Anthony Blunt Biography

(Art Historian, University Teacher)

Birthday: September 26, 1907 (Libra)

Born In: Bournemouth, Hampshire, England

Anthony Blunt was a British art historian and a member of the ‘Cambridge Five’ spy ring, which had simultaneously provided espionage services to ‘MI5’ and the Soviet Union during World War II. His decision to join the Soviet spy ring was influenced by his homosexual partner from ‘Cambridge University,’ Guy Burgess. Toward the end of the war, the British intelligence agency ‘MI5’ suspected Blunt of being associated with the Soviet Union. After several rounds of interrogation, he finally gave a secret confession to ‘MI5’ that offered him legal immunity. In exchange, he revealed the names of his fellow spies of the Soviet Union. He was, however, exposed in public in 1979, after which he dissociated himself from society and devoted time to his writings.
Quick Facts

British Celebrities Born In September

Also Known As: Anthony Frederick Blunt

Died At Age: 75


father: Arthur Stanley Vaughan Blunt

mother: Hilda Violet

siblings: Christopher Evelyn Blunt, Wilfrid Jasper Walter Blunt

Born Country: England

Historians British Men

Died on: March 26, 1983

place of death: Westminster, London, England

City: Bournemouth, England

More Facts

awards: Commander of the Legion of Honour
Knight Commander of the Royal Victorian Order

Childhood & Early Life
Born on September 26, 1907, in Bournemouth, Hampshire, Anthony Frederick Blunt was the third and the youngest son of Arthur Stanley Vaughan Blunt (1870–1929), a vicar, and his wife, Hilda Violet. He grew up with his brothers, Wilfrid Jasper Walter Blunt (who grew up to be an author and art curator) and Christopher Evelyn Blunt (who became a numismatist).
He grew up in Paris, as his father was a British embassy chaplain. He learned French and developed an interest in art and culture.
Blunt attended ‘Marlborough College,’ where he was a member of a secret organization called the 'Society of Amici.'
In 1926, Blunt was granted a math scholarship to ‘Trinity College’ at ‘Cambridge University.’
Maurice Dobb, an economics lecturer and ‘Communist Party of Great Britain’ member, had a great influence on Blunt.
Blunt was at ‘Trinity’ for 4 years and later opted for modern languages. He graduated in 1930.
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His Association with Guy Burgess
In 1932, Blunt began teaching French at ‘Cambridge’ and got a fellowship at ‘Trinity College’ to pursue his research in French art history.
He met ‘Trinity’ postgraduate Guy Burgess, 4 years his junior, in 1931.
In his memoirs, Blunt has mentioned that he did not like Burgess initially but they eventually bonded over their common artistic interests. In 1932, he secured a membership in the intellectual society called the ‘Cambridge Apostles’ (the ‘Conversazione Society’) for Burgess.
Both of them were homosexuals and were open about their sexual orientation, being well aware that it was a criminal offense in Britain back then. They soon began a relationship.
In 1933, Blunt became an art critic for the weekly journal ‘The Spectator.’
The Cambridge Five & MI5
In 1934, Burgess convinced Blunt to join the Soviets to fight against fascism. A few years later, they recruited another ‘Apostle’ member, John Cairncross, to complete the spy ring in the U.K., called the ‘Cambridge Five.’ The notorious ring supplied classified information to the Soviets during World War II.
There are numerous theories regarding Blunt's recruitment to the Soviet's ‘NKVD’ (‘People's Commissariat for Internal Affairs’). According to historian Geoff Andrews, Blunt was recruited between 1935 and 1936, while Blunt's biographer, Miranda Carter, stated that Burgess had introduced him to the Soviet recruiter Arnold Deutsch in January 1937.
Carter further claimed that Blunt was appointed as a Soviet "talent spotter" and his ‘NKVD’ code name was ‘'Tony.’'
In 1939, during the ‘Phoney War,’ he served in the ‘Army Intelligence Corps’ in France.
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He returned to England after the ‘German Army’ and the Soviets had invaded Poland in October 1939. He was drafted to the ‘British Army.’ He also joined the British intelligence agency ‘MI5’ after the Wehrmacht forced the ‘British Army’ back to Dunkirk in May 1940.
Blunt spent most of World War II serving ‘MI5.’ He shared classified information about the interception of German ‘Enigma’ codes and the German spy rings activated in the U.K.
He was assigned an additional task of warning the suspected fellow agents of counterintelligence operations.
Blunt was later appointed as the personal assistant to Guy Liddell, the deputy director-general of ‘MI5.’
In 1944, Blunt was the link between ‘MI5’ and the ‘Allied Supreme Headquarters’ regarding the invasion of Europe. He was involved in the ‘Double-Cross System.’
He was promoted to the rank of major during the war.
Toward the end of World War II in Europe, he traveled to Schloss Friedrichshof, Germany, to retrieve letters exchanged between the Duke of Windsor and Adolf Hitler and other prominent ‘Nazis.’
In March 1945, when he was working part-time at the ‘Royal Library,’ King George VI asked him to train the royal librarian, Owen Morshead, to retrieve letters between Queen Victoria's daughter, Empress Victoria, and Kaiser Wilhelm’s mother.
He, along with Morshead, successfully retrieved the letters and submitted them to the ‘Royal Archives.’
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After World War II, Blunt reduced his espionage activities but retained contact with the Soviet agents. He continued to share the whereabouts of his former ‘MI5’ colleagues until Burgess and Maclean left the Soviet spy ring in 1951.
After World War II
After the war ended, the royal family recruited Blunt for a secret mission.
While working as a spy, he had a public career as an art historian and earned success, too. He continued his art career even after the war ended.
In 1940, his fellowship thesis was published under the title ‘Artistic Theory in Italy, 1450–1600.’
In 1945, Blunt became the surveyor of the king's (later the queen's) portraits and was appointed as the in-charge of “Royal Collection,’’ a position he held for 27 years.
In 1947, he was appointed as an art history professor at the ‘University of London’ and the director of the university's ‘Courtauld Institute of Art,’ where he remained until 1974.
In 1951, he assisted Burgess and ‘MI5’ colleague Donald Maclean to flee from Britain.
Blunt was “knighted” in 1956 for his contribution to the expansion of the ‘Queen's Gallery’ at ‘Buckingham Palace.’
He published scores of books such as ‘Art and Architecture in France 1500–1700’ (1953) and ‘Nicolas Poussin’ (1966–1967).
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He served as a curator for Poussin's landmark exhibition at the ‘Louvre’ in 1960.
In 1965, Blunt attended a summer school in Sicily, where he developed a deep interest in Sicilian Baroque architecture, which led him to write the only influential and in-depth book on the form of architecture, published in 1968.
He was a picture advisor to the ‘National Trust.’
His Confession
In the early 1960s, he gave his secret confession to ‘MI5,’ which confirmed that he was the most-wanted "fourth man" in the spy ring of the Soviets. Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher publicly revealed the confession in 1979 and revoked his “knighthood.”
However, many had already known about his association with the spy ring, long before the public exposure.
According to papers released by ‘MI5’ in 2002, the point that Blunt was a ‘Communist Party’ member was not considered, as Moura Budberg had reported in 1950.
Blunt had initially denied the charges, saying that Burgess had convinced him that he should join the Soviets to contribute to the anti-fascist campaign. He, however, accepted his cordial relationship with Sir Dick White, the ‘MI5’ head.
Blunt was first suspected after Burgess and Maclean defected the Soviets in May 1951.
Blunt was suspected of passing information from ‘NKVD.’ He was also rumored to be a triple agent. A ‘KGB’ officer later described him as an "ideological shit."
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‘MI5’ interrogated Blunt in 1952 but failed to retrieve anything from him. Since 1951, he had been interrogated around 11 times, but he never admitted anything. He successfully managed to escape for 13 years.
At a point, ‘MI5’ deputy director, Guy Liddell, was almost convinced of Blunt's innocence.
However, everything changed after 1963, when American spy Michael Straight first pointed out Blunt's association with the Soviet espionage ring. They had known each other since the 1930s.
Straight, himself, was associated with the Soviet spies. However, during a background check session for a government job in Washington, D.C., he revealed Blunt as a spy, to come out clean.
Six months later, the ‘FBI’ passed the piece of information to ‘MI5,’ and suspicion on Blunt intensified.
Blunt's confession to ‘MI5’ came on April 23, 1964. He was offered immunity to prosecution and the promise of keeping the confession an official secret for 15 years, in exchange for his full confession.
He thus named John Cairncross, Peter Ashby, Brian Symon, and Leonard Henry (Leo) Long as his fellow spies.
Even after the confession, Blunt led a normal life until he was exposed in public in 1979.
Public Exposure & Final Years
In Andrew Boyle's 1979 book ‘Climate of Treason,’ Blunt was addressed as "Maurice." In September, he demanded a typescript before the publication of the book.
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Excerpts from the book were featured in journals such as ‘The Observer’ and ‘Private Eye,’ which claimed “Maurice’' was actually Blunt. However, author Boyle denied this.
According to Blunt's lawyer, Michael Rubinstein, Prime Minister Thatcher viewed Blunt's immunity as her insult. He had revealed that the then-prime minister, Sir Alec Douglas-Home, had granted him immunity.
On November 15, 1979, Margaret Thatcher revealed Blunt’s wartime association in the ‘House of Commons of the United Kingdom.’ Weeks later, the press began a hunt for Blunt.
His association with Francis Haskell, an art history professor at ‘Oxford University’ whose mother and wife were Russian and who himself was a ‘Cambridge’ graduate, made him an obvious suspect.
When Blunt was finally trapped, he seemed calm, though he was shocked by his sudden exposure.
His former apprentice, art critic Brian Sewell, protected Blunt from the extensive media attention after the exposure and kept him in a house in Chiswick.
Queen Elizabeth II canceled his honorary fellowship of Trinity College,’ and he resigned as a “Fellow of the British Academy.”
Blunt broke down in tears during his confession on a ‘BBC’ show.
After the exposure, he withdrew from social life and rarely went out. He devoted all his time to writing his memoirs.
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Blunt stopped writing in 1983, while his friend, John Gaskin, preserved his memoirs for a year and then gave them to Blunt's executor, John Golding. He passed the memoirs to the ‘British Library’ but instructed not to release them for 25 years
The memoirs were released on July 23, 2009. In the memoirs, Blunt had described his service for the Soviets as the biggest mistake of his life.
His ‘Guide to Baroque Rome’ was published in 1982. Blunt began writing a monograph about the architecture of Pietro da Cortona, but died before he could publish it. Blunt succumbed to a heart attack on March 26, 1983, at his Westminster home.
His co-author, German art historian Jörg Martin Merz, was later granted the permission to publish the book. The book, titled ‘Pietro da Cortona and Roman Baroque Architecture,’ was published in 2008. It had a draft by Blunt.
Playwright Alan Bennett composed ‘A Question of Attribution’ about Blunt's life before his public exposure and his connection with Queen Elizabeth II. The play was adapted into a ‘BBC’ series in 1991.
The 1985 TV movie ‘Blunt: The Fourth Man’ showed the series of events after Burgess and Maclean went missing in 1951.
The protagonist in John Banville's 1997 novel ‘The Untouchable,’ named ‘Victor Maskell,’ was a loose depiction of Blunt.
In the poem ‘I.M. Anthony Blunt,’ composer Gavin Ewart described the media frenzy over Blunt's exposure.
Samuel West portrayed Blunt in the 2003 four-part ‘BBC’ drama ‘Cambridge Spies’ and reprised his role in the ‘Netflix’ series ‘The Crown’ (2019).

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