John Charmley

John Charmley

John Charmley (born 1955) is a British diplomatic historian and a professor of modern history at the University of East Anglia, where he is head of the school of history. Charmley's historical work has proved to be controversial, most notably his works on Churchill.


Charmley's scholarship on Churchill is to some extent the reverse of the standard academic opinion. He finds Churchill's early years powerful and compelling, but believes that Churchill's alternative to appeasement was unrealistic and his actions as Prime Minister in World War II were a failure. The resulting collapse of the British Empire and the rise of the United States and the Soviet Union Charmley sees as disastrous in all three areas. While Charmley never states outright that as Prime Minister Churchill should have allied with Nazi Germany in 1940, he believes it to have been possible to do so honourably and that it would have safeguarded the British Empire better than an alliance with the anti-colonial U.S. President Roosevelt. Charmley does outright recommend "disengaging" from the war against Germany, and letting Stalin and Hitler whittle away each other's power rather than risk Britain's resources. How such "disengagement" would be done without a deal is not explained.

Charmley also believed that the strong government control of Britain that Churchill shepherded in also laid the groundwork for British socialism and Labour Party victories, events which he also considers undesirable. Charmley sums up his feelings in "Churchill: The End of Glory" with:

:Churchill stood for the British Empire, for British independence and for an 'anti-Socialist' vision of Britain. By July 1945 the first of these was on the skids, the second was dependent solely upon America and the third had just vanished in a Labour election victory. [ [ Maxwell P. Schoenfeld, 'Glorious Failure', "Finest Hour 81".] ]


Charmley's scholarship for parts of his early life has been acknowledged by some scholars, but most find his view of the British situation in World War II implausible at best. British imperialism's fall seems difficult to blame on Churchill, as events have proved that it would be exceedingly likely to fall anyway. Scholars also find the idea of a German truce unwise at best, considering that:

:Every serious military account of the Second World War shows that Germany came within a hair of taking Russia out even as it was. With no enemy at his back, tying up materiel and divisions in the West; without Britain's campaign in Africa; without the Americans and British succoring Stalin by sea; without Roosevelt's courting war with Germany in the Atlantic, Hitler would have thrown everything he had into Russia. The siege of Leningrad, the attack on Moscow, the battle of Stalingrad would almost certainly have gone the other way, if not in 1941 then certainly by 1942. [ [ Richard M. Langworth, 'Elvis Lives: John Charmley's Tabloid Winston', "Finest Hour 78".] ]

A more general critique of a German deal comes from Manfred Weidhorn:

:Prudential (albeit immoral) as that solution might have been, the critics assume that [1] Hitler would deal; [2] the British Coalition government would let Churchill deal; [3] Hitler would be faithful to the deal; [4] Russia would have gone under; [5] America would keep out; [6] The British Empire still had a long way to go; [7] a Britain tied to Hitler would have remained democratic; [8] American hegemony is bad. As Langworth, Smith, et al point out, most of these Charmley assumptions (1-3, 6-8) are dubious. [ [ Manfred Weidhorn, 'Salvaging Charmley', "Finest Hour 83, Second Quarter 1994".] ]

The military historian Correlli Barnett regards Charmley's views as "absurd...that instead of going to war Britain could, and should, have lived with Wilhelmine Germany's domination of western Europe. This is glibly clever but actually preposterous as his claim...that Britain could and should have unilaterally withdrawn into neutrality in 1940-41. [Correlli Barnett, "The Verdict of Peace. Britain between her yesterday and the future" (Pan, 2002), pp. 519-20.]



* John Charmley, "Duff Cooper" (Weidenfeld, 1986).
* John Charmley, "Lord Lloyd and the Decline of the British Empire" (Weidenfeld, 1987).
* John Charmley, "Chamberlain and the Lost Peace" (Hodder and Stroughton, 1989).
* John Charmley, "Churchill: The End of Glory" (Hodder and Stroughton, 1993).
* John Charmley, "Churchill's Grand Alliance 1940-1957" (Hodder and Stroughton, 1995).
* John Charmley, "A History of Conservative Politics 1900-1996" (MacMillan, 1996).
* John Charmley, "Splendid Isolation? Britain and the Balance of Power 1874-1914" (Hodder and Stroughton, 1999).

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