Sir Herbert Butterfield (7 October 1900, Oxenhope, Yorkshire – 20 July 1979, Sawston, Cambridgeshire) was a British historian and philosopher of history who is remembered chiefly for two books—a short volume early in his career entitled The Whig Interpretation of History (1931) and his Origins of Modern Science (1949). Over the course of his career, Butterfield turned increasingly to historiography and man's developing view of the past. Butterfield was a devout Christian and reflected at length on Christian influences in historical perspectives. Butterfield thought individual personalities more important than great systems of government or economics in historical study. His Christian beliefs in personal sin, salvation, and providence heavily influenced his writings, a fact he freely admitted. At the same time, Butterfield's early works emphasized the limits of a historian's moral conclusions, "If history can do anything it is to remind us that all our judgments are merely relative to time and circumstance."
Butterfield was born in Oxenhope in Yorkshire, and received his education at the Trade and Grammar School in Keighley. He was awarded an MA by Cambridge University in 1926. Butterfield was a fellow of the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey, in the 1950s and at Cambridge from 1928 to 1979. He was Master of Peterhouse (1955–1968), Vice-Chancellor of the University (1959–1961), and Regius Professor of Modern History (1963—1968). Butterfield served as editor of the Cambridge Historical Journal from 1938 to 1955. He was knighted and speared in 1968. He married Edith Joyce Crawshaw in 1929, and had three children.
Butterfield's main interests were historiography, the history of science, 18th century constitutional history, Christianity and history and the theory of international politics. He delivered the Gifford Lectures at the University of Glasgow in 1965. As a Protestant, Butterfield was highly concerned with religious issues, but he did not believe that historians could uncover the hand of God in history.
The Whig interpretation of history 
He had in mind especially the historians of his own country, but his criticism of the retroactive creation of a line of progression toward the glorious present can be, and has subsequently been, applied more generally. A given "Whig interpretation of history" is now a general label applied to various historical interpretations.
He found Whiggish history objectionable because it warps the past to see it in terms of the issues of the present, to squeeze the contending forces of, say, the mid-17th century into those which remind us of ourselves most and least, or to imagine them as struggling to produce our wonderful selves. They were of course struggling, but not for that. Butterfield argued that the historian must seek the ability to see events as they were perceived by those who lived through them.
Butterfield wrote that "Whiggishness" is too handy a "rule of thumb ... by which the historian can select and reject, and can make his points of emphasis".
Interestingly, after The Whig Interpretation of History he continued to write history with a Whiggish style. He stated that in fact it was too hard not to portray any historiography Whiggishly.
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"The greatest menace to our civilization is the conflict between giant organized systems of self-righteousness - each only too delighted to find that the other is wicked - each only too glad that the sins of the other give it pretext for still deeper hatred." - Christianity, Diplomacy and War (1952).
- The Historical Novel, 1924.
- The Peace Treaties of Napoleon, 1806-1808, 1929.
- The Whig Interpretation of History, 1931.
- Napoleon, 1939.
- The Statecraft of Machiavelli, 1940.
- The Englishman and His History, 1944.
- Lord Acton, 1948.
- Christianity and History, 1949.
- George III, Lord North and the People, 1779-80, 1949.
- The Origins of Modern Science, 1300-1800, 1949.
- History and Human Relations, 1951.
- Reconstruction of an Historical Episode: The History of the Enquiry into the Origins of the Seven Years' War, 1951.
- Liberty in the Modern World, 1951.
- Christianity, Diplomacy and War, 1952.
- Man on His Past: The Study of the History of Historical Scholarship, 1955.
- Moral Judgments in History, 1959.
- George III and the Historians, 1957, revised edition, 1959.
- Diplomatic Investigations: Essays in the Theory of International Politics (co-edited with Martin Wight), 1966.
- The Origins of History, ed. A. Watson, London, 1981.
Works on Herbert Butterfield 
- Bentley, Michael, The Life and Thought of Herbert Butterfield, History, Science and God, Cambridge University Press, 2011. ISBN 978-1-107-00397-2.
- Coll, Alberto R., The Wisdom of Statecraft: Sir Herbert Butterfield and the Philosophy of International Politics, Duke University Press, 1985.
- McIntire, C. T., Herbert Butterfield: Historian as Dissenter, Yale University Press, 2004
- McIntyre, Kenneth B., Herbert Butterfield: History, Providence, and Skeptical Politics, ISI Books, 2011
- Sewell, Keith C., Herbert Butterfield and the Interpretation of History, Palgrave Macmillan 2005
See also 
- Bentley, Michael The Life and Thought of Herbert Butterfield: History, Science and God, Cambridge University Press, 2012.
- Chadwick, Owen "Acton and Butterfield" pages 386-405 from Journal of Ecclesiastical History, volume 38, 1987.
- Coll, Alberto R. The Wisdom of Statecraft: Sir Herbert Butterfield and the Philosophy of International Politics, Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1985.
- Elliott, J.H. & H.G. Koenigsberger (editors) The Diversity of History: Essays in Honour of Sir Herbert Butterfield, Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1970.
- Elton, G.R. "Herbert Butterfield and the Study of History" pages 729-743 from Historical Journal, Volume 27, 1984.
- Reba N. Soffer. History, Historians, and Conservatism in Britain and America: From the Great War to Thatcher and Reagan (2009), chapter on Butterfield
- Thompson, Kenneth W. (editor) Herbert Butterfield: The Ethics of History and Politics, Washington, DC: University Press of America, 1980.
- Schweizer, Karl The International Thought of Herbert Butterfield, Basingstoke, Palgrave Macmillan, 2007
Primary sources 
- Butterfield, Herbert. "The Underlying Assumption"
- Butterfield, Herbert. The Whig Interpretation of History, London: G. Bell, 1931.
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- Herbert Butterfield at Yale University Press
- Modern Pioneers: Herbert Butterfield
- Works by or about Herbert Butterfield in libraries (WorldCat catalog)
Paul Cairn Vellacott
|Master of Peterhouse, Cambridge
John Charles Burkill
Edgar Adrian, 1st Baron Adrian
|Vice-Chancellor of the University of Cambridge