Godfrey Elton, 1st Baron Elton

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Godfrey Elton, 1st Baron Elton (29 March 1892 – 18 April 1973), was a British historian.

Early life[edit]

Elton was the eldest son of Edward Fiennes Elton and his wife Violet Hylda Fletcher. He was educated at Rugby and Balliol College, Oxford. At Oxford he at first studied classics but later turned to history. However, he never took his history finals as, following the outbreak of World War I, he was commissioned into the 4th Hampshire Regiment in September 1914. He fought in Mesopotamia in the First World War and was wounded during the siege of Kut-el-Amara. After Kut fell in April 1916 he was taken prisoner by the Turks. After the war Elton was elected a Fellow of Queen's College, Oxford in 1919, and was lecturer in modern history from 1919 to 1939, dean of the college between 1921 and 1923 and tutor from 1927 to 1934. In 1923 he published The Revolutionary Idea in France, 1789-1878.

Political career[edit]

Elton was also involved in politics. He joined the Labour Party shortly after the end of the war and stood unsuccessfully for Thornbury in the 1924 and 1929 general elections. He was a strong supporter of Ramsay MacDonald, whose son Malcolm MacDonald had been his pupil at Oxford, and followed him into National Labour. In 1934, on Macdonald's initiative, he was raised to the peerage as Baron Elton, of Headington in the County of Oxford. Elton's somewhat controversial elevation to the peerage caused fellow historian Lewis Namier to remark: "In the eighteenth-century peers made their tutors under-secretaries; in the twentieth under-secretaries make their tutors peers" (Malcolm MacDonald was at the time serving as Under-Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs). Lord Elton was a frequent speaker in the House of Lords and a member of several government committees.

Rhodes Trust[edit]

In 1939 Elton gave up his teaching fellowship at Queen's College and the same year he became secretary of the Rhodes Trust, a post he held until 1959.


Elton was the author of several books, notably a biography of Ramsay MacDonald, entitled The Life of James Ramsay MacDonald 1866-1919. In 1938 he published his autobiography, Among Others.

Personal life[edit]

Lord Elton married Dedi, daughter of Gustav Hartmann of Oslo, Norway, in 1921. They had three children, one son and two daughters. He died in April 1973, aged 81, and was succeeded in the barony by his only son Rodney, who became a Conservative government minister. Lady Elton died in 1977.



Peerage of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
New creation
Baron Elton Succeeded by
Rodney Elton