John McManners

John "Jack" McManners CBE FBA (25 December 1916 – 4 November 2006) was a British clergyman and historian of religion who specialized in the history of the Church and other aspects of religious life in 18th-century France. He was Regius Professor of Ecclesiastical History at the University of Oxford from 1972 to 1984. He also served as Fellow and Chaplain of All Souls College, Oxford, from 1964 to 2001.

John McManners

Portrait John McManners.jpg
Born(1916-12-25)25 December 1916
Died4 November 2006(2006-11-04) (aged 89)
Oxford, England
Other namesJack McManners
OccupationHistorian, Professor, Chaplain
Spouse(s)Sarah Carruthers Errington
ChildrenHugh, Peter, Ann, Helen
Parent(s)Joseph and Ann McManners

Birth and early educationEdit

McManners, known as Jack to his family and friends, was born in Ferryhill, County Durham to Joseph and Ann McManners. His mother was a school teacher who converted his coal miner father to the Anglican faith. His father entered the priesthood, eventually becoming the vicar of Ferryhill and subsequently a canon of Durham Cathedral. McManners attended Spennymoor grammar school before winning an exhibition to St Edmund Hall, Oxford in 1936. While at Oxford he took a First in Modern History in 1939.

Military serviceEdit

In September 1939 Great Britain entered World War II prompting McManners immediately to volunteer for military service. He joined his local regiment the Royal Northumberland Fusiliers, where he made his name as a winger in their soccer team, and completed basic training. However, when the Army realised he had recently been awarded a First Class Honours degree, the Regiment shelved its plans for him to become a driving instructor. Instead he was sent to the OCTU at Fenham Barracks where he was put through basic training for a second time, and was commissioned. McManners served in the Western Desert Campaign and was at the Siege of Tobruk. He was made Adjutant of the First Battalion, under Commanding Officer Lt Col Forbes -Watson. Amongst other military skills, McManners had made himself an expert in the use of the sun compass. This paid off in the breakout from Tobruk. With a water truck and part of battalion headquarters, McManners managed to escape from the German encirclement of Tobruk. His plan involved driving at night through German Panzer units, then far south into the lethal and at that time unmapped Quattarra Depression. When the battalion re-grouped at Alexandria, only 10% remained, the rest captured or killed. He and Lt Col Forbes Watson reformed the battalion with men sent out from the UK, in time for the final battles of the Western Desert campaign - and El Alamein. McManners also served with the 210 British Liaison Unit (Greek Mission) in Alexandria to help prepare Greece for restoration of constitutional government. In his later years, McManners talked of his time as the Adjutant of his regiment's First Battalion - its Regular battalion, of the ten formed for the Second World War, to have been his greatest achievement.

Ordination and early teaching careerEdit

While in the military McManners decided to follow his father's vocation and become ordained into the Church of England. He studied at St Chad's College, Durham and was ordained as a deacon in 1947 and a priest in 1948. He first served as curate of Leeds Parish Church for 10 months. Then, in 1948, invited back to his alma mater to be the Chaplain and lecture in History.

In 1951 he married Sarah Errington whom he met while studying in Durham. They had two sons, Hugh and Peter, and two daughters, Ann and Helen. Both his wife and children survived him.

In 1956 he accepted the chair of History at the University of Tasmania in Hobart, Australia. He remained for four years before moving to the University of Sydney as the chair of History from 1960-1965.

Return to EnglandEdit

He returned to England and Oxford University from 1965-1966 to be a Senior Visiting Fellow at All Souls College, Oxford. Following Oxford he served as a professor in history at the University of Leicester. In 1972 McManners was appointed to the Regius Professor of Ecclesiastical History and returned to teach at Oxford and serve in Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford until his retirement from teaching in 1984. He was invited by All Souls College to be the chaplain, and was appointed a Fellow at the college in 1986. It was not until 2001, due to health concerns, that he resigned as chaplain after which he was elected to an honorary fellowship.

Published worksEdit

In 1960 McManners's first book, French Ecclesiastical Society Under the Ancient Regime; a Study of Angers in the Eighteenth Century, was published helping to establish him as a respected scholar of French history. It was a detailed examination of church life on a local level in a small provincial city. The study of common society contrasted with most of the works of the time that only concentrated on the upper class.[1]

While at Leicester he published French revolution and the church and Church and State in France, 1870-1914.

He won the 1982 Wolfson History Prize for Death and the Enlightenment. In a 1986 review Joseph Tempesta of Ithaca College describes it as "extensively researched" and he strongly recommends it as it "brings the era to life".[2] It was also hailed by The Times as "one of the ten best non-fiction books of the year".[1]

McManners was the general editor of the Oxford Illustrated History of Christianity that was published in 1990. It was a best seller with excellent scholarly standards.[3]

The two volume Church and Society in Eighteenth-century France published in 1998 "represents an enormous achievement" as reported by Raymond Mentzer of Montana State University.[4] It is two volumes, more than 1600 pages of text documenting four generations of pre-revolutionary France and the culmination of more than 50 years of research.

In 2002 McManners published the autobiographical Fusilier: Recollections and Reflections, 1939-1945 documenting his experiences during the war.

His final book, All Souls and the Shipley Case 1808-1810 documented an early 19th-century sex scandal at All Souls College. When doing unrelated research McManners found a sealed packet of letters that became the basis for this book.[1]

Select bibliographyEdit

  • French Ecclesiastical Society Under the Ancient Regime; a Study of Angers in the Eighteenth Century (1960)
  • Lectures on European History, 1789-1914 (1966)
  • French revolution and the church (1970)
  • Church and State in France, 1870-1914 (1972)
  • Death and the Enlightenment: Changing Attitudes to Death among Christians and Unbelievers in Eighteenth-Century France (1981)
  • Oxford Illustrated History of Christianity (1990) editor
  • Church and Society in Eighteenth-century France (1998)
  • The Oxford History of Christianity (2002)
  • Fusilier: Recollections and Reflections 1939-1945 (2002)
  • All Souls and the Shipley Case 1808-1810 (2002)

Awards and honoursEdit


  1. ^ a b c The Times, 2006, p. 54
  2. ^ Tempesta, 1986, p. 181-182
  3. ^ Briggs, 2006, p. 44
  4. ^ Mentzer, 2000, p. 437
  5. ^ Past Presidents - Ecclesiastical History Society


  • Aston, Nigel (14 December 2006). "Obituary: John McManners: British Religious Historian and Expert on the Ancien Regime". The Guardian, Obituaries. p. 36. Retrieved 20 February 2008.
  • Briggs, Robin (6 November 2006). "The Rev Professor John Mcmanners". The Independent (London), Obituaries. p. 44. Retrieved 20 February 2008.
  • Mentzer, Raymond A (June 2000). "Review of the book Church and Society in Eighteenth-Century France". Church History. 69 (2 ed.). jstor. pp. 434–437. ISSN 0009-6407. JSTOR 3169607.
  • Tempesta, Joseph F (Spring 1986). "Review of the book Death and the Enlightenment: Changing Attitudes to Death among Christians and Unbelievers in Eighteenth-Century France". Journal of the American Academy of Religion. 54 (1 ed.). jstor. pp. 181–182. ISSN 0002-7189. JSTOR 1464145.
  • "The Rev Professor John McManners". The Times (London), Features. 14 November 2006. p. 54. Retrieved 14 November 2006.
  • "The Rev Prof John McManners". The Daily Telegraph (London), News. 8 November 2006. p. 23. Retrieved 14 November 2008.