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. 

 

TIMELINE

1893

The Valiant was the largest and most luxurious private yacht in the world when it was launched at Laird Brothers in Birkenhead on 3rd May 1893. Valiant was designed by Muriel’s grandfather, St Clare John Byrne, for Mr W K Vanderbilt. 

 

Muriel was born on 31st May 1895, at 18, Cable Road, Hoylake cum West Kirby. 

1895
 
1901

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. 

1902
1905

Muriel’s father, Henry, died on 16th June 1905. 

At the age of fourteen, Muriel left her local school and became a student at Liverpool High School.  This school was originally opened in 1880, and, in 1911, it changed its name to The Belvedere School “in order to stand out from other high schools in the area”!

1909
 
1911

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’. 

Muriel St Clare Byrne attended Somerville College, Oxford, between 1914 and 1917.  She read English, and was awarded a Class II Honours Degree in English in 1920.

1914 - 1920
1916 - 1917

Muriel taught at Liverpool College.

In 1917 Muriel published Aldebaran - a book of thirty-two poems.

Muriel taught at South Hampstead High School.

Muriel published two poems in Oxford Poetry: the first - Favete Linguis - in 1917; the second - “And One Fell by the Wayside . . .” in 1918.

1917 - 1918
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
 
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
1922

Somerville College 1879 – 1921, co-authored by Muriel St Clare Byrne and Catherine Hope Mansfield, was published in 1922. 

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
1925

Elizabethan Life in Town and Country, by Muriel St Clare Byrne, was first published in 1925. It was reprinted a further eight times.

The Elizabethan Home, edited by Muriel St Clare Byrne, was first published in 1925.

The Elizabethan Zoo, edited by Muriel St Clare Byrne, was published in 1926 – as a limited edition of 525 numbered copies. 

1926
 
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. 

1936
1937

The play Busman’s Honeymoon, co-authored by Dorothy L Sayers and Muriel St Clare Byrne, was published in 1937. 

 

Muriel was an English Lecturer at Bedford College.

1941 - 1944
1942

Common Or Garden Child  by Muriel St Clare Byrne, was published in 1942. 

Muriel received a Leverhulme Research Grant.

1945 - 1946
1949

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
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
Research Grant. 

1958
 
1963

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
1964 - 1966

Muriel received Research in the Humanities Grants. 

 

Muriel received a Phoenix Trust Research Grant. 

1970
1971

Muriel received Twenty Seven Foundation Research Fellowship. 

The Civil Lists Pensions granted during the year ended 31st March 1973 contained the following entry: Miss Muriel St. Clare Byrne, OBE, FSA. £500. In recognition of her services to literature and to historical research. 

1973
 
1980

A Victorian Playgoer, edited by Muriel St Clare Byrne, was published in 1980. 

The six volumes of The Lisle Letters, edited by Muriel St Clare Byrne, were published in 1981. 

1981
1983

Muriel died on the 2nd December 1983 at the New End Hospital, Camden. Her funeral took place at St John’s Wood Church on Friday 9th December.

A Service of Thanksgiving for the life and work of Muriel St Clare Byrne took place at St John’s Wood Church on 3rd March 1984. 

1984
 

BIO

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.

Paul Wood

THANKS

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.

CONTACT

 
Please contact me by email:
paul@murielstclarebyrne.com
 
 

© 2020 by Paul Wood. Proudly created by LBW.