Michael Howard (historian)

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Michael Howard (historian) : biography

29 November 1922 –

Sir Michael Eliot Howard, (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.

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 EraThe Lecture is published in a Dutch translation, as: 1945: Einde van een tijdperk? (1986) Amsterdam: Bert Bakker. ISBN 90-351-0352-1.

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.


  • 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.
  • 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].
  • 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].
  • 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.
  • 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
  • Liberation or Catastrophe?: Reflections on the History of the 20th Century, 2007

Early life

Howard born on 29 November 1922 in the village of Ashmore, near Salisbury. 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.

He was commissioned into the Coldstream Guards on 4 December 1942 as a second lieutenant. He was given the service number 253901. He fought in the Italian Campaign of World War II. On 27 January 1944, he was awarded the Military Cross (MC) "in recognition of gallant and distinguished services in Italy".

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 Britons 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.