John McManners

Portrait John McManners.jpg
Born(1916-12-25)25 December 1916
Ferryhill, England
Died4 November 2006(2006-11-04) (aged 89)
Oxford, England
Other namesJack McManners
Sarah Errington
(m. 1951)
Children4, including Hugh McManners
AwardsOrdre national du Mérite (2001)
Ecclesiastical career
ReligionChristianity (Anglican)
ChurchChurch of England
  • 1947 (deacon)
  • 1948 (priest)
Academic background
Alma mater
Academic work
Sub-disciplineEcclesiastical history
Military career
ServiceBritish Army
Unit1st Battalion, Royal Northumberland Fusiliers
Battles/warsSecond World War

John McManners CBE FBA FAHA (1916–2006) 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.

Birth and early education

McManners, known as Jack to his family and friends, was born on 25 December 1916 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 Bachelor of Arts degree with first-class honours in modern history in 1939.

Military service

In September 1939 Great Britain entered the Second World War 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 per cent 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 career

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[1] 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 to 1965.

Return to England

He returned to England and Oxford University from 1965 to 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. He died on 4 November 2006.

Published works

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.[2]

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".[3] It was also hailed by The Times as "one of the ten best non-fiction books of the year".[2]

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.[4]

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.[5] 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.[2]

Select bibliography

Awards and honours



  1. ^ "The Rev Prof John McManners". The Daily Telegraph. London. 8 November 2006. p. 23. Archived from the original on 4 April 2018. Retrieved 9 February 2021.
  2. ^ a b c "The Rev Professor John McManners". The Times. London. 14 November 2006. p. 54. Retrieved 14 November 2006.
  3. ^ Tempesta 1986.
  4. ^ Briggs, Robin (6 November 2006). "The Rev Professor John Mcmanners". The Independent. London. p. 44. Archived from the original on 13 June 2022. Retrieved 20 February 2008.
  5. ^ Mentzer 2000, p. 437.
  6. ^ "Past Presidents". Ecclesiastical History Society.

Works cited

  • Mentzer, Raymond A. (June 2000). "Review of Church and Society in Eighteenth-Century France, by John McManners". Church History. 69 (2): 434–437. ISSN 0009-6407. JSTOR 3169607.
  • Tempesta, Joseph F. (Spring 1986). Review of Death and the Enlightenment: Changing Attitudes to Death Among Christians and Unbelievers in Eighteenth-Century France, by John McManners. Journal of the American Academy of Religion. Vol. 54. pp. 181–182. ISSN 0002-7189. JSTOR 1464145.

Further reading

Academic offices Preceded byStanley Lawrence Greenslade Regius Professor of Ecclesiastical History 1972–1984 Succeeded byPeter Hinchliff Professional and academic associations Preceded byJ. K. Cameron President of the Ecclesiastical History Society 1977–1978 Succeeded byRobert Austin Markus Awards Preceded byJ. W. Burrow Wolfson History Prize 1982 Succeeded byMartin Gilbert Succeeded byKenneth Rose