Michael Richter, RIP

Michael Richter in 2006

Picture of the late Michael Richter from January 2006, taken by and used by kind permission of Robert Calder

There are some posts it’s worth putting ahead of the queue. I can be amazingly behind the times sometimes: I’ve only just learnt, via News for Medievalists, that Professor Michael Richter died in May. To be fair, this delay in reportage is not News for Medievalists’ fault, as they’re merely pointing to a story in The Irish Times that has also only lately appeared. But even if it’s not news it’s still a real shame. I only met Professor Richter the once, in St Andrews in 2003, where he gave a very courteous ear to my third-ever conference presentation and suggested two useful avenues of enquiry for the paper that eventually became my “Archbishop Ató”. He also revealed himself at the conference dinner to be a man with a richly mischievous sense of humour, which made those parts of his work I’d met much easier to understand; though no-one could question his rigour or application to the source materials, he was also, I thought, having a lot of fun seeing how far he could push them and what he could get away with. He seemed to be enjoying his life far too much to have died only a few years later; I just hope he didn’t have to stop enjoying it before he lost it. His will be a regretted absence.

10 responses to “Michael Richter, RIP

  1. Robert R. Calder

    I was ill myself and out of touch with Michael from late 2007 — I saw him last earlier that year in Konstanz, before he moved to Berlin — and resumed contact only in February of this year. I remember his enormous 60th birthday party in Konstanz, and great times with music and cod or lamb and wine, and up an alp. and the invitation to Berlin when I got back in touch with him.
    He swam in the lake earlier in the year than most, and not so long before he was sixty there was the surfboard on the Atlantic coast of Ireland.
    I knew he’d been ill, with some arduous treatment, but he’d got back to the daily jogging, and even after hearing of a subsequent broken leg he;d been recovering from the hews was a bolt from the blue. I remember him saying he was finished with writing books, and then all of a sudden there was his Bobbio volume.
    One of his Konstanz colleagues, not a historian, said that when he arrived at Konstanz he noticed a familiar blur going along a corridor and one day stopped it and asked had it been a teacher at University College, Dublin, and so it had; and it was Michael. Who said he did things “for Ireland” — where he was happily at home after his early years as a fatherless impoverished refugee child. He was pleased at how far he’d been able to come, through various postwar nonsenses of 1960s Berlin. I’m still somewhat devastated.
    I adapted an old toast for his birthday, “Michael the historian/ did you ever know a finer man…!”

  2. Diana Montague

    I am devastated to learn of the death of my friend Mike., I first met him in Germany in 1960 when out there working as an au pair and we had maintained a sporadic correspondence ever since. It improved his English – but did nothing for my German as I did not write in that language! I was the proud recipient of a copy of his first book Giraldus Cambrensis too. Just before I went to work abroad in the mid-sixties he hitch-hiked down from Edinburgh Uni to Somerset just to say bon voyage – He visited my husband and I a few years later and memorably sat on the window sill playing the flute. I sadly missed catching up with him and his sister when they visited the UK in 2006 but had hoped for another meeting . . . obviously no to be.
    He wrote from Berlin but I mislaid his address and didn’t have an email address since Konstanz. I knew he was ill – but had no idea how seriously and decided to try and “re-find” him on Google only to discover this news.
    God Bless you Michael – RIP.

    • I’m sorry to be the bearer of such bad news, in that case, but it’s touching to read your tribute and I hope at least that the post shows you that others also feel your loss. Thankyou for commenting.

  3. http://www.historyireland.com/20th-century-contemporary-history/michael-richter/
    Sir,—Robin Frame in his interview (HI 20.3, May/June 2012) on the history of medieval Ireland rightly emphasises the value of approaching the subject from outside the narrow and insular perspective that has often been the practice in the past. He decries the ‘tendency of Irish historians to address themselves to their own kind’. He is lauded for his success in ‘communicating the significance of medieval Ireland to a wider audience’ and for his insistence that ‘medieval Ireland makes sense in wider contexts, which might be European as much as . . . British’.
    If your article had replaced the name of Robin Frame with that of Michael Richter, precisely the same comments could have been made on the approach to medieval Ireland and on the importance of taking a wider, European (including British) perspective. At the time of his death in May 2011 Michael Richter was probably the leading medievalist from continental Europe taking a keen and sustained interest in medieval Ireland. Prior to his arrival in Ireland in 1972 he had already developed an interest and expertise in Welsh and British history. When he returned to his native Germany some years later his interest in medieval Ireland grew, but always in the context of Ireland in the wider world of Europe. His Medieval Ireland—the enduring tradition was published in German in 1983 before appearing in its first English edition in 1988. His subsequent forays into medieval Irish history were written mostly in English. The title of his 1999 study, Ireland and her neighbours in the seventh century, makes clear that his approach was always one of Ireland in relation to her neighbours and vice versa. In more recent years he did much original research on Columbanus and his monastic foundation in Bobbio, leading to his 2008 work Bobbio in the early Middle Ages.
    It seems to me that Michael Richter’s contribution to Irish medieval studies has not received the attention it deserves. It is disappointing that in the year since his death his contribution has not been marked in any way by History Ireland. It may well be that Professor Richter ruffled many local and insular feathers among his Irish colleagues and, in fairness, I recognise that for some of these colleagues he was himself a formidable academic opponent.
    The measure of his overall contribution was, however, recognised by his colleague Professor Próinséas Ní Chatháin, who in a foreword to the 2004 edition of Medieval Ireland—the enduring tradition wrote:

    ‘Here we have a book which could not have been written with the same authority by either an Irishman or an Englishman. […] Professor Richter strikes a good balance which may sometimes ruffle insular feathers but which is fresh and free from prejudices and preconceptions. He is singularly equipped to synthesise the complex tangle of early and medieval Ireland. His sojourn in Wales and experience of Welsh sources . . . his familiarity with the writings of Bede, his work on Carolingian literacy and learning are all brought to bear on the Irish evidence . . . he immersed himself in Irish scholarship with more dedication than many an Irishman.’
    —Yours etc.,

  4. I had just finished the excellent series The Rise of the Nazis on BBC and had a sudden urge to contact Michael Richter whom I knew for one summer, I think it was 1969, in Aberystwyth.
    I was so sad to hear he had died and wish that I had contacted him sooner.
    I have such vivid memories of those few weeks and how we got to know him so well. I have looked up Google and seen what he has written but it would be nice to know more of his personal life. I hope he had a happy life, he was a very special person.

    • There does seem to have been a lot to know. I’m sorry to have brought you the bad news, but I am quite pleased that this page is slowly collecting memorials. It testifies to the man and his life that this is still happening!

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