Rab Butler Biography

Richard Austen Butler was a British Conservative politician who rose to fame during his tenure as the Education Minister. This biography of Richard Austen Butler provides detailed information about his childhood, life, achievements, works & timeline

Quick Facts

Birthday: December 9, 1902

Nationality: British

Famous: Political Leaders British Men

Died At Age: 79

Sun Sign: Sagittarius

Also Known As: Richard Austen Butler Butler of Saffron Walden

Born in: Attock

Famous as: Former Chancellor of the Exchequer

political ideology: Political party - Conservative


father: Montagu Sherard Dawes Butler

children: Adam Butler

Died on: March 8, 1982

place of death: Great Yeldham

More Facts

education: Pembroke College, Cambridge, Marlborough College

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Richard Austen Butler was a British Conservative politician who rose to fame during his tenure as the Education Minister (1941–45). He was the one responsible for overseeing the Education Act 1944 which changed the education system for secondary schools in England and Wales. Also called the "Butler Act" after him, it made all schooling—especially secondary education, free for all pupils. He was a key figure in the Conservative Party in the 1950s and served a long ministerial career. He hailed from a distinguished upper-middle-class family and received his education from Marlborough College and Pembroke College, Cambridge. He developed an interest in politics as a young man and became a Conservative Member of Parliament for Saffron Walden in 1929. Over the next few years he served in a number of junior ministerial positions before becoming the president of the board of education in Winston Churchill's wartime coalition in 1941. He gained much prominence in this position due to the enactment of the Education Act that introduced free secondary education for the first time in the UK. He emerged as a prominent figure in the Conservative Party and also served as the Deputy Prime Minister in 1962. He harbored the ambition of becoming the Prime Minister but this dream of his remained unfulfilled

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Childhood & Early Life
  • He was born as Richard Austen Butler in Attock Serai, Attock, in India (now in Punjab, Pakistan), on 9 December 1902 to Sir Montagu Sherard Dawes Butler and his wife, Anne Gertrude. Several members of his extended family were prominent public servants and educators. He was better known by the name of “Rab”.
  • He injured his right arm as a child and it never fully recovered. Because of this he could not get any military experience and this proved to be a handicap in his political career.
  • He first went to Marlborough College before moving on to Pembroke College, Cambridge where he was the President of the Cambridge Union Society in 1924. He graduated with a BA the same year. For a brief period of time he taught nineteenth-century French history at Cambridge.
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  • Rab Butler entered politics in 1929 when he was elected Member of Parliament (MP) for Saffron Walden in the general election. He would hold this seat until his retirement in 1965.
  • He served for a short while as Parliamentary Private Secretary to the India Secretary, Samuel Hoare before being given his first ministerial job as Under-Secretary of State for India in 1932, a post he held for the next five years.
  • He was Parliamentary Secretary at the Ministry of Labour in 1937-1938.
  • In 1938 he was made Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs in Neville Chamberlain's government. He was a staunch supporter of Prime Minister Chamberlain and the government's policy of appeasement of Nazi Germany.
  • Rab Butler received his first Cabinet post in 1941 when he was appointed President of the Board of Education in the government of Prime Minister Winston Churchill. At that time his appointment to the Board of Education was viewed as a tactic to remove him from the more sensitive Foreign Office. Nonetheless, Butler brought about a revolution in the country’s education system in this position.
  • He was influential in the enactment of the Education Act 1944 which was also called the Butler Education Act. The act introduced three different types of secondary school: grammar schools, secondary technical schools and secondary modern schools, and made schooling free for the students. It also provided for free meals to the children. The act led to a substantial increase in the number of students attending school.
  • The Conservatives were defeated in the 1945 general election following which Butler became active in rebuilding the party. He served as Chairman of the Conservative Research Department from 1945 to 1964.
  • In 1951, the Conservative Party returned to power and he was appointed Chancellor of the Exchequer. In this position he continued following to a large extent the economic policies of his Labour predecessor, Hugh Gaitskell.
  • During the 1950s Butler acted as the head of the Government on several occasions, both in the governments of Winston Churchill and his successor Anthony Eden. However, Butler was not officially recognized as the Deputy Prime Minister.
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  • When Eden resigned as the Prime Minister in 1957, there was no formal mechanism in the Conservative Party for determining a new leader. So the decision of choosing the new Prime Minister fell upon the Queen, and she, after consulting the likes of Churchill, Edward Heath and Lord Salisbury decided to appoint Harold Macmillan to the post. This was disappointing for Butler who had harbored hopes of being selected.
  • The new Prime Minister Macmillan appointed Butler as the Home Secretary in 1957. He held this office for five years. He finally received the formal titles of Deputy Prime Minister and First Secretary of State following a reshuffle in 1962.
  • In October 1963 Macmillan became ill and resigned as Prime Minister. Once again Butler hoped to succeed to the position and once again he was disillusioned as Alec Douglas-Home was selected to be the New Prime Minister.
  • Butler was made the Foreign Secretary under the Home Administration and served in this post until he accepted a peerage in 1965.
  • He became the first Chancellor of the University of Essex in 1966 and from 1972 to 1975 he chaired the high-profile Committee on Mentally Abnormal Offenders, widely referred to as the Butler Committee.
Major Work
  • Rab Butler rose to prominence as the Education Minister with the enactment of the Education Act 1944. The act introduced the Tripartite System of secondary education and for the first time in the U.K. provided for free secondary education for all pupils. The act is credited to have led to a huge increase in the number of girls receiving school education.
Awards & Achievements
  • At the time of his retirement, Rab Butler was awarded a life peerage as Baron Butler of Saffron Walden.
Personal Life & Legacy
  • Rab Butler married Sydney Elizabeth Courtauld in 1926. They had four children. His wife died of cancer in 1954.
  • In 1959, he married Mollie Courtauld, the widow of Augustine Courtauld.
  • He died on 8 March 1982 in Essex and is buried in the churchyard of the parish church of St Mary the Virgin in Saffron Walden.

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How To Cite

Article Title
- Rab Butler Biography
- Editors, TheFamousPeople.com
- TheFamousPeople.com
Last Updated
- November 07, 2017
Rab Butler

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