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  • Michael Hunter

Jardine [née Bronowski], Lisa Anne (1944–2015), historian and public intellectual, was born on 12 April 1944 at Ruskin College, Walton Street, Oxford, the eldest of four daughters of Jacob Bronowski (1908–1974), mathematician, literary critic, and broadcaster, and his wife, Rita, née Coblentz (1917–2010), sculptor. At the time of her birth registration her parents lived at Hill House, Kingston Blount, near Thame, Oxfordshire. She was educated at Cheltenham Ladies’ College and Newnham College, Cambridge, where she read mathematics for part 1 and English for part 2, at that point coming particularly under the influence of Raymond Williams. After taking a master’s degree in literary translation at the University of Essex (supervised by the poet Donald Davie), she returned to Cambridge to write a PhD on the role of dialectic in the thought of Francis Bacon, a revised version of which appeared as her first book in 1974. On 28 July 1969, at Cambridge register office, she married Nicholas Jardine (b. 1943), scientist and future historian of science (and son of Michael James Jardine, assistant, later deputy, director of public prosecutions), with whom she had a son, Daniel (b. 1970), and a daughter, Rachel (b. 1976). The marriage was dissolved in 1979, and in 1982 she married John Robert Hare (b. 1954), architect, with whom she had a son, Sam (b. 1984).

Lisa Jardine (she adopted and retained her first married name for all public purposes) held postdoctoral research fellowships at the Warburg Institute from 1971 to 1974 and at Girton College, Cambridge, and Cornell University in 1974–5. In 1975 she became a fellow and college assistant lecturer at King’s College, Cambridge, and in 1976 was appointed the first woman fellow of Jesus College, playing an active role as a university and college teacher at Cambridge for over a decade. She held further visiting fellowships at Princeton in 1987–8 and 1990–91, and in 1989 was appointed to a chair in English (subsequently Renaissance studies) at Queen Mary, University of London, from where she moved to University College, London, in 2012. In 2008–9 she was made a distinguished visitor fellow at The Hague by the Koninklijke Bibliotheek and the Netherlands Institute for Advanced Study, in the following year being appointed Scaliger visiting fellow at the University of Leiden and awarded the Sarton chair at the University of Ghent, while she spent a semester as distinguished visiting professor at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) in 2014.

After her 1974 volume on Bacon, Jardine’s next book was Still Harping on Daughters (1983), a revisionist view of the role of women in Shakespearean drama; this was followed by Reading Shakespeare Historically in 1996. Mainly, however, her publications focused on the intellectual and cultural history of the Renaissance, particularly From Humanism to the Humanities (1986), co-authored with Anthony Grafton, a revaluation of Renaissance education and its function, and Erasmus, Man of Letters (1993), a dazzling performance which argued that Erasmus’s image as the archetypal intellectual was essentially self-constructed, and which won the Bainton book prize. Worldly Goods: a New History of the Renaissance (1996) stressed the role of materiality, market forces, and consumerism in the Renaissance; it made Jardine a best-selling author, and all her subsequent books enjoyed comparable success. These comprised Hostage to Fortune: the Troubled Life of Francis Bacon (1998), co-authored with Alan Stewart (she also co-authored Global Interests, on cultural interchanges between East and West during the Renaissance, with Jerry Brotton in 2000), and then a series of works focused on the scientific revolution of the seventeenth century and its broad cultural milieu: Ingenious Pursuits: Building the Scientific Revolution (1999), On a Grander Scale: the Outstanding Career of Sir Christopher Wren (2002), The Curious Life of Robert Hooke: the Man Who Measured London (2003), and Going Dutch: How England Plundered Holland’s Glory (2008), a perceptive account of Anglo-Dutch relations in the period which won the Cundill history prize.

From the early 1990s onwards Jardine was intensely active as a journalist and broadcaster, and this also led to ancillary activities: she became a judge of the Whitbread prize for fiction in 1996 and chair of the judges of the Orange prize a year later and of the Man Booker prize in 2002; she was also involved in art exhibitions at the Saatchi Collection and elsewhere. A major development occurred in 2002, when she was responsible for the inauguration at Queen Mary of the Centre for Editing Lives and Letters (CELL), one of five research centres funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Board (from 2005 the Arts and Humanities Research Council). CELL reflected the combined public and academic role that Jardine had by now acquired, using events like celebrity lectures to raise the profile of the tasks of editing and digitally presenting historical materials, and of educating students in such skills, to which the centre was devoted. It moved to University College, London, with Jardine in 2012.

In the early 2000s Jardine received widespread acclaim. She was given honorary doctorates by Sheffield Hallam University (2004), the University of St Andrews (2005), and the Open University (2006); she joined the board of the Arts and Humanities Research Council; she was awarded a lifetime achievement award by the Times Higher Education Supplement and the Medlicott medal for service to history by the Historical Association; and in 2005 she was appointed CBE for services to education, including her role as a governor and trustee of the Westminster City Schools Foundation. On the other hand, it was also at this time that she had her first brush with cancer, which was diagnosed in September 2004 and treated over the subsequent months.

In spite of this, Jardine took on an increasing number of public roles. In 2006 she was involved in the campaign to save the Hooke Folio—a hitherto-unknown manuscript by Robert Hooke—for the Royal Society, and in 2007 she was given a year’s full-time secondment as adviser to the society’s collections. Her further responsibilities involved such institutions as the Victoria and Albert Museum, the Bethnal Green Museum of Childhood, the Royal Institution, the British Library, the Sir Joseph Banks Archive Project, Chelsea Physic Garden, St Marylebone Secondary School, and the National Archives. Perhaps above all, from 2008 to 2014 she was chair of the Human Fertilization and Embryology Authority (HFEA), a challenging role to which she rose with great dignity, being responsible for some important changes in the regulatory structure for assisted reproduction technology. She also led efforts to reduce multiple births resulting from in vitro fertilization and was particularly proud of her role in overseeing the public consultation in 2012 on mitochondrial replacement, the use of a third party to prevent the transmission of harmful mutations in mitochondrial DNA. Throughout her time at the HFEA, she was tireless—if sometimes frustrated—in her attempts to get the public to recognize the complexities and human costs of assisted reproduction technology as well as its undoubted successes.

In her final years Jardine continued to give public lectures and broadcasts: a particular favourite was her Radio 4 series, A Point of View. In 2008 at Cambridge and in 2012 at Yale she gave the Tanner lectures, reflecting in the former on the legacy of her old mentor, Raymond Williams (to whom she had earlier paid tribute in What’s Left?, co-authored with Julie Swindells, in 1989), and in the latter on the post-war career of her father, Jacob Bronowski. She also continued to receive academic accolades, including honorary doctorates from the universities of Aberdeen (2011), Keele (2014), and York (2015), the Sarton medal (2009), the British Academy president’s medal, and the Francis Bacon medal for the history of science from Caltech (both in 2012). In 2014 she became president of the British Science Association, while in May 2015 she was made an honorary fellow of the Royal Society, an honour of which she was especially proud. Sadly, her cancer returned within a few months of this, and she died at her home in Bedford Avenue, Camden, on 25 October 2015.

To those who knew Lisa Jardine, the overwhelming impression was of her engaging and charismatic personality, which accounted both for her media success and for her effectiveness as a teacher and lecturer; it also does much to explain her inspiring role as the leader of a research community like CELL. Throughout her career she displayed an extraordinary vigour, panache, and empathy. She was also undoubtedly a great scholar, perhaps especially of the world of Renaissance humanism as seen in her study of Erasmus, while her later, wider-ranging works not only displayed comparable skills but also an ability to communicate the fruits of scholarship to an unusually broad audience. Through both her books and her broadcasts she achieved a public impact that was immeasurably greater than that of most academics. She will also go down in history as a heroic champion of women. One of her last public appearances was at a meeting of the Renaissance Society of America in March 2015, at which, in a statement that she characteristically agreed to present on behalf of a group of younger scholars, she rebuked her colleagues for failing to include a single woman among the plenary speakers: it was a characteristic and effective intervention which in many ways epitomized her role and impact.


  • The Times (27 Oct 2015)
  • Daily Telegraph (27 Oct 2015)
  • The Guardian (27 Oct 2015)
  • The Independent (27 Oct 2015)
  • Financial Times (30 Oct 2015)
  • BMJ (10 Nov 2015)
  • Nature (3 Dec 2015)
  • N. Z. Davis, ‘Lisa Jardine (1944-2015)’, History Workshop Journal, 82 (2016), 299–310
  • M. Hunter, Memoirs FRS, 63 (2017), 363–75
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British Film Institute, London
private collection
Biographical Memoirs of Fellows of the Royal Society
British Medical Journal
General Register Office for Scotland Edinburgh old parish records, births and baptisms
death certificate
birth certificate
British Library, National Sound Archive
marriage certificate