Christopher Hill
John Edward Christopher Hill

(1912-02-06)6 February 1912
York, Yorkshire, England
Died23 February 2003(2003-02-23) (aged 91)
Spouse(s)Inez Waugh (née Bartlett)
Bridget Irene Mason (née Sutton)
Academic background
EducationBalliol College, Oxford
Academic work
Sub-discipline17th-century English history
InstitutionsAll Souls College, Oxford
University College of South Wales and Monmouthshire
Balliol College, Oxford
Open University
Notable studentsBrian Manning
Partha Sarathi Gupta[1]
InfluencedErvand Abrahamian[2]

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.

Early life and education

Christopher 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.[3] At the age of 16, he sat his entrance examination at Balliol College, Oxford. The two history tutors who marked his papers recognised his ability and offered him a place in order to forestall any chance he might go to the University of Cambridge.[4] 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 at Balliol College in 1931. In the following year he won the Lothian Prize,[4] and 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.[3]

Australian author Paul Monk has written that Hill was a Soviet spy.[5]

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.[3] After returning to England in 1936 he accepted a teaching position as an assistant lecturer at the University College of South Wales and Monmouthshire in Cardiff. During his time there he attempted to join the International Brigade and fight in the Spanish Civil War, but was rejected.[4] Instead he was active in helping Basque refugees displaced by the war.[3] After two years in Cardiff he returned to Balliol College in 1938 as a Fellow and tutor in history.[3]

War service

Following the outbreak of the Second World War, he joined the British Army, initially as a private in the Field Security Police.[6] He was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry on 2 November 1940 with the service number 156590.[7] At around this time Hill started to publish his articles and reviews about 17th-century English history. On 19 October 1941 he was transferred to the Intelligence Corps.[8] He was seconded to the Foreign Office from 1943 until the war ended.[4]

Later academic career and politics

Hill returned to Oxford University after the war to continue his academic work. In 1946 he and other Marxist historians formed the Communist Party Historians Group. In 1949 he applied for the chair of History at the new Keele University, but was turned down because of his Communist Party affiliations.[3] In 1952 he helped to create the journal Past and Present.[3]

Hill was becoming discontented with the lack of democracy in the Communist Party.[4] However, he stayed in the party after the Soviet invasion of Hungary in 1956. He left in the spring of 1957 after one of his reports to the party congress was rejected.[3]

After 1956 Hill's academic career ascended to new heights. His studies in 17th-century English history were widely acknowledged and recognised. His first academic book, Economic Problems of the Church from Archbishop Whitgift to the Long Parliament,[3] appeared in 1956. Like many of his later books, it was based on his study of printed sources accessible in the Bodleian Library and on secondary works produced by other academic historians, rather than on research in the surviving archives. In 1965 Hill was elected Master of Balliol College.[3] He held the post from 1965 to 1978, when he retired (he was succeeded by Anthony Kenny). Among his students at Balliol was Brian Manning, who went on to develop understanding of the English Revolution. At Oxford Hill acted as Senior Member of the exclusive Stubbs Society.

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), Anti-Christ in 17th-century England (1971) and The World Turned Upside Down (1972).

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

In Hill's later years he lived with Alzheimer's disease and required constant care.[9] He died of cerebral atrophy in a nursing home in Chipping Norton, Oxfordshire, on 23 February 2003.[3]

Personal life

Hill married Inez Waugh (née Bartlett) on 17 January 1944. Inez Hill, then 23, was the daughter of an Army officer, Gordon Bartlett, and the ex-wife of Ian Anthony Waugh. The Hills' marriage broke down after ten years. Their only child, their daughter, Fanny, drowned while holidaying in Spain in 1986.[3]

Hill's second wife was Bridget Irene Mason (née Sutton),[9] whom he married on 2 January 1956. She was the ex-wife of Stephen Mason, a fellow Communist and historian. Their daughter Kate died in a car accident in 1957. They had two other children: Andrew (born 1958) and Dinah (born 1960).[3]

Selected works


  1. ^ Partha Sarathi Gupta (13 September 1999). "Partha Sarathi Gupta". Retrieved 6 October 2019.
  2. ^ Eskandar Sadeghi-Boroujerdi (20 April 2017), "Iran's Past and Present: Why has the History of Iran's Left been Erased?", Jacobin, retrieved 9 December 2017
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m "Hill, (John Edward) Christopher (1912–2003)". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. January 2007. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/89437. Retrieved 29 June 2012. (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  4. ^ a b c d e "Obituary: Christopher Hill". The Guardian. 26 February 2003. Retrieved 29 June 2012.
  5. ^ "Christopher Andrew and the Strange Case of Roger Hollis - Quadrant Online". 1 January 1970. Retrieved 28 September 2023.
  6. ^ Saville, John (1993). The Politics of Continuity: British Foreign Policy and the Labour Government, 1945-46. London: Verso. p. 214. ISBN 0860914569.
  7. ^ "No. 34995". The London Gazette (Supplement). 15 November 1940. pp. 6621–6625.
  8. ^ "No. 35360". The London Gazette (Supplement). 25 November 1941. p. 6830.
  9. ^ a b "Hill [née Sutton], Bridget Irene (1922–2002)". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. January 2006. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/77170. Retrieved 30 June 2012. (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)


Academic offices Preceded byDavid Lindsay Keir Master of Balliol College, Oxford 1965–1978 Succeeded byAnthony Kenny