1884) and a collection of Carlyle's papers (2 vols., 1881).

Froude returned to Oxford in 1892 as regius professor of modern history. He died at Kingsbridge, Devon, on Oct. 20, 1894.

Further Reading

The best book on Froude is Waldo Hilary Dunn, James Anthony Froude: A Biography (2 vols., 1961-1963), which is based on family papers discussing Froude's controversial nature. Herbert W. Paul, The Life of Froude (1905), is a biographical sketch. Lytton Strachey, Portraits in Miniature, and Other Essays (1931), identifies Froude as a mid-Victorian personality strongly influenced by Carlyle. □

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James Anthony Froude (frōōd), 1818–94, English historian. Educated at Oxford, he took deacon's orders after coming under the influence of the Oxford movement, but he later abandoned the path of Newman and became a skeptic. His record of this course in The Nemesis of Faith led to his resignation from an Oxford fellowship. He became an intimate friend of Thomas Carlyle, whom he greatly admired, and devoted himself to writing and lecturing. In 1872–73 he came to the United States and lectured on Irish questions, and later traveled in many parts of the British Empire. In 1892 he became regius professor of modern history at Oxford. His most important work is The History of England from the Fall of Wolsey to the Defeat of the Spanish Armada (12 vol., 1856–70). An indefatigable worker, Froude produced an almost incredible number volumes. Among his best-known works are Short Studies on Great Subjects (4 vol., 1867–82); The English in Ireland in the Eighteenth Century (3 vol., 1872–74); English Seamen in the Sixteenth Century (1892); several books on Carlyle and his wife; and biographies of Julius Caesar, Erasmus, and Disraeli. As literature, Froude's works are superb; his style is graceful and fluent, his opinions are competently and clearly expressed. As history, they leave much to be desired; his numerous prejudices color all his writing, and he was so prone to factual errors that the term "Froude's disease" came to be applied by some later historians to habitual inaccuracy. Nevertheless, his interest in social questions and his tireless curiosity concerning the past give the books value.

See biographies by H. Paul (1905) and J. Markus (2005); W. H. Dunn, Froude and Carlyle (1930).