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Stone, Lawrence

    Full Name: Stone, Lawrence

    Other Names:

    • Michael Thompson Lawrence Stone

    Gender: male

    Date Born: 1919

    Date Died: 1999

    Place Born: Epsom, Surrey, England, UK

    Place Died: Princeton, Mercer, NJ, USA

    Home Country/ies: United Kingdom

    Subject Area(s): Medieval (European)

    Career(s): educators


    Princeton University social historian; wrote Pelican History of Art volume on the sculpture in medieval England (1955). Stone was educated at Charterhouse, where its headmaster Sir Robert Birley, (later professor of social science at the City University, London) greatly influenced him. In 1939 Stone Christ Church, Oxford University on a scholarship where he studied modern history. Oxford sent him to the Sorbonne, where he adopted a methodology of the of French Annales school historians. During World War II he served as a lieutenant in the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve. He met and married the French citizen Jeanne Caecelia Fawtier in 1943. After discharge from the Navy, he returned to Oxford to complete his degree, changing focus to medieval history, the Third Crusade in particular. The “firsts” he took at Oxford in 1946 gained him an appointment as a lecturer at University College in 1947. Stone entered the intellectual circle of the social economist Richard H. Tawney (1880 – 1962), and the era of Tawney’s scholarship, 1540-1640 which Stone saw as a time when English institutions and its society emerged distinct from Europe. Stone published an article in 1948 in the Economic History Review, “The Anatomy of the Elizabethan Aristocracy,” an impetuous work of economic determinism on the English Civil War, suggesting the upper classes were on the verge of financial ruin. His Marxist approach brought him controversy and an attack by the historian Hugh Trevor-Roper (1914-2003) in a particularly virulent reply. However, he remained a topic of conversation within academic circles. He was appointed a Fellow of Wadham College, Oxford, in 1950. Perhaps to counter his profile, or to show his grasp of a related historic area, Stone accepted the commission by Nikolaus Bernard Leon Pevsner to write a volume on medieval British sculpture. Pevsner was sensitive to divergent methodologies and Stone’s book in the Pelican History of Art series was well-received. He never again wrote a strict art-historical volume. In 1960, Stone moved to Princeton, N. J., in part to escape the Oxford infighting, as a member of the private Institute of Advanced Study. In 1963 he was appointed Dodge Professor of History at Princeton University. Stone wrote his most famous book in 1965, The Crisis of the Aristocracy. The book was a “total history” employing anthropology, sociology and psychology into a broad analysis. He chaired the History Department at Princeton between 1967 and 1970, where his graduate students referred to him as “Il Magnifico.” In 1968 he co-founded and directed the Shelby Cullom Davis Center for Historical Studies at Princeton. The Friday seminars at the Center were renowned for their uninhibited debate as well as Stone’s end-of-session summaries. Another book of social history, An Open Elite? England 1540-1880 appeared in 1984, whose argument denied the conventional view of English society new wealth assimilated into the upper classes via the purchase of landed estates. His book Family, Sex and Marriage in England 1500-1800 was issued in 1977. With these and other books, Stone courted controversy to the end. In 1985, New York University medievalist Norman F. Cantor (1929-2004) lambasted Stone in the conservative journal New Criterion as among the key Marxists taking over the teaching of history. Stone retired from Princeton in 1990, publishing his final books, the three-volume set encompassing Road to Divorce: England 1530-1987,1990, Uncertain Unions,1992, and Broken Lives,1993, explored marital, sexual and moral cases archived in ecclesiastical courts. He died suddenly of lingering Parkinson’s disease at his home in 1999. C. R. Dodwell in his review of Sculpture in Britain: the Middle Ages considered it a remarkable survey, largely because the reformation in England had destroyed much of the indigenous sculpture. Alongside the historians Eric Hobsbawm (b. 1917) and Edward Palmer (“E. P.”) Thompson (1924-1993), Stone was responsible for the reshaping of the concept of social history by broadening the areas considered factual and methodologies employed. These scholars used the techniques of social scientists for their historical endeavors. He was a serious historian with a popular following. He embraced computerization and its quantification of data which had been widely decried. A resourceful polemicist, he held celebrated disagreements with other important historians and thinkers, most notably the historian Geoffrey R. Elton (1921-1994) and philosopher Michel Foucault (1926-1984). Some of Stone’s most interesting shorter work was a a reviewer for the New York Review of Books, to which he regularly contributed.

    Selected Bibliography

    [collected essays:] The Past and the Present. Boston: Routledge & K. Paul, 1981; Sculpture in Britain: the Middle Ages. Pelican History of Art 9. Baltimore, MD: Penguin Books, 1955; The Crisis of the Aristocracy, 1558-1641. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1965; Family and Fortune: Studies in Aristocratic Finance in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1973; Schooling and Society: Studies in the History of Education. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1976; “The Anatomy of the Elizabethan Aristocracy.” Economic History Review 18, no. 1/2 (1948): 1-53; [reply:] Trevor-Roper, Hugh. “The Elizabethan Aristocracy: An Anatomy Anatomized.” Economic History Review (New Series) 3, no. 3 (1951): 279-298, [Stone’s reply;] “The Elizabethan Aristocracy – A Restatement.” Economic History Review (New Series) 4, no. 3 (1952): 302-321.


    [obituaries:] “Lawrence Stone, Dynamic Academic Who Made Social History Exciting.” The Guardian (London), July 5, 1999, p. 18; Cannadine, David. ” Professor Laurence [sic] Stone.” The Independent (London), June 26, 1999, p. 7; Honan, William. “Lawrence Stone, 79, Historian of the Changing Social Order.” New York Times, June 19, 1999, p. 16; [methodology:] Lloyd, Christopher. “The Methodologies of Social History: A Critical Survey and Defense of Structurism.” History and Theory 30, no. 2 (May, 1991): 180-219; Mousnier, Roland, and Elliott, J. H., and Stone, Lawrence, and Trevor-Roper, Hugh, and Kossmann, E. H., and Hobsbawm, Eric J., and Hexter, J. H. “Discussion of H. R. Trevor-Roper: “The General Crisis of the Seventeenth Century.” Past and Present 18 (November 1960): 8-42.


    "Stone, Lawrence." Dictionary of Art Historians (website).

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