Montagu Butler

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Montagu Butler
File:Henry Montagu Butler by Hay.jpg
Caricature by Hay in Vanity Fair
Born (1833-07-02)2 July 1833
Gayton, Northamptonshire, England
Died 14 January 1918(1918-01-14) (aged 84)
Cambridge, Cambridgeshire, England
Nationality British
Occupation Headmaster, Academic
Spouse(s) (1) Georgina Elliot
(2) Agnata Frances Ramsay
File:Henry Montagu Butler, Vanity Fair, 1903-05-28.jpg
"Trinity". Caricature by Spy published in Vanity Fair in 1903.

Henry Montagu Butler (called Montagu; 2 July 1833 – 14 January 1918) was an English academic.

He was the son of a previous Headmaster of Harrow School, George Butler and his wife Sarah Maria (née Gray). Educated at Harrow and Trinity College, Cambridge,[1] he married Georgina Elliot in 1861. He married his second wife in 1888, a very young Agnata Frances Ramsay who in 1887 attained the highest marks in the Classical Tripos at Cambridge. He had two sons and three daughters by his first wife, and another son by his second wife – the historian Sir James Butler. A talented and versatile Latinist, Butler achieved fame as one of the most adept British composers of Latin (and Greek) verse in the 19th and 20th centuries.


Similarly to his father he served as headmaster of Harrow (1859 to 1885). He was then appointed Dean of Gloucester Cathedral in 1885 and was also Master of Trinity College, Cambridge from 1886 to 1918, Vice Chancellor of the University, 1889–1890. As headmaster, he influenced many young people, including Stanley Baldwin (Prime Minister); Lord Davidson (Archbishop of Canterbury); Galsworthy of the Forsyte Saga; 10 bishops, including Bishop Gore; 17 judges; 4 viceroys; 12 governors; 12 ambassadors; 33 privy councillors; and 64 generals. He changed Harrow from a hide-bound and backward seventeenth century institution to a rebuilt and well-equipped contemporary school. He wrote one hymn, Lift up your hearts! We lift them, Lord, to thee in 1881. He died in Cambridge on 14 January 1918.[2]


Shane Leslie[3] described him as "the Master of Trinity, a bland Olympian in a black skull-cap with a white Jovine beard and an untiring flow of the lengthy anecdotes that are told in Heaven after the nectar has gone round twice.”

Butler's desk was donated to Duke Hospital by Dr. William John Dann in March 1938. After it had been moved to storage, circumstances led the school to refinish it and hence to discover the plaque telling of its historical significance.

Henry Montagu Butler was the first cousin once removed to Montagu Christie Butler, with whom he may easily be confused if either is referred to simply as "Montagu Butler". He was also the Great uncle of Richard Austen 'Rab' Butler, who also became Master of Trinity.

A. C. Benson recounted how Butler fell asleep during a College meeting and awoke with the emphatic observation, "A strong case, tellingly put".[4]


Butler married twice. Firstly, on 19 December 1861, to Georgina Isabella Elliot (1839–1883), with issue:

  1. Agnes J. Butler, b. 1865
  2. Edward M. Butler, b. 1867
  3. Edith Violet Butler (1869–1887)
  4. Arthur Montagu Butler, b. 1873
  5. Gertrude M. Butler, b. 1880

Secondly, in 1888 at St George's Hanover Square, to Agnata Frances Ramsay (1867–1931), with issue:

  1. James Ramsay Montagu Butler (1889–1975)
  2. Gordon K. Butler (1891–1916)
  3. Nevile Butler (1893–1973)


  1. "Butler, Henry Montagu (BTLR850HM)". A Cambridge Alumni Database. University of Cambridge.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. GRO Register of Deaths: MAR 1918 3b 576 CAMBRIDGE – Henry M. Butler, aged 84
  3. The Cantab, London: Chatto & Windus, 1926, p. 146
  4. J.A.Gere and John Sparrow (ed.), Geoffrey Madan's Notebooks, Oxford University Press, 1981, at page 45


Academic offices
Preceded by
Charles John Vaughan
Head Master of Harrow School
Succeeded by
James Welldon
Preceded by
William Hepworth Thompson
Master of Trinity College, Cambridge
Succeeded by
J. J. Thomson
Preceded by
Charles Edward Searle
Vice-Chancellor of the University of Cambridge
Succeeded by
John Peile