H. A. L. Fisher

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Herbert Fisher
Member of Parliament
for Sheffield Hallam
In office
23 December 1916 – 14 December 1918
Preceded byCharles Stuart-Wortley
Succeeded byDouglas Vickers
President of the Board of Education
In office
10 December 1916 – 19 October 1922
MonarchGeorge V
Prime MinisterDavid Lloyd George
Preceded byThe Marquess of Crewe
Succeeded byE. F. L. Wood
Personal details
Herbert Albert Laurens Fisher

(1865-03-21)21 March 1865
Died18 April 1940(1940-04-18) (aged 75)
Political partyLiberal
SpouseLettice Fisher (1875–1956)
RelativesHerbert William Fisher (father)
Florence Henrietta Fisher (sister)
Edmund Fisher (brother)
William Wordsworth Fisher (brother)
Charles Dennis Fisher (brother)
Edwin Fisher (brother)
Mary Bennett (daughter)
Alma materNew College, Oxford

Herbert Albert Laurens Fisher OM PC FRS FBA[1][2] (21 March 1865 – 18 April 1940) was an English historian, educator, and Liberal politician. He served as President of the Board of Education in David Lloyd George's 1916 to 1922 coalition government.

Background and education[edit]

Fisher was born in London,[3] the eldest son of Herbert William Fisher (1826–1903), author of Considerations on the Origin of the American War and his wife Mary Louisa Jackson (1841–1916). His sister Adeline Maria Fisher was the first wife of the composer Ralph Vaughan Williams, another sister Florence Henrietta Fisher married both Frederic William Maitland and Sir Francis Darwin. His sister Cordelia Fisher married the author, critic and journalist Richard Curle and was the mother of the academic Adam Curle.[4] Fisher was a first cousin of Virginia Woolf and her sister Vanessa Bell (the children of his mother's sister Julia). He was educated at Winchester and New College, Oxford, where he graduated with a first class degree in 1888 and was awarded a fellowship.[3]


Fisher was a tutor in modern history at the University of Oxford. His publications include Bonapartism (1908), The Republican Tradition in Europe (1911) and Napoleon (1913).[3] In September 1912, he was appointed (with Lord Islington, Lord Ronaldshay, Justice Abdur Rahim, and others) as a member of the Royal Commission on the Public Services in India of 1912–1915.[5] Between 1913 and 1917 he was Vice-Chancellor of the University of Sheffield.[6]

In December 1916 Fisher was elected Member of Parliament for Sheffield Hallam[3][7] and joined the government of David Lloyd George as President of the Board of Education.[8] He was sworn of the Privy Council the same month.[9] In this post he was instrumental in the formulation of the Education Act 1918, which made school attendance compulsory for children up to the age of 14.[3] Fisher was also responsible for the School Teachers (Superannuation) Act 1918, which provided pension provision for all teachers.[10]

In 1918 he became MP for the Combined English Universities.[11]

Fisher resigned his seat in parliament through appointment as Steward of the Chiltern Hundreds on 15 February 1926, retiring from politics to take up the post of warden of New College, Oxford, which he held until his death.[12] There he published a three-volume History of Europe (ISBN 0-00-636506-X) in 1935.[3] He served on the British Academy, the British Museum, the Rhodes Trustees, the National Trust, the Governing Body of Winchester, the London Library and the BBC.[12] He was awarded the 1927 James Tait Black Memorial Prize for his biography James Bryce, Viscount Bryce of Dechmont, O.M.[13] and received the Order of Merit in 1937.[14]

In 1939 he was appointed first Chairman of the Appellate Tribunal for Conscientious Objectors in England and Wales.[15]

Fisher died in St Thomas's Hospital, London, on 18 April 1940 after having been knocked down by a lorry and seriously injured the previous week,[12] while on his way to sit on a Conscientious Objectors' Tribunal during the blackout.[16] Some of his possessions, including his library and some of his clothing, remained at New College.

In 1943, Operation Mincemeat, a British Intelligence operation to deceive enemy forces, undertook the invention of a false Royal Marines officer, whose body was to be dropped at sea in the hope the false intelligence it carried would be believed. As the fictitious Major Martin was to be a man of some means, he required quality underwear, but with rationing this was difficult to obtain, and the intelligence officers were unwilling to donate their own. Fisher's was obtained, and the corpse used in the deception, dressed in Fisher's quality woollen underpants, succeeded in misleading German Intelligence.[17][18]


Fisher married the economist and historian Lettice Ilbert (1875–1956) in 1899. Their only child was the British academic Mary Bennett.


A portrait drawing of Fisher by Catharine Dodgson and an oil portrait by William Nicholson (artist) hang at New College, Oxford. The college also possess a conversation piece by Berthe Noufflard of Fisher, Lettice Ilbert, and Mary Bennett.

See also[edit]





  1. ^ Murray, G. (1941). "Herbert Albert Laurens Fisher. 1865-1940". Obituary Notices of Fellows of the Royal Society. 3 (10): 518–526. doi:10.1098/rsbm.1941.0019. S2CID 159696817.
  2. ^ H.A.L. Fisher: A History of Europe, Volume II: From the Beginning of the Eighteenth Century to 1935, Glasgow: Fontana/Collins, 1984, p. i.
  3. ^ a b c d e f Herbert Fisher
  4. ^ "The Adam Curle Archive". Archives Hub. Retrieved 11 November 2020.
  5. ^ "No. 28642". The London Gazette. 6 September 1912. p. 6631.
  6. ^ Helen Mathers: Steel City Scholars: The Centenary History of the University of Sheffield, London: James & James, 2005
  7. ^ "THE HOUSE OF COMMONS CONSTITUENCIES BEGINNING WITH "H"". Leighrayment.com. Archived from the original on 20 October 2018. Retrieved 13 March 2017.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: unfit URL (link)
  8. ^ "No. 29865". The London Gazette. 15 December 1916. p. 12227.
  9. ^ "No. 29875". The London Gazette. 22 December 1916. p. 12471.
  10. ^ Joyce, Rosaleen (February 2012). Outdoor Learning: Past And Present: Past and Present. p. 81. ISBN 9780335243013. Retrieved 13 March 2017.
  11. ^ "THE HOUSE OF COMMONS CONSTITUENCIES BEGINNING WITH "C"". Leighrayment.com. Archived from the original on 20 December 2009. Retrieved 13 March 2017.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: unfit URL (link)
  12. ^ a b c "Obituaries." Times [London, England] 19 April 1940: 9. The Times Digital Archive. Web. 29 May 2012
  13. ^ "Biography winners Winners of the James Tait Black Prize for Biography". The University of Edinburgh. Retrieved 22 November 2019.
  14. ^ "Order of Merit". Leighrayment.com. Archived from the original on 7 June 2008. Retrieved 13 March 2017.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: unfit URL (link)
  15. ^ Rachel Barker: Conscience, Government and War, Routledge, 1982
  16. ^ Randolph Spencer Churchill; Martin Gilbert (1983). Winston S. Churchill: 1922–1939, the prophet of youth. Houghton Mifflin. ISBN 9780395330760. Retrieved 1 June 2012.
  17. ^ Macintyre, Ben (14 January 2010). "Operation Mincemeat: full story of how corpse tricked the Nazis". The Times. Archived from the original on 15 June 2011.
  18. ^ Operation Mincemeat, BBC Four, 22 February 2011
  19. ^ This particular copy from the Wellcome Library belonged to Charles Kellaway, complete with a Sydney bookseller's stamp.

Further reading[edit]

  • Judge, Harry. "H. A. L. Fisher: Scholar and Minister," Oxford Review of Education, Vol. 32(1), The university and Public Education: The Contribution of Oxford, Feb. 2006.

External links[edit]

Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by Member of Parliament for Sheffield Hallam
Succeeded by
New constituency Member of Parliament for Combined English Universities
With: Sir Martin Conway
Succeeded by
Political offices
Preceded by President of the Board of Education
Succeeded by
Academic offices
Preceded by Vice-Chancellor of the University of Sheffield
Succeeded by