Richard William Barber
|Born||1941 (age 78–79)|
|Subject||Middle Ages |
Richard William Barber FRSL FSA FRHistS (born 1941) is a British historian who has published several books about medieval history and literature. His book The Knight and Chivalry, about the interplay between history and literature, won the Somerset Maugham Award, a well-known British literary prize, in 1971. A similarly-themed 2004 book, The Holy Grail: Imagination and Belief, was widely praised in the UK press, and received major reviews in The New York Times and The New Republic.
Barber has long specialised in Arthurian legend, beginning with the general survey, Arthur of Albion (1961). His other major interest is historical biography: he has published Henry Plantagenet (1964) and a biography of Edward, the Black Prince, Edward Prince of Wales and Aquitaine (1978). Recent biographical books are Edward III and the Triumph of England: The Battle of Crécy and the Order of the Garter (2013), which includes a reappraisal of the origins of the Order, and Henry II in the Penguin Monarchs series (2015).
His latest book is The Prince in Splendour (2017), a study of the role of festivals and feasts in the courts of medieval Europe looking at the events which such occasions celebrated and the organisation which lay behind them.
Barber was educated at Marlborough College, Shrewsbury School and Corpus Christi College, Cambridge. In 1969 he founded The Boydell Press, which later became Boydell & Brewer Ltd, a publisher in medieval studies, and acted as group managing director until 2009. In 1989, Boydell & Brewer Ltd, in association with the University of Rochester, started the University of Rochester Press in upstate New York. In 2016, the directors of Boydell & Brewer Ltd transferred the company into a trust for the benefit of the employees. He was visiting Professor in the history department at the University of York from 2013 to 2016, and was awarded an honorary doctorate there in 2015.
Richard Barber has written a valuable and agreeably sensible account of the literary origins of the grail legend, as well as its subsequent fortunes. He is a serious scholar and a brave man, who is not afraid of making enemies, and has trodden on plenty of scholarly corns as well as a fair number of unscholarly ones. This is not a contentious or argumentative book. It bangs no drums and blows no trumpets, but begins and ends with the evidence.
My heart sinks on the all-too frequent occasions when I am invited to review a book about the Holy Grail. The subject has recently inspired some very silly fantasies and conspiracy theories, in which authors try to demonstrate the "secret truth" of Christianity or claim to have discovered the Grail in the cellar of their family home. Richard Barber, however, has written a serious and useful history of the Grail legend, which should dispel some of the more lunatic theories.
Barber succeeds, through historical examination and solid storytelling skills, in making this work as imaginative and interesting as its subject– via HighBeam (subscription required)