Dr Jean Wilson MBE (1963)

I came to KEHS as a Foundation Scholar in 1956, and after the immense privilege of being taught English by the formidable Miss Flint, in 1964 went up to Newnham College, Cambridge, as a Clothworkers’ Exhibitioner: Newnham was the alma mater of Miss Creak, founding headmistress of KEHS, who had become one of the College’s first five students in 1871, aged nineteen. I took the English Tripos, became Charles Oldham Shakespeare Scholar of the University, and stayed at Newnham to do a PhD, on Spenser’s Faerie Queene. I then spent two years as a Lecturer at the University of Edinburgh before returning to Cambridge in 1972 as a Fellow of King's College, which admitted women undergraduates for the first time that year.

In 1977 I began spending half my time in the USA, accompanying my husband who taught there. I ended up as Professor in the Department of English at Boston University, where I taught until retirement in 2006.

While my appointments were in English departments, my research interests moved into a broader cultural field, initially examining the imagery of Elizabeth I, in her oxymoronic rôles as both woman and monarch. I moved on to studies of the imagery surrounding women, children and relationships, particularly as evidenced by funerary monuments. I have written about monuments to women, to stillborn babies, to children, adolescents, and single-sex couples, among other topics, and have produced books on Entertainments for Elizabeth I (1980, 2009) and Elizabethan playhouses (The Archaeology of Shakespeare, 1995 which won the Archaeology Book of the Year Award 1996).

Funerary monuments have been my main focus, and are a rich, under-appreciated and increasingly threatened part of the cultural heritage. This has increasingly been combined with involvement in organisations dedicated to the study and preservation of material culture, most recently as the President of the Church Monuments Society 2013-2018. In June 2019, I was appointed MBE for services to heritage.