Martin Gilbert

Gilbert being awarded an honorary doctorate at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Beersheba, Israel, 2011
Martin John Gilbert

(1936-10-25)25 October 1936
London, United Kingdom
Died3 February 2015(2015-02-03) (aged 78)
London, United Kingdom
EducationHighgate School
Alma materMagdalen College, Oxford
St Antony's College, Oxford
Occupation(s)Historian, author
Known forWinston Churchill's official biography
Twentieth century history
Jewish history

Sir Martin John Gilbert CBE FRSL (25 October 1936 – 3 February 2015)[1][2] was a British historian and honorary Fellow of Merton College, Oxford. He was the author of 88 books, including works on Winston Churchill, the 20th century, and Jewish history including the Holocaust. He was a member of the Chilcot Inquiry into Britain's role in the Iraq War.

Early life and education

Martin Gilbert was born in London, the first child of Peter Gilbert, a north London jeweller, and his wife, Miriam. The original family name was Goldberg.[3][4] All four of his grandparents had been born in the Pale of Settlement in Tsarist Russia (today's Poland and Lithuania).[3][5][6] Nine months after the outbreak of the Second World War, he was evacuated to Canada as part of the British efforts to safeguard children. Vivid memories of the transatlantic crossing from Liverpool to Quebec sparked his curiosity about the war in later years.[1]

After the war, Gilbert attended Highgate School, where he was taught history by the Balkan expert Alan Palmer, and politics by T. N. Fox.[5] He described himself as being interested in "Jewish things" from a young age, noting that at school he "once or twice got in trouble for my Zionistic activities."[6] He then completed two years of National Service in the Intelligence Corps before going on to study at Magdalen College at the University of Oxford. Gilbert graduated in 1960 with a Bachelor of Arts degree with first-class honours in modern history.[4] One of his tutors at Oxford was A. J. P. Taylor. After his graduation, Gilbert undertook postgraduate research at St Antony's College, Oxford.


Historian and author

Further information: Bibliography of Winston Churchill § Official biographies by Randolph Churchill and Martin Gilbert

After two years of postgraduate work, Gilbert was approached by Randolph Churchill to assist his work on a biography of his father, Sir Winston Churchill. That same year, 1962, Gilbert was made a Fellow of Merton College, Oxford, and became a part of a circle of academics that included C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien. He spent the next few years combining his own research projects in Oxford with being part of Randolph's research team in Suffolk, who were working on the first two volumes of the Churchill biography. When Randolph died in 1968, Gilbert was commissioned to take over the task, completing the remaining six main volumes of the biography.[7]

Gilbert spent the next 20 years on the Churchill project, publishing a number of other books throughout the time. Each main volume of the biography is accompanied by two or three volumes of documents initially called Companions, and so the biography currently runs to 28 volumes (over 30,000 pages), with another 3 document volumes still planned. Michael Foot, reviewing a volume of Gilbert's biography of Churchill in the New Statesman in 1971, praised his meticulous scholarship and wrote: "Whoever made the decision to make Martin Gilbert Churchill's biographer deserves a vote of thanks from the nation. Nothing less would suffice."[citation needed]

In the 1960s, Gilbert compiled a number of historical atlases. His other major works include a single-volume history on the Holocaust, as well as the single-volume histories First World War and Second World War. He also wrote a three-volume series called A History of the Twentieth Century. Gilbert described himself as an "archival historian" who made extensive use of primary sources in his work.[7] Interviewed by the BBC on the subject of Holocaust research in 2005, Gilbert said he believed that the "tireless gathering of facts will ultimately consign Holocaust deniers to history."[8]

By the 1980s Gilbert's academic attention had also turned towards the Refusenik movement in the Soviet Union.[9] Gilbert authored Jews of Hope: The Plight of Soviet Jewry Today (1984) and Shcharansky: Hero of Our Time (1986), and he presented on behalf of the Soviet Jewry Movement in a variety of contexts, ranging from large forums such as formal representation before the United Nations Commission on Human Rights[10] to smaller forums such as an educational slideshow for the general public on behalf of the Soviet Jewry Information Centre.[11]

In 1995, Gilbert retired as a Fellow of Merton College but was made an Honorary Fellow. In 1999[12] he was awarded a Doctor of Letters degree by the University of Oxford "for the totality of his published work".[13] In 2000 he received the Guardian of Zion Award from the Ingeborg Rennert Center for Jerusalem Studies at Bar-Ilan University. From 2002, he was a Distinguished Fellow of Hillsdale College, Michigan, and between 2006 and 2007 he was a Professor in the History department at the University of Western Ontario. In October 2008, he was elected to an Honorary Fellowship at Churchill College.[citation needed]

Gilbert was noted for his endorsement of Bat Ye'or and her Eurabia theory, providing a cover comment for her 2005 book,[14] and has stated that the theory "is 100 percent accurate".[15] One of Gilbert's last books, In Ishmael's House: A History of the Jews in Muslim Lands cited Ye'or with approval several times.[16]

Public service

Gilbert was appointed in June 2009 as a member of the British government's inquiry into the Iraq War (headed by Sir John Chilcot). His appointment to this inquiry was criticised in parliament by William Hague, Clare Short, and George Galloway on the basis of scepticism over his neutrality, Gilbert having written in 2004 that George W. Bush and Tony Blair may in the future be esteemed to the same degree as Churchill and Franklin D. Roosevelt.[17][18] In an article for The Independent on Sunday published in November 2009, Oliver Miles, the former British ambassador to Libya, objected to the presence of Gilbert and Sir Lawrence Freedman on the committee partly because of their Jewish background and Gilbert's Zionist sympathies.[19] In a later interview, Gilbert saw Miles's attack as being motivated by antisemitism.[20]


Many laud Gilbert's books and atlases for their meticulous scholarship and his clear and objective presentation of complex events.[21] His book on World War I is described[by whom?] as a majestic, single-volume work incorporating all major fronts—domestic, diplomatic, military—for "a stunning achievement of research and storytelling."[22] Catholic sources describe him as a "fair-minded, conscientious collector of facts."[23]

Gilbert's portrayal of Churchill's supportive attitudes to Jews (in his book Churchill and the Jews) has been criticised, for example, by Piers Brendon[24] and Michael J. Cohen.[25] Furthermore, Tom Segev writes that although Gilbert's book The Story of Israel is written with "encyclopaedic clarity," it suffers from the absence of figures from Arab sources.[26]

Honours and awards

In 1990, Gilbert was made a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE). In 1995, he was awarded a knighthood "for services to British history and international relations".[27] In 2003 Gilbert was awarded the Dr. Leopold Lucas Prize by the University of Tübingen.[28][page needed] In 2012, he won the Dan David Prize for his contribution to "History/Biography".[29] The Sir Martin Gilbert Library at Highgate School, where he was a pupil, was opened on 6 May 2014 by former Prime Minister Gordon Brown.[30] "I know he helped Lady Thatcher, John Major and Tony Blair, but he also helped me a great deal with his insights into history", said Brown. "I know he advised Harold Wilson even before them, but at every point Martin was available and he wanted to believe that the best outcomes were possible. A genuine humanitarian, someone whose writing of history taught him we could always do better in the future if we are able to learn the lessons of history."[31]

Honorary degrees

Gilbert received honorary degrees from several universities. These include:[32]

Location Date School Degree
 Missouri 1981 Westminster College Doctor of Letters (D.Litt.)
 Israel 1989 Bar-Ilan University Doctorate[33]
 Ohio 1992 Hebrew Union College Doctorate
 England 1992 University of Buckingham Doctor of Letters (D.Litt.)[34]
 England 1999 University of Oxford Doctor of Letters (D.Litt.)
 District of Columbia 2000 George Washington University Doctor of Letters (D.Litt.)[35]
 Pennsylvania 2000 Gratz College Doctorate
 New Jersey 2002 Seton Hall University Doctorate
 Ontario 4 June 2003 University of Western Ontario Doctor of Laws (LL.D)[36]
 England 2004 University of Leicester Doctor of Letters (D.Litt.)[37]
 Israel 2004 Hebrew University of Jerusalem Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)[38]
 Israel 2011 Ben-Gurion University of the Negev Doctorate
This list is incomplete; you can help by adding missing items. (April 2018)


Gilbert was a Fellow of the following institutions:[32]

Location Date Institution Appointment
 United Kingdom 1977 Royal Society of Literature Fellowship (FRSL)[39]
 England 1994 Merton College, Oxford Honorary Fellowship
 Wales 1997 University of Wales, Lampeter Honorary Fellowship
 California 2002 University of California, San Diego Distinguished Visiting Fellow
 Michigan 2002 Hillsdale College Distinguished Fellow
 England 2008 Churchill College, Cambridge Honorary Fellowship
This list is incomplete; you can help by adding missing items. (April 2018)

Personal life

Gilbert was the target of a serious attempt by the State Protection Authority of Hungary to recruit him as an agent in the early 1960s. He initially responded warmly, and agreed to go on a Hungarian government-funded trip to Budapest in September 1961, and expressed views about Britain which seemed designed to impress his Hungarian hosts (mixed with some untruths about his background). The Hungarians attempted to intercept the many letters he sent back home during the trip, and were able to work out that Gilbert was lying about being a Communist. When invited to a further meeting in Paris, Gilbert did not show up and eventually when his intended handler defected to the West, the Hungarians gave up. Gilbert never explained the incident himself; writing about it in 2015, Hungarian historian Krisztián Ungváry noted that Gilbert must have realised what was going on, and may have been used by the British intelligence services to plant a double agent.[40]

In 1963, he married Helen Constance Robinson, with whom he had a daughter. He had two sons with his second wife, Susan Sacher, whom he married in 1974. From 2005, he was married to the Holocaust historian Esther Gilbert, née Goldberg.[4] Gilbert described himself as a proud practising Jew and a Zionist.[41]


In March 2012, while on a trip to Jerusalem, Gilbert developed a heart arrhythmia from which he never recovered.[42] He died in London on 3 February 2015, aged 78.[43] Gilbert asked to be buried in Israel, and a Memorial Tribute attended by Gordon Brown and Randolph Churchill (that is, Randolph Leonard Spencer-Churchill, the great-grandson of Winston Churchill) was organised on 24 November 2015 in the Western Marble Arch Synagogue, London.[44]

Gilbert's death was announced on 4 February 2015 by Sir John Chilcot. Giving evidence before the Foreign Affairs Select Committee about delays in the publication of the report of the Iraq Inquiry, Chilcot reported that Gilbert had died the previous night following a long illness.[45][46][47]


Biography of Winston Churchill

Volumes one and two were written by Churchill's son Randolph Churchill, who also edited the two companions to volume one. Gilbert's first work as official biographer was to supervise the posthumous publication of the three companions to volume two, but these were published in Randolph Churchill's name, and indeed, Randolph had already compiled most of the material in his lifetime. In 2008, Gilbert announced that the job of publishing the remaining companion volumes had been taken over by the Hillsdale Press, and the first of these appeared in 2014. The Hillsdale Press had already reprinted the complete biography in eight volumes and the sixteen published companion volumes, as a series titled "The Churchill Documents", so that the volume of 2014 became the seventeenth instalment of this series. Gilbert was incapacitated shortly after its publication, so that subsequent volumes were posthumously published by Gilbert's former research assistant Larry Arnn, with Gilbert credited as co-author.

Companion volumes

Other books on Winston Churchill

Other biographies and history books

See also


  1. ^ a b Gilbert, Martin, Author's message, archived from the original on 22 May 2009
  2. ^ "Obituaries". University of Oxford Gazette. 145 (5087): 379. 19 February 2015.
  3. ^ a b Stoffmann, Judy (20 February 2015). "Obituary: Churchill biographer Sir Martin Gilbert immersed himself in history]". The Globe and Mail. Retrieved 11 August 2020.
  4. ^ a b c The Papers of Sir Martin Gilbert, Churchill Archives Centre,
  5. ^ a b "Sir Martin Gilbert, historian – obituary". The Daily Telegraph. 4 February 2015. Archived from the original on 18 September 2017.
  6. ^ a b "Interview with Martin GilbertYuli Kosharovsky". Retrieved 23 October 2019.
  7. ^ a b Gott, Richard (4 February 2015). "Sir Martin Gilbert obituary". The Guardian. Archived from the original on 5 February 2015. Retrieved 23 October 2019.
  8. ^ Berg, Raffi (14 April 2005). "The fight against Holocaust denial". BBC News. Archived from the original on 20 April 2010. Retrieved 12 May 2010.
  9. ^ "Interview with Martin Gilbert by Yuli Kosharovsky, June 14, 2005". Archived from the original on 23 November 2015. Retrieved 22 November 2015.
  10. ^ Gross, Netty C. (3 March 2008). "Big Chill Remembered". The Jerusalem Report. Archived from the original on 23 November 2015. Retrieved 22 November 2015.
  11. ^ Gilbert, Martin (1984). ""A Children's Tale," slide show and presentation". Soviet Jewry Information Centre. Archived from the original on 4 July 2016. Retrieved 22 November 2015.
  12. ^ "Sir Martin Gilbert 1936–2015". University of Oxford. February 2015. Archived from the original on 13 April 2017. Retrieved 9 April 2017.
  13. ^ "Leave to supplicate for D.Litt". Oxford University Gazette. 24 September 1998. Archived from the original on 24 September 2015. Retrieved 4 May 2015.
  14. ^ Bangstad, Sindre (July 2013). "Eurabia Comes to Norway". Islam and Christian-Muslim Relations. 24 (3): 19. doi:10.1080/09596410.2013.783969. S2CID 145132618.
  15. ^ "One on One with Sir Martin Gilbert: Hindsight and aforethought". The Jerusalem Post. 22 February 2007.
  16. ^ "In The House Of Ishmael: A history Of The Jews In Muslim Land, By Martin Gilbert". The Independent. 3 December 2010.
  17. ^ "Parliamentary Debates" (PDF). c 808. 24 June 2009. Archived (PDF) from the original on 25 June 2009. Retrieved 29 July 2009.
  18. ^ Martin Gilbert "Statesmen for these times" Archived 4 February 2015 at the Wayback Machine, The Observer, 26 December 2004, originally published by Newsweek
  19. ^ Miles, Oliver (22 November 2009). "The key question – is Blair a war criminal?". The Independent on Sunday. London. Archived from the original on 14 January 2010. Retrieved 12 March 2021.
  20. ^ Cesarani, David (29 January 2010). "Britain's affair with antisemitism". The Guardian. London. Archived from the original on 9 September 2013. Retrieved 25 March 2010.
  21. ^ Book Reviews: Oxford Mail, Library Journal, Middle East Review, Booklist Chicago, British Book News, Society of University Cartographers Bulletin, The Diplomatist, Jewish Chronicle, Scunthorpe Evening Telegraph, Glasgow Jewish Echo, Geographical Magazine, Martin Gilbert, archived from the original on 6 April 2010
  22. ^ "Descriptions", Library thing, archived from the original on 19 May 2011
  23. ^ "A Rare Kind of Historian", Catholic exchange, 1 February 2008, archived from the original on 14 April 2013
  24. ^ "Churchill & the Jews, by Martin Gilbert", The Independent (review), London, archived from the original on 3 January 2011
  25. ^ Cohen, Michael J. (27 January 2017). "The Truth About Churchill and the Jews". Haaretz. Retrieved 3 May 2020.
  26. ^ "Sir Martin's coffee-table book", Ha’aretz, IL, 7 August 2008, archived from the original on 18 November 2013
  27. ^ "No. 54066". The London Gazette (Supplement). 16 June 1995. pp. 1–2.
  28. ^ Gilbert 2003b.
  29. ^ Prize, Dan David. "Martin Gilbert (October 1936 – February 2015)". Retrieved 3 November 2020.
  30. ^ "New Highgate School Library". Archived from the original on 4 February 2015. Retrieved 4 February 2015.
  31. ^ "Opening of Sir Martin Gilbert Library". 8 May 2014. Archived from the original on 4 February 2015. Retrieved 4 February 2015.
  32. ^ a b "Awards & Honours – Sir Martin Gilbert". Archived from the original on 14 April 2018. Retrieved 4 May 2018.
  33. ^ "Honorary Doctorate Recipients – Bar Ilan University". Archived from the original on 24 May 2017. Retrieved 4 May 2018.
  34. ^ "Honorary Graduates 1978 – 2000 | University of Buckingham". Archived from the original on 6 July 2017. Retrieved 14 April 2018.
  35. ^ "Honorary Degree Recipients – Office of the Provost – The George Washington University". Archived from the original on 15 February 2018. Retrieved 4 May 2018.
  36. ^ "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived (PDF) from the original on 5 March 2016. Retrieved 1 June 2017.((cite web)): CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  37. ^ vjh10. "Honorary Graduates – University of Leicester". University of Leicester. Archived from the original on 14 April 2018. Retrieved 4 May 2018.((cite web)): CS1 maint: numeric names: authors list (link)
  38. ^ "Honorary Doctorates – The Hebrew University of Jerusalem". Archived from the original on 11 February 2013. Retrieved 4 May 2018.
  39. ^ "Royal Society of Literature " Sir Martin Gilbert".
  40. ^ Ungvárya, Krisztián (4 August 2015). "England, Sir Martin Gilbert and Hungarian State Security" (PDF). Journal of Intelligence History. 15 (1): 1–16. doi:10.1080/16161262.2015.1061796. S2CID 146421634.
  41. ^ Brown, David (22 January 2010). "Chilcot inquiry member Sir Martin Gilbert praises Gordon Brown". The Times. London. Archived from the original on 5 June 2011. Retrieved 28 January 2010.
  42. ^ "Sir Martin Gilbert obituary Eminent historian who wrote the definitive biography of Winston Churchill". The Guardian. 3 February 2015. Archived from the original on 5 February 2015. Retrieved 3 February 2015.
  43. ^ "Martin Gilbert, preeminent Churchill biographer and Holocaust historian, dies". The Washington Post. 4 February 2015. Archived from the original on 7 November 2017.
  44. ^ "Sir Martin Gilbert Memorial Tribute". Sir Martin Gilbert. Retrieved 23 October 2019.
  45. ^ "Iraq Inquiry: Chilcot rejects calls for report timetable". BBC News. 4 February 2015. Archived from the original on 4 February 2015. Retrieved 4 February 2015.
  46. ^ "Iraq Inquiry panel member Sir Martin Gilbert dies aged 78". ITV News. 4 February 2015. Archived from the original on 4 February 2015. Retrieved 4 February 2015.
  47. ^ Doherty, Rosa (4 February 2015). "Historian Sir Martin Gilbert dies at 78". The Jewish Chronicle. London. Archived from the original on 4 February 2015. Retrieved 4 February 2015.
  48. ^ Alderman, Geoffrey (26 April 2002). "Review: Letters to Auntie Fori by Martin Gilbert". the Guardian. Retrieved 7 July 2023.