C. R. M. F. Cruttwell

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C. R. M. F. Cruttwell
Cruttwell as portrayed in Isis, March 1924 alongside a satirical article by Evelyn Waugh
Born Charles Robert Mowbray Fraser Cruttwell
(1887-05-23)23 May 1887
Denton, Norfolk, England
Died 14 March 1941(1941-03-14) (aged 53)
Stapleton, near Bristol, England
Education Rugby School
The Queen's College, Oxford
Occupation Academic historian and college principal
Parent(s) The Rev. Charles Thomas Cruttwell and Annie Maud Cruttwell

Charles Robert Mowbray Fraser Cruttwell (23 May 1887 – 14 March 1941) was a British historian and academic who served as dean and later principal of Hertford College, Oxford. His field of expertise was modern European history, his most notable work being A History of the Great War, 1914–18. He is mainly remembered, however, for the vendetta pursued against him by the novelist Evelyn Waugh, in which Waugh showed his distaste for his former tutor by repeatedly using the name "Cruttwell" in his early novels and stories to depict a sequence of unsavoury or ridiculous characters. The prolonged minor humiliation thus inflicted may have contributed to Cruttwell's eventual mental breakdown.

After gaining first-class honours at The Queen's College, Oxford, Cruttwell was elected a Fellow of All Souls College, Oxford in 1911, and the following year became a lecturer in history at Hertford College. His academic career was interrupted by war service during which he suffered severe wounds; after his return to Oxford in 1919 he became dean of Hertford, and in 1930, principal of the college. It was during his tenure as dean that the feud with Waugh developed while the latter was a history scholar at Hertford, in 1922–24. This hostility was pursued on Waugh's part until shortly before Cruttwell's death.

Cruttwell's term as Hertford's principal saw the production of his most important scholarly works, including his war history which earned him the degree of DLitt. Beyond his college and academic duties Cruttwell held various administrative offices within the university, and was a member of its Hebdomadal Council, or ruling body. In private life Cruttwell served as a Justice of the Peace in Hampshire, where he had a country home, and stood unsuccessfully for the university's parliamentary seat in the 1935 general election, representing the Conservative party. Ill-health, aggravated by his war injuries, caused his retirement from the Hertford principalship in 1939. A mental collapse led to his committal to an institution, where he died two years later.

Early life and career[edit]

Cruttwell was born on 23 May 1887, in the village of Denton, Norfolk, the eldest of three sons of the Rev. Charles Thomas Cruttwell, Rector of St Mary's Church.[1][2] The elder Cruttwell was a scholar and historian of Roman literature; his wife Annie (née Mowbray), was the daughter of Sir John Mowbray, who served as Conservative Member of Parliament for Durham from 1853 to 1868 and for one of the two Oxford University parliamentary seats from 1868 to 1899.[2][3] Cruttwell was educated at Rugby School, where in 1906 he won a scholarship to Queen's College, Oxford, to read classics and history. At Queen's, Cruttwell enjoyed considerable academic success, including a first class honours degree in modern history. In 1911 he was elected to a fellowship at All Souls College and a year later was appointed to a history lectureship at Hertford College.[2]

On the outbreak of the First World War in August 1914, Cruttwell enlisted in the Royal Berkshire Regiment and was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant. He fought in France and Belgium, until a severe leg wound in 1916 ended his front line military service.[2] Apart from its physical effects, Cruttwell's experience in the trenches seemingly inflicted permanent psychological damage on his personality, replacing the general good manners of his youth with a short-tempered, impatient and bullying character.[4] The novelist Evelyn Waugh, an undergraduate at Hertford in the 1920s, wrote later that "It was as though he had never cleansed himself from the muck of the trenches".[5] In the latter part of the war, Cruttwell was employed in the military intelligence department at the War Office in London, before returning to Oxford in 1919.[2] In 1922, he published a short history of his regiment's wartime exploits.[6]

Hertford College[edit]

The Quadrangle, Hertford College, Oxford

On his return to Hertford College, Cruttwell was elected to a fellowship in modern history and a year later was appointed Hertford's Dean, responsible for general discipline within the college; he held this post for five years. He also became active in the administration of Oxford University and was elected to its ruling body, the Hebdomadal Council. He served as a university statutory commissioner and was one of several academics nominated by the Vice-Chancellor as delegates to the Oxford University Press.[2]

Cruttwell's administrative competence was recognised in 1930, when he was elected principal of Hertford College. In this office, he helped to establish the university's geography school and arranged that the first Oxford professorship in geography was based at Hertford. During his tenure as principal, he completed his most significant academic works, including his Great War history (1934) which earned him the Oxford degree of DLitt.[2] In 1936 Cruttwell delivered the Lees-Knowles Lecture at Trinity College, Cambridge, under the title "The Role of British Strategy in the Great War".[7] In the same year he published a biography of the Duke of Wellington and in 1937 produced his final major academic work, A History of Peaceful Change in the Modern World. An attempt in 1935 to emulate his grandfather and become one of the university's members of parliament failed when, as a Conservative candidate in the general election of 1935, Cruttwell was defeated. An Independent, A. P. Herbert, beat him on the third ballot in a single transferable vote system.[2] This was the first time since the 1860s, that a Conservative had failed to hold either of the two university seats, a humiliation noted with relish by Waugh who harboured a deep hostility towards his former tutor.[8][9] According to The Times, Cruttwell had underestimated the nature and determination of the opposition and had taken his election as a Conservative for granted.[10] In first preferences, he came bottom of the poll with only 1,803 votes, while his Conservative running mate, Lord Hugh Cecil, gained 7,365, almost five times as many. Because he polled less than one-eighth of the first ballot votes, Cruttwell forfeited his deposit.[11]

Feud with Evelyn Waugh[edit]

Evelyn Waugh circa 1940. Waugh continued to mock Cruttwell in his fiction until 1939, shortly before the latter's final illness and death.

Waugh joined Hertford College on a scholarship, in January 1922. He had received a congratulatory letter from Cruttwell welcoming him to the college and complimenting him on his English prose: "about the best of any of the Candidates in the group".[12] Despite this warmth, Waugh's initial impressions of his tutor were unfavourable—"not at all the kind of don for whom I had been prepared by stories of Jowett."[13] The first recorded clash between them came early in Waugh's first term; in a letter to his school friend Dudley Carew, Waugh reports that his tutor verbally abused him for a Latin mistranslation with the words "Damn you, you're a scholar!"[14] The main basis for the rift that rapidly developed was Waugh's increasingly casual attitude towards his scholarship. Whereas Cruttwell saw the scholarship as a commitment to hard and devoted study, Waugh considered it a reward for his successful school studies and a passport to a life of pleasure.[15] To the detriment of his work, Waugh involved himself in a range of university activities: the Oxford Union, the Hertford debating society, journalism and drawings for the undergraduate papers Isis and Cherwell, and a hectic social life.[16] In his third term, he was brusquely advised by Cruttwell that he should take his studies more seriously, a warning which Waugh chose to interpret as an insult. "I think it was from then on that our mutual dislike became incurable", he later wrote.[13]

During his remaining time at Hertford, Waugh missed few opportunities to ridicule Cruttwell. He did this in numerous unsigned contributions to Isis, including an article in March 1924, in the "Isis Idols" series. In this, according to Waugh's biographer Martin Stannard, the mockery was cleverly disguised as a paean of praise, arranged around an unflattering photograph of Cruttwell displaying "bad teeth within an unfortunate smile".[17] In Cherwell, in August 1923, Waugh published a short story, "Edward of Unique Achievement", in which the protagonist, a history student at an Oxford college, murders his tutor, "Mr Curtis" (who is, among other things, revealed to be a sexual deviant).[18] Waugh and an accomplice, spread a rumour that Cruttwell favoured sex with animals; they bought a stuffed dog which they placed in the college quadrangle and began the practice of barking under the dean's window.[19] Cruttwell made no apparent response to these provocations, other than a dismissive reference to Waugh as "a silly suburban sod with an inferiority complex".[20]

Waugh left Hertford in the summer of 1924, with a third class degree and a brief note from Cruttwell, expressing disappointment with this performance.[16] Although the pair never met again, a few years later Cruttwell spoke disparagingly of Waugh, to the latter's prospective mother-in-law, Lady Burghclere, describing him as vice-ridden and "living off vodka and absinthe".[21] Once Waugh had established himself as a writer, he resumed the vendetta against his former tutor by introducing a succession of disreputable or absurd characters called "Cruttwell" into his novels and stories. In Decline and Fall (1928) "Toby Cruttwell" is a psychopathic burglar; in Vile Bodies (1930) the name belongs to a snobbish Conservative MP. In Black Mischief (1932) "Cruttwell" is a social parasite, and he becomes a dubious osteopath or "bone-setter" in A Handful of Dust (1934). In Scoop (1938), "General Cruttwell" is a salesman with a fake tropical tan at the Army & Navy Stores.[22] The 1935 short story "Mr Loveday's Little Outing", which recounts the grisly deeds of an escaped homicidal maniac, was originally published as "Mr Cruttwell's Little Outing".[23] The final Cruttwell reference in Waugh's fiction came in 1939, in the short story "An Englishman's Home", in the form of an embezzling Wolf Cub master.[24] In 1935, in an additional gesture of sarcastic ridicule, Waugh told a survey in which modern novelists were asked to nominate their best work that he had yet to write his masterpiece: "It is the memorial biography of C. R. M. F. Cruttwell, some time Dean of Hertford College, Oxford, and my old history tutor. It is a labour of love to one to whom, under God, I owe everything".[25] As with Waugh's student taunting, Cruttwell made no public response, although according to Stannard he anticipated each new Waugh novel with much trepidation about how he might be portrayed.[26]

Later years[edit]

Cruttwell remained a bachelor throughout his life. His one proposal of marriage—to the socialite and later New York society hostess Anne Huth-Jackson—was rebuffed and there are no accounts of other romantic attachments.[27] Beyond his academic duties, he enjoyed entertaining at his country house near the village of Highclere in Hampshire, where he was active in the local community and served as a Justice of the Peace. Since the war, his health had suffered from the effects of his wounds, and he was subject to recurrent rheumatic fever. In 1939 his poor physical condition caused his early retirement from Hertford,[2] followed a period of mental illness possibly exacerbated by the continuing mockery from Waugh.[26] Eventually Cruttwell was confined to a mental hospital, the Burden Institute at Stapleton, near Bristol, where he died on 14 March 1941, aged 53. He left his book collection and a bequest of £1,000 to Hertford College, together with an oil portrait of him, painted in 1937 by his cousin, Grace Cruttwell. The probate value of his estate was £19,814.[2]


Cruttwell was an accepted authority on the political and military history of the Rhineland. His professional standing is largely based on his Great War history, which his ODNB biographer Geoffrey Ellis suggests is "most notable for its frank and fearless judgements on those identified as the principal actors (military, naval and political) in that tragic conflict".[2] This work was widely admired at the time and has undergone several reprints but has also been criticised as lacking in humanity, displaying "almost no awareness of the appalling degree of suffering it chronicles".[28] Ellis describes Cruttwell's textbooks on modern British and European history as "models of clarity and cogency". Cruttwell's professional reputation has been largely overshadowed, by the attention given to his feud with Waugh, the true significance of which, Ellis believes, may have been somewhat exaggerated.[2]

Cruttwell's relations with his colleagues and students have been the subject of contradictory reports. Waugh's biographer, Selena Hastings, describes him as of "unprepossessing" appearance, "good-hearted but difficult", inclined to misogyny, brusque and sometimes offensive towards his male colleagues.[4] Waugh's description is of someone "tall, almost loutish, with the face of a petulant baby", of indistinct speech, who "smoked a pipe which was attached to his blubber-lips by a thread of slime".[29] Stannard records that Waugh's student contemporary Christopher Hollis, found nothing particularly remarkable about Cruttwell. "Like Waugh", says Stannard, "Cruttwell played up his eccentricities and had an uncharitable sense of humour".[26] Ellis's 2004 biographical sketch suggests that much of Cruttwell's rebarbative manner, may have been the result of simple shyness.[2]

Although there was clearly mutual animosity between Cruttwell and Waugh, Hastings points out that Cruttwell would have been justified in suspending Waugh from the college on numerous occasions, but did not do so.[30] Ellis acknowledges a "forceful, forthright and eccentric character" but stresses Cruttwell's generous hospitality "to many who became his close friends" and concern for his undergraduates' welfare.[2]


A list of works published by C. R. M. F. Cruttwell:

  • The War Service of the 1/4 Royal Berkshire Regiment (T.F.). Oxford: Basil Blackwell. 1922. 
  • British History, 1760–1822. London: G Bell & Co Ltd. 1928. 
  • European History, 1814–1878. London: G Bell & Co Ltd. 1932. 
  • A History of the Great War 1914–1918 (PDF). Oxford: Clarendon Press. 1934. 
  • Wellington. London: Duckworth. 1936. 
  • The Role of British Strategy in the Great War. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1936. (published version of the 1936 Lees-Knowles lectures.) 
  • A History of Peaceful Change in the Modern World. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 1937. 
  • The Medieval administration of the Channel Islands: 1199–1399. London: H. Milford, Oxford University Press. 1937. (Co-author with John H Le Patourel; George Norman Clark; Maurice Powicke.) 

Notes and references[edit]

  1. ^ "List of Rectors of St Mary's Church". Denton, Norfolk (official village website). Retrieved 26 December 2010. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n Ellis, Geoffrey (2007). "Cruttwell, Charles Robert Mowbray Fraser". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, online edition. Retrieved 1 November 2010.  (subscription required)
  3. ^ Matthew, H.C.G. (2007). "Mowbray [formerly Cornish], Sir John Robert". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, online edition. Retrieved 13 May 2016.  (subscription required)
  4. ^ a b Hastings 1994, p. 85.
  5. ^ Waugh 1983, p. 174.
  6. ^ Cruttwell, C. R. M. F. (1922). The War Service of the 1/4 Royal Berkshire Regiment (T. F.). Oxford: Blackwells. OCLC 12206318. 
  7. ^ "Full list of Lees Knowles Lecturers". Trinity College, Cambridge. Retrieved 26 December 2010. 
  8. ^ Amory (ed.) 1995, p. 102 (letter from Waugh to his parents, 26 November 1935)
  9. ^ Craig, F. S. W. (1983). British Parliamentary Results 1918–49. Aldershot: Ashgate Publications. ISBN 0-900178-06-X. 
  10. ^ "Some Belated Returns". The Times: 14. 18 November 1935. 
  11. ^ "Oxford University Voting". The Times (47224): 8. 18 November 1935. 
  12. ^ Hastings 1994, p. 80.
  13. ^ a b Waugh 1983, p. 175.
  14. ^ Amory (ed.) 1995, p. 6 (Letter from Waugh to Dudley Carew, dated "early 1922")
  15. ^ Stannard 1993, p. 68.
  16. ^ a b Stannard 1993, pp. 67–96.
  17. ^ Stannard 1993, p. 78.
  18. ^ Carpenter 1989, p. 124, Slater 1998, pp. xviii and 571–78
  19. ^ Carpenter 1989, pp. 68–69.
  20. ^ Byrne 2010, p. 50.
  21. ^ Byrne 2010, p. 110.
  22. ^ Hastings 1994, pp. 173, 209, 373; Stannard 1993, pp. 342, 389, 395
  23. ^ Slater 1998, p. 594.
  24. ^ Hastings 1994, p. 380 and Slater 1998, p. 208 (from "An Englishman's Home" by Evelyn Waugh, first published in Good Housekeeping, London 1939)
  25. ^ Patey 1998, p. 366.
  26. ^ a b c Stannard 1993, p. 79.
  27. ^ Hastings 1994, p. 536.
  28. ^ Carpenter 1989, p. 65.
  29. ^ Waugh 1983, p. 173.
  30. ^ Hastings 1994, p. 86.


External links[edit]

Academic offices
Preceded by
Sir Walter Riddell
Principal of Hertford College, Oxford
Succeeded by
N. R. Murphy