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The Lord Dacre of Glanton

Cropped black and white photograph of Trevor-Roper being given a book
Trevor-Roper in 1975
Hugh Redwald Trevor-Roper

(1914-01-15)15 January 1914
Glanton, Northumberland, England
Died 26 January 2003(2003-01-26) (aged 89)
Alma mater Christ Church, Oxford
Occupation Historian
Known for Studies in 17th-century European history
Title Regius Professor of Modern History
Term 1957–1980
Predecessor Vivian Hunter Galbraith
Successor Michael Howard
Alexandra Howard-Johnston
(m. 1954; died 1997)
Military career
Allegiance  United Kingdom
Service/branch  British Army
Rank Major
Unit Intelligence Corps
Battles/wars World War II

Hugh Redwald Trevor-Roper, Baron Dacre of Glanton FBA (15 January 1914 – 26 January 2003) was an English historian. He was Regius Professor of Modern History at the University of Oxford.

Trevor-Roper was a polemicist and essayist on a range of historical topics, but particularly England in the 16th and 17th centuries and Nazi Germany. In the view of John Kenyon, "some of [Trevor-Roper's] short essays have affected the way we think about the past more than other men's books". This is echoed by Richard Davenport-Hines and Adam Sisman in the introduction to One Hundred Letters from Hugh Trevor-Roper (2014): "The bulk of his publications is formidable ... Some of his essays are of Victorian length. All of them reduce large subjects to their essence. Many of them ... have lastingly transformed their fields." On the other hand, his biographer Adam Sisman also writes that "the mark of a great historian is that he writes great books, on the subject which he has made his own. By this exacting standard Hugh failed."

Trevor-Roper's most widely read and financially rewarding book was titled The Last Days of Hitler (1947). It emerged from his assignment as a British intelligence officer in 1945 to discover what happened in the last days of Hitler's bunker. From his interviews with a range of witnesses and study of surviving documents he demonstrated that Hitler was dead and had not escaped from Berlin. He also showed that Hitler's dictatorship was not an efficient unified machine but a hodge-podge of overlapping rivalries.

Trevor-Roper's reputation was "severely damaged" in 1983 when he authenticated the Hitler Diaries shortly before they were shown to be forgeries.

Early life and education

Trevor-Roper was born at Glanton, Northumberland, England, the son of Kathleen Elizabeth Davidson (died 1964) and Bertie William Edward Trevor-Roper (1885–1978), a doctor, descended from Henry Roper, 8th Baron Teynham, who married, Anne, (her second husband) 16th Baroness Dacre. Trevor-Roper "enjoyed (but not too seriously) ... that he was a collateral descendant of William Roper, the son-in-law and biographer of Sir Thomas More ... as a boy he was aware that only a dozen lives (several of them those of elderly bachelors) separated him from inheriting the Teynham peerage."

Trevor-Roper's brother, Patrick, became a leading eye surgeon and gay rights activist. Trevor-Roper was educated at Belhaven Hill School, Charterhouse, and Christ Church, Oxford, where he read first Classics (Literae Humaniores) and then Modern History, later moving to Merton College, Oxford, to become a Research Fellow. Whilst at Oxford, he was a member of the exclusive Stubbs Society and was initiated as a Freemason in the Apollo University Lodge.

Trevor-Roper took a first in Classical Moderations in 1934 and won the Craven, the Ireland, and the Hertford scholarships in Classics. Initially, he intended to make his career in the Classics but became bored with what he regarded as the pedantic technical aspects of the classics course at Oxford and switched to History, where he obtained first-class honours in 1936. Trevor-Roper's first book was a 1940 biography of Archbishop William Laud, in which he 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. In early 1940, Trevor-Roper and E. W. B. Gill decrypted some of these intercepts, demonstrating the relevance of the material and spurring Bletchley Park efforts to decrypt the traffic. Intelligence from Abwehr traffic later played an important part in many operations including the Double-Cross System.

He formed a low opinion of most pre-war professional intelligence agents, but a higher one of some of the post-1939 recruits. In The Philby Affair (1968) Trevor-Roper argues that the Soviet spy Kim Philby was never in a position to undermine efforts by the chief of the Abwehr, German Military Intelligence, Admiral Wilhelm Canaris, to overthrow the Nazi regime and negotiate with the British government.

Investigating Hitler's last days

In November 1945, Trevor-Roper was ordered by Dick White, then head of counter-intelligence in the British sector of Berlin, to investigate the circumstances of Adolf Hitler's death, and to rebut the Soviet propaganda that Hitler was alive and living in the West. Using the alias of "Major Oughton", Trevor-Roper interviewed or prepared questions for several officials, high and low, who had been present in the Führerbunker with Hitler, and who had been able to escape to the West, including Bernd Freytag von Loringhoven.

For the most part Trevor-Roper relied on investigations and interviews by hundreds of British, American and Canadian intelligence officers. He did not have access to Soviet materials. Working rapidly, Trevor-Roper drafted his report, which served as the basis for his most famous book, The Last Days of Hitler, in which he described the last ten days of Hitler's life and the fates of some of the higher-ranking members of the inner circle, as well as those of key lesser figures. Trevor-Roper transformed the evidence into a literary work, with sardonic humour and drama, and was much influenced by the prose styles of two of his favourite historians, Edward Gibbon and Lord Macaulay.

The book was cleared by British officials in 1946 for publication as soon as the war crimes trials ended. It was published in English in 1947; six English editions and many foreign language editions followed. According to American journalist Ron Rosenbaum, Trevor-Roper received a letter from Lisbon written in Hebrew stating that the Stern Gang would assassinate him for The Last Days of Hitler, which, they believed, portrayed Hitler as a "demoniacal" figure but let ordinary Germans who followed Hitler off the hook, and that for this he deserved to die. Rosenbaum reports that Trevor-Roper told him this was the most extreme response he had ever received for one of his books.


In June 1950, Trevor-Roper attended a conference in Berlin of anti-Communist intellectuals along with 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, he was a frequent contributor to Encounter, but had reservations about what he regarded as the over-didactic tone of some of its contributors, particularly Koestler and Borkenau.

Election as Master of Peterhouse, Cambridge

Peterhouse Master's Lodge - - 615416
Peterhouse Master's Lodge

In 1980 at the age of 67, he became Master of Peterhouse, the oldest and smallest college in the University of Cambridge. His election, which surprised his friends, was engineered by a group of fellows led by Maurice Cowling, then the leading Peterhouse historian. The fellows chose him because Cowling's reactionary clique thought he would be an arch-conservative who would oppose the admission of women. In the event, Trevor-Roper feuded constantly with Cowling and his allies, while launching a series of administrative reforms. Women were admitted in 1983 at his urging. In a review of Adam Sisman's 2010 biography of Trevor-Roper, the Economist wrote that the picture of Peterhouse in the 1980s was "startling", stating the college had become under Cowling's influence a sort of right-wing "lunatic asylum", who were determined to sabotage Trevor-Roper's reforms. In 1987 he retired complaining of "seven wasted years".


In 1981 a Festschrift was published in honour of Trevor-Roper, History and the Imagination. Some of the contributors were Sir Geoffrey Elton, John Clive, Arnaldo Momigliano, Frances Yates, Jeremy Catto, Robert S. Lopez, Michael Howard, David S. Katz, Dimitri Obolensky, J. H. Elliott, Richard Cobb, Walter Pagel, Hugh Lloyd-Jones, Valerie Pearl and Fernand Braudel. The topics contributed by this group of American, British, French, Russian, Italian, Israeli, Canadian and German historians extended from whether the Odyssey was a part of an oral tradition that was later written down, to the question of the responsibility for the Jameson Raid.

Personal life

On 4 October 1954, Trevor-Roper married Lady Alexandra Henrietta Louisa Howard-Johnston (9 March 1907 – 15 August 1997), eldest daughter of Field Marshal 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. There were no children by his marriage with her.

Trevor-Roper was made a life peer in 1979 on the recommendation of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. He was raised to the Peerage on 27 September 1979, and was introduced to the House of Lords as Baron Dacre of Glanton, of Glanton in the County of Northumberland. He did not base his title on his surname, because "double-barrelled titles are an invention, and a monopoly, of Wilsonian peers", and "under the rules of the College of Arms either ['Lord Trevor' or 'Lord Roper'] would require him to change his surname to either 'Trevor' or 'Roper.'" On mentioning the family's connection to the Dacre title to his wife, who liked the sound of it, Trevor-Roper was persuaded to opt for the title of "Baron Dacre", despite staunch opposition from the suo jure 27th Baroness Dacre (née Brand). She had her cousin, Anthony Brand, 6th Viscount Hampden, "as titular head of the Brand family", inform Trevor-Roper that the Dacre title belonged to the Brand family "and no-one else should breach their monopoly", on the grounds of the title's antiquity of over six centuries. This high-handed treatment strengthened Trevor-Roper's resolve in the face of his initial ambivalence; he observed "why should the Brands be so 'proud', or so jealous, of a mere title ... a gewgaw, which has been bandied intermittently from family to family for six centuries, without tradition or continuity or distinction (except for murder, litigation and extravagance) or, for the last 250 years, land? They only acquired this pretty toy, in 1829, because a Mr Brand, of whom nothing whatever is known, had married into the Trevor-Ropers (who had themselves acquired it by marrying into the Lennards). Now they behave as if they had owned it for six centuries and had a monopoly of it for ever. A fig for their stuffiness!" Notwithstanding objections, Trevor-Roper duly took the title of Baron Dacre of Glanton.

In his last years he had suffered from failing eyesight, which made it difficult for him to read and write. He underwent cataract surgery and obtained a magnifying machine, which allowed him to continue writing. In 2002, at the age of 88, Trevor-Roper submitted a sizable article on Thomas Sutton, the founder of Charterhouse School, to the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography in part with notes he had written decades earlier, which editor Brian Harrison praised as "the work of a master". Trevor-Roper suffered several other minor ailments related to his advanced age, but according to his stepson, "bore all his difficulties stoically and without complaint". That year, he was diagnosed with cancer and died on 26 January 2003 in a hospice in Oxford, aged 89.

Posthumous books

Five books by Trevor-Roper were published posthumously. The first was Letters from Oxford, a collection of letters written by Trevor-Roper between 1947 and 1959 to his close friend the American art collector Bernard Berenson. The second book was 2006's Europe’s Physician, a biography of Sir Theodore de Mayerne, the Franco-Swiss court physician to Henri IV, James I and Charles I. The latter work was largely completed by 1979, but for some unknown reasons was not finished.

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. It was published in 2008. The fourth book collecting together some of his essays on History and the Enlightenment: Eighteenth Century Essays was published in 2010. The fifth book was The Wartime Journals, edited by Richard Davenport-Hines, published in 2011. The Wartime Journals are from the journals that Trevor-Roper kept during his years in the Secret Intelligence Service.


  • Archbishop Laud, 1573–1645, 1940.
  • The Last Days of Hitler, 1947 (revised editions followed, until the last in 1995)
  • "The Elizabethan Aristocracy: An Anatomy Anatomized," Economic History Review (1951) 3 No 3 pp. 279–298 in JSTOR
  • Secret Conversations, 1941–1944 (published later as Hitler's Table Talk, 1941–1944), 1953.
  • Historical Essays, 1957 (published in the United States in 1958 as Men and Events).
  • "The General Crisis of the Seventeenth Century", Past and Present, Volume 16, 1959 pp. 31–64.
  • "Hitlers Kriegsziele", in Vierteljahrshefte für Zeitsgeschichte, Volume 8, 1960 pp. 121–133, 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", Encounter, Volume 17, July 1961 pp. 86–96.
  • "E. H. Carr's Success Story", Encounter, Volume 84, Issue No 104, 1962 pp. 69–77.
  • Blitzkrieg to Defeat: Hitler's War Directives, 1939–1945, 1964, 1965.
  • 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 (History of European Civilization series), 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.
  • The Letters of Mercurius, 1970. (London: John Murray)
  • Queen Elizabeth's First Historian: William Camden and the Beginning of English "Civil History", 1971.
  • "Fernand Braudel, the Annales, and the Mediterranean," The Journal of Modern History Vol. 44, No. 4, December 1972
  • "Foreword" pages 9–16 from 1914: Delusion or Design The Testimony of Two German Diplomats edited by John Röhl, 1973.
  • A Hidden Life: The Enigma of Sir Edmund Backhouse (published in the US, and in later Eland editions in the UK, 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.
  • The Golden Age of Europe: From Elizabeth I to the Sun King, edited by Hugh Trevor-Roper, 1987.
  • From Counter-Reformation to Glorious Revolution, 1992.
  • Edward Gibbon – The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, vol. 1 introduction (London: Everyman's Library, 1993).
  • 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
  • History and the Enlightenment: Eighteenth Century Essays, 2010, ISBN: 0-300-13934-9

Primary sources

  • Letters from Oxford: Hugh Trevor-Roper to Bernard Berenson edited by Richard Davenport-Hines (2007)
  • My Dear Hugh: Letters from Richard Cobb to Hugh Trevor-Roper and Others edited by Tim Heald (2011) [NB does not contain any letters written by Trevor-Roper]
  • One Hundred Letters From Hugh Trevor-Roper, edited by Richard Davenport-Hines, and Adam Sisman (2013) except and text search Corrected paperback edition, 2015.
  • The Wartime Journals: Hugh Trevor-Roper, Edited by Richard Davenport-Hines, 2011 ISBN: 1-84885-990-2. Corrected paperback edition, 2015.
  • Dacre made an extended appearance on the television programme After Dark in 1989

See also

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