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George Osborne Sayles (1901 - 1994):

Sayles was born in Derbyshire in 1901, and schooled locally. In 1923 he graduated with first class honours in history from the University of Glasgow, winning the Ewing Gold Medal. After a year's study at the Institute of Historical Research, London, thanks to a Carnegie Research fellowship, he took up a post back at Glasgow University, Department of History, his particular area of interest being medieval parliaments; he wrote extensively on Irish and Scottish history, but his most important work was on English parliamentary and legal history. He completed his DLitt at Glasgow in 1932, on the subject of the medieval Court of King's Bench. Based on this work, the Selden Society published Sayles' Select Cases in the Court of King's Bench in the Reign of Edward I, in three volumes, in 1936, 1938 and 1939.  He remained at Glasgow University as a lecturer and senior lecturer in History until 1945; his very successful The Medieval Foundations of England (1948) was based on an original undergraduate lecture course he gave regularly there.

In 1945 he was appointed Professor of Modern History at Queen's University, Belfast, and at once became active in Irish history and published a number of texts and commentaries on Irish parliaments and councils, including the fifteenth-century registers of the Archbishops of Armagh. 1952 saw the publication of The Irish Parliament in the Middle Ages, jointly with HG Richardson; he had been collaborating with Richardson since 1927, and they were to publish much together, such as  The Governance of Medieval England (1963), and Law and Legislation from Aethelbehrt to Magna Carta (1966). He moved from Queen's University in 1953 to take up the position as Burnett-Fletcher Professor of History, Aberdeen University, from which he retired in 1962; he moved to the Institute of Advanced Legal Studies at the University of London to devote more time to research. He was also Kenan Professor of History, New York University, 1967-68.

Amongst Sayles' own publications were Select Cases in the Court of King's Bench (1965 and 1971 - for this undertaking he had been awarded a grant from the Rockefeller Fund), The English Parliament in the Middle Ages (1981 - a republication of work with Richardson, with corrections made by Sayles after Richardson's death) and, in 1988, a further volume of texts on The Functions of the Medieval Parliament of England.

Sayles was Vice- President of the Selden Society 1954-86. His three-volume Selden Society edition of Fleta, the legal treatise subtitled seu Commentarius juris Anglicani and thought to have appeared in the reign of Edward I towards the end of the 13th century, was completed with a brief introduction to the text in 1984. He was awarded honorary doctorates by Glasgow and by Trinity College Dublin, a Fellowship at the British Academy and many honours and fellowships by universities and societies in the United States and Europe.

Born: 20 April 1901
Died: 28 February 1994
Richard Froggatt

Wesley McCann