Michael Howard (historian)

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Sir Michael Howard
Born Michael Eliot Howard
(1922-11-29) 29 November 1922 (age 99)
Ashmore, Dorset
Education Wellington College
Alma mater Christ Church, Oxford
Occupation Historian
Known for expanding military history beyond the traditional campaigns and battles accounts by examining the sociological significance of war
Title Regius Professor of Modern History
Term 1980–1989
Predecessor Hugh Trevor-Roper
Successor John Elliott
Partner(s) Mark Anthony James (Civil Partnership: 2006 – present)[1]

Sir Michael Eliot Howard OM, CH, CBE, MC, FBA[2] (born 29 November 1922) is a British military historian, formerly Chichele Professor of the History of War, Emeritus Fellow of All Souls College, Regius Professor of Modern History at Oxford University, Robert A. Lovett Professor of Military and Naval History at Yale University and founder of the Department of War Studies, King's College London.

Howard has been described in the Financial Times as "Britain's greatest living historian".[3]

Early life

Howard was born on 29 November 1922 in the village of Ashmore in Dorset. He was the youngest son of Geoffrey Howard and Edith (née Edinger). He was educated at Wellington College and Christ Church, University of Oxford (with service in World War II in between). He graduated with a Bachelor of Arts (BA) degree in 1946, which was later promoted to Master of Arts (MA) in 1948.[1]

Howard joined the British Army and was commissioned as a 2nd lieutenant into the Coldstream Guards on 4 December 1942. He was given the service number 253901.[4] He fought in the Italian Campaign, serving with the 3rd Battalion, Coldstream Guards, coming ashore during the landings at Salerno. On 27 January 1944, he was awarded the Military Cross (MC) "in recognition of gallant and distinguished services in Italy".[5]

After Oxford, Howard began his teaching career at King's College London, where he created the Department of War Studies. From his position at King's he was one of the Britain's most influential in developing strategic studies as a discipline that brought together government, military, and academia to think about defence and national security more broadly and deeply than had been done before. He was one of the founders of the International Institute for Strategic Studies. From his family, education, and service in the Guards, he had extensive connections at the higher levels of British society, and he worked them astutely to further his intellectual goals. He had close connections in the Labour Party but was also consulted as an advisor by Margaret Thatcher.

Historical writing

Howard is best known for expanding military history beyond the traditional campaigns and battles accounts to include wider discussions about the sociological significance of war. In his account of the Franco-Prussian War of 1870–71, Howard looked at how the Prussian and French armies reflected the social structure of the two nations. He has also been a leading interpreter of the writings of the German military thinker Carl von Clausewitz, including preparing the leading translation of On War with the American historian Peter Paret. In addition, in both his inaugural and concluding lectures as Regius Professor, and in his popular and influential War in European History, Howard has stressed the difference between traditional military history, which seeks to identify easily applicable lessons for the present from the history of past wars and military campaigns, and his own approach, which stresses the uniqueness of the historical past and the impossibility of deriving such lessons to guide modern strategic and tactical choices.

In 1985, he delivered the Huizinga Lecture in the Dutch city of Leiden, under the title: 1945: End of an Era.[6]

Howard helped found the Department of War Studies and the Liddell Hart Centre for Military Archives at King's College London. He is currently president emeritus of the International Institute for Strategic Studies, which he also helped to establish, and a fellow of the British Academy. Howard was knighted in 1986 and was appointed to the Order of the Companions of Honour in 2002 and to the Order of Merit in 2005.

Howard was criticised for racist remarks. One example is his comments on the lack of justification of the Anglo-Boer War (1899–1902) that he said on an episode of Newsnight in 1999: "Yes, this is so, but it need not distress us too much. The Boers were not a particularly attractive people. Just because they were small, all kinds of virtues were attributed to them which they did not necessarily possess". He was rebuked in Alexander Kok's book, Not Particularly Attractive People?[7]


  • The Coldstream Guards, co-written with John Sparrow, 1920–1946, 1951.
  • Disengagement in Europe, 1958.
  • The Franco-Prussian War: The German Invasion of France, 1870–1871, 1961. Republished by Methuen, 1981. ISBN 0-416-30750-7 OCLC 8008934
  • Lord Haldane and the Territorial Army, 1967.
  • The Mediterranean Strategy in the Second World War, 1967.
  • Grand Strategy, August 1942 – September 1943, Volume IV, Grand Strategy series, History of the Second World War (1970)
  • Studies in War and Peace, 1970.
  • The Continental Commitment: The Dilemma of British Defence Policy in the Era of Two World Wars, 1972.
  • War in European History, 1976 [latest revised edition, 2009]. ISBN 0-192-89095-6 OCLC 251597992
  • Carl von Clausewitz, On War, 1977, edited and translated by M. E. Howard and Peter Paret.
  • Soldiers and Governments: Nine Studies in Civil Military Relations, 1978.
  • War and the Liberal Conscience, 1978 [new edition, 2008].
  • Restraints on War: Studies in the Limitation of Armed Conflict, 1979 edited by M. E. Howard.
  • Clausewitz, 1983 [originally a volume in the Oxford University Press "Past Masters" series, reissued in 2000 as Clausewitz: A Very Short Introduction]. ISBN 0-192-87608-2 OCLC 8709266
  • The Causes of War Harvard University Press; 2 edition (1 January 1984)
  • Strategic Deception in World War II, 1990, (Volume 5 of British Intelligence in the Second World War; series edited by F. H. Hinsley; Cambridge University Press). ISBN 0-521-40145-3
  • The Lessons of History, 1989.
  • The Laws of War: Constraints on Warfare in the Western World, edited by M. E Howard, George J. Andrepoulous and Mark R. Schulman. ISBN 0-300-05899-3 OCLC 30473599
  • The Invention of Peace, 2000.
  • The First World War, 2003 [reissued as The First World War: A Very Short Introduction, 2007].
  • Captain Professor: A Life in War and Peace (autobiography), 2006 ISBN 0-826-49125-1 OCLC 64313950
  • Liberation or Catastrophe?: Reflections on the History of the 20th Century, 2007


  1. 1.0 1.1 "HOWARD, Sir Michael (Eliot)". Who's Who 2012. A & C Black. December 2011. Retrieved 30 October 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. "Public Affairs Directorate". ox.ac.uk.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. Max Hastings (13 September 2013). "Max Hastings' brief history of war". The Financial Times. Retrieved 14 September 2013. Unknown parameter |registration= ignored (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 35880. p. 531. 26 January 1943. Retrieved 2012-10-30.
  5. The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 36349. p. 518. 25 January 1944. Retrieved 2012-10-30.
  6. The Lecture is published in a Dutch translation, as: 1945: Einde van een tijdperk? (1986) Amsterdam: Bert Bakker. ISBN 90-351-0352-1.
  7. "Not Particularly Attractive People?". google.co.za.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>


  • Freedman, Lawrence; Hayes, Paul & O'Neil, Robert War, Strategy and International Politics: Essays in Honour of Sir Michael Howard, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992. OCLC 25281770 Also available as an e-book. OCLC 700983052
  • Skaggs, David Curtis "Michael Howard and the Dimensions Of Military History" pages 179–183 from Military Affairs, Volume 49, 1985.

External links

Academic offices
Preceded by
New position
Head of Department of War Studies, KCL
Succeeded by
Sir Laurence Martin