James Ramsay Montagu Butler was born on 20 July 1889, the son of Henry Montagu Butler, Master of Trinity, and his second wife, Agnata née Ramsay. He was an entrance scholar at Harrow and was elected a scholar at Trinity College, Cambridge in 1905, although he did not matriculate until 1907. In 1909 he was placed in the first class of Part I of the Classics Tripos and the following year he took a first in Part II History. He won a number of University prizes, culminating in the Chancellor’s Classical Medal in 1911. He was elected a fellow of Trinity in 1913 on the strength of a dissertation which was to form the basis of his first publication 'The Passing of the Great Reform Bill'.
At the outbreak of war he joined the Scottish Horse and served with them in Gallipoli and Egypt. In 1916 he was transferred to the Directorate of Military Operations in the War Office and was awarded the OBE for services in connection with operations in France. After the Armistice he attended the League of Nations peace conference in Paris and later took a great interest in and worked hard to encourage the success of the League.
On his return to Cambridge, he was appointed tutor to princes Albert and Henry and was appointed a Member of the Victorian Order for this service. In University politics, he was a great supporter of full degrees for women. In 1922, after overtures from both the Labour and Liberal Parties, he was elected as MP for Cambridge University, but was unseated in 1923 and subsequently made an unsuccessful attempt to regain his seat in 1924. In 1928 Trinity appointed him Tutor, and was Senior Tutor from 1931-38. In 1929 he became a University Lecturer in History
In WWII, Butler was involved with the Army Intelligence Corps and Civil Affairs and Military Government and again was rewarded for work in relation to France, this time by the Legion d”Honneur. He returned to Cambridge after the war to be appointed Chief Military Historian by the government with responsibility for the official history of WWII and became Regius Professor of Modern History in 1947, holding the chair until 1954. In 1955, the College appointed him Vice-Master, which post he held until 1960, in which year he was knighted. He died in 1975.
Butler was not a prolific author. His publications include 'The Passing of the Great Reform Bill' (1914), 'Henry Montagu Butler, Master of Trinity College, Cambridge, 1886-1918 a memoir' (1925), 'The Present Need for History' (1946), 'Grand Strategy' (volumes in the official history of WWII, 1957 and 1964) and 'Lord Lothian' (1960).