John Roberts (historian)

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J. M. Roberts
John Morris Roberts.jpg
Born John Morris Roberts
(1928-04-14)14 April 1928
Died 30 May 2003(2003-05-30) (aged 75)
Roadwater, Somerset
Nationality British
Alma mater University of Oxford (B.A.; M.A.; Ph.D.)
Occupation Historian, author, professor, TV presenter
Known for World history

John Morris "J. M." Roberts CBE (14 April 1928 – 30 May 2003) was a British historian, with significant published works. From 1979 to 1985 he was vice chancellor of the University of Southampton, and from 1985 to 1994, Warden of Merton College, Oxford. He was also well known as the author and presenter of the BBC TV series The Triumph of the West (1985).


Roberts was born in Bath,[1] the son of a department store worker[2] and educated at Taunton School. He won a scholarship to Keble College, Oxford, and took a first in Modern History in 1948. After National Service, he was elected a prize fellow of Magdalen College, Oxford, where he completed a doctoral thesis on the Italian republic set up during the time of Napoleon Bonaparte.

The Times Literary Supplement described Roberts as "master of the broad brush-stroke". In 1953 Roberts was elected a fellow and tutor in Modern History at Merton College, Oxford, and in the same year went as a Commonwealth Fund fellow to Princeton and Yale, where his interests broadened beyond European history. He returned to America three times as a visiting professor in the 1960s. From 1979 to 1985 Roberts was vice-chancellor of the University of Southampton where he felt obliged to make unpopular cuts (Classics and Theology). In 1985 Roberts wrote and presented the thirteen-part BBC series The Triumph of the West, and was later historical advisor to the series People's Century. From 1985 to 1994 Roberts was Warden of Merton College, Oxford until his retirement, whereupon he returned to his native Somerset.

In 1996, Roberts was appointed CBE for his 'services to education and history' and made a Cavalier of the Order of Merit of the Italian Republic in 1991.[3]

Roberts died in 2003, at Roadwater, Somerset,[4] shortly after completing the fourth revised edition of his The New History of the World.


The John Roberts Memorial Fund was established in his honour at Merton College in 2003, with the aim of increasing the financial support available to undergraduate and graduate students. The college hoped that the first recipient would be a history graduate.

When Roberts' The Mythology of the Secret Societies was republished in 2008, the back cover contained the following message: "We are living at a time when conspiracy theories are rife and the notion of secret plans for world domination under the guise of religious cults or secret societies is perhaps considered more seriously than ever."

Personal life[edit]

On 10 September 1960, at Milton Abbas, Roberts married (Mariabella) Rosalind Gardiner. The marriage was dissolved in 1964. At Oxford on 29 August 1964 Roberts married Judith Cecilia Mary Armitage, a schoolteacher, and they had one son and two daughters.[5]

Selected works[edit]


External links[edit]

Academic offices
Preceded by
Laurence Gower
Vice Chancellor University of Southampton
Succeeded by
Sir Gordon Higginson
Preceded by
Rex Richards
Warden of Merton College, Oxford
Succeeded by
Jessica Rawson