Professor J.B. Smith, Emeritus Professor of Welsh History, 27 September 1931-19 February 2024

It is with much sadness that the University records the death of Professor Jenkyn Beverley Smith, a deeply respected historian of medieval Wales.

Professor Beverley Smith retired from the university in 1995, though he remained emeritus professor and fully engaged in research in his retirement. By the time of his retirement, he held the Sir John Williams Chair in Welsh History, the culmination of a career which had taken him from the National Library of Wales to the Department of Welsh History at the University College of Wales.

Born at Gorseinon in 1931, Beverley grew up in a family closely integrated into the cultural life of the Swansea region. His father was vice-president and chair of the 1958 Ebbw Vale National Eisteddfod and, in that capacity and to Beverley’s great pleasure, welcomed Paul Robeson into the family home, a visit which was also attended by Aneurin Bevan, then MP for Ebbw Vale, and his wife Jenny Lee; his mother, as Geraint Gruffydd records, ‘came of princely nonconformist stock’.

After attending Gowerton Grammar School Beverley joined the University College of Wales, Aberystwyth, in 1949, reading Latin, French, Welsh, and Welsh History, with History as his honours subject. He graduated in 1952 and was awarded an E.A. Lewis two-year scholarship to pursue research in Welsh History; this led to a Masters thesis on ‘The lordship of Glamorgan’, submitted in 1957.

After completing his Masters Bev did the required two years National Service in the Army, before taking up a post in London as researcher for the Board of Celtic Studies where Sir Goronwy Edwards was his supervisor and long term mentor. This position was followed by two years as Assistant Keeper of Manuscripts and Records at the National Library of Wales. In 1960 he was appointed to an assistant lectureship at Aberystwyth where he remained throughout his career, as lecturer, senior lecturer, reader, and, in 1989, the Sir John Williams professor.

Beverley’s research and writings were as abundant as they were generous. His commitment to his research area, the social and political history of medieval Wales, is manifest not only in his major research and writing on the subject but also in his willingness to pen reviews of the work of others as well as to support key projects.

His contributions to volume three of the Glamorgan County History (1971), including discussion of its separate lordships, the revolt of Llywelyn Bren, and social structure in the lordship of Senghennydd, as well as to volume two of the History of Merioneth (2001), edited with Beverley’s wife and fellow medievalist, Dr Llinos Smith, and, very recently, to volume two of the Cardiganshire County History (2019), speak not only to Beverley’s energy and commitment to his discipline but also his range. The latter extended well beyond the Middle Ages, as for instance, in this edition of and contribution to a volume about the Labour MP and first Secretary of State for Wales, Jim Griffiths (1977).

If though establishing firm foundations to the study of medieval Wales, including an edition of the selected essays of T. Jones Pierce, the supervisor of Beverley’s masters thesis, was an important component of his work, so also was making his own unique and major contribution.

Beverley’s research interest in aspects of medieval Welsh law and the positioning of the law in relation to English law and polity is a recurring theme in his work, as is a persistent investigation of the nature of medieval Welsh politics in relation to English kingship and government.

Important articles on Edward II and the allegiance of Wales, on the early fourteenth-century Celtic alliance, gave way to an increasing emphasis on Llywelyn ap Gruffudd, Prince of Wales (Llywelyn the Last), first in a series of articles and then in a major volume, published in Welsh in 1986 and subsequently in an extended English-language edition in 1998. Both volumes received lavish praise from reviewers and stand as the pinnacle of a major research and publishing career.

Beverley’s enthusiasm for his subject was infectious and his communication of its intricacies and potential compelling; this extended beyond the monograph and article. An invitation, for instance, to lead a group of social and economic medievalists to visit a blustery and rain-splattered Montgomery Castle twenty years ago was met with enthusiasm and has remained a fond memory for those in attendance.  It is testimony to his, and Llinos’s commitment to their subject, that they, in Beverley’s 91st year, joined the same meeting last summer.

In addition to his academic work, in its various forms, Beverley was in demand as an administrator and a facilitator of issues germane to the study of the past; this was especially the case in his role as Chair of the Royal Commission of Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales, which he held from 1991 to 1999, and as editor of the Bulletin of the Board of Celtic Studies/Studia Celtica for over forty years.

It is also gratifying that Beverley’s work was acknowledged during his lifetime; a festschrift in his honour, published in 2011, included essays from friends and historians of medieval Wales and of England. In his tribute to Beverley in that volume (to which reference has been made, with gratitude, in this notice), Geraint Gruffydd, applying an epithet earlier bestowed on Sir John Edward Lloyd, described Beverley as ‘a lantern-bearer through the lost centuries’, an entirely apt summation of his care, diligence and warmth as a historian and as a man.

Former and present colleagues at Aberystwyth extend our deepest sympathies to Llinos, and to their sons, Robert and Huw, and their families.


Professor Phillipp Schofield, Department of History and Welsh History