Lawrence Stone

Lawrence Stone

Lawrence Stone (December 4, 1919-June 16, 1999) was an English historian of early modern Britain. He is noted for his work on the English Civil War, and marriage.


He was born in Epsom, Surrey and received his education at Charterhouse School (1933-1938), the Sorbonne (1938) and at Oxford (1938-1940 & 1945-1946). During World War Two, Stone served in the Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve.

Stone served as a don, not a professor at the University of Oxford between 1947-1963, and was Dodge Professor of history at Princeton University from 1963-1990.


Stone best known books were "The Crisis of the Aristocracy, 1558-1641" and "The Family, Sex and Marriage in England, 1500-1800". In the former, Stone made a detailed quantitative study of extensive piece of data relating to the economic activities of the English aristocracy to conclude that there was a major economic crisis for the nobility in the 16th and 17th centuries.(This has since been undermined by Christopher Thompson's demonstration that the peerage's real income was higher in 1602 than in 1534 and grew substantially by 1641.) In the latter, Stone used the same quantitative methods to study family life. Stone's conclusion there was little love in English marriages before the 18th century left him open to devastating counter-attack from medievalists who pointed that Stone ignored the medieval period and there is ample evidence that there were many loving marriages before 1700. By the 1980s, Stone had abandoned his thesis.

Stone was a major advocate of using the methods of the social sciences to study history. Stone argued that using quantitative methods to assemble data could lead to useful generalizations about different periods in time. However, Stone never argued in favor of creating "laws" of history in the manner of Karl Marx or Arnold J. Toynbee. In Stone's view, the most one could do was to create generalizations about a particular century and no more. Stone was very much interested in studying the "mentalité" of people in the early modern period along the lines of the Annales School, but Stone rejected Fernand Braudel's geographical theories as too simplistic. Along the same lines, Stone was much fond of combining history with anthropology and offering "thick description" in the manner of Clifford Geertz.

Stone's work was very controversial. To some, he was a radical trail-blazer, but to more conservative-minded historians, Stone's methods were a disgrace to the historical profession.

Stone's thesis that the British political elite was "closed" to new members has undergone important revision. Once widely accepted and popularized in works like Simon Schama's survey of the French Revolution ("Citizens"), this view has recently been challenged. For instance, Ellis Wasson's "Born to Rule: British Political Elites" (2000) shows the ruling class to have been basically open to new members throughout the early modern period. Stone's claim is shown to have rested on insufficient quantitative evidence.


*"The Crisis of the Aristocracy, 1558-1641" (1965)
*"The Causes of the English Revolution, 1529-1642' (1972)
*"Family and Fortune: Studies in Aristocratic Finance in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries" (1973)
*"The Family, Sex and Marriage in England, 1500-1800" (1977)
*"The Past and the Present" (1981)
*"An Open Elite? England 1540-1880" (1984) with Jeanne C. Fawtier Stone,
*"Road to Divorce: England, 1530-1987" (1990)
*"Uncertain Unions: Marriage in England, 1660-1753" (1992)
*"Broken Lives: Separation and Divocrce in England, 1660-1857" (1993)
*"An Imperial State at War: Britain from 1689 to 1815" (1994) editor


*Beier, A. L.; Cannadine, David & Rosenheim, James (editors) "The First Modern Society: Essays in English History in Honour of Lawrence Stone", Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1989.
*Berlatsky, Joel "Lawrence Stone: Social Science and History" from "Recent Historians of Great Britain: Essays on the Post-1945 Generation" edited by Walter L. Arnstein, Ames: Iowa State University Press, 1990.
*Coleman, D.C. "The `Gentry Controversy'" pages 165-178 from "History" Volume 51, 1966.
*Davies, C.S.L. "Lawrence Stone" pages 2-3 from "History Today" Volume 49, Issue # 9, September 1999.
*Hexter, J. H. "On Historians: Reappraisals of Some of the Makers of Modern History", Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1979.
*Himmelfarb, Gertrude "The New History and the Old", Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1987.
*Hobsbawm, Eric "The Revival of Narrative: Some Comments" pages 3-8 from "Past and Present", Volume 86, 1980.
*Kenyon, John "The History Men: The Historical Profession in England Since the Renaissance", London: Weidenfeld and Nicoloson, 1983.

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