The English historian James Anthony Froude (1818-1894) specialized in Reformation and Tudor studies. His work is characterized by vivid description and an orderly narrative style.
James Froude was born in Dartington, Devon, on April 23, 1818. He was educated at Westminster and Oriel colleges, Oxford, and was elected fellow of Exeter College, Oxford, in 1842. He joined the High Church movement at Oxford and helped John Henry Newman with his Lives of the English Saints. He became disillusioned with the High Church party after 1845, and, influenced by the ideas of Thomas Carlyle, his religious views shifted toward Protestantism. He resigned his fellowship in 1849.
The first two volumes of Froude's History of England from the Fall of Wolsey to the Death of the Spanish Armada appeared in 1856, with the remaining 10 volumes completed by 1870. In this work, which altered the whole direction of Tudor studies, Froude condemned the scientific treatment of history, for he saw history as a great drama with emphasis upon personalities. Unlike his historical predecessors, he portrays Henry VIII as a hero of considerable historical importance and Elizabeth I as a weak and uncertain ruler. The Reformation he saw as a struggle of the forces of liberty against the forces of darkness, as represented by the Roman Catholic Church. He viewed the Anglo-Catholic revival of the 19th century as a later clash between the same forces.
In The English in Ireland in the 18th Century (1872-1874) Froude continued to show his admiration for strong rulers and strong government. This work was anti-clerical and anti-Irish. He played down English atrocities and attempted to show that English efforts to conciliate the Irish had been futile. His admiration for heroic figures was also shown in his work glorifying imperialism, Life of Caesar (1879), and in his further defense of Henry VIII, Catherine of Aragon (1891).
At his best Froude presented impressive and powerful accounts of history, laying before the reader a picture of the past magnificently conceived and painted. His descriptive style was most notable in his shorter essays, Short Studies on Great Subjects (1867-1882). However, his inaccurate use of documents brought ridicule from other historians, notably Edward Freeman. Froude's later work was devoted chiefly to a biography of Thomas Carlyle (4 vols., 1882-1884) and a collection of Carlyle's papers (2 vols., 1881).
Froude returned to Oxford in 1892 as regius professor of modern history. He died at Kingsbridge, Devon, on Oct. 20, 1894.
The best book on Froude is Waldo Hilary Dunn, James Anthony Froude: A Biography (2 vols., 1961-1963), which is based on family papers discussing Froude's controversial nature. Herbert W. Paul, The Life of Froude (1905), is a biographical sketch. Lytton Strachey, Portraits in Miniature, and Other Essays (1931), identifies Froude as a mid-Victorian personality strongly influenced by Carlyle.