Richard Barber began his career as a writer in 1961 with the publication of Arthur of Albion, a general introduction to the Arthurian legends. He followed this with Henry Plantagenet, a biography of Henry II, and then the first survey of medieval chivalry for many years, The Knight and Chivalry, for which he was given a Somerset Maugham award in 1971. Medieval history and literature have remained his speciality, although he has also written guidebooks (Companion Guide to Gascony and the Dordogne) and has edited John Aubrey's Brief Lives and other seventeenth century authors. He has also translated and edited medieval sources such as the Bestiary , The Pastons and Life and Campaigns of the Black Prince. He wrote a full scale biography of the latter in 1978, Edward Prince of Wales and Aquitaine. The Penguin Guide to Medieval Europe appeared eight years later. In 1989 he collaborated with Juliet Barker on the first comprehensive history of medieval jousting, Tournaments: Jousts, Chivalry and Pageants in the Middle Ages. This was followed by a series of anthologies, of the myths and legends of the British Isles and of the Arthurian legends, which he edited for the Folio Society. In 2004, his book on The Holy Grail: Imagination and Belief was widely praised: Michiko Kakutani in The New York Times wrote: 'Fascinating ... Barber demonstrates a gift for lucid, lively prose and an ability to make highly complex development both immediate and accessible'. His most recent book is Edward III and the Triumph of England, an attempt to get as close to the extraordinary events surrounding the English victory at Crécy and the foundation of the Company of the Garter.
Since 1963, he has also worked as a publisher, first at Macmillan and at George Bell & Sons, where he oversaw the publication of the first volumes of Robert Latham's great edition of The Diary of Samuel Pepys. In 1969 he and a group of friends founded The Boydell Press, and in 1972 helped Professor Derek Brewer to start D.S.Brewer Ltd, in order to publish books in medieval studies which were beig neglected by the university presses. The two firms merged later to become Boydell & Brewer Ltd, and over the years a number of imprints, all founded by academics for similar reasons in the 1970s, were added to the list: Tamesis Books in Spanish studies, Camden House in German studies, and most recently James Currey in African Studies. In 1993 a music list was started in association with the Britten-Pears Library at Aldeburgh.
In 1989, Boydell & Brewer Ltd, in association with the University of Rochester, started the University of Rochester Press in upstate New York. This has specialised in music studies from the Eastman School as well as historical series; the combined Boydell and Rochester lists in music are probably the most important in the English speaking world.
Richard Barber is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature, the Society of Antiquaries and the Royal Historical Society, and an Honorary Fellow of the Historical Association. He is currently Honorary Visiting Professor in the department of history at the University of York.
He lives in Suffolk, between the river Deben and the sea. He and his wife Helen sailed there for many years, and also cruised extensively in the Baltic and Mediterranean, until her death in 2013. Helen, whom he met at Macmillan, played a major part in the development of the publishing business, while bringing up their two children.