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.
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.