Maurice Hutt, 1928-2013

A leading historian of revolutionary France who helped to create the University of Sussex has died

Maurice Hutt was born in Rugby on 22 September 1928 to parents who had met in France during the First World War. His mother was French, and his father, a further education teacher and later a college principal, was English. His bilingual education proved crucial to an academic career largely focused on the history of modern France.

After attending King Edward VI Grammar School in Stratford-upon-Avon, Mr Hutt carried out his national service in what was then Palestine (1947-48), where he once appeared before a court martial for allowing his men to exchange currency against the rules.

He then studied history at Jesus College, Oxford (1948-51) and started his career as a lecturer in modern history at the University of Leeds (1951-61), although this also included a period as a Fulbright Scholar at Cornell University (1955-56). His wife, Rosemary Orton, was able to join him in the US when she also secured a scholarship to study at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

In 1961, Mr Hutt moved to Brighton – where he would spend the rest of his life – as part of the group around Lord Briggs that set up the University of Sussex. (They had to operate briefly from a small house until Sir Basil Spence’s celebrated Falmer campus was completed.) As a great enthusiast for interdisciplinary study, Mr Hutt played a key role in developing and instituting the policy – only recently discontinued – that required every undergraduate to study two distinct subjects.

Although he joined Sussex as lecturer in modern history, Mr Hutt went on to serve as senior proctor (1961-64), tutor and senior tutor (1965-68) and chair of the history subject group (1970-72). Ill health led to his retirement from the university in 1979, but he continued as an active researcher and even spent a term teaching in Beijing, just before the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre.

The author of a short biography of Napoleon (1965), Mr Hutt was most acclaimed for his monumental two-volume work Chouannerie and Counter-Revolution: Puisaye, the Princes and the British Government in the 1790s (1983), the product of 20 years’ research into British attempts to subvert the French revolutionary government by supporting domestic insurgency. He was also an inspiring teacher, with the historical novelist Philippa Gregory recalling how he transformed her life with his “élan and impatience”.

Diagnosed with bowel cancer in 2011, although still active until his final weeks, Mr Hutt died on 20 May. He is survived by four sons, one daughter and seven grandchildren.

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