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Robert Knecht obituary

<span>Photograph: provided by friend</span>
Photograph: provided by friend

My friend Robert Knecht, who has died aged 97, was a historian of 16th-century France. A lecturer and later professor at the University of Birmingham from the late 1950s until his retirement in 1994, he was the author of 20 monographs, and his book The French Renaissance Court (2008) was awarded the Enid McLeod prize by the Franco-British Society in 2009. He was also a co-founder and early president of the Society for the Study of French History.

Born in London, Bob was the only child of two French citizens and as a result he could speak French without any trace of an English accent. His mother, Odette Mioux, was a housewife, and her husband, Jean Knecht, worked at the French consulate.

The second world war disrupted Bob’s secondary education: his school, the Lycée Français in London, was evacuated and he spent time at Salesian college in Farnborough, Hampshire, where he consolidated the pursuits and temperament of a sociable loner.

Before the war ended he began studying history at King’s College London, graduating in 1948 before doing postgraduate work on Cardinal John Morton, in whose household Sir Thomas More was brought up.

Once his studies had finished, he undertook various pieces of work that involved historical research, including for Richard Lonsdale-Hands Associates, the History of Parliament Trust and the Institute of Historical Research. He also travelled around Europe, often cycling and occasionally leading guided historical tours; his adventures on those trips providing ample material for stories that he delivered with characteristically Rabelaisian wit.

Eventually, in 1959, Bob settled down as a history lecturer at the University of Birmingham, where he spent the rest of his career, rising to be a senior lecturer (1968-1977), reader (to 1985) and then professor of history. On his retirement he was appointed emeritus professor and honorary research fellow.

In 1982 Bob wrote Francis I, a study of the reign of François I between 1515 and 1547. The book was dedicated to his first wife, Sonia Hodge, whom he married in 1956; he nursed through a long illness until her death in 1984.

A revised and enlarged second edition, published in 1994 to coincide with the 500th anniversary of the monarch’s birth, was dedicated to his second wife, Maureen White, whom he married in 1986 and from whose death in 2021 he never fully recovered.