Alfred Leslie Rowse was born in 1903 in Tregonissey near St. Austell, Cornwall. His father was a china-clay worker and his parents were poor and uneducated. In spite of this handicap and his delicate health, he attended St. Austell Grammar School and was the first person in Cornwall to gain a university scholarship. He went to Christ Church, Oxford in 1921 to read English, although he was later persuaded to transfer to history. At the age of 23 he was elected a fellow of All Souls College, Oxford.
Rowse produced many works on English history, some poetry and an autobiography, “A Cornishman at Oxford”. He was well-known for his flamboyance, his openness about his homosexuality and his obsession about the speaking of precisely correct English. Celebrity followed the publication of his autobiography and he made many lecture tours in the United States of America and elsewhere. He was known for his brilliance and his aptitude for the sensational.
Among many of the honours bestowed on Rowse were a fellowship of the Royal Historical Society, an honorary doctorate of the University of Exeter and the Benson Medal of the Royal Society of Literature. He was made a Companion of Honour in 1996. He died in 1997 at Trenarren, St. Austell and bequeathed his collection of books, manuscripts, diaries, and correspondence to the University of Exeter.