William Woodruff was born in 1916 into a family of Lancashire cotton workers. Leaving school at 13, he became a delivery boy in a grocer's shop. In 1933, with bleak prospects in the north of England, he decided to try his luck in London. In 1936, with the aid of a London County Council Scholarship he went to Oxford University. During the Second World War he fought with the British Army in North Africa and the Mediterranean region. In 1946 Woodruff renewed his academic career. He is a world historian whose work has been widely translated. Woodruff has seven children and lives in Florida.