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Hugh Trevor-Roper

[trev-er-roh-per]

Hugh Redwald Trevor-Roper, Baron Dacre of Glanton (January 15, 1914January 26, 2003) was a British historian of Early Modern Britain and Nazi Germany.

Life

Early life and education

He was born in Glanton, Northumberland, England, the son of a doctor, and educated at Charterhouse and at Christ Church, Oxford in Classics and Modern History, later moving to Merton College, Oxford to be a research fellow. His home was a place largely devoid of affection, books and intellectual interests. Trevor-Roper took a first in Classical Moderations in 1934 and won the Craven, the Ireland and the Hertford scholarships in Classics. Initially Trevor-Roper intended to make his career in the Classics, but he became bored with what he regarded as the pedantic technical aspects of the Greats course at Oxford, and instead switched to History, where he obtained another first in 1936.. Trevor-Roper's first book was his 1940 biography of Archbishop William Laud, in which Trevor-Roper challenged many of the prevailing perceptions surrounding Laud.

Military service in World War II

During World War II, Trevor-Roper served as an officer in the Radio Security Service of the Secret Intelligence Service, and then on the interception of messages from the German intelligence service, the Abwehr. He came to have a low opinion of the pre-war professional intelligence agents but a higher one of post-1939 recruits like Kim Philby. Philby was clearly a man of intelligence but Trevor-Roper detected the intellectual emptiness behind his facade and was not surprised when Philby was revealed as a Soviet agent. Others had been more gullible, amongst them James Jesus Angleton, chief spy-catcher for the US CIA. Trevor-Roper declared in The Philby Affair (1968) that the Soviet spy, Kim Philby, was never in a position to undermine efforts by the Chief of German Military Intelligence Abwehr, Admiral Wilhelm Canaris, to overthrow the Nazi regime and negotiate with the British government. This was not only due to Philby's relatively junior rank, but more importantly to the fact that Churchill, Eden and the War Cabinet had agreed on a policy of 'absolute silence' vis-a-vis the German Opposition thus cancelling out any opportunity Philby may have had to sow dissent.

Investigating Hitler's last days

In 1945, Trevor-Roper was ordered by the British government to investigate the circumstances of Adolf Hitler's death and to rebut the claims of the Soviet government that Hitler was alive and living somewhere in the West. The ensuing investigation resulted in Trevor-Roper's most famous book, 1947's The Last Days of Hitler, in which he traced the last ten days of the Führer's life. In response to The Last Days of Hitler, Trevor-Roper received a death threat from the Stern Gang for his supposed over-emphasis on Hitler's charisma, which the authors of the death threat felt had exonerated the German people.

Anti-communism

In 1950, Trevor-Roper attended a conference in Berlin of anti-Communist intellectuals such as Sidney Hook, Melvin J. Lasky, Ignazio Silone, Arthur Koestler, Raymond Aron and Franz Borkenau that resulted in the founding of the Congress for Cultural Freedom and its magazine Encounter. In the 1950s and 1960s Trevor-Roper served as a frequent contributor to Encounter but in private was sometimes bothered by what he regarded as the magazine's overly didactic tone, particularly in allegedly strident pieces by Koestler and Borkenau.

Academic career and controversies

For Trevor-Roper, the major themes of early modern Europe were those of intellectual vitality, religious quarrels and of divergence between Protestant and Catholic states, the latter being outpaced by the former economically, politically and constitutionally. European expansion overseas was incidental to these processes. In Trevor-Roper's view, one of the major themes of early modern Europe was that of expansion. By expansion, Trevor-Roper meant overseas expansion in the form of colonies and intellectual expansion in the form of the rise of nationalism, the Reformation, and the Enlightenment. In Trevor-Roper's view, the witch hunts of the 16th and 17th centuries were part of the reaction against growing doctrinal pluralism, and were ultimately traced back to the conflict between the rational worldview of such thinkers as Desiderius Erasmus and other humanists and the spiritual values of the Reformation.

Trevor-Roper argued that history should be understood as an art, not a science, and asserted that key attribute of the successful historian was the power of imagination. For Trevor-Roper, history was full of contingency, and the story of the past was neither a continuous advance nor decline, but was rather resolved by accident and through the particular choices that particular individuals made in the time at question. Though Trevor-Roper often acknowledged the impact of social trends upon history, in his view, it was the actions of the individuals that made the difference. However, in his studies of early modern Europe, Trevor-Roper did not focus exclusively upon politcal history, but rather sought to examine the interaction between the political, intellectual, social and religious trends of the period. Trevor-Roper's preferred medium for expressing himself was the essay rather the book. In his essays in social history in the 1950s-1960s, Trevor-Roper was increasingly influenced by, though he never formally embraced the work of the French Annales School, especially Fernand Braudel, and did much to introduce the work of the Annales school to the English-speaking world.

In Trevor-Roper's opinion, the dispute between the Puritans and the Arminians was a major, through not the sole cause of the English Civil War. For Trevor-Roper, the dispute was over issues of free will and predestination, of preaching and the importance of the sacraments, and only later over the structure of the Church of England. The Puritans desired a decentralized and more equal church with an emphasis on the laity while the Arminians wished for ordered church with a firm hierarchy with the bishops on top and an emphasis on the divine right and salvation via free will.

In 1960, Trevor-Roper waged a successful campaign against the candidacy of Sir Oliver Franks who was backed by the heads of houses marshalled by Maurice Bowra for the Chancellorship of the University of Oxford and had his old friend and publisher the Prime Minister Harold Macmillan elected instead. In 1964, Trevor-Roper edited a festschrift in honor of his friend, Sir Keith Feiling's 80th birthday. In 1970, Trevor-Roper was undoubtedly the author of The Letters Of Mercurius, a satirical work on the student revolts and university politics of the late 1960s.

As a historian of early modern Britain, Trevor-Roper was most famous for his disputes with fellow historians such as Lawrence Stone and Christopher Hill, whose materialist (and in some measure "inevitablist") explanations of the English Civil War he enthusiastically attacked. Trevor-Roper was a leading player in the so-called "storm over the gentry" (also known as the "gentry controversy"), a dispute with Christian Socialist R. H. Tawney and Stone about whether the English gentry were, economically, on the way down or up in the century before the English Civil War, and whether this had anything to do with the outbreak of that war in 1642. Stone, Tawney and Hill all argued that the gentry were rising economically, and that this caused the Civil War. Trevor-Roper argued that, whilst office-holders and lawyers were prospering, the lesser gentry were in decline and that was the Civil War's cause. A third group, revolving around J. H. Hexter and Geoffrey Elton, argued that the causes of the Civil War had nothing to do with either the alleged rise or decline of the gentry. In 1948, a paper put forward by Stone in support of Tawney's thesis was destroyed by Trevor-Roper who in a rancorous counter-essay showed that Stone had exaggerated the debt problems of the Tudor nobility. Trevor-Roper then attacked Tawney's theories concerning rising gentry and declining nobility, arguing that the latter was guilty of selective use of evidence and of misunderstanding the statistics.

Trevor-Roper's attacks on the philosophies of history advanced by figures like Arnold J. Toynbee and, the Marxist, Edward Hallett Carr and on his colleague A.J.P. Taylor's account of the origins of World War II, were also widely noticed. Another notable dispute was with Taylor and Alan Bullock over the question of whether Adolf Hitler had any fixed aims or not. In the 1950s, Trevor-Roper was ferocious in his criticism of Bullock for his portrayal of Hitler as a “mountebank” (i.e. opportunistic adventurer) instead of the ideologue that Trevor-Roper believed him to be. When Taylor offered a picture of Hitler similar to Bullock's in his 1961 book The Origins of the Second World War, the same debate continued, very publicly, between Taylor and Trevor-Roper. Another notable feud Trevor-Roper carried on in the 1950s-60s was with the novelist and Catholic convert Evelyn Waugh, who saw Trevor-Roper as a severe critic of his Church, and was often vocal in expressing his criticism of Trevor-Roper.

In regard to the Globalist-Continentalist debate between those who argued that Adolf Hitler had as his aim the conquest of the world, as against those who argued that he sought only the conquest of the continent of Europe, Trevor-Roper was one of the leading Continentalists. He argued that the Globalist case rested upon taking a wide scattering of Hitler's remarks over several decades and attempting to turn these views into a systematic ideology. In Trevor-Roper's opinion, the only consistent objective Hitler sought was the domination of Europe.

A notable thesis propagated by Trevor-Roper was the “general crisis of the 17th century”. Trevor-Roper argued that the middle years of the 17th century in Western Europe saw a widespread break-down in politics, economics and society caused by a complex series of demographic, social, religious, economic and political problems. In this “general crisis”, various events such as the English Civil War, the Fronde in France, the climax of the Thirty Years War in Germany, troubles in the Netherlands, and revolts against the Spanish Crown in Portugal, Naples and Catalonia were all manifestations of the same problems. The most important causes of the “general crisis”, in Trevor-Roper’s opinion, was the conflict between “Court” and “Country”; that is between the increasingly powerful centralizing, bureaucratic, sovereign princely states represented by the court, and the traditional, regional, land-based aristocracy and gentry representing the country. In addition, the intellectual and religious changes introduced by the Reformation and the Renaissance were important secondary causes of the "general crisis".

The “general crisis” thesis generated much controversy between those, such as the Marxist historian Eric Hobsbawm, who believed in the “general crisis” thesis but saw the problems of 17th-century Europe as being more social and economic in origin then Trevor-Roper would allow. A third fraction comprised those who simply denied there was any “general crisis” such as the Dutch historian Ivo Schöffer, the Danish historian Niels Steengsgaard, and the Soviet historian A.D. Lublinskaya. Trevor-Roper's "general crisis" thesis provoked much discussion which led to experts in 17th century history such as Roland Mousnier, J. H. Elliott, Lawrence Stone, E. H. Kossmann, Eric Hobsbawm and J. H. Hexter all weighting in on the pros and cons of the theory. At times, the discussion became quite heated with the Italian Marxist historian Rosario Villari, who speaking of the work of Trevor-Roper and Mousnier claimed that: "The hypothesis of imbalance between bureaucratic expansion and the needs of the state is too vague to be plausible, and rests on inflated rhetoric, typical of a certain type of political conservative, rather than on effective analysis". Villari went to accuse Trevor-Roper of speaking to downgrade the importance of what Villari called the English Revolution (the usual Marxist term for the English Civil War), and insisted that the "general crisis" was part of an idealistic Europe-wide revolutionary movement. Another Marxist critic of Trevor-Roper was the Soviet historian A.D. Lublinskaya who attacked the concept of a conflict between "Court" and "Country" as fiction, and thus argued there was no "general crisis"; instead Lublinskaya maintained that the so-called "general crisis" was merely the normal workings of the emergence of capitalism.

One of Trevor-Roper's most successful books was his 1976 biography of the Sinologist Sir Edmund Backhouse, 2nd Baronet, who had long been regarded as one of the world's leading experts on China. In his biography, Trevor-Roper proceeded to expose Backhouse's life-story and virtually all of his scholarship as a fraud. The discrediting of Backhouse as a source led to much of China's history being re-written in the West as many of Backhouse's assertions, such as his claim that the Dowager Empress ordered the murder of her son, were proven to be false.

The extent of Trevor-Roper’s influence can be seen in the list of contributors to History and the Imagination, the festschrift in his honor; some of the more notable contributors were Geoffrey Elton, Michael Howard, J.H. Elliott, Valerie Pearl, and Fernand Braudel.

Debates on African history

Another aspect of Trevor-Roper’s general outlook on history and on scholarly research that has inspired controversy is his viewpoint on historical experiences of societies outside Europe. Evoking Enlightenment thinkers like Voltaire, Adam Smith, and Edward Gibbon, in 1963 he made the now-famous remark that sub-Saharan Africa had no history prior to European exploration and colonization, saying rather that “there is only the history of Europeans in Africa. The rest is darkness." This comment, recapitulated in a later article which called Africa “unhistoric”, was criticized by Africanists in various fields of academia, spurring intense debate, up to today, between historians, anthropologists, sociologists, and those in the emerging fields of postcolonial and cultural studies on the definition of “history." The conflict centers around what factors must be present in order for a society to qualify as having a “history,” which Trevor-Roper thought required documentable evidence of if and how a society's “movement” toward change and development was accomplished. Many historians have agreed with this central claim but think historical evidence should also include oral traditions as well as an established system of written history, which had previously been the litmus test for a society having left "prehistory" behind. Other critics of Trevor-Roper’s claim have questioned the validity of systematic interpretations of the African past, whether by materialist, Annalist, or, like Trevor-Roper, conservative methods. Still others have gone as far as saying that all approaches which compare Africa with Europe or directly integrate it into European history are not sufficient for an accurate description of African societies and cultures. Nevertheless, although virtually all scholars now agree that Africa qualifies as having a “history," Trevor-Roper's statements played an indirect, but important role in the development of post-colonial African studies by motivating wide-ranging discussions about Africa’s role in the present and historical world.

Election as Master of Peterhouse, Cambridge

At the age of sixty-seven, he became Master of Peterhouse, Cambridge. His election, which surprised his contemporaries, was engineered by a group of fellows led by Maurice Cowling, then the leading Peterhouse Historian. Despite this, his relations with the conservative members of the fellowship (and indeed the porters) of Peterhouse subsequently proved to be difficult.. Trevor-Roper's work in re-creating the library were two of his enduring achievements.

His role in the "Hitler Diaries" hoax

The nadir of his career came in 1983, when as a director of The Times he authenticated the so-called Hitler Diaries. The opinion among experts in the field was by no means unanimous; David Irving for example, who had been widely accused of Nazi sympathies, initially decried them as forgeries but subsequently changed his mind and declared them genuine. Two other experts, Eberhard Jäckel and Gerhard Weinberg, also authenticated them. But within two weeks forensic scientist Julius Grant had demonstrated unequivocally that the diaries were a forgery. The embarrassing incident gave Trevor-Roper's enemies at Peterhouse and elsewhere the opportunity to criticise him openly.

Trevor-Roper's initial endorsement of the alleged Hitler diaries raised questions in the public mind not only about his perspicacity as a historian but also about his integrity, because The Sunday Times, a newspaper to which he regularly contributed book reviews and of which he was an independent director, had already paid a considerable sum for the right to serialise the diaries. Trevor-Roper denied any dishonest motivation, explaining that he had been given certain assurances as to how the diaries had come into the possession of their "discoverer" -- and that these assurances had been mistaken, prompting the satirical magazine Private Eye to nickname him Hugh Very-Ropey.

Despite the shadow that this incident cast over his later career, he continued writing (producing Catholics, Anglicans, and Puritans in 1987) and his work continued to be well received.

Personal life

On October 4, 1954, Trevor-Roper married Lady Alexandra Henrietta Louisa Howard-Johnston (March 9, 1907 - August 15, 1997), eldest daughter of Field Marshal the Earl Haig by his wife, the former Hon. Dorothy Maud Vivian. Lady Alexandra was a goddaughter of Queen Alexandra and had previously been married to Rear-Admiral Clarence Dinsmore Howard-Johnston, by whom she had had three children.

His brother, Patrick Trevor-Roper, was a leading eye surgeon and prominent gay rights campaigner, one of only three gays willing to testify before the Wolfenden Committee, which was investigating whether British law on this should be changed.

Hugh Trevor-Roper was awarded a life peerage in 1979 and chose the title Baron Dacre of Glanton, of Glanton in the County of Northumberland. He was the first life peer created by Margaret Thatcher in her term as Prime Minister.

Lord Dacre of Glanton died of cancer in a hospice in Oxford, aged 89. In his last years he had suffered from sight problems leading to visual illusions, problems which were corrected by surgery. Three books by Trevor-Roper were published posthumously. The first was Letters from Oxford, a collection of letters written by Trevor-Roper in the 1950s to his close friend, the wealthy American art collector Bernard Berenson, who lived in a villa outside of Florence, Italy. The second book was Europe’s Physician, an unfinished biography of Sir Theodore De Mayerne, the Franco-Swiss court physician at the courts of James I and Charles I. The latter work was a manuscript Trevor-Roper had largely written by 1979, but for reasons unknown did not finish the work. The third book was The Invention of Scotland: Myth and History, a critique written in the mid-1970s of what Trevor-Roper regarded as the myths of Scottish nationalism, and which was published in 2008.

Works

  • Archbishop Laud, 1573-1645, 1940.
  • The Last Days of Hitler, 1947.
  • Secret Conversations, 1941-1944 (published later as Hitler's Table Talk, 1941-1944), 1953.
  • Historical Essays, 1957.
  • "The General Crisis of the Seventeenth Century" pages 31-64 from Past and Present, Volume 16, 1959.
  • "Hitlers Kriegsziele" pages 121-133 from Vierteljahrshefte für Zeitsgeschichte, Volume 8, 1960, translated into English as "Hitler's War Aims" pages 235-250 from Aspects of The Third Reich edited by H.W. Koch, London: Macmillan Ltd, 1985.
  • "A. J. P. Taylor, Hitler and the War" pages 86-96 from Encounter, Volume 17, July 1961.
  • "E.H. Carr's Success Story" pages 69-77 from Encounter, Volume 84, Issue #104, 1962
  • Blitzkrieg to Defeat: Hitler's War Directives, 1939-1945, 1965, 1964.
  • Essays in British history presented to Sir Keith Feiling edited by H.R. Trevor-Roper; with a foreword by Lord David Cecil (1964)
  • The Rise of Christian Europe, 1965.
  • Hitler's Place In History, 1965.
  • The Crisis of the Seventeenth Century: Religion, the Reformation, and Social Change, and Other Essays, 1967.
  • The Age of Expansion, Europe and the World, 1559-1600, edited by Hugh Trevor-Roper, 1968.
  • The Philby Affair : Espionage, Treason, And Secret Services, 1968.
  • The Romantic Movement And The Study Of History: the John Coffin memorial lecture delivered before the University of London on 17 February 1969, 1969.
  • The European Witch-Craze of the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries, 1969
  • The Plunder Of The Arts In The Seventeenth Century, 1970.
  • Queen Elizabeth's First Historian: William Camden and the Beginning of English "Civil History", 1971.
  • A Hidden Life: The Enigma of Sir Edmund Backhouse (published in the U.S. as The Hermit of Peking: The Hidden Life of Sir Edmund Backhouse), 1976.
  • Princes and Artists: Patronage and Ideology at Four Habsburg Courts, 1517-1633, 1976.
  • History and Imagination: A Valedictory Lecture Delivered before the University of Oxford on 20 May 1980, 1980.
  • Renaissance Essays, 1985.
  • Catholics, Anglicans and Puritans: Seventeenth Century Essays, 1987.
  • From Counter-Reformation to Glorious Revolution, 1992.
  • Letters from Oxford: Hugh Trevor-Roper to Bernard Berenson. Edited by Richard Davenport-Hines. L.: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2006, ISBN 0-297-85084-9.
  • Europe’s Physician: The Various Life of Sir Theodore De Mayerne, 2007, ISBN 0-300-11263-7.
  • The Invention of Scotland: Myth and History, 2008, ISBN 0-300-13686-2

See also

Notes

References

  • Lloyd-Jones, Hugh (1981). History and Imagination: Essays in Honor of H.R Trevor-Roper. London: Duckworth.
  • Rabb, Theodore (1975). The Struggle for Stability in Early Modern Europe. New York: Oxford University Press.
  • Rosenbaum, Ron (1998). Explaining Hitler : The Search For the Origins Of His Evil. New York: Random House.
  • Saleh, Zaki (1958). Trevor-Roper's Critique of Arnold Toynbee: A Symptom of Intellectual Chaos. Baghdad: Al-Ma'eref Press.
  • Winter, P. R. (2007). "A Higher Form of Intelligence: Hugh Trevor-Roper and Wartime British Secret Service". Intelligence and National Security 22 (6): 847-880.
  • “Discussion of H. R. Trevor-Roper: "The General Crisis of the Seventeenth Century"” pages 8-42 from Past and Present, No. 18, November 1960 with contributions from Roland Mousnier, J. H. Elliott, Lawrence Stone, H. R. Trevor-Roper, E. H. Kossmann, E. J. Hobsbawm and J. H. Hexter.
  • Robinson, Kristen "Trevor-Roper, Hugh" pages 1204-1205 from The Encyclopedia of Historians and Historical Writing edited by Kelly Boyd, Volume 2 M-Z, London: Fitzroy Dearborn Publishers, 1999, ISBN 1-884964-33-8.

External links

About Trevor-Roper

By Trevor-Roper

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