Davis, Ralph Henry Carless

SKU: AUT1640


Ralph Henry Carless Davis (7 October 1918 – 12 March 1991), always known publicly as R. H. C. Davis, was a British historian specialising in the European Middle Ages. He was a leading exponent of strict documentary analysis and interpretation, was keenly interested in architecture and art in history, and was successful at communicating to the public and as a teacher.  Autograph Slip Writing Signed, n.d.  3 1/2 x 1 mounted, written in blk ink overall, very fine condition. 

" He was a leading exponent of strict documentary analysis and interpretation, was keenly interested in architecture and art in history, and was successful at communicating to the public and as a teacher. Ralph, like his older brothers, went to the Dragon School, and later, during World War II, contributed newsletters from Egypt and Syria to The Draconian, the school magazine.

The sudden death of his father placed financial constraints on the family, and it may have been this, or a suggestion of Gerald Haynes ('Tortoise'), a Dragon schoolmaster, which led Mrs Davis to choose Leighton Park for Ralph's secondary education. He was there from 1932 to 1937, and became involved in mediaeval architecture. Ralph, as secretary of the small archaeology group and effectively its leader, organised bicycle trips round the Yorkshire abbeys in the school holidays with about six others. Ralph never joined the Quakers, but he is thought to have absorbed his Christian convictions and liberal humanitarian ideals at Leighton Park. He later went served as a governor of the school for many years.

In 1939, at the outbreak of World War II, as a conscientious objector, Davis refused military service. He must have known what Nazi Germany was like because he (and friend Ken Bowen) had just come back from a Quaker-organised hitch-hiking holiday in the Rhine valley, involving renovation and landscaping work with a joint British-German team of students. (The Society of Friends, the 'Quakers', is a pacifist church.)

He was sent in March 1941 to Egypt via the Cape of Good Hope to reinforce the FAU detachment in Greece, but this had been captured by the Nazis before he could join, so his unit was sent to Syria to work at the Hadfield-Spears Mobile Hospital, an Anglo-French entity attached to the Free French Forces. A stay of a month in Cairo allowed Ralph to view the city's mosques (with Michael Rowntree) and produce a book on the subject (see list of works below). As the mobile hospital moved through Syria and Lebanon and then along the desert to Tunisia, and eventually to Italy and southern France, Ralph visited (and wrote up in his copious notebooks) such places as Baalbek, Byblos, Damascus, Krak des Chevaliers, Beaufort, Leptis Magna and El Djem. He ran the hospital laundry. By 1944, his FAU unit had reached France, and he participated in the liberation of that country. He came home for demobilisation with the Croix de Guerre (oddly for a pacifist!) for his contribution to the Free French war effort.

n 1948, he accepted the offer from J. E. (Sir John) Neale (perhaps advised by Galbraith) of an assistant lectureship at University College London. Research now became an essential part of his work. He found a small flat in Pimlico and (characteristically) bicycled to work. He now met and fell in love with Eleanor Megaw, who had been an officer in the WRNS and was now, since 1946, a tutor to women students at UCL. She came from Northern Ireland, and had a Unionist and a Home Ruler as grandfathers. They were married in 1949 and found a house in a quiet part of Highgate.

Ralph booked Cumberland Lodge in Windsor Great Park for a weekend just before the start of the academic year so that history freshers and other students and staff could get to know one another. This started a tradition that is still maintained (as of 1992). During the UCL years, Ralph and Eleanor's two sons were born: Christopher (1952) and Timothy (1955).

Davis retired in 1984 and moved to north Oxford. He was elected Emeritus Fellow of Merton College. He kept active in his retirement despite a repair that had to be made to his aorta in 1987.

Through his wife Eleanor, he had come to know much about Ireland and especially Northern Ireland. She came from the Protestant plantation community of Ulster, originating largely in south-western Scotland. Presumably because of this knowledge, Ralph was in 1985 induced by Sir David Wills into a project in historical education, to be financed by the Wills Trust, to encourage better understanding between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, and presumably between Catholics and Protestants in the North. Ralph recruited teachers, school inspectors and academics to serve on a committee to frame a curriculum of Irish history which would be acceptable to schools in both North and South. The committee oversaw the writing of the Questions in Irish History series of history books.

The Teaching of History Trust has continued to work long afterwards, sponsored by Longman. The first volumes of the series are dedicated to Ralph Davis' memory. He was still actively working for peace in Northern Ireland when he died.