Photo of David Luscombe.Professor David Luscombe

Professor Emeritus of Medieval History
M.A., Ph.D., Litt.D., Hon. Litt.D., F.R.Hist.Soc., F.S.A.,F.B.A.
Thought and religion in the middle ages

+44 (0)114 22 22555

1 Palmerston Road



Luscombe Abelard book cover largeDavid Luscombe took his B.A. degree with Firsts in both Parts of the Historical Tripos in the University of Cambridge in 1959; he gained his PhD in Cambridge in 1964. He was a Fellow of King’s College, Cambridge in 1962-64 and a Fellow of Churchill College, Cambridge in 1964-72. In 1972 he became Professor of Medieval History in the University of Sheffield. From 1995 to 2000 he was Leverhulme Personal Research Professor of Medieval History and was later Research Professor of Medieval History until the end of September 2003 when retirement was required under the University’s Statute. He has the degree of LittD from the University of Cambridge and of LittD honoris causa from the University of Sheffield. He was elected a Fellow of the British Academy in 1986. He has held visiting appointments in the University of Connecticut (1993) and All Souls College, Oxford (1994) and he has been British Academy Exchange Visitor in Canada (1991) and in Japan (1996).

Professional Roles

David Luscombe was the founder Chairman of the Humanities Research Institute in the University of Sheffield which received the Queen’s Anniversary Prize for Higher Education in 1998. He has been Divisional Research Director for the Arts and Humanities within the University from 1994 to 2003 and also Chairman of the Management Committee of a new Centre for Research into Freemasonry – an important initiative for UK scholarship.



David Luscombe’s main interests lie in the history of medieval thought and religion from late antiquity to the end of the middle ages, particularly in the following areas: the writings of Peter Abelard and of other medieval scholars and thinkers; the history of the medieval schools and universities, and the history of medieval (and Dionysian) conceptions of hierarchy. He has recently published a new edition from the manuscripts of the collected correspondence of Peter Abelard and Heloise, with a translation by Betty Radice revised by himself, in the series Oxford Medieval Texts. For this publication he was awarded the British Academy Medal in 2014.With Lisa Liddy and David Hey he has also recently published an edition of the Cartulary of Beauchief Abbey in Sheffield.

Further information on research opportunities within the department.

Full list of Publications

Selected Major Publications

ed. by David Luscombe, trans. by Betty Radice, rev. by David Luscombe. The Letter Collection of Peter Abelard and Heloise Oxford Medieval Texts (Clarendon Press, Oxford, 2013), cxxxvi + 654 pp.

Luscombe Letter Collection book covered. by David Luscombe, trans. by Betty Radice, rev. by David Luscombe. The Letter Collection of Peter Abelard and Heloise Oxford Medieval Texts (Clarendon Press, Oxford, 2013), cxxxvi + 654 pp.

The collected letters of Peter Abelard and Heloise provide an extraordinarily vivid account of one of the most celebrated love affairs in the western world. It was an affair that developed into a vigorous quarrel and raised fundamental questions about love, marriage, and religious life, and also provided a uniquely valuable illustration of the intellectual and religious ferment that is called the Renaissance of the twelfth century.

Abelard was the leading philosopher of his time and a very public figure in France, as well as being a fiercely attacked theologian and unpopular abbot. Heloise, his brilliant pupil, lover, and wife, also became a nun and abbess, much against her will. She provoked this brilliantly written correspondence which is widely regarded as one of the finest literary compositions of the twelfth century. These letters have for many centuries given enjoyment to their readers and have inspired numerous creative imitations. They have also given rise to huge disagreements over their historical content and significance. The collection opens with an autobiography which contains the story of the calamities that followed Abelard's successes - his castration, his condemnation for heresy, and the unhappiness of the couple's separation. Heloise's letters show an exceptional outpouring of grief and bitter recrimination. Yet the correspondence closes with thoroughly serious, scholarly, and original enquiries into the origins and development of pagan, Jewish, and Christian ideals of religious life both male and female. It constitutes a fundamental source for discussion and debate about important features of thought and religion in the Middle Ages.

A new critical edition based on all the manuscripts has long been needed. Its appearance here with a facing English translation, a full introduction, extensive annotation taking into account recent scholarship, and detailed indexes will enable all kinds of readers to enjoy the letters and to join the debates which they always stir.

with David Hey, Lisa liddy (eds) A Monastic Community in Local Society: The Beauchief Abbey Cartulary (Cambridge University Press, 2012)

Monastic Community cover.with David Hey, Lisa liddy (eds) A Monastic Community in Local Society: The Beauchief Abbey Cartulary (Cambridge University Press, 2012)

The Cartulary of Beauchief Abbey, here published for the first time with a full historical introduction and English summaries of all the Latin and French charters, is an invaluable resource for the study of relationships between a small community of regular canons with a large outreach in the English Midlands in the late Middle Ages. Over two hundred charters and a wide range of other sources show in considerable and valuable detail how the canons of Beauchief, although they belonged to a monastic order and led a life of withdrawal from the world, nonetheless engaged successfully with numerous benefactors in contributing, by active management of properties and parishes, to the promotion of religious life in town and country as well as to long-lasting developments in farming and industry. This book underlines the increasing recognition of the historical importance of regular canons in late medieval England.

The School of Peter Abelard (Cambridge University Press, 2008)

The School of Peter Abelard cover.The School of Peter Abelard (Cambridge University Press, 2008)

Peter Abelard conducted many analyses of Scriptural and Patristic teachings, and achieved an extensive rapprochement between Christian and pagan thought. His public career was ended in 1140 by an ecclesiastical condemnation, but this touched upon the central issues facing the early leaders of the medieval scholastic movement and Abelard's own teachings continued to be controversial. Dr Luscombe considers the influence of Abelard's principal teachings among his contemporaries and successors. his aim is to explain the conflicting estimates of Abelard which were current in the twelfth century and later, and to provide a full account of the writings and varied fortunes of Abelard's disciples. He also examines the manuscript tradition of Abelard's work and that of his followers. The condemnation of 1140 repudiated Abelard's leading doctrines. This led some of Abelard's disciples to partly retreat from the position of their master, whereas some chose to adapt and extend his teachings.

with Jonathan Riley-Smith (eds) The New Cambridge Medieval History ,Volume 4. c.1024–c.1198, Part 2 (Cambridge University Press, 2004)

Cambridge Medieval History IV cover.with Jonathan Riley-Smith (eds) The New Cambridge Medieval History ,Volume 4. c.1024–c.1198, Part 2 (Cambridge University Press, 2004)

The fourth volume of The New Cambridge Medieval History covers the eleventh and twelfth centuries, which comprised perhaps the most dynamic period in the European middle ages. This is a history of Europe, but the continent is interpreted widely to include the Near East and North Africa. The volume is divided into two parts of which this, the second, deals with the course of events - ecclesiastical and secular - and major developments in an age marked by the transformation of the position of the papacy in a process fuelled by a radical reformation of the church, the decline of the western and eastern empires, the rise of western kingdoms and Italian elites, and the development of governmental structures, the beginnings of the recovery of Spain from the Moors and the establishment of western settlements in the eastern Mediterranean region in the wake of the crusades.

Medieval Thought (Oxford University Press, 1997)

Medieval Thought cover.Medieval Thought (Oxford University Press, 1997)

The Middle Ages span a period of well over a millennium: from the emperor Constantine's Christian conversion in 312 to the early sixteenth century. During this time there was remarkable continuity of thought, but there were also many changes made in different philosophies: various breaks, revivals, and rediscoveries. David Luscombe's history of Medieval Thought steers a clear path through this long period, beginning with the three greatest influences on medieval philosophy: Augustine, Boethius, and Pseudo-Denis, and focusing on Alcuin, Abelard, Anselm, Aquinas, Ockham, Duns Scotus, and Eckhart amongst others in the twelfth to fifteenth centuries.

Medieval philosophy is widely regarded as having a theological and religious orientation, but more recently attention has been given to the early study of logic, language, and the philosophy of science. This history therefore gives a fascinating insight into medieval views on aspects such as astronomy, materialism, perception, and the nature of the soul.

Public Engagement

Public Engagement

From 1990 to 1997 he was the Publications Secretary of the British Academy; in this time he launched a new series of British Academy Postdoctoral Fellows’ monographs and had the newly acquired responsibility to publish the proceedings of Academy research symposia in the Academy’s volumes of Proceedings; he was also a member of the Academy’s Committee on Academy Research Projects. He was from 1992 to 1998 a member of the Joint Supervisory Committee of the British Academy and Oxford University Press for the New (now the Oxford) Dictionary of National Biography and also an Associate Editor with responsibility for philosophers and theologians 1100-1499. He was General Editor of the 4th series of Cambridge Studies in Medieval Life and Thought from 1988 to 2004 (and Advisory Editor from 1983). He has also been Chairman of the Medieval Texts Editorial Committee of the British Academy; this Committee publishes editions in the series of Auctores Britannici Medii Aevi, and is preparing also the Catalogue of Medieval Manuscripts of Latin Commentaries on Aristotle in British Libraries. He was from 1997 to 2002 President of the International Society for the Study of Medieval Philosophy (SIEPM – the secretariat is now in Freiburg i. B. and was formerly in Louvain-la-Neuve, and briefly in Leuven, Belgium) and in this capacity he has presided over annual Colloquia held in different centres (Leuven/Louvain-la-Neuve 1998, Sofia 1999, Firenze/Pisa 2000; the colloquium planned for 2001 in Jerusalem had to be postponed until better times) and the quinquennial International Congress held in Porto in 2002. Between 1994 and 2000 he was a member of the Commonwealth Scholarships and Fellowships Commission of the UK with responsibility for selecting Scholars and Fellows (both coming in and going out of the UK). Between 1994 and 1996 he was a founder member of the Humanities Research Board of the British Academy. He was a member of the Editorial Board of The Oxford Dictionary of the Middle Ages. He has extensive experience of the study of manuscripts in numerous libraries in England and abroad.