George Macaulay Trevelyan Biography


Historian George Macaulay Trevelyan (trih-VEHL-yuhn) was the third son of Sir George Otto Trevelyan, who was himself a historian and author as well as the editor of The Life and Letters of Lord Macaulay (1876) by his uncle Thomas Babington Macaulay. The younger Trevelyan was born at Stratford-on-Avon, England, on February 16, 1876. His brief autobiography relates some of the chief events of his life. From the beginning his imagination was stirred by history, and his political bias was Liberal, following in the tradition of his father and his great-uncle. It is significant that throughout his life he read poetry with pleasure. He speaks of “the poetry of history”—the idea that other persons once walked on the same ground on which the present generation walks.

Trevelyan was educated at Harrow and at Trinity College, Cambridge, and though he took up an academic career—writing, lecturing, and producing his first book, England in the Age of Wycliffe—he soon came to believe that he had to leave the college to write independent of scholastic criticism, able as he was to finance such a break. He contracted to write England Under the Stuarts as one book in a multivolume history by various authors. He married, and he soon began a three-volume study of Giuseppe Garibaldi. Other books followed, most notably his survey, History of England.

With these achievements behind him, he returned to academic life, accepting the Regius Professorship of Modern History at Cambridge University. He was awarded the Order of Merit in 1930. Later he became Master of Trinity College. Meanwhile, other books appeared; especially noteworthy are the short work The English Revolution, 1688-89 and the large study England Under Queen Anne. Finally, there was one more great achievement, English Social History, which surveyed six centuries.

The turbulent and disquieting world events of Trevelyan’s lifetime caused him increasingly to view those events in a historical context, but they did not transform him into a bitter pessimist. Instead, he continued his calling to explain the lessons of those events to his and future generations. Trevelyan’s last years were spent in disabled retirement, a lonely widower after fifty-two years of happy marriage, content to meditate on his life and on the conditions in the world. As friends came often to visit and to read to him, he waited patiently for death, which came at age eighty-six in his home at Cambridge.


Cannadine, David. G. M. Trevelyan. New York: W. W. Norton, 1992. A long-awaited biography. Includes index and bibliography.

“Lyrical Historian.” The New York Review of Books, July 15, 1993. Suggests that Trevelyan’s works as a historian are outdated and no longer relevant.

Moorman, Mary Trevelyan. George Macaulay Trevelyan: A Memoir. North Pomfret, Vt.: Hamilton, 1980. Written by Trevelyan’s daughter. Includes index and bibliography.

“The True Voice of Clio.” Times Literary Supplement, May 2, 1980. Predicts that time will elevate Trevelyan’s standing among twentieth century historians.