Obituary: Maurice Cowling

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Maurice Cowling, historian, was born on September 6, 1926. He died on August 24, 2005, aged 78. Cowling was a Cambridge historian who influenced a generation of Conservative politicians and was a scourge of the liberal intelligentsia.

Throughout his career Maurice Cowling was never comfortable with being described as a historian, since, as he explained, he had “drifted into becoming a professional historian despite an intense conviction, acquired early and never lost, that professional history is an illusion and historical writing an instrument of doctrine”.

For this reason, perhaps, it is as much for his influence as teacher and mentor to the conservatives in academia and the higher journalism, as for his rebarbative contributions to professional historical writing, that he will be remembered.

However, in a series of three books about British political history, he demonstrated that he could wrestle, albeit sinuously, with traditional historical problems as well as any of his contemporaries; and in so doing he gave rise to a distinctive school of revisionist historiography dubbed “high politics”, which attributed the pre-eminence in bringing about significant political change to the interaction of members of the political elite rather than to popular agitation, as liberal and left-wing historians had assumed.

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