Robert Blake, Baron Blake

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For other people named Robert Blake, see Robert Blake (disambiguation).
The Right Honourable
The Lord Blake
Born (1916-12-23)23 December 1916
Brundall, Norfolk
Died 20 September 2003(2003-09-20) (aged 86)
Brundall, Norfolk
Alma mater Magdalen College, Oxford
Occupation Historian
Notable work Disraeli (1966)
The Conservative Party from Peel to Churchill (1970)
Political party Conservative

Robert Norman William Blake, Baron Blake, FBA (23 December 1916 – 20 September 2003), was an English historian and peer. He is best known for his 1966 biography of Benjamin Disraeli, 1st Earl of Beaconsfield, and for The Conservative Party from Peel to Churchill, which grew out of his 1968 Ford lectures.[1]

Early life[edit]

Blake was born on the 23 December 1916 in Brundall, Norwich, the son of a schoolmaster.[2] He was educated at King Edward VI's Norwich School, where his father taught, and Magdalen College, Oxford, where he got a First in Modern Greats and a hockey Blue.[3] He served in the Royal Artillery during the war, was taken prisoner in Tobruk in 1942, escaped Italy in 1944, and was mentioned in despatches. He worked for MI6 from 1944 to 1946.

Blake was a Conservative member of Oxford City Council from 1957-1964.[4]

Academic career[edit]

In 1947 he became a student and tutor in Politics at the Christ Church, Oxford, and in 1968 was elected provost of The Queen's College, Oxford, a post he retained until retirement in 1987. Blake was a friend of the historian Hugh Trevor-Roper. He was for many years Senior Member (the University Don responsible for ruling on internal disputes such as accusations of electoral malpractice) of the Oxford University Conservative Association.

Blake's most famous work is his 1966 Disraeli, a biography of Benjamin Disraeli, 1st Earl of Beaconsfield, which has been variously described as "the best single-volume biography of any British prime minister"[5] and "the best biography of anyone in any language".[2]

In 1987, Lord Blake was nominated in the election for the Oxford Chancellorship, but lost to Roy Jenkins, although polling ahead of former Conservative Prime Minister Edward Heath.

His History of Rhodesia (1978) is, according to Kenneth O. Morgan, "essentially a study of white rule, ending with sharp comments on the illegal breakaway regime of Ian Smith, where Blake's views were much influenced by his friendship with the liberal Garfield Todd and his daughter".[1] It makes interesting reading in conjunction with the less critical Sunrise on the Zambezi (1953).


Blake opposed the Labour Party's policy to abolish the hereditary peers in the House of Lords. Writing the year before the 1997 general election, he commented:

"Abolition of the hereditary alleged to be phase one of a policy to substitute an elective Upper House for the existing chamber. Meanwhile we would have the biggest quango of all time: a House whose members would owe their seats solely to past or present prime ministerial patronage. Even as an interim measure, this would be thoroughly undesirable, and certainly no improvement on the present composition. The hereditary system, whatever its logical defects, does produce some people of independent opinions and also some who are much younger than the normal run of middle-aged legislators...My guess is that after achieving stage one, which would involve a great deal of parliamentary time and much controversy, a Labour Cabinet would rest on its oars and postpone for many years any plans for an elective chamber. There are immense difficulties involved – its powers, electoral system, and above all relations with the Commons, which would certainly resent the creation of a body with rival claims to democratic legitimacy."[6]

Other activities and honours[edit]

In 1967 he was elected a Fellow of the British Academy and on 17 May 1971 was created a life peer as Baron Blake, of Braydeston in the County of Norfolk.[7]

Lord Blake served as a Trustee of the Rhodes Trust from 1971 to 1987, and as Chair of the Rhodes Trustees from 1983 to 1987.[1]

He was editor of the Dictionary of National Biography, a Trustee of the British Museum, and Chairman of the Royal Commission on Historical Manuscripts. He was High Bailiff and Searcher of the Sanctuary of Westminster Abbey between 1988 and 1989, and High Steward of Westminster Abbey from 1989 to 1999.[2]

Blake was a Director of Channel 4 Television.

Portraits of Lord Blake hang at The Queen's College, Oxford and at Rhodes House, Oxford.[8]


  • The Private Papers of Douglas Haig (1952)
  • The Unknown Prime Minister. The Life and Times of Andrew Bonar Law, 1858-1923 (1955).
  • Disraeli (1966).
  • Disraeli and Gladstone (1969) (Stephen Lecture).
  • The Conservative Party from Peel to Churchill (1970) (later revised and updated as The Conservative Party from Peel to Thatcher, then again as The Conservative Party from Peel to Major).
  • The Office of Prime Minister (1975).
  • Conservatism in an Age of Revolution (1976).
  • History of Rhodesia (1977).
  • Disraeli's Grand Tour: Benjamin Disraeli and the Holy Land, 1830-31 (1982).
  • The English World (1982)
  • The Decline of Power, 1915-1964 (1985) (part of The Paladin History of England series).
  • An Incongruous Relationship. Lloyd George and Bonar Law (1992) (The Welsh Political Archive Lecture).
  • Gladstone, Disraeli and Queen Victoria. Centenary Romanes Lecture (1993).
  • Churchill: A Major New Assessment of His Life in Peace and War (1993) (edited with W. M. Louis).
  • Winston Churchill (1998).
  • Jardine Matheson. Traders of the Far East (1999).


  1. ^ a b c Morgan, Kenneth O. (25 September 2003). "Lord Blake". The Independent. Retrieved 1 August 2015. 
  2. ^ a b c Morgan, Kenneth O. "Blake, Robert Norman William, Baron Blake (1916–2003)". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/92619.  (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  3. ^ Roberts, Andrew. "Lord Blake". London: Royal Society of Literature. 
  4. ^ Blake, Robert (1985). The Conservative Party from Peel to Thatcher (2nd ed.). Fontana Press. pp. foreword. 
  5. ^ Matthew, Colin (23 September 2003). "Lord Blake of Braydeston". The Guardian. 
  6. ^ The Times, 23 July 1996. Jim McCue, Edmund Burke and Our Present Discontents (The Claridge Press, 1997), p. 123.
  7. ^ The London Gazette: no. 45372. p. 5157. 18 May 1971.
  8. ^