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John Charmley

John Charmley

British historian
The basics
Quick Facts
Intro British historian
Countries United Kingdom
Occupations Historian Educator
Gender male
Birth 9 November 1955
Education Pembroke College
The details

John Denis Charmley FRHistS (born 9 November 1955) is a British diplomatic historian and a Professor of modern history at the University of East Anglia, where he was head of the School of History 2002 to 2012. Charmley's historical work has proved to be controversial, most notably his works on Churchill.


He was educated at Rock Ferry High School and Pembroke College, Oxford (BA, 1977; DPhil, 1982).

Views on the Second World War

Charmley's scholarship on Churchill is to some extent the reverse of the standard academic opinion. He finds Churchill's early years powerful and compelling, but believes that Churchill's alternative to appeasement was unrealistic and that his actions as Prime Minister in World War II were a failure. Charmley sees the resulting collapse of the British Empire, and the rise of the United States and the Soviet Union, as disastrous. Charmley appears to suggest that Britain should have negotiated with Nazi Germany in 1940, that it would have been possible to do so honourably and that it would have safeguarded the British Empire better than the alliance with the anti-colonial U.S. President Roosevelt did. Charmley retrospectively recommends "disengaging" from the war against Germany, and letting Stalin and Hitler whittle away each other's power rather than risk Britain's resources.

Charmley also believed that the extensive government control that Churchill presided over during the war laid the groundwork for British socialism and Labour Party victories, events which he considers undesirable. Charmley sums up his feelings in Churchill: The End of Glory:

Churchill stood for the British Empire, for British independence and for an 'anti-Socialist' vision of Britain. By July 1945 the first of these was on the skids, the second was dependent solely upon America and the third had just vanished in a Labour election victory.

Charmley has also tried to rehabilitate Neville Chamberlain. F.M. Leventhal, in a review of Chamberlain and the Lost Peace, suggested that while Charmley's work portrayed a courageous leader with "a deep and humane desire to leave no stone unturned to avoid war," Chamberlain's inability to recognise Hitler's ambition meant that "perhaps that is why Winston Churchill's reputation remains largely untarnished, while Chamberlain's, Charmley's initiative notwithstanding, cannot be resuscitated".


Most historians find Charmley's view of the situation of Britain in the Second World War implausible at best. Many historians argue that it is difficult to blame the fall of the British Empire on Churchill, as it was exceedingly likely to fall anyway. Scholars also find the idea of a truce with Germany unwise at best, considering that,as Richard M. Langworth wrote:

Every serious military account of the Second World War shows that Germany came within a hair of taking Russia out even as it was. With no enemy at his back, tying up materiel and divisions in the West; without Britain's campaign in Africa; without the Americans and British succoring Stalin by sea; without Roosevelt's courting war with Germany in the Atlantic, Hitler would have thrown everything he had into Russia. The siege of Leningrad, the attack on Moscow, the battle of Stalingrad would almost certainly have gone the other way, if not in 1941 then certainly by 1942.

A more general critique of the idea of making peace with Nazi Germany comes from Manfred Weidhorn:

Prudential (albeit immoral) as that solution might have been, the critics assume that [1] Hitler would deal; [2] the British Coalition government would let Churchill deal; [3] Hitler would be faithful to the deal; [4] Russia would have gone under; [5] America would keep out; [6] The British Empire still had a long way to go; [7] a Britain tied to Hitler would have remained democratic; [8] American hegemony is bad. As Langworth, Smith, et al. point out, most of these Charmley assumptions (1–3, 6–8) are dubious.

The military historian Correlli Barnett regards Charmley's views as "absurd ... that instead of going to war Britain could, and should, have lived with Wilhelmine Germany's domination of western Europe. This is glibly clever but actually preposterous as his claim ... that Britain could and should have unilaterally withdrawn into neutrality in 1940–41".

Later Work

Charmley's research has recently moved back into the 19th century. He has argued that Britain's entry into the First World War was not the culmination of a particular tradition of British foreign policy, but was, in fact, the result of misjudgements by Sir Edward Grey and other politicians. Some critics have found this argument as controversial as his opinions about Churchill.

In 2005 Charmley published a biographical study of the activities of Princess Lieven, the wife of the Russian Ambassador to London during the Regency period, in which he argued the case for taking her seriously as a "female politician".

In 2008 Charmley published A History of the Conservative Party Since 1830, in which he argues that historians have concentrated too much on Disraeli and Churchill, and have ignored the alternative Conservative tradition represented by the Earls of Derby.

John is currently head of the Interdisciplinary Institute for the Humanities, Associate Dean for Enterprise, and Director of Employability, at the University of East Anglia.


  • John Charmley, Duff Cooper (Weidenfeld, 1986). ISBN 0-297-78857-4.
  • John Charmley, Lord Lloyd and the Decline of the British Empire (Weidenfeld, 1987). ISBN 0-297-79205-9.
  • John Charmley, Chamberlain and the Lost Peace (Hodder and Stroughton, 1989). ISBN 978-0-929587-33-2.
  • John Charmley, Churchill: The End of Glory (Hodder and Stroughton, 1993). ISBN 978-1-56663-247-8.
  • John Charmley, Churchill's Grand Alliance 1940–1957 (Hodder and Stoughton, 1995). ISBN 978-0-15-127581-6.
  • John Charmley, A History of Conservative Politics 1900–1996 (MacMillan, 1996). ISBN 0-333-72283-3.
  • John Charmley, Splendid Isolation?: Britain and the Balance of Power 1874–1914 (Hodder and Stroughton, 1999). ISBN 978-0-340-65791-1.
  • John Charmley, "Chamberlain, Churchill and the End of Empire" in The Decline of Empires. (Wein, 2001). ISBN 3-7028-0384-X.
  • John Charmley, "Palmerston: Artful Old Dodger or Babe of Grace?" in The Makers of British Foreigh Policy from Pitt to Thatcher. (Palgrave Macmillan, 2002). ISBN 0-333-91579-8.
  • John Charmley, "What if Halifax Had Become Prime Minister in 1940?" in Prime Minister Portillo and Other Things that Never Happened: A Collection of Political Counterfactuals. (Portico's, 2003). ISBN 1-84275-069-0.
  • John Charmley, "From Splendid Isolation to Finest Hour: Britain as a Global Power, 1900–1950" in The Foreign Office and British Diplomacy in the Twentieth Century (Routledge, 2005). ISBN 0-7146-5679-8.
  • John Charmley, The Princess and the Politicians: Sex, Intrigue and Diplomacy, 1812–40 (Viking, 2005). ISBN 0-670-88964-4.
  • John Charmley, A History of Conservative Politics since 1830. (Palgrave Macmillan, 2008). ISBN 978-0-333-92973-5.
  • John Charmley, "Unravelling Silk: Princess Lieven, Metternich and Castlereagh" in A Living Anachronism? European Diplomacy and the Habsburg Monarchy. (Bohlau: Vienna, 2010). pp. 15–29. ISBN 978-3-205-78510-1.
  • John Charmley, "Neville Chamberlain and the Consequences of the Churchillian Hegemony" in Origins of the Second World War: An International Perspective. (Continuum, 2011). p. 448. ISBN 978-1-4411-6443-8.

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