He was one of the most gifted scholars of his generation--a brilliant writer, high-society star, and cultural force who moved easily between aristocratic houses and the humble haunts of literary bohemia. He developed a lucid prose style that he used to scathing effect, earning notoriety for his sharp attacks on other historians. Now this superb biography of Hugh Trevor-Roper, universally acclaimed overseas, makes its anticipated American debut.
With incisive knowledge of the man and access to never-before-published letters, Adam Sisman paints a fascinating portrait of this charismatic, contentious, contradictory character. Sisman examines Trevor-Roper's middle-class upbringing in a house so empty of affection that it caused, as he put it, his "almost physical difficulty in expressing emotion." He traces Trevor-Roper's career from his early academic triumphs to his later failure to produce the big book expected of him.
Sisman also provides riveting new details of the high drama of Trevor-Roper's World War II intelligence work--in which he boldly blew the whistle on bureaucratic infighting that imperiled British code-breaking--and the exclusive investigation of Hitler's death that inspired his bestselling postwar triumph, The Last Days of Hitler. As never before, Trevor-Roper's personal life is explored, including his passionate affair with an older, married woman. Finally, An Honourable Englishman reveals the truth behind his public substantiation of the false Hitler diaries in 1983, a misstep (encouraged by his impatient employer Rupert Murdoch) that forever tainted his reputation.
Profoundly bright and brutally acerbic, Hugh Trevor-Roper was a literary lion like no other, and in An Honourable Englishman he receives the absorbing biography he deserves.
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December 06, 2011
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Excerpt from An Honourable Englishman by Adam Sisman
In later life, Hugh Trevor-�Roper was sometimes referred to as "Roper." The tale--�perhaps apocryphal--�is told of a grandee who persistently addressed him as such. "Trevor-�Roper," Hugh eventually protested. "But my dear fellow, I don't know you that well," came the reply.1
The sting in this story comes from Hugh's assumed mortification at such a snub. It was a common charge against him that he was a snob, preferring the company of his social superiors, and aspiring to be accepted as one of them. The English upper classes have made a practice of adopting hyphenated surnames, so that both can be retained when a member of one notable family marries another. Calling Hugh "Roper" could therefore be interpreted as a put-�down. It perhaps adds piquancy to the story that the forename "Trevor" has plebeian connotations.
In fact Hugh was proud of his Roper origins, which could be traced back to the beginning of the fifteenth century. There is a great "Roper Roll" (a form of family tree) at Nostell Priory in Yorkshire. The Roper family had established their descent from the brother of Archbishop Chichele, founder in 1438 of All Souls College, Oxford; as "Founder's Kin," they were entitled to claim college fellowships. This hereditary right was abolished by Act of Parliament in the nineteenth century.
In the reign of Henry VIII a William Roper had married the eldest daughter of Sir Thomas More; and after his father-�in-�law's fall and execution had written his biography. The Roper family became guardians of More's memory, remaining faithful to the Church of Rome for generations, beyond the time when it was prudent to be so. Hugh, who gained a reputation as a scourge of twentieth-�century Catholics, was amused by this family tradition. In St. Dunstan's Church near Canterbury there is a Roper Chapel, where (according to him) two priests are obliged to sing regular masses on behalf of the family in perpetuity.
In 1608 William Roper's nephew John was granted the manor of Teynham in Kent, and eight years later he was created Baron Teynham, after paying the then extraordinary sum of �10,000 for the title.2 Hugh was descended from the Teynhams, via a younger brother of the 9th and 10th Lords Teynham; conscious of this connection from an early age, he was always aware that, were a dozen or so intervening cousins to perish � la Kind Hearts and Coronets, he would inherit a peerage.
The Ropers clung to their faith throughout most of the seventeenth century, but after the Revolution of 1688 they decided that the struggle was no longer worth continuing and conformed to the established Church. About a hundred years later Hugh's great-�grandfather, Cadwallader Blayney Roper, inherited the estate of Plas Teg in North Wales from his aunt, one of the Trevors, a Welsh family of similar antiquity, and took the surname Trevor-�Roper to acknowledge both sides of his inheritance. His aunt had earlier married one of the grand Dacres who owned vast tracts of the North of En-gland. The Trevor-�Ropers maintained the connection by continuing to use the Dacre name through subsequent generations, long after contact between the families had come to an end.
The principal house on the Plas Teg estate was a magnificent stone mansion, perhaps the finest Jacobean country house in Wales.3 It had been built around 1610 by Sir John Trevor, to a design attributed (without any solid evidence) to Inigo Jones. Charles Dickens stayed at Plas Teg during one of his lecture tours and described his host, Hugh's great-�uncle--�another Charles--�as a jolly country gentleman: one of a long line. Among Charles Trevor-�Roper's younger brothers was Hugh's grandfather Richard, who inhabited one of the lesser houses on the Plas Teg estate. Grandfather Richard and his wife had thirteen children, the youngest of whom, Hugh's father Bertie, was born in 1885. One of Bertie's earliest memories was of his father being laid on the kitchen table, which had been placed beside the bath, for his tuberculous leg to be sawn off. Hugh's grandfather did not survive this operation. Eleven years later, his grandmother married again, to her late husband's cousin Hugh; Bertie's eldest son would be named after this stepfather. The Trevor-�Ropers had a habit of marrying within the family; Richard's elder brother George, for example, married another cousin, one of his sister-�in-�law's sisters.
The senior line of the family was almost severed in 1917, when Charles's grandson, a soldier, was killed at Passchendaele--�but a son was born during the war, inheriting the estate which would otherwise have passed to a cousin under the terms of the entail. This fatherless son, Richard Dacre Trevor-�Roper, was a wild boy, expelled from Wellington College for running an underground inter-�school gambling syndicate.4 Subsequently he raced cars and was rumored to have climbed the outside of a skyscraper. In the Second World War, after being cashiered from the Army, he joined RAF Bomber Command, becoming famous as one of Guy Gibson's Dambusters, a rear gunner known to his colleagues as "Trev." Hugh would often remark that his cousin Richard Trevor-�Roper, who was awarded the DFC and the DFM, had been much more distinguished than he would ever be. But "Trev" too was killed in action, over Nuremberg in 1944; once again, the male line of the Trevor-�Ropers had apparently been cut. After the war the estate was sold at auction--�bought by the auctioneer, who cut down the trees and built new houses in the grounds, allowing the mansion to fall into ruin once he had stripped out its salable contents. In the late 1950s he applied to have it demolished, but this application was refused after a campaign of protest. Hugh inspected Plas Teg, then standing empty and dilapidated, and toyed with the idea of buying it, but his wife vetoed the proposal. His brother bought the house instead and, with grant aid, restored it; and though almost two de�cades later he was compelled to sell Plas Teg, the house had been preserved from destruction. Meanwhile the surrounding estate, which once had extended to more than a thousand acres, had shrunk to a mere garden.