Christopher Hill (historian)

Christopher Hill
Born John Edward Christopher Hill
(1912-02-06)6 February 1912
York, Yorkshire, England
Died 23 February 2003(2003-02-23) (aged 91)
Chipping Norton, Oxfordshire, England
Cause of death Alzheimer's disease and cerebral atrophy
Nationality United Kingdom
Spouse(s) Inez Waugh (née Bartlett)
Bridget Irene Mason (née Sutton)
Children Four
Academic background
Education St Peter's School, York
Alma mater Balliol College, Oxford
Academic work
Discipline Historian
Sub discipline 17th-century English history
Institutions All Souls College, Oxford
University College of South Wales and Monmouthshire
Balliol College, Oxford
Open University
Notable students Brian Manning

John Edward Christopher Hill (6 February 1912 – 23 February 2003) was an English Marxist historian and academic, specialising in 17th-century English history. From 1965 to 1978, he was Master of Balliol College, Oxford University.

Early life

Chris Hill was born on 6 February 1912, Bishopthorpe Road, York, to Edward Harold Hill and Janet Augusta (née Dickinson). His father was a solicitor and the family were devout Methodists. He attended St Peter's School, York.[1] At the age of 16, he sat his entrance examination at Balliol College, University of Oxford. The two history tutors who marked his papers recognised his ability and offered him a place to forestall any chance he might go to the University of Cambridge.[2] In 1931 Hill took a prolonged holiday in Freiburg, Germany, where he witnessed the rise of the Nazi Party, later saying that it contributed significantly to the radicalisation of his politics.

He matriculated into Balliol College in 1931. In 1932, he won the Lothian Prize.[2] He graduated with a first-class Bachelor of Arts degree in modern history in 1934. Whilst at Balliol, Hill became a committed Marxist and joined the Communist Party of Great Britain in the year he graduated.[1]

Early academic career

After graduating, he became a fellow of All Souls College. In 1935, he undertook a ten-month trip to Moscow, Soviet Union. There he became fluent in Russian and studied Soviet historical scholarship, particularly that relating to Britain.[1] After returning to England in 1936, Hill accepted a teaching position as an assistant lecturer at the University College of South Wales and Monmouthshire. During his time at Cardiff, Hill attempted to join the International Brigade and fight in the Spanish Civil War but was rejected.[2] Instead, he was active in helping Basque refugees, displaced by the war.[1] After two years at Cardiff, he returned to Balliol College in 1938 as a fellow and tutor of history.[1]

War service

Following the outbreak of the Second World War, he joined the British Army, initially as a private in the Field Security Police. He was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry on 2 November 1940 with the service number 156590.[3] That same year, he took part in a debate among many Marxist historians. At around this time, Hill started to publish his articles and reviews about 17th-century English history. On 19 October 1941, he transferred to the Intelligence Corps.[4] He was seconded to the Foreign Office from 1943 until the war ended.[2]

Later academic career and politics

Hill returned to Oxford University after the war to continue his academic work. In 1946, Hill and many other Marxist historians formed the Communist Party Historians Group. In 1949, he applied to be the chair of History at the newly created Keele University, but was turned down because of his Communist Party affiliations.[1] He helped create the journal Past and Present in 1952, that focused on social history.[1]

Hill was becoming discontented with the lack of democracy in the Communist Party.[2] However, he stayed in the party, unlike many other intellectuals, after the Soviet invasion of Hungary in 1956. He finally left the party in the spring of 1957 when one of his reports to the party congress was rejected.[1]

After 1956, Hill's career ascended to new heights. His studies on 17th-century English history were widely acknowledged and recognised. It was also the year of the publication of his first academic book; Economic Problems of the Church from Archbishop Whitgift to the Long Parliament.[1] These were based on the study of printed sources accessible in the Bodleian Library and on the secondary works produced by other academic historians rather than on research in the surviving archives. In 1965, Hill was elected the Master of Balliol College.[1] He held the post from 1965 to 1978, when he retired (he was replaced by Anthony Kenny). Among those of his students at Balliol was Brian Manning, who went on to develop understanding of the English Revolution.

Many of Hill's most notable studies focused on 17th-century English history. His books include Puritanism and Revolution (1958), Intellectual Origins of the English Revolution (1965 and revised in 1996), The Century of Revolution (1961), AntiChrist in 17th-century England (1971), The World Turned Upside Down (1972) and many others.

He retired from Balliol in 1978 when he took up a full-time appointment for two years at the Open University. He continued to lecture thereafter from his home at Sibford Ferris, Oxfordshire.

In Hill's later years, he lived with Alzheimer's disease and required constant care.[5] He died on 23 February 2003 of cerebral atrophy in a nursing home in Chipping Norton, Oxfordshire.[1]

Personal life

Hill married Inez Waugh (née Bartlett) on 17 January 1944. The 23-year-old was the ex-wife of Ian Anthony Waugh and daughter of an army officer, Gordon Bartlett. Together they had a daughter, Fanny, who drowned while holidaying in Spain in 1986. Their marriage broke down after ten years.[1]

His second wife was Bridget Irene Mason (née Sutton),[5] the ex-wife of Stephen Mason, and a fellow communist and historian. They married on 2 January 1956. Their first daughter Kate died in a car accident in 1957. They had two other children: Andrew (born 1958) and Dinah (born 1960).[1]

Selected works


  1. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 "Hill, (John Edward) Christopher (1912–2003)". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford University Press. January 2007. Retrieved 29 June 2012.
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 "Obituary: Christopher Hill". The Guardian. 26 February 2003. Retrieved 29 June 2012.
  3. The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 34995. pp. 6621–6625. 15 November 1940. Retrieved 29 June 2012.
  4. The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 35360. p. 6830. 25 November 1941. Retrieved 29 June 2012.
  5. 1 2 "Hill [née Sutton], Bridget Irene (1922–2002)". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford University Press. January 2006. Retrieved 30 June 2012.


External links

Academic offices
Preceded by
David Lindsay Keir
Master of Balliol College, Oxford
Succeeded by
Anthony Kenny
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