Image["Portrait of M.R. James"]

Montague Rhodes James
by William Strang

Britain, 1909
The Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge


Montague Rhodes James OM (1862-1936)

Born in Goodnestone, Kent in 1862, Montague Rhodes James was the son of a curate, the Reverend Herbert James, later rector of Livermere, Suffolk. An intellectually precocious child, he developed an early interest in medieval manuscripts and soon preferred church libraries to children's parties. This serious side aside, however, 'Monty' was also a very sociable character and later toured Europe on a double tricyle.

James was educated at Temple Grove and Eton and then read Classics at King's College, Cambridge. Here he was a student of Sir Charles Walston, the first director of the Fitzwilliam Museum. A specialist in apocryphal writings, James soon distinguished himself as a medieval scholar and was appointed assistant director of the Fitzwilliam Museum in 1886 and Fellow of King's College in 1887. Provost of King's College from 1905 to 1918, he was also director of the Fitzwilliam Museum from 1893 to 1908 and Vice-Chancellor of Cambridge University from 1913 to 1915. In 1918, James was appointed Provost of Eton, a post he held until his death in 1936. Awarded honorary doctorates from Cambridge and Oxford, he was also awarded the Order of Merit in 1930.

A brilliant academic and prolific writer, it is due to James that the manuscripts in the Fitzwilliam Museum – including the MacLean Bequest of 1904 – and the various college libraries were all catalogued in the 1890s and 1900s. However, it is primarily as a ghost writer that James is remembered today. Often referring to locations in East Anglia and the Fitzwilliam Museum, he originally wrote his ghost stories for the choir boys at King's College. James later read them aloud to friends at Christmas and they continue to spook radio, theatre and TV audiences today.


Selected Bibliography

M.R. James, Ghost Stories of an Antiquary, 1904

M.R. James, More Ghost Stories of an Antiquary, 1911

M.R. James, Collected Ghost Stories, 1931

M.R. James, A Descriptive Catalogue of the Manuscripts in the Fitzwilliam Museum, 1895

M.R. James, The Sculptures in the Lady Chapel at Ely, 1895

M.R. James, The Life and Miracles of William of Norwich, 1896

M. R. James, King's College Chapel: The Windows, 1899

M.R. James, A Descriptive Catalogue of the McClean Collection of Manuscripts in the Fitzwilliam Museum, 1912

M. R. James, Old Testament Legends, Being Stories Out of Some of the Less-Known Apocryphal Books, 1913

M.R. James, The Wanderings and Homes of Manuscripts, 1919

M.R. James, Eton College Chapel: The Wall Paintings, 1923

M.R. James, The Apocryphal New Testament, 1924

M.R. James, Eton and King's: Recollections, Mostly Trivial 1875-1925, 1926

M. Cox, M.R.James - An Informal Portrait, Oxford University Press, 1983

S. G. Lubbock, A Memoir of Montague Rhodes James, Cambridge University Press, 1939

R. W. Pfaff, Montague Rhodes James, Scolar Press, 1980

R. W. Pfaff, 'Montague Rhodes James', Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, 2004-8


Nunkie Theatre Company, performing M.R. James ghost stories around the UK

Do you have an interesting history to add to the above story?
Post your history/comments here.

Back To Top

Image["The Reichenau Epistolary"]

The Reichenau Epistolary: Gold and purple opening to the Christmas readings
Germany, late 10th century
The Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge
MS McClean 30, fols 2v-3r
Bequeathed by Frank McClean, 1904

Image["Ivory book cover of a Bishop among his choir"]

Ivory book cover of a Bishop among his choir
Lotharingian, late 10th century
The Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge
Bequeathed by Frank McClean, 1904

The Fitzwilliam Museum : Hidden Histories Home

You are in: Online Resources > Live Talks > Hidden Histories Home