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Professor Helen Cooper FBA

Professor Helen Cooper is a Life Fellow of Magdalene and Professor Emeritus of Medieval and Renaissance English in the University of Cambridge.

I was born in Nottingham in 1947 to Peter Kent, an exploration geologist, and Betty, née Hood, who later became Chair of the Nottingham Bench of Magistrates.  I was a committed medievalist from the age of about four, since that was clearly where all the good stories came from.  I was educated at Nottingham High School for Girls, GPDST, and at Cambridge at what was then New Hall, now Murray Edwards, where I stayed for my PhD (part-supervised by Magdalene’s JAW Bennett) and a Junior Research Fellowship.  In 1970 I married Michael Cooper (a Fellow of St John’s, Cambridge, and later of Wolfson, Oxford; he died in 2007), and we had two daughters.

In 1978 I was appointed to a tutorial fellowship at University College, Oxford; the college had just changed its statutes to admit women, and I became its first woman Fellow.  My remit was to teach 1100-1660, though, as the advertisement stated, ‘a willingness to teach the twentieth century would be an advantage’ – which I also did for some years.  I served for some years as editor in Old and Middle English for Medium Ævum.  I was awarded a personal professorship, and a D.Litt.  I returned to Cambridge in 2004 to take up the offer of the Chair of Medieval and Renaissance English, and of a professorial fellowship at Magdalene.  I retired in 2014, in so far as academics ever do retire.  My last research student (of 31) completed her doctorate in 2017.


Research Interests

  • Pastoral from Virgil to Milton.
  • Late fourteenth-century literature; Chaucer and the Chaucerian tradition.
  • Romance from Anglo-Norman to the seventeenth century, including The Faerie Queene.
  • Malory and the early Arthurian tradition.
  • Shakespeare and his medieval antecedents.
  • The transition from manuscript to print.


BA, MA (Cambridge)

PhD (Cambridge)

D.Litt (Oxford)

Career/Research Highlights

Honorary doctorate, Washington and Lee University, Virginia, 2001

Fellowship of the British Academy, 2006

             Chair of the Medieval Studies Section, 2014-17

Emeritus Fellowship, University College, Oxford, 2004; Honorary Fellowship, 2009

Life Fellowship, Magdalene College, Cambridge, 2014


Co-editor/ Executive editor, Medium Ævum, 1989-2002

President of the New Chaucer Society, 2000-02

Gollancz Lecturer of the British Academy, 2016


Senior Tutor, University College, Oxford, 1997-2000

Chair of the English Faculty, University of Oxford, 1990-93

Chair of the English Faculty, University of Cambridge, 2010-12


Cambridge University representative Trustee, Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, 2013-17

Trustee, The Prince’s Teaching Institute, from 2013

Professional Affiliations

Fellow of the British Academy

New Chaucer Society

Early Book Society

Selected Publications

Pastoral: Mediaeval into Renaissance (D.S. Brewer, 1978)

The Structure of the Canterbury Tales (Duckworth; U of Georgia Press, 1983)

Oxford Guides to Chaucer: The Canterbury Tales (Oxford University Press, 1989, 1996)

The English Romance in Time: Transforming Motifs from Geoffrey of Monmouth to the Death of Shakespeare (Oxford University Press, 2004)

Shakespeare and the Medieval World (Arden Companions to Shakespeare, 2010)

The Long Fifteenth Century: Essays for Douglas Gray, co-edited (Oxford University Press, 1997)

Medieval Shakespeare: Pasts and Presents, co-edited (Cambridge University Press, 2013)

Sir Thomas Malory: Le Morte Darthur – The Winchester Manuscript, modern-spelling edition (Oxford World’s Classics, 1998)