For 32 years Ragnhild Hatton was a member of the International History Department. LSE Archivist, Sue Donnelly, investigates her career as a historian and teacher of the 17th and 18th centuries.

Ragnhild Hatton was born in Bergen, Norway in 1913. Her family was well to do with links to Bergen’s shipping interests, but her father, Gustav Ingolf Hanssen was an academic. After attending Bergen Cathedral School Ragnhild went to the University of Oslo obtaining her Master’s Degree in 1936. In the same year she married an English businessman, Harry Hatton, moved to England and registered for a postgraduate degree at University College, London.

Her studies were interrupted by the Second World War and the birth of her two sons, Peter and Paul, born in 1940 and 1942 but throughout the war she also worked on a Yale edition of the letters of the eighteenth century diplomat, Horatio Walpole, first Baron Walpole. In 1946 she turned down the Pfeiffer Research Fellowship at Girton College, Cambridge, but in 1947 completed her doctorate Diplomatic Relations between Great Britain and the Dutch Republic, 1714-1721.

Ragnhild was appointed to a one year assistant lectureship at LSE in 1949 supported by glowing references from her two doctorate supervisors. Gustaaf Renier, Reader in Dutch History at UCL wrote that “As a scholar Dr Hatton has exceptional and outstanding qualities”. His fellow supervisor Mark A Thomson, Professor of Modern History at the University of Liverpool described Ragnhild as “extremely interested in helping students” and said “If the School takes her they will have chosen a winner” and so it proved.

Department of International History, 1972. Credit: LSE Library

Department of International History, 1972. Credit: LSE Library. Standing left to right: Ragnhild Hatton, James Joll, George Grun, Donald Watt, Matthew Anderson, Esmonde Robertson, Roger Bullen, Kenneth Bourne, Hilda Lee. Seated: Ian Nish, Derek McKay, Carolyn Hargraves, Roy Bridge, Majorie Walker, Linda Sims, Anthony Polonsky

In 1950 Ragnhild was appointed to a one year lectureship on a salary of £550 per annum – the post was made permanent in 1955. In 1956 she was turned down for a Readership but was promoted in 1958. In 1968 she was appointed Professor of International History – the first time the School had a second Chair in History. Her interest in biography along with cultural and diplomatic history in the seventeenth and eighteenth century was key to developing a rounded history curriculum at LSE.

Her applications for posts and funding underline her joint interest in research and teaching. Her first book Diplomatic Relations between Great Britain and the Dutch Republic, 1714-1721 was a published version of her doctorate. Her next monograph Charles XII of Sweden was the first scholarly biography on this monarch. Between 1969 and 1976 Ragnhild published four volumes on Louis XIV and his influence in Europe, France and cultural life. In 1978 her last major work was George I: Elector and King – ground breaking in its consideration of George’s role as Elector of Hanover as well King of Great Britain. She also published many articles and was admired as an editor. Her thoroughness led to her being called “A glutton for footnotes”. Her research was greatly helped by her fluency in all the Scandinavian and most of the major European languages.

Ragnhild Hatton also had a great commitment to teaching and support for students and for many years was responsible for leading the department’s courses for first year students. This included delivering 30 lectures on European political history between 1500-1700 to first year students and 12 lectures on political history 1870-1919 to second year students along with meeting tutorial groups. She was a renowned supervisor of graduate students and organised the research seminar on seventeenth and eighteenth century political history at the Institute of Historical Research. During the student unrest of 1969 Ragnhild was appointed to a small committee of senior academics empowered to act on behalf of the Director on minor disciplinary matters.

The significance of Ragnhild Hatton’s work was widely acknowledged, often outside of the UK. In 1954 she became a Fellow of the Swedish Vitterhetsakademie. In 1979 she became the first woman historian to be nominated as a foreign member of the American Historical Association. 1983 and 1986 saw her receive two further Scandinavian honours becoming Knight, first class of the Royal Norwegian Order of St Olav and Commander of the Swedish Order of the Polar Star. She was also visiting professor at a number of US universities including Ohio University and Kansas University.

Ragnhild Hatton’s obituary in The Independent describes her as having “formidable energy” and a “dry sense of humour”. Ragnhild and her husband lived for many years in Kensington but also had a cottage in Paglesham, Essex, where they were able to pursue their love of sailing – indeed Ragnhild provided much encouragement to the LSE Sailing Club. She also had an interest in music and her memorial in the Shaw Library appropriately included music by Johan Helmich Roman, a Swedish baroque composer.

Contributed by Sue Donnelly (LSE Archivist)

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