Doctor of Laws

Richard H. Helmholz, LLB, PhD, the Ruth Wyatt Rosenson Distinguished Service Professor of Law at the University of Chicago Law School, is a distinguished legal and history scholar with an expertise in medieval and early modern law. 

An author or editor of more than two dozen books that have appeared in French, German, Italian and Spanish, as well as English, and dozens of journal articles, Dr. Helmholz is widely known for his research on the influence of canon law on the common law.

Dr. Helmholz was a professor of history and law at Washington University’s School of Law and in Arts & Sciences from 1970 to 1982, before moving to the University of Chicago as a professor of law. He also was a visiting professor at Washington University’s law school in 2007–08 and in 2019.

He has kept engaged with Washington University, serving on its School of Law National Council, now known as Board of Advisors, since 1995 and as a supporter of student scholarships. He also served on the University Libraries National Council from 1986–1994. 

He earned a bachelor’s degree in French literature from Princeton University and a master’s and a doctorate in medieval history from the University of California, Berkeley. He earned his law degree from Harvard Law School.

More on Richard Helmholz

• From the University of Chicago School of Law

• On Law & Liberty

Among his honors, Dr. Helmholz received a Fulbright Scholarship in 1968, a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1986 and the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation Research Prize in 1992. He served as the Arthur Goodhart Professor of Law at Cambridge University from 2000–01, where he was also elected to a fellowship at Gonville & Caius College. 

He is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and of the Medieval Academy of America as well as a member of the American Law Institute. He serves on the council of the Selden Society, which is the leading learned society and publisher devoted entirely to English legal history and is a corresponding fellow of the British Academy.

Robert L. Virgil, dean emeritus of Olin Business School, has called Dr. Helmholz a “scholar’s scholar.”  

Dr. Helmholz’s teaching interests have been centered in the law of property and in various aspects of natural resources law. He teaches courses on property, European legal history and the law of oil and gas.

His research interests are concentrated in legal history, where his principal contribution has been to show the relevance of the Roman and canon laws to the development of the common law.

Studies in Canon Law and Common Law in Honor of R.H. Helmholz, which was published in 2015 by the Robbins Collection at the University of California, Berkeley, is a collection of 17 essays by Helmholz’s colleagues and former students that pays tribute to his influence as a scholar and mentor. 

In a University of Chicago Law School news story about the book, contributor John Witte, Jr., professor of law and director of the Center for the Study of Law and Religion at Emory University, said that “Dick Helmholz has been a wonderful mentor and model for two generations of legal historians, on both sides of the Atlantic. His brilliant writings have illuminated the history of English law and the history of canon law better than any legal historian who has written since F.W. Maitland and Stephan Kuttner. It’s a real joy to see his work so fittingly praised and richly celebrated in this volume.”   

Among Dr. Helmholz’s books are Marriage Litigation in Medieval England (Cambridge University Press, 1974); The History of the Canon Law and Ecclesiastical Jurisdiction, 597-1649 (Oxford University Press, 2003); Roman Canon Law in Reformation England (Cambridge University Press, 2004); and Natural Law in Court (Harvard University Press, 2015).

Dr. Helmholz’s recent book, The Profession of Ecclesiastical Lawyers, was published by Cambridge University Press in 2019. In the preface, he notes that the book draws upon his more than 50 years researching the English ecclesiastical courts archives. 

“Professor Helmholz epitomizes the continuing value and importance of an education in the liberal arts, the reason for our university’s very existence,” said Howard N. Cayne, a partner at Arnold & Porter in Washington, D.C., and chairman of Washington University’s School of Law Board of Advisors.

Dr. Helmholz and his wife, Marilyn, whom he met when he taught at Washington University and she worked for A.G. Edwards, live in Chicago.