Civil List Pension

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On 29th January 1973 Sir John Hewitt, KCVO, CBE wrote the following letter to Kathleen Tillotson:


Dear Professor Tillotson,


The name of Miss Muriel St Clare Byrne is being considered in connection with an award by The Queen of a Civil List Pension.  Miss Byrne has given your name as a reference.


Civil List Pensions may be awarded to persons who have achieved national distinction in the fields of literature, the arts and sciences, but who are nevertheless in financial need.  The funds available for such pensions are, however, strictly limited.


I should be grateful if you would let me have, for the Prime Minister’s confidential information, an estimate of Miss Byrne’s contribution to literature and also any other information which you think might assist the Prime Minister in tendering his advice to Her Majesty.


Yours sincerely,


John Hewitt

When he wrote that letter, Sir John Hewitt was Prime Minister Edward Heath’s Appointment’s Secretary, and his role was to provide “advice to the Prime Minister on recommendations to the Queen concerning crown appointments in the Church of England and in universities”.


Kathleen Tillotson was a Professor of English at Bedford College, London.  She had joined the College as a lecturer in 1939 and remained there until her retirement in 1971.  She wrote the following reply to Sir John Hewitt on 30th January 1973:


Dear Sir John Hewitt,


In reply to your letter of 29 January, I beg to submit for the Prime Minister’s confidential information my estimate of Miss Muriel St Clare Byrne’s contribution to literature.


Miss Byrne is a scholar of high standing and distinction whose published works form a major contribution to Elizabethan studies (and theatrical history generally), widely recognised as remarkable in its range and quality.  Notably, it has illuminated understanding of Shakespeare in the theatre and of all aspects of 16th century life and language.  She is expert in the literature and history of that period, an experienced editor of MSS, and worker on public records, and a vivid and humane writer with an exceptional power of bringing the past to life; a rare combination of qualifications for the exacting editing of the Lisle Letters.  I have seen parts of this work at various stages, and like many others, greatly look forward to its publication, which will make available new materials of inestimable value (comparable to the Paston Letters in the previous century) to all workers in the field, and of wide interest to the general reader.  This view is based on a long period of acquaintance with and frequent recourse to Miss Byrne’s work, and some forty years’ personal knowledge, including the years 1941-5, when she was a valued colleague in this Department, and her distinguished tenure of a College Research Fellowship in 1955-6.  I may add that my two predecessors in the Chair, the late F P Wilson (subsequently Merton Professor at Oxford) and Una Ellis-Fermor, were also familiar with Miss Byrne’s research and gave it their warm support, as did also my husband, the late Professor Geoffrey Tillotson.


I hope that Miss Byrne’s manifold services to scholarship and education through her writing, lecturing, and sundry honorary offices, may receive the recognition now under consideration.


Yours sincerely,


Lists of Civil List Pensions awarded each year are laid before both the House of Commons and House of Lords for information.  Records in the Parliamentary Archives reveal the following entry in the list of Civil List Pensions granted during the year ended 31 March 1973:


Miss Muriel St. Clare Byrne, OBE, FSA.  £500.  In recognition of her services to literature and to historical research.

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