His account of the Last Days of Hitler, based on the most exciting (and dangerous) sort of investigative journalism, shortly after the end of the war, is a classic; while his essays, reviews and letters (many edited by Richard Davenport-Hines) are gems of historical insight, imagination and literary style.
Notoriously, he authenticated the forged ‘Hitler Diaries’ – hoisted by his own petard, many said, in light of his scathing attacks on colleagues who erred. Yet the ‘Hitler Diaries’ debacle was in fact a tragic mistake which Trevor-Roper tried to correct before The Times splashed its scoop and his reputation took a body blow.
Either way, the work, the life and the ideas of Hugh Trevor-Roper greatly outweigh this single episode. He was an Oxford historian (Regius Professor no less) when such roles had influence beyond the ‘dreaming spires’ of that ancient university.
Married, late in life, to Field Marshal Haig’s daughter, he was a member of the establishment who ran Harold Macmillan’s campaign to become Chancellor of Oxford and later explained, politely, to Margaret Thatcher that she was entirely wrong about German re-unification.
Above all he was very funny, with a ironic and irreverent view of humanity that could rival Gibbon.
His letters, which have been edited by Richard Davenport-Hines, are as amusing and enlightening as this brilliant man himself.
The CVHF talk, ‘The Five Lives of Hugh Trevor-Roper’ by Richard Davenport-Hines is on 26th June
Richard Davenport-Hines is co-editor of One Hundred Letters from Hugh Trevor-Roper, and previously edited Trevor-Roper’s Letters from Oxford (addressed to Bernard Berenson) and his Wartime Journals. In his CVHF talk on 26th June, Richard Davenport-Hines will show how these letters reveal him as a historian, a controversialist, a public intellectual, a ‘backroom boy’ in British intelligence, a connoisseur, a traveller and a countryman.