Basil Williams (historian)

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(Arthur Frederick) Basil Williams OBE (4 April 1867 – 5 January 1950) was an English historian.

Williams was born in London, the son of a barrister. He was educated at Marlborough College and then read Classics at New College, Oxford. He was a clerk in the House of Commons. One of his duties was to attend the parliamentary committee of inquiry into the responsibility for the Jameson raid, and he became familiar with Cecil Rhodes, whose biography he later wrote.

Williams served in the Second Boer War, where one of his companions was Erskine Childers, of whom he later wrote a memoir. In 1905 he married Dorothy Caulfield. She died two years before him.

Williams came back to the UK briefly, then returned to South Africa as a civilian, in the service of Lord Milner. He also worked as an assistant to Lionel Curtis, the town clerk of Johannesburg. During World War I, he served as an education officer in the Royal Field Artillery and in 1919 was awarded the O.B.E. for his services.

Williams had already made an impression as an academic, with a series of articles on Sir Robert Walpole's foreign policy in the English Historical Review (1900-1). He became Kingsford Professor of History at McGill University in 1921, and then Professor of history at Edinburgh University from 1925 to 1937 when he retired. In 1935 he was elected a Fellow of the British Academy. He wrote biographies of William Pitt, Earl of Chatham (1913), and Stanhope (1932), Carteret and Newcastle (1943). He retained his interest in South Africa, and this became a secondary sphere of historical interest. In 1946 he produced a book on Botha, Smuts and South Africa. He also contributed a volume entitled The Whig Supremacy to The Oxford History of England, later updated by C. H. Stuart.