A tribute to Peter William Hasler, 1926-2017

Peter Hasler, by Jane Brown

Peter Hasler, General Editor and Secretary to the Editorial Board of the History of Parliament between 1978 and 1991, died on 30 April. The following account of Peter’s life and career owes much to his widow, Christine Restall, and his sister, Joan Hasler, who herself worked for the History briefly during the 1950s.

Peter was associated with the History of Parliament for 33 years. He joined as the first sub-editor in 1958, becoming Deputy Editor in 1970 before being made General Editor on the retirement of Eddie Mullins, who had been Secretary to the Board since the revival of the History of Parliament project in 1951. Over the thirteen years that he was General Editor, four sections of the History were published: 1509-58, under the editorship of S.T. Bindoff; 1558-1603, published under his own editorship; 1660-90, edited by B.D. Henning; and 1790-1820, edited by Roland Thorne. A fifth set of volumes (1386-1421) was ready for publication the year after he retired. Peter became editor of the Elizabethan section after the original editor, Sir John Neale, resigned from the editorship in 1974, due to his failing health. Peter contributed the introductory survey and wrote almost 400 articles; he was also responsible for the revision of many more, and created a complex analysis of the data on Members, undertaken using punch cards before personal computers made such a task much easier.

Peter Hasler was born in London, although the family soon moved to Essex. He was the eldest of three children, his father having seen service in the 1914-18 war, notably in the RFC. He attended Brentwood School until 1943 when he joined the Royal Navy, seeing active service till the end of the war. After the war he took a history degree at Reading University and then his MA under Lady Stenton while also working for the BBC Monitoring Service. In 1955, having married a South African, he drove overland from England to Durban. He taught there for a while and returned to the UK, again by car, in 1958, when he came to work at the History.

He went on a sabbatical from the History in 1969 to go to Yale University as a visiting fellow, where he worked on the English Parliamentary diaries held by the Yale Center for Parliamentary History. He made many firm friendships there and also travelled widely in the USA. Peter was interviewed for an article in the Observer in 1986, photographed in his shirtsleeves poring over what looks like one of the volumes. Talking of Namier’s working practice, he told the interviewer that

He came in in the morning, put his head down and got on with it. That’s the secret. It requires devotion. You must do something every single day.

He was, wrote the Observer,

A cheerful, patient man, who is as devoted to his staff as they are to their research… he can be glum about the jealousies and rivalries that shame English historians, but he has the satisfaction of knowing that the history he presides over is an essential tool for anyone working on the nation’s past.

Peter’s first marriage broke down in the late 1950s. His second partner, whom he married in 1975, was Christine Restall, a market researcher and marketing consultant. With her he shared many interests in common, particularly sailing, music (especially opera – they met at Covent Garden), and art, and a long and happy retirement.


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