Martin Gilbert

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Sir Martin Gilbert

MartinGilbertBGUHonDoctor crop.jpg
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
Education Highgate School
Alma mater Magdalen College, Oxford
St Antony's College, Oxford.
OccupationHistorian, author
Known for Winston Churchill's official biography
Twentieth century history
Jewish history

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

Historian person who studies and writes about the past

A historian is a person who studies and writes about the past, and is regarded as an authority on it. Historians are concerned with the continuous, methodical narrative and research of past events as relating to the human race; as well as the study of all history in time. If the individual is concerned with events preceding written history, the individual is a historian of prehistory. Some historians are recognized by publications or training and experience. "Historian" became a professional occupation in the late nineteenth century as research universities were emerging in Germany and elsewhere.

Merton College, Oxford college of the University of Oxford

Merton College is one of the constituent colleges of the University of Oxford in England. Its foundation can be traced back to the 1260s when Walter de Merton, chancellor to Henry III and later to Edward I, first drew up statutes for an independent academic community and established endowments to support it. An important feature of Walter's foundation was that this "college" was to be self-governing and the endowments were directly vested in the Warden and Fellows.

Winston Churchill Prime Minister of the United Kingdom

Sir Winston Leonard Spencer-Churchill, was a British politician, army officer, and writer. He was Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1940 to 1945, when he led Britain to victory in the Second World War, and again from 1951 to 1955. Churchill represented five constituencies during his career as a Member of Parliament (MP). Ideologically an economic liberal and British imperialist, for most of his career he was a member of the Conservative Party, which he led from 1940 to 1955, but from 1904 to 1924 was instead a member of the Liberal Party.


Early life

Gilbert was born in London, the first child of Peter Gilbert, a north London jeweller, and his wife Miriam; their original family name was Goldberg. [2] [3] All four of his grandparents had been born in the Pale of Settlement in Tsarist Russia (today's Poland and Lithuania). [2] [4] [5] 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]

London Capital of the United Kingdom

London is the capital and largest city of the United Kingdom. Standing on the River Thames in the south-east of England, at the head of its 50-mile (80 km) estuary leading to the North Sea, London has been a major settlement for two millennia. Londinium was founded by the Romans. The City of London, London's ancient core − an area of just 1.12 square miles (2.9 km2) and colloquially known as the Square Mile − retains boundaries that follow closely its medieval limits. The City of Westminster is also an Inner London borough holding city status. Greater London is governed by the Mayor of London and the London Assembly.

Pale of Settlement Forced distribution of Jewish population in the Russian Empire

The Pale of Settlement was a western region of Imperial Russia with varying borders that existed from 1791 to 1917, in which permanent residency by Jews was allowed and beyond which Jewish residency, permanent or temporary, was mostly forbidden. Most Jews were still excluded from residency in a number of cities within the Pale as well. A limited number of Jews were allowed to live outside the area, including those with university education, the ennobled, members of the most affluent of the merchant guilds and particular artisans, some military personnel and some services associated with them, including their families, and sometimes the servants of these. The archaic English term pale is derived from the Latin word palus, a stake, extended to mean the area enclosed by a fence or boundary.

Russian Empire Former country, 1721–1917

The Russian Empire, also known as Imperial Russia or simply Russia, was an empire that existed across Eurasia and North America from 1721, following the end of the Great Northern War, until the Republic was proclaimed by the Provisional Government that took power after the February Revolution of 1917.

After the war, Gilbert attended Highgate School, where he was taught history by the Balkan expert Alan Palmer, and politics by T. N. Fox. [4] 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." [5] 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. [3] One of his tutors at Oxford was A. J. P. Taylor. After his graduation, Gilbert undertook postgraduate research at St Antony's College, Oxford.

Highgate School

Highgate School, formally Sir Roger Cholmeley's School at Highgate, is a British co-educational independent day school, founded in 1565 in Highgate, London, England. It educates over 1,400 pupils in three sections – Highgate Pre-Preparatory School, Highgate Junior School and the Senior School (11+) – which together comprise the Highgate Foundation. As part of its wider work the charity was from 2010 a founding partner of the London Academy of Excellence and it is now also the principal education sponsor of an associated Academy, the London Academy of Excellence Tottenham, which opened in September 2017. The principal business sponsor is Tottenham Hotspur FC. The charity also funds the Chrysalis Partnership, a scheme supporting 26 state schools in six London boroughs.

Balkans geopolitical and cultural region of southeastern Europe

The Balkans, also known as the Balkan Peninsula, is a geographic area in southeastern Europe with various definitions and meanings, including geopolitical and historical. The region takes its name from the Balkan Mountains that stretch throughout the whole of Bulgaria from the Serbian-Bulgarian border to the Black Sea coast. The Balkan Peninsula is bordered by the Adriatic Sea on the northwest, the Ionian Sea on the southwest, the Aegean Sea in the south and southeast, and the Black Sea on the east and northeast. The northern border of the peninsula is variously defined. The highest point of the Balkans is Mount Musala, 2,925 metres (9,596 ft), in the Rila mountain range.

Alan Warwick Palmer is a British author of historical and biographical books.


Historian and author

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. 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. [6]

Randolph Churchill British politician, son of British Prime Minister Winston Churchill

Randolph Frederick Edward Spencer-Churchill was a British journalist, writer and a Conservative Member of Parliament (MP) for Preston from 1940 to 1945.

Biography account of a persons life written by another person

A biography, or simply bio, is a detailed description of a person's life. It involves more than just the basic facts like education, work, relationships, and death; it portrays a person's experience of these life events. Unlike a profile or curriculum vitae (résumé), a biography presents a subject's life story, highlighting various aspects of his or her life, including intimate details of experience, and may include an analysis of the subject's personality.

A research fellow is an academic research position at a university or a similar research institution, usually for academic staff or faculty members. A research fellow may act either as an independent investigator or under the supervision of a principal investigator.

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 ]

Michael Foot British politician

Michael Mackintosh Foot was a British Labour Party politician and man of letters. Foot began his career as a journalist, on Tribune and the Evening Standard. He co-wrote the classic polemic against appeasement of Adolf Hitler, Guilty Men, under a pseudonym.

<i>New Statesman</i> British political and cultural magazine

The New Statesman is a British political and cultural magazine published in London. Founded as a weekly review of politics and literature on 12 April 1913, it was connected then with Sidney and Beatrice Webb and other leading members of the socialist Fabian Society, such as George Bernard Shaw who was a founding director. They had supported The New Age, a journal edited by A. R. Orage, but by 1912 that journal moved away editorially from supporting Fabian politics and women's suffrage.

In the 1960s, Gilbert compiled some historical atlases. His other major works include a definitive single-volume history on the Holocaust, as well as the single-volume histories The First World War and The 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. [6] 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." [7]

The Holocaust Genocide of the European Jews by Nazi Germany and other groups

The Holocaust, also known as the Shoah, was a genocide in which Nazi Germany, aided by its collaborators, systematically murdered some six million European Jews—around two-thirds of the Jewish population of Europe—between 1941 and 1945, during World War II. Jews were targeted for extermination as part of a larger event during the Holocaust era, in which Germany and its collaborators persecuted and murdered other groups, including Slavs, the Roma, the "incurably sick", political and religious dissenters such as communists and Jehovah's Witnesses, and gay men. Taking into account all the victims of Nazi persecution, the death toll rises to over 17 million.

The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) is a British public service broadcaster. Its headquarters are at Broadcasting House in Westminster, London, and it is the world's oldest national broadcasting organisation and the largest broadcaster in the world by number of employees. It employs over 20,950 staff in total, 16,672 of whom are in public sector broadcasting. The total number of staff is 35,402 when part-time, flexible, and fixed-contract staff are included.

By the 1980s Gilbert's academic attention had also turned towards the Refusenik movement in the Soviet Union. [8] 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 [9] to smaller forums such as an educational slideshow for the general public on behalf of the Soviet Jewry Information Centre. [10]

In 1995, Gilbert retired as a Fellow of Merton College but was made an Honorary Fellow. In 1999 [11] he was awarded a Doctor of Letters degree by the University of Oxford "for the totality of his published work". [12] 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 ]

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. [13] [14] 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. [15] In a later interview, Gilbert saw Miles's attack as being motivated by antisemitism. [16]

As the Iraq inquiry was to be conducted on Privy Council terms, Gilbert (who was not previously a Privy Counsellor) was appointed to the council in order to participate. [17]


Many[ who? ] laud Gilbert's books and atlases for their meticulous scholarship and his clear and objective presentation of complex events. [18] 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." [19] Catholic sources describe him as a "fair-minded, conscientious collector of facts." [20]

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. [21] Also, Tom Segev writes that, although Gilbert's book The Story of Israel is written with "encyclopedic clarity," it suffers by the absence of figures from Arab sources. [22]

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". [23] In 2003 Gilbert was awarded the Dr. Leopold Lucas Prize by the University of Tübingen and the Dan David Prize in 2012. [24] [ page needed ] 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. [25] "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." [26]

Honorary degrees

Gilbert received honorary degrees from several universities. These include:

Flag of Missouri.svg Missouri1981 Westminster College Doctor of Letters (D.Litt)
Flag of Israel.svg Israel1989 Bar-Ilan University Doctorate [27]
Flag of Ohio.svg Ohio1992 Hebrew Union College Doctorate
Flag of England.svg England1992 University of Buckingham Doctor of Letters (D.Litt) [28]
Flag of England.svg England1999 University of Oxford Doctor of Letters (D.Litt)
Flag of Washington, D.C..svg District of Columbia2000 George Washington University Doctor of Letters (D.Litt) [29]
Flag of Pennsylvania.svg Pennsylvania2000 Gratz College Doctorate
Flag of New Jersey.svg New Jersey2002 Seton Hall University Doctorate
Flag of Ontario.svg Ontario4 June 2003 University of Western Ontario Doctor of Laws (LL.D) [30]
Flag of England.svg England2004 University of Leicester Doctor of Letters (D.Litt) [31]
Flag of Israel.svg Israel2004 Hebrew University of Jerusalem Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D) [32]
Flag of Israel.svg Israel2011 Ben-Gurion University of the Negev Doctorate



Flag of the United Kingdom.svg United Kingdom1977 Royal Society of Literature Fellowship (FRSL) [34]
Flag of England.svg England1994 Merton College, Oxford Honorary Fellowship
Flag of Wales (1959-present).svg Wales1997 University of Wales, Lampeter Honorary Fellowship
Flag of California.svg California2002 University of California, San Diego Distinguished Visiting Fellow
Flag of Michigan.svg Michigan2002 Hillsdale College Distinguished Fellow
Flag of England.svg England2008 Churchill College, Cambridge Honorary Fellowship


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. [35]

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. [3] Gilbert described himself as a proud practising Jew and a Zionist. [36]


In March 2012, while on a trip to Jerusalem, Gilbert developed a heart arrhythmia from which he never recovered. [37] He died in London aged 78. [38] 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. [39]

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. [40] [41] [42]

Titles from birth to death


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

  • Gilbert, Martin (1972a), Winston S Churchill, Three, Documents (in two volumes)
  • (1977a), Winston S Churchill, Four, Documents (in three volumes)
  • (1979b), Winston S Churchill, The Exchequer Years, 1922–1929, Documents
  • (1981a), Winston S Churchill, The Wilderness Years, 1929–1935, Documents
  • (1982a), Winston S Churchill, The Coming of War, 1936–1939, Documents
  • (1993a), The Churchill War Papers, One: Winston S Churchill, 'At The Admiralty': September 1939 – May 1940
  • (1995a), The Churchill War Papers, Two: Winston S Churchill, 'Never Surrender': May – December 1940
  • (2000a), The Churchill War Papers, Three: Winston S Churchill, 'The Ever-Widening War': 1941
  • (2014), The Churchill Documents, Seventeen: Testing Times: 1942
  • ; Arnn, Larry (2015), The Churchill Documents, Eighteen: One Continent Redeemed, January-August 1943
  • ; Arnn, Larry (2017), The Churchill Documents, Nineteen: Fateful Questions, September 1943-April 1944
  • ; Arnn, Larry (2018), The Churchill Documents, Twenty: Normandy and Beyond, May-December 1944

Other books on Winston Churchill

Other biographies and history books

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  39. See
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