Hugh Trevor-Roper 1957-1980

Hugh Trevor-Roper liked to say that he followed a succession of ‘grim specialists’ who had spent too long searching for too little in dusty archives. Preferring to make bold assessments of large topics – mainly in early modern history but with notable forays into later times – he favoured the essay rather than the monograph. During his long tenure from 1957 to 1980 his literary skill and insatiable mind made him one of the best known historians of the twentieth century.

He was, above all, an ideas man and a controversialist. Every new development in historiography interested him, though he was unimpressed by many of them. While some of his critical essays come close to personal attacks, he was clearly as fascinated by the hold that ideas could have on his opponents as he was in puncturing their claims. ‘Every age has its orthodoxy’, he wrote in 1969, ‘and no orthodoxy is ever right’. Quite how self-aware this bracing aphorism was, coming from a man who did not entirely escape the prejudices and perspectives of his own cultural milieu, is hard to say.