Richard Austen Butler was born at Attock in the Punjab on 9 December 1902, the son of Sir Montagu Sherard Dawes Butler, Indian Civil Servant and later Master of Pembroke College, Cambridge. He attended Marlborough School whence he won an exhibition to Pembroke College Cambridge. Firsts in Modern and Medieval Languages and in History led to a Fellowship at Corpus Christi College, but Butler decided on a Parliamentary career and was elected to the seat of Saffron Walden, a constituency that he served until his retirement from Parliament in 1965. His first office was as Under-Secretary in Samuel Hoare's India Office, a post that he held from 1932 to 1937. This was followed on the accession of Neville Chamberlain as Prime Minister by a stint in the Ministry of Labour and in 1938 he was moved to be Secretary of State in the Foreign Office under Halifax. In 1941, Churchill moved him to be Minister of Education, where he piloted through the 1944 Education Act which bears his name.
Following the defeat of the Conservatives in 1945 Butler was made Chairman of the Conservative Research Department, and set about reforging Party policy, promoting moderate Conservative ideas. His position was central to much post-war Conservative thinking and he retained it until 1964. From 1951 to 1955 he was an able Chancellor of the Exchequer and from 1957-62 Home Secretary, where he beat off opposition from the pro-corporal punishment wing of the party to push through a new Criminal Justice Act. In 1962 he took control of the new Central Africa Department, where his considerable skill at negotiation produced some unlikely results. In the Labour victory of 1964 Butler held his seat, but he left politics in 1965 on being offered the Mastership of Trinity College and a life peerage. He held the Mastership until 1977, when statute dictated that he step down. He died in 1982.