Dr Greville Freeman-Grenville

Dr Greville Freeman-Grenville, who has died aged 86, was the eldest of three children and the son of the Rev Charles Freeman of Shipton-under-Wychwood, Oxfordshire. From early childhood and throughout his life, Greville was asthmatic and bronchial, and as a boy suffered intensely from an itchy skin condition which meant that his hands had to be bandaged to prevent him scratching.

He went to a prep school in Eastbourne and on to Easthbourne College. His father died when he was 18, and as a clergyman's widow, his mother Agnes was not so well off that she could pay for him to have a university education, but this proved to be no obstacle for an exceptionally-bright boy who could read Latin as though it were English and was fluent in French. He won successive exhibitions enabling him to go to Worcester College, Oxford.

During the war he was a captain in the Royal Berkshire Regiment. For a time he served in Egypt where a certain Mrs Devonshire encouraged him to make a study of mosques. He was allowed by the Army to complete his a B.Litt degree.

After the war he was a lecturer in Abadan, Persia (now Iran) where his brother Godfrey also was. Then he went to Baghdad as a lecturer, and learnt classical Arabic. By now he was fluent in modern Arabic.

He returned to the UK and in 1950 was teaching at Watford Grammar School when he met Mary, Lady Kinloss, great-granddaughter of the third Duke of Buckingham and Chandos while she was delivering a note to his mother. It led them to the altar just 12 weeks later.

He assumed the surname of Freeman-Grenville.

After the wedding, he joined the Colonial Service and completed a year's course at the London School of Oriental and African Studies. At its conclusion, he and Mary went to Tanganyika (now Tanzania) as an Education Officer, becoming in due course a Provincial Education Officer. Like her husband, Mary learnt Swahili - perhaps the only wife of a colonial official to do so - and she routinely accompanied Greville when he travelled up country. When their first child, Bevil, arrived, his parents took him too.

From Tanganyika, the family moved to the Aden Protectorate where Greville was Education Adviser to the British administration. He innovated the idea of providing every new school with a classroom which could double as a mosque.

He and Mary went together when he needed to visit some distant part of the Protectorate.

These were happy years for the couple and their three little children, Bevil now having two sisters, Teresa and Hester.

After three years in Aden, the family went to Ghana where Greville lectured in African Studies at the University of Ghana. Kwame Nkrumah was at this stage becoming a dangerous tyrant, and it was a fraught, frightening period. They were there in 1966 when Nkrumah, on his way to Hanoi, North Vietnam, was overthrown in a coup.

After three years in Ghana, the family returned to England for financial reasons, and Mary saw that the languages department at York University was advertising for a lecturer in Swahili. Greville got the job, and the family found a house in Sheriff Hutton.

There Greville settled down to the life of an historian and author, happiest when writing in his study. When he finished a book, he was exhausted. But work would soon start on another.

His first book, Medieval Coast of Tanganyika, which had been published in 1962, was his doctoral thesis. He would write some 26 more books, including the massive Chronology of World History and The Queen's Lineage, published in 1977.

He was helping write a book on Bethlehem and preparing a new edition of his Chronology at the time of his death.

He and Mary travelled extensively in Europe on account of the many international conferences he attended as an academic and historian, but they were particularly frequent visitors to the Holy Land.

His work there and books were rewarded when he was made a Knight of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem. With others in 1982 he organised Pope John Paul II's visit to York and was awarded the Papal Cross Pro Ecclesia et Pontific.

Greville was a Fellow of the Society of Antiquarians and a Fellow of the Royal Asiatic Society, having been a vice-president from 1997 to 2000.

He is survived by Lady Kinloss and their son, the Hon. Bevil Freeman-Grenville, (styled Master of Kinloss) and two daughters, the Hon Teresa Freeman-Grenville and the Hon Hester Haworth, and three grandsons Joseph, David and Christopher.