Froude, James Anthony (1818–1894), historian, was born 23 April 1818 at Dartington, Devonshire, England, youngest among eight children of Archdeacon Robert Hurrell Froude, anglican clergyman, and Margaret Froude (née Spedding). He was educated at Westminster and at Oriel College, Oxford. His association with Ireland began in 1840 when he acted as tutor to the son of the Rev. William Cleaver, rector of Delgany, Co. Wicklow. When J. H. Newman (qv) projected a series of biographies of the English and Irish saints, Froude was invited to contribute. He returned to Ireland in 1845 to examine the scenes associated with the Irish saints but came to the conclusion that while ‘St Patrick might be a myth, the living Ireland was a reality’. His antiquarian researches lost their appeal in the problems of contemporary Ireland. Back in Ireland in 1848 he expressed the hope that the peasants might yet overcome the hated landlords. Again while working on his twelve-volume History of England from the fall of Wolsey to the defeat of the armada (1856–70), he spent many months on the Lansdowne estate at Dereen, Kenmare, Co. Kerry. One result of this was the publication of two articles on Kerry in Fraser's Magazine of which he was editor (1860–74). They were later republished in Short studies on great subjects, and were a foreshadowing of his book The English in Ireland in the eighteenth century (3 vols, 1872–4).
At a time when the home rule agitation had just been launched, Froude's volumes, as well as a series of lectures that he gave in America, were inspired by the conviction that because of fundamental flaws in their nature the Irish were incapable of self-government. He also held, however, that the English, who as a superior people had a duty to rule Ireland well, had failed in that duty. Ireland should have been ruled in the same imperial manner as India.
Despite the brilliant narrative and some original contributions to the history of eighteenth-century Ireland, Froude's anti-catholic and anti-Irish prejudices were only too patent. The most rational and scholarly of his many critics was W. E. H. Lecky (qv), whose volumes on Ireland in the eighteenth century were aimed in part at providing a corrective to Froude. Nationalists employed Froude's writings for their own purposes. They liked to quote his strong condemnations of England's misgovernment of Ireland; alternatively, they selected other passages from his writings as illustrations of typical English prejudice against the Irish people. Froude's less than complimentary view of the Irish character also inspired his novel, The two chiefs of Dunboy: or an Irish romance of the last century (1889).
Froude's The English in Ireland was a foretaste of what British imperialism at its zenith was about to become. The second edition (1881), with its additional concluding chapter, could take its place beside any of the tracts of the ‘new imperialism’ of the late nineteenth century. To him it was unthinkable that the colonies – much less Ireland, at the centre of the empire – should be allowed to separate from England. In the late 1880s and 1890s it was even possible to reread The English in Ireland as a blueprint for the Balfourian policy of Salisbury's governments of ‘killing home rule with kindness’. Directly and indirectly he had made a very real impact on the Irish question, as well as on Irish historiography. Partly at least in recognition of his services to imperialism, unionism, and the Conservative policy in Ireland, he was offered by Salisbury the regius professorship of history at Oxford, after it had been declined by Lecky. Froude accepted the post in 1892. He died 20 October 1894 at his home in Kingsbridge, Devon.
He married first (1849) Charlotte Grenfell (d. 1860); they had three children. He married secondly (1861) Henrietta Elizabeth Warre (d. 1874), and they also had three children. The National Portrait Gallery, London, has a chalk drawing of Froude by John Edward Goodall.