Pamela Tudor-Craig, Lady Wedgewood

Pamela Tudor-Craig. Photograph: Meg Twycross.

Pamela Tudor-Craig, Lady Wedgwood (1928-2017)

Professor Sue Powell, Chair of the Harlaxton Steering Committee writes:

It is with deep regret that the Steering Committee announces the death, after a long illness, of the founder and moving force of the Harlaxton Medieval Symposium, Pamela Tudor-Craig, Lady Wedgwood. An accomplished and respected art historian, who had studied under Anthony Blunt at the Courtauld Institute and had a long working relationship with the Society of Antiquaries, Pamela inaugurated the Symposium as a result of her teaching of art history to students of the University of Evansville at their campus at Harlaxton Manor. The first Harlaxton Medieval Studies volume was published in 1985 (England in the Thirteenth Century, ed. W. M. Ormrod), and the latest, the twenty-seventh volume, appeared this year (Saints and Cults in Medieval England, ed. Susan Powell).

Pamela’s was an elegant and formidable presence at the Symposia, which she attended regularly until 2011, when ill health prevented further attendance. She sat in a front row for every paper and invariably asked a question, in the responses to which she drew on her considerable knowledge of art history and the art historical world. When she was unable to attend the Saints and Cults conference in 2015 (a conference which I organised but which Pamela had conceived), I was privileged to read her paper on St Francis, although entirely unable to deliver it with Pamela’s own brio and inimitable style. In all Pamela wrote ten articles for Harlaxton Medieval Studies. Her latest piece for the series was the Foreword to the published volume of Saints and Cults; I urge those who did not know her to read it and hear Pamela speak to them.

Pamela Tudor-Craig and  Harlaxton

Pamela-Tudor Craig not only founded the Harlaxton Medieval Symposium, but in many ways, she was the Harlaxton Medieval Symposium. Even after 2011, when illness prevented her from attending the symposium in person, her spirit hovered over the proceedings, and organisers and editors would continue to receive letters full of suggestions, ideas, some reservations, and much praise and enthusiasm.

Pamela was an art historian, a graduate with a first-class degree from the Courtauld Institute, and a doctorate supervised by Anthony Blunt on the subject of ‘Stiff leaf capitals’. Anyone less like a stiff leaf than Pamela it is hard to imagine and one wonders what drew her to that topic. She was graceful, elegant, willowy and colourful. After the death  in 1969 of her first husband James Tudor-Craig,  she began to teach American students on courses in England, and this brought her to the British campus of the University of Evansville, located in the magnificent, eccentric ‘monster house’, Harlaxton Manor, deep in the Lincolnshire countryside. With her customary flair (which matched the Baroque staircase of the house) Pamela conceived the idea of making use of the Manor to host a gathering of medievalists during the summer months, and so in July 1984, the symposium was born. The early meetings were intended to provide ‘workshops’ for an exhibition which crystallised as The Age of Chivalry at the British Academy in 1987. The first ten symposia each concentrated on  a different century ranging from the eleventh to the fifteenth, but from 1994 they all focussed on themes rather than centuries.

Although the symposia have grown, and the meetings have moved away somewhat from their original house party style, yet in many ways the gatherings have remained true to Pamela’s vision. The topics and speakers aim to be interdisciplinary: as Pamela wrote in 2010 ‘Most speakers, of whatever discipline, whether it be theology, medicine, drama, economics, straight history, literature or art, have brought topics with relevance to those in other fields’. Although not always realised, this interplay of disciplines lies at the heart of the symposia. Unlike many conferences, there is only one ‘paper stream’, and so all speakers are assured not only of an audience, but of an interdisciplinary one. Pamela was, moreover, keen to encourage speakers from across the Atlantic and persuaded them to take part even though they had to pay their own way. Pamela could be extremely persuasive. In the course of the four day conference, there has always been an excursion to a medieval site. Often Pamela would lead these, and talk with amazing knowledge and fluency about a parish church, or Cathedral west front, or ruined chancel. She seemed to have a detailed knowledge of these Lincolnshire buildings at her fingertips. From the first the papers given at the symposia were published, originally by Boydell and Brewer and, since 1991, by Shaun Tyas. And Pamela took great delight in the expanding girth of the row of Harlaxton Medieval Studies’, now  all clad in  shiny green jackets.

Pamela never chaired the Harlaxton steering committee: this role fell first to the art historians, George Henderson and Andrew Martindale, then to historians, Barrie Dobson and Caroline Barron, and now to the literary scholar, Sue Powell. So, although Pamela was the founding genius of the medieval symposia, she never dominated them. She was a vital presence, engaged and interested, eager to ask questions, to talk with younger scholars (and older) and to promote the work of other medievalists. She was a woman of deep Christian faith, which infused her scholarship and her dealings with other people.  She tended to assume that others shared her beliefs and could, on occasion, override evidence to the contrary. But she was a remarkable person: a scholar who often reached a brilliant conclusion by an unorthodox route which sometimes left her hearers, impressed but a little baffled. She had wide intellectual interests and deep human compassion, and these gifts dominated her vision of what the Harlaxton symposia could be.  Her energy and determination  converted that vision into a reality and, thirty years on, medievalists have cause to give thanks for the remarkable person that was Pamela Tudor-Craig.

Caroline M. Barron

December 2017

In Memory and Commemoration in Medieval England: Proceedings of the 2008 Harlaxton Medieval Symposium (Donington: Shaun Tyas, 2010), Pamela Tudor-Craig recorded the origins of our annual conference. Please click here for online access to her chapter.