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Butterfield, Sir Herbert, 1900-1979 (Knight and historian)



  • Existence: 1900 - 1979


Herbert Butterfield was born in Oxenhope, near Keighley in Yorkshire, in 1900. In 1919 he entered Peterhouse, Cambridge, as a scholar in history, and in 1923 was elected a fellow of that college. In 1944 he took up the university chair of modern history, and in 1963 was appointed Regius Professor of modern history. He had been elected Master of Peterhouse in 1955, and served as Vice-Chancellor of the University from 1959 to 1961. He was editor of the Cambridge historical journal from 1938 to 1952, and was President of the Historical Association from 1955 to 1958. He retired from the mastership and his chair in 1968, the year he was knighted. Butterfield published widely throughout his working life. His most influential books were The Whig interpretation of history (1931), The Englishman and his history (1944), Christianity and history (1949), The origins of modern science (1949) and Man on his past (1955). He maintained an interest in orthodox diplomatic and political history of the eighteenth century alongside investigations into historiography and the nature of Christianity. Typical of his concern for historiographical questions was his long interest in the work of Lord Acton. He produced a number of publications on this subject, but his support for propositions to initiate a comprehensive publication of Acton's correspondence and working papers proved fruitless. In his later years, Butterfield was involved in the British Committee on the Theory of International Politics, which met under his aegis in Peterhouse. Sir Herbert Butterfield died in July 1979.

Found in 1 Collection or Record:


Sir Herbert Butterfield: Papers

Reference Code: GBR/0012/MS Butterfield
Scope and Contents

The papers described in this catalogue date chiefly from the end of the Second World War to the 1970s; from the beginning of this period Butterfield was assisted in his University and college duties by a secretary. The collection documents almost all aspects of his academic life and writings, and provides a record of the wider development of historical studies over the course of his career.

Dates: 1786-1979 (Much of the material is undated, so approximate dates have been given.)
Conditions Governing Access: Unless restrictions apply, the collection is open for consultation by researchers using the Manuscripts Reading Room at Cambridge University Library. For further details on conditions governing access please contact Information about opening hours and obtaining a Cambridge University Library reader's ticket is available from the Library's website (

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  • Subject: English history X

The UK Archival Thesaurus has been integrated with our catalogue, thanks to Kings College London and the AIM25 project for their support with this.