Skip to main content

Roy Jenkins papers


  • How to

The papers reflect Roy Jenkins' professional career as a politician in the UK parliament and European Commission; as a writer; and as Chancellor of the University of Oxford. The archive mainly comprises political, business-related and personal correspondence and papers charting Jenkins' career as a member of parliament and government minister, president of the European Commission, founding member of the Social Democratic Party and the Liberal Democratic Party and peer. The other major series in the archive are the drafts and texts of Jenkins' speeches; literary papers, including research material, drafts, and proofs for Jenkins' books and journalism; correspondence and papers from Jenkins' time as Chancellor of Oxford; diaries (including diaries of Jenkins' father, Arthur Jenkins, MP for Pontypool until 1946); and papers from the various private committees and charities with which Jenkins was associated.


  • Creation: Creation: Majority of material found within Bulk, 1940-2003
  • Creation: Creation: 1882-2006


100 Linear metres (607 shelfmarks)

Language of Materials

  • English
  • French

Conditions Governing Access

Some material is closed.

Conditions Governing Use

It is permissable to copy material for private research use, but permission to copy material for publishing purposes must be obtained from the rights holder.

Preferred Citation

Oxford, Bodleian Libraries [followed by shelfmark and folio or page reference, e.g. MS. Jenkins 5, fols. 1-2].

Please see our help page for further guidance on citing archives and manuscripts.

Full range of shelfmarks:

MSS. Jenkins 1-596, MSS. Photogr. c. 537-545, MS. Photogr. a. 41, MS. Photogr. b. 170

Collection ID (for staff)

CMD ID 6718


Correspondence and papers of Roy Jenkins, Baron Jenkins of Hillhead (1920-2003), politician and author, with additional papers of his father Arthur Jenkins, MP for Pontypool (1882-1946).

Biographical / Historical

Roy Harris Jenkins, Baron Jenkins of Hillhead (1920–2003) was born in Abersychan, Monmouthshire. His father was Arthur Jenkins, assistant miners' agent and MP of Pontypool (1935–46), parliamentary private secretary to Clement Attlee, and junior minister in the post-war Attlee government (d. 1946). His mother was Harriet (Hattie) Jenkins, a magistrate and county councillor in Pontypool (d. 1953). Jenkins was an only child.

In October 1938, following schooling in Wales, Jenkins entered Balliol College, Oxford to study politics, philosophy and economics (PPE). Balliol was, at that time, a political hotbed: Jenkins' Balliol contemporaries included Edward Heath, Julian Amery and Denis Healey. From Trinity College, Oxford, came Jenkins' close friend, and later political rival, Anthony (Tony) Crosland.

Jenkins' political ambitions even as an undergraduate. He was a dedicated member of the Oxford Union and University Labour Club, and during the spring of 1940 he and Crosland founded the Oxford University Democratic Socialist Club (OUDSC). Jenkins was elected chairman of the OUDSC in 1940 but failed in two attempts at the presidency of the Oxford Union.

Jenkins met his future wife, Jennifer Morris, in August 1940 at a Fabian Society summer party. The two married in January 1945, with Clement Attlee as a witness. In the meantime, Jenkins graduated first class in the summer of 1941 and in 1942 was commissioned into the West Somerset Yeomanry, having in the interim taken a part-time job at the American Embassy as an analyst.

During the Second World War, Jenkins served as an artillery officer and later as a codebreaker at Bletchley. He was demobilised in January 1946, already seeking a parliamentary seat. It took several attempts with constituency parties and a failure in the 1945 general election before he succeeded in gaining a seat. While waiting he worked for the Industrial and Commercial Finance Corporation (ICFC), a government-founded body established to make it easier for small- to medium-sized businesses to raise capital. He also worked, on commission, on a biography of Clement Attlee, published in 1948. Jenkins would continue to write throughout his political career.

Jenkins first won a seat as the Labour Party MP for Southwark Central in 1948 and in 1950 became MP for Stechford in Birmingham. From there Jenkins progressed, in the first and second governments of Harold Wilson, to Minister of Aviation (1964), Home Secretary (1965-7) and Chancellor of the Exchequer (1967-70). His time as Home Secretary between 1965-7 was notable for a spate of reforms, including the liberalisation of the laws on theatre censorship, divorce and abortion, and the decriminalisation of homosexuality.

Prior to the 1970 general election, Jenkins made an agreement to become Foreign Secretary should Labour win, with the ultimate ambition of replacing Harold Wilson as leader of the Labour Party, and Prime Minister, after Wilson's anticipated retirement. In the event, Labour lost the election and Jenkins, now in opposition, was elected as deputy leader. In October 1971 Jenkins, who was pro-Europe, was forced to break with his own party (along with sixty-eight other Labour MPs) in support of the conservative government's desire to join the European Economic Community (EEC). He was re-elected as deputy leader shortly afterwards but his leadership did not survive the political battle over the terms of the treaty of accession to the EEC. In 1972 he resigned from the shadow cabinet over Labour's support of a referendum on the EEC.

Rather than fighting a leadership campaign against Wilson in November 1973, Jenkins accepted the position of Shadow Home Secretary. Following Labour's win at the 1974 general election, he became Home Secretary for the second time during a period of turmoil and hunger strikes in Northern Ireland. After Wilson announced his resignation in March 1976, Jenkins, still representing the pro-Europe faction of the Labour Party (he was leader of the 'yes' camp in the June 1975 European referendum) failed in a campaign to become party leader. Wilson was instead replaced by Jim Callaghan, effectively ending any prospect of Jenkins becoming Prime Minister as a member of the Labour Party.

In September 1976, Jenkins resigned as Home Secretary to take up a position as the first British President of the European Commission (1977-81). It was a period of economic recession and this, plus the need to balance the complex competing interests of member states, limited Jenkins. He did, however, secure an agreement to set up the European monetary system, the first stage in the introduction of a common currency. His book European Diary (1989) records his time at the European Commission, including his growing interest in, and discussions about, forming a new political party in the UK.

On 22 November 1979, Jenkins gave the BBC Dimbleby lecture, entitled Home Thoughts from Abroad, which made a case for a realignment of British politics and the need for a centre party. Estranged from the Labour Party, Jenkins was a founder member (and, until resigning in 1983, party leader) of the Social Democratic Party (SDP), formally launching it in March 1981 alongside the SDP's other founding members - the 'gang of four' - David Owen, Bill Rodgers and Shirley Williams.

Jenkins failed to gain a seat in a by-election at Warrington in July 1981 but was finally elected to parliament as SDP member for Hillhead in Glasgow in a by-election in 1982, retaining his seat in the 1983 general election. He helped steer the SDP into an alliance with the Liberal Party (known as the Alliance). After losing the constituency in 1987 (which ended Jenkins' career in the House of Commons), Jenkins lead the SDP into a merger with the Liberal Party. The new party was first named the Social and Liberal Democrats and renamed the Liberal Democratic Party in 1989.

Following the loss of the Hillhead constituency, Roy Jenkins was given a life peerage and was, from 1987, leader of the Liberal Democrat peers in the House of Lords. At this time he became a political mentor to Tony Blair, and took a particular interest in electoral reform. In 1987 he was elected as Chancellor of the University of Oxford, a position he held until his death. The chancellorship involved regular ceremonial duties at the university degree ceremony (encaenia) as well as a roving ambassadorial and fundraising role.

In addition to his political work, Roy Jenkins was a popular and prolific speech-maker involved with numerous charities and committees. He held several board/trustee positions including the presidency of the Royal Society of Literature from 1988 until his death. Alongside his political career, he also distinguished himself as a journalist, reviewer and political writer and as an author and biographer. He specialised in political biographies, notably those of Sir Charles Dilke (1958), Asquith (1964), Gladstone (1995) and Churchill (2001), as well as his own memoir A Life At The Centre (1991).

See also the Dictionary of National Biography entry on Roy Jenkins.


Individual files retain Jenkins' own filing system, which includes both chronological and alphabetical/subject sequences. Loose (miscellaneous) correspondence and papers have been arranged chronologically. Further information on arrangement is available where needed in the series/file descriptions.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Given by Dame Jennifer Jenkins, October 2011.

Related Materials

The papers of Sir Crispin Tickell, who served as Chef de Cabinet for Roy Jenkins while Jenkins was President of the European Commission (1977-81), have been deposited with All Souls College, Oxford. For access to these papers, please contact the Librarian of the Codrington Library in the first instance.

Catalogue of the Roy Jenkins collection, 1882-2006
Charlotte McKillop-Mash
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the Bodleian Libraries Repository

Weston Library
Broad Street
Oxford OX1 3BG United Kingdom