Peter Hennessy

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The Lord Hennessy
of Nympsfield
Official portrait of Lord Hennessy of Nympsfield crop 2, 2019.jpg
Peter Hennessy in 2019
Member of the House of Lords
Lord Temporal
Assumed office
25 November 2010
Life Peerage
Personal details
Born (1947-03-28) 28 March 1947 (age 74)
Edmonton, London
Political partyCrossbench
Alma materSt John's College, Cambridge
OccupationHistorian and academic
ProfessionAttlee Professor of Contemporary British History

Peter John Hennessy, Baron Hennessy of Nympsfield, FBA (born 28 March 1947) is an English historian and academic specialising in the history of government. Since 1992, he has been Attlee Professor of Contemporary British History at Queen Mary University of London.[1]

Early life[edit]

Hennessy was born in Edmonton, north London, the youngest child of William G. Hennessy by his marriage to Edith (Wood-Johnson) Hennessy.[2] He comes from a large Catholic family of Irish provenance. He was brought up in large houses, requisitioned by the council, first in Allandale Avenue and then in Lyndhurst Gardens, Finchley, north London.[3]

He attended the nearby Our Lady of Lourdes Primary School, and on Sundays he went to St Mary Magdalene Church, where he was an altar boy.[3] He was a subject of the first episode of the BBC Radio 4 series The House I Grew Up In, first broadcast on 6 August 2007, in which he talked about his childhood.[3]

Hennessy was educated at St Benedict's School, an independent school in Ealing, West London. When his father's job led the family to move to the Cotswolds, he attended Marling School, a grammar school in Stroud, Gloucestershire. He went on to study at St John's College, Cambridge, where he was awarded a BA in 1969 and a PhD in 1990. Hennessy was a Kennedy Memorial Scholar at Harvard University from 1971 to 1972.



Hennessy was a journalist for the Times Higher Education Supplement from 1972 to 1974. From 1974 to 1982, he wrote leaders for The Times, for which he was also the Whitehall correspondent. He was The Financial Times' lobby correspondent at Westminster in 1976. In June 1977, Hennessy accused Donald Beves of being the "fourth man" in the Cambridge Spy Ring (then-known participants were Philby, Burgess, and Maclean), but Geoffrey Grigson and others quickly leapt to the defense of Beves, considering him uninterested in politics.[4]

Hennessy wrote for The Economist in 1982. He was a regular presenter of Analysis on BBC Radio 4 from 1987 to 1992. On 17 November 2005, he made a trenchant appearance alongside Lord Wilson of Dinton before the House of Commons Public Administration Select Committee on the publication of political memoirs.

In July and August 2013 he was the interviewer for BBC Radio 4's Reflections,[5] a series of four biographical interview programmes featuring Shirley Williams, Jack Straw, Norman Tebbit and Neil Kinnock. Hennessy continues to present the programme.

Academic career[edit]

Professor Hennessy giving a public lecture at LSE in 1989

Hennessy co-founded the Institute of Contemporary British History in 1986. From 1992 to 2000, he was professor of contemporary history at Queen Mary and Westfield College, University of London. From 1994 to 1997, he gave public lectures as Professor of Rhetoric at Gresham College, London. From 2001, he has been Attlee professor of contemporary British history at Queen Mary, University of London.

His analysis of post-war Britain, Never Again: Britain 1945–1951, won the Duff Cooper Prize in 1992 and the NCR Book Award in 1993.

His study of Britain in the 1950s and the rise of Harold Macmillan, Having It So Good: Britain in the 1950s, won the 2007 Orwell Prize for political writing.[6]

Elevation to the peerage[edit]

Lord Hennessy of Nympsfield in 2018

On 5 October 2010 the House of Lords Appointments Commission said Hennessy was to be a non-political crossbench peer. He was created a life peer on 8 November 2010, taking the title Baron Hennessy of Nympsfield, of Nympsfield in the County of Gloucestershire.[7] He was introduced to the House of Lords on 25 November.[8]

"I'm terribly pleased and honoured," Hennessy said at hearing the news. "I hope I can help the House of Lords a bit on constitutional matters. I'll certainly give it my best shot."[9] In August 2014, Lord Hennessy was one of 200 public figures who were signatories to a letter to The Guardian opposing Scottish independence in the run-up to September's referendum.[10]

Hennessy is married with two daughters.[11]


External video
video icon Booknotes interview with Hennessy on Whitehall, 26 November 1989, C-SPAN

Hennessy is the author of the following:

  • Cabinet (1986) ISBN 0-631-14968-6
  • Whitehall (1989) ISBN 0-02-914441-8
  • Never Again: Britain 1945–51 (1992) ISBN 0-679-43363-5
  • The Hidden Wiring: Unearthing the British Constitution (1995) ISBN 0-575-06176-6
  • The Prime Minister: The Office and Its Holders since 1945 (2000) ISBN 0-312-29313-5
  • The Secret State: Whitehall and the Cold War (2002) ISBN 0-7139-9626-9
    Republished and extended as The Secret State: Preparing For The Worst 1945–2010 (2010) ISBN 978-0-14-104469-9 Penguin
  • Having It So Good: Britain in the Fifties (2006) ISBN 978-0-7139-9571-8
  • Cabinets and the Bomb (2007) ISBN 978-0-19-726422-5 Oxford University Press
  • The Secret State: Preparing for the Worst 1945–2010 (2010) ISBN 978-0-1410-4469-9 Penguin
  • Distilling the Frenzy: Writing the History of One's Own Times (2012) ISBN 9781849542159
  • Establishment and Meritocracy (2014) ISBN 9781908323774 Haus Publishing
  • Kingdom to Come: Thoughts on the Union Before and After the Scottish Referendum (2015) ISBN 9781910376065 Haus Publishing
  • Reflections: Conversations with Politicians (2016) ISBN 9781910376485 Haus Publishing
  • The Silent Deep: The Royal Navy Submarine Service Since 1945 (2015) with James Jinks ISBN 9780241959480 Penguin
  • Winds of Change: Britain in the Sixties (2019) ISBN 978-1846141102 Allen Lane

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Queen Mary College website biographical note on Peter Hennessy". School of History, Queen Mary, University of London. Retrieved 15 August 2015.
  2. ^ "Index entry". FreeBMD. ONS. Retrieved 28 September 2014.
  3. ^ a b c "The House I Grew Up In, featuring Peter Hennessy". The House I Grew Up In. 6 August 2007. BBC Radio 4.
  4. ^ 'Who was the fourth man?' in The Times, issue 60032, dated Friday, 17 June 1977, p. 17.
  5. ^ "Series 1, Reflections with Peter Hennessy - Episode guide - BBC Radio 4".
  6. ^ Pauli, Michelle (25 April 2007). "Orwell prize winner is Having it So Good" – via The Guardian.
  7. ^ "No. 59602". The London Gazette. 11 November 2010. p. 21747.
  8. ^ Lords, Minute Office, House of. "House of Lords Business".
  9. ^ "Professor Hennessy joins the House of Lords". Queen Mary University of London. 6 October 2010. Retrieved 15 August 2015.
  10. ^ "Celebrities' open letter to Scotland – full text and list of signatories | Politics". 7 August 2014. Retrieved 26 August 2014.
  11. ^ Crace, John (23 March 2004). "Peter Hennessy: Whitehall force" – via The Guardian.


External links[edit]

Orders of precedence in the United Kingdom
Preceded by Gentlemen
Baron Hennessy of Nympsfield
Followed by
The Lord Green of Hurstpierpoint