Hugh Thomas, Baron Thomas of Swynnerton

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Hugh Swynnerton Thomas, Baron Thomas of Swynnerton (21 October 1931 – 7 May 2017)[1][2] was an English historian and writer, best known for his book The Spanish Civil War.[3]

The Lord Thomas of Swynnerton
Lord Thomas of Swynnerton 2017.png
Member of the House of Lords
Lord Temporal
In office
16 June 1981 – 7 May 2017
Life Peerage
Personal details
Born(1931-10-21)21 October 1931
Windsor, Berkshire, England
Died7 May 2017(2017-05-07) (aged 85)
Political partyCrossbench
Liberal Democrats
Conservative (until 1998)
Labour (until 1974)
SpouseHon. Vanessa Jebb

Early lifeEdit

Thomas was born on 21 October 1931 in Windsor, England, to Hugh Whitelegge Thomas, a colonial commissioner, and his wife Margery Augusta Angelo, née Swynnerton.[4] Sir Shenton Thomas was his uncle.[1] He was educated at Sherborne School in Dorset, before taking a BA in 1951 at Queens' College, Cambridge,[1] where he was a major scholar and was later an Honorary Fellow. Thomas gained a first class in Part I of the History Tripos in 1952, and the following year was president of the Cambridge Union Society. He also studied at the Sorbonne in Paris.


From 1954 to 1957, Thomas worked in the Foreign Office partly as secretary of the British Delegation to the sub-committee of the UN Disarmament Commission. From 1966 to 1975, he was Professor of History at the University of Reading, and chairman of the European committee. He was then chairman of the neoliberal Centre for Policy Studies in London from 1979 to 1991.


Until 1974, Thomas was a member of the Labour Party.[5] He was created a life peer as Baron Thomas of Swynnerton, of Notting Hill in Greater London by letters patent dated 16 June 1981, and sat as a Conservative, before he joined the Liberal Democrats in 1998.[6] He later sat as a crossbencher.

He wrote political works favouring European integration, such as Europe: the Radical Challenge (1973), as well as histories. He was also the author of three novels: The World's Game (1957), The Oxygen Age (1958), and Klara (1988). Thomas's 1961 book The Spanish Civil War won the Somerset Maugham Award for 1962. A significantly revised and enlarged third edition was published in 1977; further editions were published in 1999 and 2012. Cuba, or the Pursuit of Freedom (1971) is a book of over 1,500 pages tracing the history of Cuba from Spanish colonial rule until the Cuban Revolution. In 1985, he signed a petition against the Sandinista National Liberation Front of Nicaragua,[7] in support of the Contras, an anti-Sandinista paramilitary group.

In 1990 he was one of the leading historians behind the setting up of the History Curriculum Association. The Association advocated a more knowledge-based history curriculum in schools. It expressed "profound disquiet" at the way history was being taught in the classroom and observed that the integrity of history was threatened.[8]

Personal lifeEdit

Thomas was married to Hon. Vanessa Jebb, a painter and daughter of Gladwyn Jebb, the first Acting United Nations Secretary-General and British Ambassador to France. They had three children: Inigo, Isambard and Isabella.[1]


Thomas won the Somerset Maugham Award (1962), the Nonino Prize (2009), the Boccaccio Prize (2009), the Gabarrón Prize (2008) and the Calvo Serer Prize (2009). The French Government appointed him Commander of the Order of Arts and Letters in 2008.

Thomas also received the Grand Cross of the Royal Order of Isabella the Catholic[9] from Spain, as well as the Mexican Order of the Aztec Eagle, the Joaquín Romero Murube Prize in Seville (2013) and the Grand Cross of the Civil Order of Alfonso X the Wise (2014).[10]


  • Disarmament – the way ahead Fabian Society (1957).
  • The Spanish Civil War (1961); Penguin Books Ltd (1968); 2nd revised edition (1977); 4th revised edition (2003). A new revised edition in 2011[11] commemorated the book's reaching 50 consecutive years in print; it was published in 15 languages. online
  • Cuba or the Pursuit of Freedom (1971); revised editions (1998), (2002), (2010). online
  • Europe: the Radical Challenge (1973).
  • John Strachey (1973). online
  • An Unfinished History of the World (1979); published in the United States as A History of the World, then as World History (1998); and under the original title in London (by Hamish Hamilton) in 1979, and with revised editions in 1981 and 1982. online edition
  • The revolution on balance (1983), Washington, DC; Cuban American National Foundation 1983 (CANF pamphlet #5). online
  • Armed Truce (1986). A history of the beginning of the Cold War. online
  • Ever Closer Union (1991).
  • The conquest of Mexico (1993); published in the United States as Conquest: Montezuma, Cortés and the Fall of Old Mexico. online
  • The Slave Trade: The History of the Atlantic Slave Trade 1440–1870 (1997); Simon & Schuster. online
  • Who Is Who of the Conquistadors (2000). A study of those who fought for Cortés.
  • Rivers of Gold (2003); the first book in a trilogy about the Spanish Empire. online
  • Beaumarchais in Seville (2006); ISBN 978-0-300-12103-2.
  • Eduardo Barreiros and the Recovery of Spain (2009); a biography of Eduardo Barreiros.
  • The Golden Age: The Spanish Empire of Charles V (2010); the second book in a trilogy about the Spanish Empire. Published in the United States as The Golden Empire: Spain, Charles V, and the Creation of America (2011).
  • The World's Game; a novel (1957).
  • The Oxygen Age; a novel (1958).
  • Klara, a novel (1988).
  • The Suez Affair (1966); an analysis of the Suez Crisis of 1956.
  • World Without End: The Global Empire of Philip II (2014); the third volume in a trilogy about the Spanish Empire.


Coat of arms of Hugh Thomas, Baron Thomas of Swynnerton
Coronet of a Baron
Upon a Chapeau Gules, turned up Ermine, issuant from a representation of the Torre d’Arnolfo on the Palazzo Vicariale at Scarperia in Italy Argent, a Bull’s Head Sable, armed Or.
Quarterly Argent and Or, a Cross formée flory Sable, surmounted by a Dragon’s Head erased Gules.
On either side a Falcon wings expanded and addorsed Argent, beaked, armed and belled Or, legged Gules, gorged with a Torse Or and Gules, and holding in the beak a Quill Argent, penned Or.
A Grassy Mound proper, thereon a Bar embowed Or, charged with a Barrulet embowed wavy Azure.


  1. ^ a b c d Preston, Paul (9 May 2017). "Lord Thomas of Swynnerton". The Guardian. Retrieved 10 May 2017.
  2. ^ Guimón, Pablo (8 May 2017). "Obituary: Hugh Thomas, author of seminal book on the Spanish Civil War". El País. Retrieved 9 May 2017.
  3. ^ "Hugh Thomas (Baron Thomas of Swynnnerton)". Portal del hispanismo (in Spanish). Archived from the original on 20 July 2011. Retrieved 8 May 2017.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: bot: original URL status unknown (link)
  4. ^ Cowell, Alan (11 May 2017). "Hugh Thomas, Prodigious Author of Spanish History, Dies at 85". The New York Times. p. B14. Retrieved 15 May 2017.
  5. ^ "Former Head of Conservative Think-Tank Joins The Liberal Democrats /Pr Newswire Uk/". Retrieved 15 January 2017.
  6. ^ "No. 48657". The London Gazette. 19 June 1981. p. 8253.
  7. ^ "Quand Bernard-Henri Lévy pétitionnait contre le régime légal du Nicaragua". Le Monde diplomatique. 1 October 2009. Retrieved 10 December 2017.
  8. ^ Daily Telegraph 19 March 1990
  9. ^ "Otras disposicions" (PDF). Boletín Oficial del Estado (in Spanish). 7 April 2001. Archived from the original on 29 December 2014. Retrieved 8 May 2017.{{cite news}}: CS1 maint: bot: original URL status unknown (link)
  10. ^ "Otras disposiciones" (PDF). Boletín Oficial del Estado (in Spanish). 27 December 2014. Archived from the original on 29 December 2014. Retrieved 8 May 2017.{{cite news}}: CS1 maint: bot: original URL status unknown (link)
  11. ^ The Spanish Civil War: Revised Edition (Modern Library Paperbacks), Modern Library, ISBN 978-0-375-75515-6

Further readingEdit

  • Restall, Matthew. "World Without End: Spain, Philip II, and the First Global Empire.' Journal of World History (2016) 27#3 pp. 571–576. Reviews the book and his career.

External linksEdit