On 10th June 1981 the Chicago University Press published The Lisle Letters in six volumes. The Lisle Letters comprise the personal, official, and business correspondence of the household of Arthur Plantagenet, Viscount Lisle, the illegitimate but acknowledged son of Edward IV. Their main focus is on the period from 1533 to 1540 when he was Lord Deputy of Calais. These seven critical years in English history were marked by the rise, ascendency, and fall of Thomas Cromwell, and the letters reﬂect the mixture of passion, terror, and politics that was the court of Henry VIII. They also present the everyday concerns of the Lisle household. No other source provides such an abundance of detail about daily life: marriage, child-rearing, education, clothing, food, and furnishing. The Lisle Letters are the Tudor world in microcosm.
Muriel St Clare Byrne spent 40 years of her working life editing the material for this six-volume series. There is no doubt that this was a labour of love for Muriel. She was absolutely thrilled to have discovered that these letters had survived for four hundred years - because she rightly believed that they offered a unique and fascinating insight into a pivotal period of English history. As is so often the case with artists in pursuit of a passionate belief, Muriel struggled to make ends meet during those 40 years of work on the Letters. In stark contrast to her grandfather - a world-famous naval architect who lived long enough to enjoy the material rewards of his success - Muriel was to live for just two more years after the publication of The Lisle Letters. Nevertheless, whereas the impact that Muriel’s grandfather has had on naval architecture has diminished, with the passing of time, Muriel’s contribution to the understanding of English history and its language - through her work on The Lisle Letters - will delight and inform historians, both amateur and professional, for generations to come. This website is dedicated to the life and work of Muriel St Clare Byrne.
Muriel St Clare Byrne at her home in April 1981.
This photograph, taken by Michael Freeman, featured in an article focusing on Muriel and the upcoming publication of The Lisle Letters. The article was written by Israel Shenker for the Smithsonian Magazine.
The 1901 Census shows that there were four occupants at 18, Cable Road: Muriel, then five years old; her father, 31, who is listed as ‘Harry’; her mother, 33, whose place of birth is shown as ‘America, USA’; and Margaret Davidson, 36, a ‘Domestic Servant’ from Scotland, who Muriel mentions in her book Common or Garden Child.
Muriel’s paternal grandmother dies.
The 1911 Census shows that Muriel, now 15, had moved to: 22, Drummond Road, Hoylake. The other occupants in this house are listed as: St Clare John Byrne, her grandfather, now 80, a ‘Widower’ and a ‘Retired Naval Architect’; Artemisia Desdemona Byrne, her mother, 43, a ‘Widow’ borne in ‘Pennsylvania USA’; and ‘Annie Gregory’, 28, a ‘Cook’ from ‘Derbyshire’.
1918 - 1919
Muriel’s paternal grandfather – St Clare John Byrne – died in December 1918.
Muriel worked with the YMCA in Rouen teaching English Literature to active servicemen.
1919 Muriel was a Temporary Assistant English Tutor at Somerville College for the Michaelmas Term.
1919 - 1936
Muriel was an Examiner for the London College of Communication, Oxford and London Women’s Colleges Entrance Scholarships.
Muriel was a ‘Final Honours’ English Coach at Oxford.
1920 - 1925
Muriel was a Lecturer in the History of Theatrical Art at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA). She taught English poetics and the history of drama and Shakespeare.
1923 - 1955
The Elizabethan Zoo, edited by Muriel St Clare Byrne, was published in 1926 – as a limited edition of 525 numbered copies.
1926 - 1937
Muriel was Honorary Secretary of the Malone Society.
The Letters Of King Henry VIII, edited by Muriel St Clare Byrne, was first published in 1936.
Muriel was an English Lecturer at Bedford College.
1941 - 1944
Muriel received a Leverhulme Research Grant.
1945 - 1946
Bedford College, London, celebrated its centenary in 1949, and part of the celebrations included the performance of a play – No Spring Till Now – which was written and produced by Muriel St Clare Byrne especially for this event.
Muriel St Clare Byrne was appointed OBE in 1955.
1955 - 1956
Muriel had a Research Fellowship at Bedford College.
Muriel was the English Editorial Representative for the Enciclopedia Della Spettacolo.
1955 - 1958
1956 - 1958
Muriel ran a Speech and Drama Course at Goldsmith’s College.
Muriel received a British Academy Pilgrim Trust
Muriel was elected a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries of London on 7th March 1963.
Shakespeare In His Own Age, edited by Allardyce Nicoll, was published in 1964. It comprised seventeen chapters, of which the last, The Foundations of Elizabethan Language, was written by Muriel St Clare Byrne.
1964 - 1966
Muriel received Research in the Humanities Grants.
Muriel received a Phoenix Trust Research Grant.
Muriel received Twenty Seven Foundation Research Fellowship.
A Victorian Playgoer, edited by Muriel St Clare Byrne, was published in 1980.
I have a particular interest in Tudor History, and many years ago I discovered Muriel’s six-volume opus of The Lisle Letters. From the first page I was well and truly hooked, and I continue to read them today with just the same fascination as the first time. In 2011, I decided that I would like to learn much more about Muriel so that I could produce a website dedicated to her life and work, and I started to write to those that I thought could help, and since then I have received nothing but generous support. Unfortunately, this project was delayed for some years until, in 2019, I found that I could give it my full attention. It is still a work in progress, and I would be delighted to receive your feedback.
Muriel left a considerable amount of her papers to Somerville College, and, in 2011, I went to see Dr. Anne Manuel, the Somerville College Librarian and Archivist, who very kindly allowed me to spend a day reviewing this material - which at that stage had not been catalogued. It is now, and a summary of it is available from the College website: https://www.some.ox.ac.uk. I am now working closely with Somerville College with the longer term aim of producing a book, based on this website, the proceeds from which will be given to Somerville College to use in the form of a bursary. I wish to record my particular thanks for the help I am receiving from both Dr. Anne Manuel and her assistant Kate O’Donnell.
Muriel worked for a while at Bedford College - which is now part of the Royal Holloway University of London (RHUL) - and I have received generous help from Professor Judith Hawley with finding Muriel related material in the RHUL Archives.
Mo Moulton, a Senior Lecturer in the history department of the University of Birmingham, published a book called ‘Mutual Admiration Society’ in November 2019. This book is a beautifully written and researched account of the lives of the more noteworthy members of that Society - including Muriel - and I would recommend it whole heartedly. I have certainly found it most informative.
The Marion E Wade Center, Wheaton College, Wheaton, Illinois, has a world renowned collection of material on Dorothy L Sayers, as well as materials relating to her relationship with Muriel St Clare Byrne. Collections with Byrne materials include:
Dorothy L Sayers Papers (correspondence between Dorothy and Muriel)
Dorothy L Sayers Manuscripts (Busman's Honeymoon drafts with Muriel's annotations and other related items)
Muriel St Clare Byrne Collection
Busman's Honeymoon Collection
The Marion E Wade Center is free and open to the public. Visitor and Researcher information is available on the Wade's website: https://www.wheaton.edu/academics/academic-centers/wadecenter/
My very grateful thanks go to Laura Schmidt, the Archivist at the Wade Center, for very kindly helping me with the material on Muriel that is held there.