Beyond the Boundaries: Hugh Trevor-Roper

Supreme stylist, polymath, linguist and scourge of specialisation, Hugh Trevor-Roper, whose centenary falls this month, continues to divide opinions. Blair Worden considers his life and legacy.

Conducting a lesson: Trevor-Roper lecturing at Christ Church College, Oxford, 1950

Hugh Trevor-Roper, who belonged to a remarkable generation of historians, is alone among them in commanding a substantial present-day readership. Christopher Hill, Lawrence Stone, J.H. Plumb and Geoffrey Elton were famous figures in their time. They, like him, wrote on the period 1500-1800, though he, unlike them, wrote extensively outside it. Sometimes overvalued in their own time, they are perhaps undervalued now. One can still learn more from Stone’s work on the English aristocracy, from Hill’s on the social basis of Puritanism, from Plumb’s on the emergence of the modern state, or from Elton’s methods of research than today’s historians, with their insistently up-to-date bibliographies and the hectic turnover of their interpretations, always remember. Yet, if Trevor-Roper’s contemporaries survive in the public mind, it is as yesterday’s men.

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