Plumb, Sir John Harold

Plumb, Sir John Harold

Plumb, Sir John Harold, 1911-, British historian. Educated at the universities of Leicester (B.A., 1933) and Cambridge (Ph.D., 1936), he remained at Cambridge as a research fellow (1938-46), a fellow, and a member of the university faculty (1946-). He was professor of modern English history (1966-74) and Master of Christ College (1978-82). Among his most important works are England in the Eighteenth Century (1950), The First Four Georges (1956), and biographies of Sir Robert Walpole (repr. 1972) and the earl of Chatham (2d ed. 1965). His recent works include a study of Elizabeth II (1980) and two volumes of essays (1989).
Sir John Harold Plumb (20 August191121 October2001), known as Jack, was a British historian, known for his books on British eighteenth century history. He authored over thirty books.


He was born in Leicester and educated at Alderman Newton's Grammar School, University College, Leicester and then Christ's College, Cambridge. His doctorate (1936) was supervised by G. M. Trevelyan; this was the unique occasion when Trevelyan accepted a student. He had a research fellowship at King's College, Cambridge just before World War II, during which he was at Bletchley Park where he headed a section working on a German Naval hand cipher, Reservehandverfahren.

He became a Fellow of Christ's College in 1946, remaining there. He was Master of the college from 1978 to 1982. He became Professor of Modern English History in the University in 1966. He was knighted in 1982.

In the 1960s he branched out as an editor, notably of The History of Human Society series. Contributors to his books included other well known historians like Morris Bishop, Jacob Bronowski and Maria Bellonci. Later Plumb worked on a television series about the British Royal family and the royal collections (Royal Heritage BBC 1977).


He is seen as mentor to a school of historians, having in common a wish to write accessible, broad-based work for the public: a generation of scholars that includes Roy Porter, Simon Schama, Linda Colley, David Cannadine and others, who came to prominence in the 1990s. He was champion of a 'social history' in a wide sense; he backed this up with a connoisseur's knowledge of some fields of the fine arts, such as Flemish painting and porcelain. This approach rubbed off on those he influenced, while he clashed unrepentantly with other historians (notably Cambridge colleague Geoffrey Elton) with a perspective from constitutional history whose emphasis was on more traditional scholarship.

Friends from his early life, C. P. Snow and William Cooper, portrayed him in novels; he also is known to be the model for a character in an Angus Wilson short story, The Wrong Set.


  • England in the Eighteenth Century (1950), Pelican Books, London, ISBN 0-14-020231-5
  • Chatham (1953)
  • Studies In Social History (1955)
  • The First Four Georges (1956)
  • Sir Robert Walpole (1956, 1960) in two volumes, sub-titled The Making of a Statesman and The King's Minister
  • The Italian Renaissance (1961, 1987, 2001), American Heritage, New York, ISBN 0-618-12738-0
  • Men And Places (1963)
  • Crisis in the Humanities (Ed., 1964) Penguin, Harmondsworth & Baltimore (responses to Snow's Two Cultures)
  • The Growth of Political Stability in England 1675-1725 (1967)
  • The Death Of The Past (1969)
  • In The Light Of History (1972)
  • The Commercialization of Leisure (1974)
  • Royal Heritage: The Treasure of the British Crown (1977)
  • The Making of a Historian (1988) essays
  • The American Experience (1989) essays.

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