LifeHe was born in Ipswich, the son of William Cecil Collinson and Belle Hay Patrick. He was educated at King's School, Ely, and Pembroke College, Cambridge from 1949 to 1952.
Collinson authored his 1957 doctorate on Elizabethan Puritanism under J. E. Neale, and was a lecturer at the University of Khartoum and King's College London. He was professor at the University of Sydney in 1969, then at the University of Kent at Canterbury and the University of Sheffield.
His 1967 monograph, The Elizabethan Puritan Movement, had a great impact on historians' understanding of the movement. The work showed Puritanism to be a significant force within the Elizabethan Church instead of merely a radical group of individuals. By the time of his retirement in 1996, he was one of the doyens of English Reformation history. His short summation of the period, The Reformation, was published in 2003.
Collinson's work laid the foundations, in many ways, for what historians of the English Reformation currently term the 'Calvinist Consensus' in the latter decades of the sixteenth and reign of James I/VI. As such, the belief Puritanism was anything but religiously radical in relation to English, and indeed British, culture stands as one of his great achievements as an historian.
Professor Patrick Collinson was awarded an honorary doctorate from the University of Essex in July 2000. In 2011, Boydell Press published Collinson's memoir, The History of a History Man Or, the Twentieth Century Viewed from a Safe Distance. The Memoirs of Patrick Collinson as part of its Church of England Record Society Series. Collinson was the founding President of the society.