Spartacus Blog

The Death of Liberalism: Charles and George Trevelyan

John Simkin

During the first-half of the twentieth-century, two brothers, spent a great deal of time arguing about the way British society should develop. These two men, Charles Trevelyan and George Macaulay Trevelyan, were the sons of the Liberal Party MP, George Otto Trevelyan.

The Trevelyan family had become active in politics in the 18th century. In 1733 George Trevelyan married into the great riches of the Blackett family. The Blacketts were shipping and mining magnates from the North-east. This money gave the Trevelyan access to an expensive education and good political contacts. (1)

In 1865 George Otto Trevelyan was elected as Member of Parliament for Tynemouth and North Shields. Four years later he married Caroline, the daughter of Robert Needham Philips, who was also a member of the House of Commons. Over the next few years he served under William Ewart Gladstone in several cabinet posts. The family was very wealthy and lived in three different houses. This included a large house in London, Welcombe House, a red-brick mansion in Straford-upon-Avon, and Wallington Hall in Morpeth. (2)

Charles was born in 1870 and George followed six years later. George later recalled that their childhood was very political. He described how "a sense of drama of English and Irish history was purveyed to me through daily sights and experiences, with my father as commentator and bard." (3)

At an early age the boys discovered that their great-uncle was the historian, Thomas Babington Macaulay. George claimed that his mother used to read him passages from his book, History of England. "I remember so well Mama reading it to me for the first time when I was a little boy; it was in the library, and I used to lie with my head on the woolly rug against the fire and look up at the marble head carved on the mantelpiece, while she read." (4)

Harrow and Trinity College

The boys were educated at Harrow and Trinity College. While at university, Charles Trevelyan joined the Fabian Society. During this period he developed socialistic views on social reform. He was especially impressed by the views of one of his new friends, George Bernard Shaw: "Shaw gives the best exposition of the state of things one could hope to hear." (5)

Charles graduated with a second-class history degree. "Things are past the point of redemption. Oh it is so horrible. All my courage is gone, all my strong self confidence, all my hope. The very brightness of my prospects as the world would say, is a curse on me! What can it lead to but the repetition of the same miserable story of inadequacy and inefficiency in the end?" (6)

Charles abandoned his plans to be an academic and decided he would have a career in politics. He was adopted as the Liberal Party parliamentary candidate for North Lambeth, and was narrowly defeated in the 1895 General Election. The following year he argued that he was attracted to the philosophy of socialism. "I have the greatest sympathy with the growth of the socialist party. I think they understand the evils that surround us and hammer them into people's minds better than we Liberals. I want to see the Liberal party throw its heart and soul fearlessly into reform so as to prevent a reaction from the present state of thugs and the violent revolution that would inevitably follow it." (7)

George also went to Trinity College where he immediately impressed his tutors. Beatrice Webb commented: "He (George Macaulay Trevelyan) is bringing himself up to be a great man, is precise and methodical in all his ways, ascetic and regular in his habits, eating according to rule, exercising according to rule... he is always analysing his powers, and carefully considering how he can make the best of himself. In intellectual parts, he is brilliant, with a wonderful memory, keen analytical power, and a vivid style. in his philosophy of life, he is, at present, commonplace, but then he is young - only nineteen." (8)

Charles and George Trevelyan

Charles took a strong interest in education and in 1896 he was elected to the London School Board. Family influence enabled him to being adopted for the constituency of Elland, and entered parliament after a by-election in March 1899. He was a very independent member of the House of Commons and took his brother's advice: "It is a rule that no Trevelyan ever sucks up either to the press, or the chiefs, or the 'right people'. The world has given us money enough to enable us to do what we think is right. We thank it for that and ask no more of it, but to be allowed to serve it." (9)

Meanwhile, George was embarking on an academic career. After obtaining a first in the historical tripos he was elected a fellow of Trinity College. The following year he completed his first book, England in the Age of Wycliffe (1899), that dealt in detail with the Peasants' Revolt. Soon afterwards he gave up his fellowship. As he had a large private income he did not have to be a professional historian. Instead he was able to write his books independently. As a result of his left-wing political views he also taught part-time at the Working Men's College in London. (10)

Following the 1906 General Election, Charles Trevelyan was disappointed not to be offered a post in the Liberal Government headed by Henry Campbell-Bannerman. It was generally believed that the reason for this was his socialist views. (11) His cousin, Morgan Philips Price, commented that "his sincerity often led him to be intolerant of other people's opinions, and with a greater degree of tact he could have accomplished much more of what he wanted." (12)

In the House of Commons Charles advocated working with the emerging Labour Party to obtain progressive legislation. He also argued for taxation of land values and the abolishment of the House of Lords. As his biographer pointed out: "Trevelyan's comments upon his party's elders and leaders were often tactless, while his attacks upon policies he considered mistaken were intemperate. Not a trimmer by nature, his demeanour frequently suggested impatience and insensitivity." (13)

In October 1908, the new Prime Minister, Herbert Asquith, appointed Charles Trevelyan to the junior post of parliamentary under-secretary at the Board of Education. In this post he argued passionately for the establishment of a completely secular system of national education. This made him unpopular with MPs who held strong religious beliefs.

George Macaulay Trevelyan was more interested in writing history than politics. According to David Cannadine: "His great work was his Garibaldi trilogy (1907–11), which established his reputation as the outstanding literary historian of his generation. It depicted Garibaldi as a Carlylean hero - poet, patriot, and man of action - whose inspired leadership created the Italian nation. For Trevelyan, Garibaldi was the champion of freedom, progress, and tolerance, who vanquished the despotism, reaction, and obscurantism of the Austrian empire and the Neapolitan monarchy. The books were also notable for their vivid evocation of landscape, for their innovative use of documentary and oral sources, and for their spirited accounts of battles and military campaigns." (14)

George Macaulay Trevelyan with his son Theodore, and his father George Otto Trevelyan (1910)
George Macaulay Trevelyan with his son Theodore, and his father George Otto Trevelyan (1910)

Garibaldi and the Making of Italy was published in September 1911 and sold 3,000 copies in a few days. John H. Plumb attempted to explain the success of the book. "These were the years of the greatest liberal victory in English politics for a generation. The intellectual world responded to the optimism of the politicians... The Garibaldi story fitted these moods." Plum went on to argue that Trevelyan wrote like a poet. "Having read (Trevelyan's work), who could doubt that here was a great artist at work; at work in a medium, the writing of history, in which scholars have been plentiful and artists rare. But why did Trevelyan choose to use his gift of imagination in history rather than poetry?" (15)

Other historians were not so impressed with Trevelyan's work. Stefan Collini argues that George Trevelyan was a deeply flawed historian. "Trevelyan was able to write with an easy familiarity about the families who had for so long ruled England, and yet in some ways his inherited sense of his destiny was a handicap: there were certain kinds of questions it didn't dispose him to ask... he was not prompted to be critically reflective about the assumptions and concepts he brought to the writing of history. In an important sense, Trevelyan was not an intellectual." (16)

Charles Trevelyan continued to be one of the most radical voices in the House of Commons. In 1909 Trevelyan suggested that it was important to abolish the House of Lords: "I wish to make it clear from the onset that at the coming election I want support on no other understanding that the new Parliament is to destroy once and for ever, the power of the hereditary chamber to reverse the decisions of the representatives of the people. The power to delay or reject supplies must be abolished, and they must never again enjoy an absolute veto over ordinary legislation. They have rendered fruitless the most serious work of the present House of Commons." (17)

First World War

At the end of July, 1914, it became clear to the British government that the country was on the verge of war with Germany. Charles Trevelyan was one of the leading senior members of the government, who was opposed to the country becoming involved in a European war. He was joined by David Lloyd George, John Burns and John Morley and they informed the Prime Minister, Herbert Asquith, that they intended to resign over the issue. When war was declared on 4th August, three of the men, Trevelyan, Burns and Morley, resigned, but Asquith managed to persuade Lloyd George, his Chancellor of the Exchequer, to change his mind and he remained in the government. (18)

The anti-war newspaper, The Daily News, commented: "Among the many reports which are current as to Ministerial resignations there seems to be little doubt in regard to three. They are those of Lord Morley, Mr. John Burns, and Mr. Charles Trevelyan. There will be widespread sympathy with the action they have taken. Whether men approve of that action or not it is a pleasant thing in this dark moment to have this witness to the sense of honour and to the loyalty to conscience which it indicates... Mr. Trevelyan will find abundant work in keeping vital those ideals which are at the root of liberty and which are never so much in danger as in times of war and social disruption." (19)

In a letter to his constituents Charles Trevelyan explained his reasons for resignation: "However overwhelming the victory of our navy, our commerce will suffer terribly. In war too, the first productive energies of the whole people have to be devoted to armaments. Cannon are a poor industrial exchange for cotton. We shall suffer a steady impoverishment as the character of our work exchanges. All this I felt so strongly that I cannot count the cause adequate which is to lead to this misery. So I have resigned." (20)

At first George supported his brother's views on the war. Julian Huxley recalled that George "buried his head on his hands on the breakfast table, and looked up weeping". He told Huxley "millions of human beings are going to be killed in this senseless business". (21) However, once the war started, he reluctantly decided to support the war. This brought him into direct conflict with Charles. (22)

George wrote to Charles, three days after the war was declared: "I wish to see no-one crushed, neither France, Belgium nor Germany... So now that war has come, which I wish we had avoided, I support the war not merely from the point of view of our own survival but because I think German victory will probably be the worst thing for Europe, at any rate her victory in the West." (23)

A week later George wrote to Charles again. "You will be all the more effective for peace when the time comes if you show patriotism now and don't make yourselves widely unpopular... You have of all people made your position clear, and sacrificed for it... anything you can now do or say to show you are backing the war, as we are in it, will make you the more effective for peace when the time comes." (24)

Charles Trevelyan rejected this advice. As A. J. A. Morris has pointed out, it was clear to him that "Britain was condemned to war for no better reason than sentimental attachment to France and hatred of Germany. Trevelyan resigned from the government in protest. By this action he found himself estranged from most of his family, condemned and vilified by a hysterical press, and rejected by his constituency association." (25)

George Lansbury, a senior figure in the Labour Party praised the actions of Charles Trevelyan and predicted it marked the end of his political career: "He must have known when he resigned that he was giving the death blow to his career, and the courage which compels such a step is not to be distinguished from the courage of a soldier who falls in battle". (26)

The journalist, Morgan Philips Price, went to see Charles Trevelyan and suggested that they formed an organisation against the First World War. Trevelyan now made contact with two pacifist members of the Liberal Party, Norman Angell and E. D. Morel, and Ramsay MacDonald, the leader of the Labour Party. They also had discussions with Bertrand Russell and Arthur Ponsonby, who had also spoken out against the war. (27)

A meeting was held and after considering names such as the Peoples' Emancipation Committee and the Peoples' Freedom League, they selected the Union of Democratic Control. Other members included J. A. Hobson, Charles Buxton, Ottoline Morrell, Philip Morrell, Frederick Pethick-Lawrence, Arnold Rowntree, George Cadbury, Helena Swanwick, Fred Jowett, Tom Johnston, Philip Snowden, Ethel Snowden, David Kirkwood, William Anderson, Mary Sheepshanks, Isabella Ford, H. H. Brailsford, Eileen Power, Israel Zangwill, Margaret Llewelyn Davies, Konni Zilliacus, Margaret Sackville and Olive Schreiner.

Members of the UDC agreed that one of the main reasons for the conflict was the secret diplomacy of people like Britain's foreign secretary, Sir Edward Grey. They decided that the UDC should have three main objectives: (i) that in future to prevent secret diplomacy there should be parliamentary control over foreign policy; (ii) there should be negotiations after the war with other democratic European countries in an attempt to form an organisation to help prevent future conflicts; (iii) that at the end of the war the peace terms should neither humiliate the defeated nation nor artificially rearrange frontiers as this might provide a cause for future wars. (28)

Over the next couple of years the UDC became the leading anti-war organisation in Britain. Charles Trevelyan wrote articles for newspapers and gave a series of lectures on the need to negotiate a peace with Germany. As a result of this he was condemned in the popular press as being a "pro-German, unpatriotic, scoundrel". He was also criticised for his stance on the war by his father, George Otto Trevelyan. (29) However, Trevelyan continued to campaign for a peace settlement with Germany. (30)

The Daily Sketch launched a personal attack on Trevelyan accusing him of being pro-German: "Trevelyan would then have a very congenial atmosphere - in the Reichstag. We have no time to listen to his foolish and pernicious talk. It is a scandal that he should be in Parliament when he continues to preach these pro-German and utterly impracticable pacifist doctrines. Trevelyan must go". (31)

Charles was especially upset by the criticism of his brother, George. "I know that wisdom may begin to come to poor human beings through misery. But even I doubt when I see people like George carried away by shallow fears and ill-informed hatreds... It shows how absurdly far we are from brotherly feeling to foreigners when even in him it is a shallow veneer. He like all the rest wants to hate the Germans... I am more discouraged by it than anything else because it shows the helplessness of intellect before national passion." (32)

In the 1918 General Election all the leading members of the Union of Democratic Control lost their seats in Parliament. This included Charles Trevelyan, who suffered a crushing defeat at Elland. On the surface it seemed that the UDC had achieved very little. However, as A.J.P. Taylor has pointed out: "It launched a version of international relations which gradually won general acceptance far beyond the circle of those who knew they were being influenced by the UDC." (33)

1924 Labour Government

Charles Trevelyan was a strong critic of the Versailles Treaty. In his book, From Liberalism to Labour (1921), he argued: "Historians and philosophers, like catch-penny Daily Mail scrawlers, proclaimed the sole guilt of Germany, or raved at the brutalities in Belgium as proof of superhuman devilry in the Germans. But when offences against humanity were committed by the Allied Governments, they showed the same want of courage or the same narrowness of vision as the German professors whom they were always denouncing. What collective protest of Liberal intellectuals was there against the slaughter of the children at Karlsruhe, against the looting of Hungary, or against the supreme atrocity of the starvation of Central Europe?" (34)

In the 1922 General Election Trevelyan was elected to represent the Labour Party at Newcastle Upon Tyne Central. When Ramsay MacDonald became Prime Minister in January 1924 he appointed Trevelyan as his President of the Board of Education. He told his wife that "I no longer have six children - I have six million." (35)

In the short-lived Labour Government Trevelyan argued for a reduction in educational inequalities. According to his biographer, Trevelyan was "a sound administrator, he was not overawed, as were many of his colleagues, by his civil servants... his performances at the dispatch box won back his father's approval." (36)

Trevelyan's main objective was to provide "the children of the workers to have the same opportunities as those of the wealthy". He proposed to do so by expanding secondary education and raising the school-leaving age. He reversed the cuts in education spending imposed in 1922, increased the number of free places at grammar schools, and encouraged (but could not require) local authorities to raise the school leaving age to fifteen. He also declared that there would be a break between primary and secondary education at the age of 11. (37)

H. G. Wells wrote to Trevelyan: "I think your work for education has been of outstanding value and that everyone who hopes for a happier, more civilised England should vote for all, irrespective of party association. I have watched your proceedings with close interest and I am convinced that there has never been a better, more far sighted, harder working, and more unselfishly devoted Minister of Education than yourself." (38)

John Ball at Mile End from Jean Froissart, Chronicles (c. 1395)

Charles Trevelyan

Charles Trevelyan moved further to the left following the First World War his brother became more conservative. During this period George Macaulay Trevelyan decided he would write a patriotic history of England. He told his father, George Otto Trevelyan: "In this age of democracy and patriotism, I feel strongly drawn to write the history of England as I feel it, for the people... The war has cleared my mind of some party prejudices or points of view and I feel as if I have a conception of the development of English history, liberal but purely English and embracing the other elements. It might be a success as a literary work (otherwise I would not touch it). The doubt in my mind is whether it could have elbow room to be a literary success without being so long as to prevent the wide popularity which would alone justify the choice of it." (39)

Trevelyan's highly popular, History of England, was published in 1926. This book took a less partisan view of politics than his earlier writings. "Trevelyan had resolved to write such a book during the First World War as a celebration of, and thank-offering to, the English people. In it he set out the essential elements of the nation's evolution and identity: parliamentary government, the rule of law, religious toleration, freedom from continental interference or involvement, and a global horizon of maritime supremacy and imperial expansion". (40)

Trevelyan's new political views were criticised by other historians. Geoffrey Elton denounced him as a "not very scholarly writer" who produced "soothing pap... lavishly doled out... to a large public". (41) John P. Kenyon complains that Trevelyan was an "insufferable snob" with "socially retrograde views". (42) J. C. D. Clark suggests that Trevelyan was guilty of "shallowness" and "superficiality". (43)

By this time he had abandoned the Liberal Party for the Conservative Party. Whereas his brother, Charles Trevelyan, was now a leading member of the Labour Party. The author of A Very British Family: The Trevelyans (2006) has claimed that "George's wartime adventures had changed him". (44) His biographer has argued that his history writing reflected a change in his political opinions: "Trevelyan had a very strong sense of national identity and he wrote his books in part because he had that sense of identity but he also wrote his books to promote that sense of national identity... He believed history had a social and political purpose and on the whole it was to reinforce a sense of identity and belonging rather than to subvert it." (45)

In 1927, Stanley Baldwin, the Conservative Prime Minister, appointed George Macaulay Trevelyan regis professor of modern history at University of Cambridge. Professional success was accompanied by personal wealth following the death of his parents in 1928. Charles inherited Wallington Hall whereas George became the owner of a large house and estate at Hallington Hall in Northumberland. "George used his considerable new-found wealth to buy up beautiful and historic places in England's threatened landscape." (46)

In the 1920s Charles Trevelyan became the Labour Party spokesman on education. He also began to develop plans for a educational policy that could be implemented by the next Labour government. Trevelyan's plans included raising the school-leaving age to fifteen and increased public expenditure on education. Trevelyan also wanted a reduction in church control over education. He suggested that the government should provide finance to Anglican and Catholic schools in return for local managers giving control over their teachers to the local authorities.

Charles Trevelyan and Ramsay MacDonald

Following the 1929 General Election he was once again appointed as President of the Board of Education. However, Trevelyan's Education Bill, that included the measure of raising the school-leaving age to fifteen, ran into difficulties with Roman Catholic MPs on the Labour backbenches. Catholic bishops persuaded their MPs to insist on increased funding for Church schools. Trevelyan, "an atheist wary of the power of Church schools, was prepared to go some way towards meeting these concerns, but did not want to entrench the power of the Catholic lobby". (47)

Trevelyan wrote a letter to his old friend, Bertrand Russell, about the problem he faced: "I represent a constituency swarming with Irish Catholics. I would rather lose my seat than give the priesthood a bigger power in the schools. I am absolutely determined that the Labour Party shall not get into the hands of any religion, least of all Catholic.... Scotland has dealt with the question as well and tolerably as it probably can be. The schools are wholly in the hands of the people and teachers are appointed by the local authority. The task is tougher in England with the old Church of England on our back and the 6,000 single school areas." (48)

Jennie Lee was one of those MPs who came under considerable pressure from the Catholic lobby group over this bill. Even left-wing MPs such as James Maxton urged her to vote against the legislation. He told her that in "the West of Scotland I could challenge the authority of the Labour Party and still survive, but if I also antagonised the Catholic vote, there was not the slightest hope I could hold my seat." (49)

Trevelyan agreed to give extra money to schools but only if they agreed to come under the control of the local authorities. The bill raised the school-leaving age by one year and gave grants to the parents of children in their last year of school. (50) The bill was undermined in January 1931 by an amendment carried by John Scurr on behalf of Roman Catholic schools, which sought grants to accommodate increased pupil numbers, and was defeated in the House of Lords, largely because of the unfavourable financial climate, in February 1931. (51)

Trevelyan blamed Ramsay MacDonald for the failure to get his Education Bill through Parliament. He wrote to his wife that the prime minister undermined his attempts at educational reform: "MacDonald detests me because I am always quite definite and won't shirk things in the approved style. He will let me down if he possibly can, the real wrecker (is not the House of Lords) it is MacDonald with his timidity." (52)

On 19th February, 1931, Trevelyan resigned from the government. In a letter to the prime minister he explained his actions: "For some time I have realised that I am very much out of sympathy with the general method of Government policy. In the present disastrous condition of trade it seems to me that the crisis requires big Socialist measures. We ought to be demonstrating to the country the alternatives to economy and protection. Our value as a Government today should be to make people realise that Socialism is that alternative." (53)

Charles Trevelyan told a meeting of the Parliamentary Labour Party that the main reason he had resigned: "I have for some time been painfully aware that I am utterly dissatisfied with the main strategy of the leaders of the party. But I thought it my duty to hold on as long as I had a definite job in trying to pass the Education Bill. I never expected a complete breakthrough to Socialism in this Parliament. But I did expect it to prepare the way by a Government which in spirit and vigour made such a contrast with the Tories and Liberals that we should be sure of conclusive victory next time."

Charles attacked the government for refusing to introduce socialist measures to deal with the economic crisis. He was also a supporter of the economist John Maynard Keynes: "Now we are plunged into an exampled trade depression and suffering the appalling record of unemployment. It is a crisis almost as terrible as war. The people are in just the mood to accept a new and bold attempt to deal with radical evils. But all we have got is a declaration of economy from the Chancellor of the Exchequer. We apparently have opted, almost without discussion, the policy of economy. It implies a faith, a faith that reduction of expenditure is the way to salvation. No comrades. It is not good enough for a Socialist party to meet this crisis with economy. The very root of our faith is the prosperity comes from the high spending power of the people, and that public expenditure on the social services is always remunerative." (54)

The Socialist League

Charles Trevelyan joined with other figures on the left of the Labour Party to form the Socialist League. In the 1932 Labour Conference the Socialist League defeated the platform with the proposal to go beyond nationalisation of the Bank of England to to take other banks into public ownership on the grounds that control of them would be essential for real socialist planning. Another successful Socialist League resolution laid down "that the leaders of the next Labour Government and the Parliamentary Labour Party be instructed by the National Conference that, on assuming office... definite Socialist legislation must be immediately promulgated... we must have Socialism in deed as well as in words". (55)

A. J. A. Morris, pointed out: "Trevelyan encouraged the Socialist League, gave help both political and material to a number of aspiring and established left-wingers, and seemed quite convinced that the Labour Party was at last committed to socialism. There was a brief moment of personal triumph at the annual party conference in 1933. He successfully introduced a resolution that, if there were even a threat of war, the Labour Party would call a general strike." (56)

The United Front agreement won only narrow majority at a Socialist League delegate conference in January, 1937 - 56 in favour, 38 against, with 23 abstentions. The United Front campaign opened officially with a large meeting at the Free Trade Hall in Manchester on 24th January. Three days later the Executive of the Labour Party decided to disaffiliated the Socialist League. They also began considering expelling members of the League. G.D.H. Cole and George Lansbury responded by urging the party not to start a "heresy hunt".

Arthur Greenwood was one of those who argued that the rebel leader, Stafford Cripps, should be immediately expelled. Cripps was expelled by the National Executive Committee by eighteen to one. He was followed by Charles Trevelyan, Aneurin Bevan and George Strauss in February. On 24th March, 1937, the National Executive Committee declared that members of the Socialist League would be ineligible for Labour Party membership from 1st June. Over the next few weeks membership fell from 3,000 to 1,600. In May, G.D.H. Cole and other leading members decided to dissolve the Socialist League. (57)

Trevelyan now decided to retire from politics. In 1937 he made a new will where he left Wallington Hall, not to his eldest son George, but to the National Trust. He explained his decision in a radio broadcast: "To most owners it would be a terrible wrench to consider alienating their family houses and estates. To me, it is natural and reasonable that a place such as this should come into public ownership, so that the right to use and enjoy it may be forever secured to the community. As a socialist, I am not hampered by any sentiment that the place I love will be held in perpetuity for the people of my country." (58)

He retained his socialist views to the end of his life and this made him plenty of enemies: "My well to do neighbours in the county and Newcastle are from their point of view right in detesting my attitude. I am very dangerous to their way of life because I know only too well what I am aiming at. It is a much more serious thing to the existing order when not only are pious opinions expressed that it is an unsocial thing for private people to own country houses and castles and thousands of acres, but when they are actually surrendered as a matter of principle. I am not troubled in their thinking me a traitor. Indeed I hate their loyalties. I am much more concerned that the masses understand what I am doing, and feel that the world is changing in the direction they never really hoped to see twenty years ago." (59)

George Macaulay Trevelyan spent many years writing, English Social History: A Survey of Six Centuries. He told his daughter that he wanted to write a history of England that took into account the lives of our ancestors in a way that did not depend on "the well known names of Kings, Parliaments and wars", but instead moved "like an underground river, obeying its own laws or those of economic change, rather than following the direction of political happenings that move on the surface of life". (60)

The book could not be published in England until 1942, because of wartime paper shortages. After seven years it sold nearly 400,000 copies. John H. Plumb argued that the book appeared just at the right time: "The war... had jeopardized the traditional pattern of English life, and in some ways destroyed it forever. This created among all classes a deep nostalgia for the way of life which we were losing. Then, again, the war had made conscious to millions that our national attitude to life was historically based, the result of centuries of slow growth, and that it was for the old, tried ways of life for which we were fighting. Winston Churchill, in his great war speeches made us all conscious of our past, as never before. And in this war, too, there were far more highly educated men and women in all ranks of all the services. The twenties and thirties of this century had witnessed a great extension of secondary school education, producing a vast public capable of reading and enjoying a book of profound historical imagination, once the dilemma of their time stirred them to do so." (61)

During the last few years of his life George Trevelyan's scholarly reputation went into a prolonged decline among professional academics. However, he was liked by Conservative politicians and Winston Churchill described Trevelyan as "one of our foremost national figures". (62) The Times commented that like his great-uncle, Thomas Babington Macaulay he was "the accredited interpreter to his age of the English past". (63)

Charles Trevelyan became a forgotten figure in British life. According to Laura Trevelyan, "Charles was physically and intellectually vigorous to the last, commanding, interested and questioning what was going on in the world." (64) At the age of 79, Trevelyan wrote to Jennie Lee about his achievements in politics: "I have nothing to grumble about in regard to my life as a whole. I have done better than than I deserve by a long way." (65)

In another letter he recalled: "What made me any use in the world was having to stand nearly alone in the first war. Since then I have never found it hard to take my own line and have found out the way to do it. I discovered that if you believe a thing sufficiently strongly there is no need to fear isolation or unpopularity... If you see what you think is right clearly enough, there is really no difficulty. Most people's minds are rather mixed and foggy." (66)

Charles Trevelyan died aged 87 on 24th January 1958. His brother, George Macaulay Trevelyan, lived for another four years. George's history books are still read by today's students, however, I would argue that it is the economic and educational ideas of Charles that were initially rejected by the establishment, that have had a more lasting impact on British society.


(1) Laura Trevelyan, A Very British Family: The Trevelyans (2006) page 9

(2) Patrick Jackson, George Otto Trevelyan : Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004-2014)

(3) George Macaulay Trevelyan, George Otto Trevelyan: A Memoir (1932) page 113

(4) George Macaulay Trevelyan, letter to Mary Moorman (16th July, 1917)

(5) Charles Trevelyan, letter to Caroline Trevelyan (5th October, 1895)

(6) Charles Trevelyan, letter to Caroline Trevelyan (15th June, 1892)

(7) A. J. A. Morris, C. P. Trevelyan, 1870–1958: Portrait of a Radical (1977) page 24

(8) Beatrice Webb, The Diary of Beatrice Webb: Volume II (1952) pages 85-86

(9) George Macaulay Trevelyan, letter to Charles Trevelyan (23rd December, 1905)

(10) Laura Trevelyan, A Very British Family: The Trevelyans (2006) page 156

(11) Laura Trevelyan, A Very British Family: The Trevelyans (2006) page 120

(12) Humphrey Trevelyan, Public and Private (1980) page 140

(13) A. J. A. Morris, Charles Trevelyan : Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004-2014)

(14) David Cannadine, George Macaulay Trevelyan : Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004-2014)

(15) John H. Plumb, G. M. Trevelyan (1951) page 18

(16) Stefan Collini, English Pasts: Essays in History and Culture (1999) page 25

(17) Charles Trevelyan, speech (10th December, 1909)

(18) Roy Hattersley, The Great Outsider: David Lloyd George (2010) pages 352-354

(19) The Daily News (5th August, 1914)

(20) Charles Trevelyan, statement (5th August, 1914)

(21) Julian Huxley, Memories (1972) page 101

(22) Laura Trevelyan, A Very British Family: The Trevelyans (2006) page 169

(23) George Macaulay Trevelyan, letter to Charles Trevelyan (7th August, 1914)

(24) George Macaulay Trevelyan, letter to Charles Trevelyan (14th August, 1914)

(25) A. J. A. Morris, Charles Trevelyan : Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004-2014)

(26) Laura Trevelyan, A Very British Family: The Trevelyans (2006) page 121

(27) Morgan Philips Price, My Three Revolutions (1969) page 23

(28) Martin Pugh, Speak for Britain: A New History of the Labour Party (2010) page 103

(29) A. J. A. Morris, Charles Trevelyan : Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004-2014)

(30) Jennie Lee, My Life with Nye (1980) page 54

(31) The Daily Sketch (4th March, 1915)

(32) Charles Trevelyan, letter to Mary Trevelyan (14th September, 1914)

(33) A.J.P. Taylor, The Trouble Makers: Dissent over Foreign Policy (1957) page 132

(34) Charles Trevelyan, From Liberalism to Labour (1921) pages 56-58

(35) A. J. A. Morris, Charles Trevelyan : Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004-2014)

(36) Laura Trevelyan, A Very British Family: The Trevelyans (2006) page 127

(37) A. J. A. Morris, Charles Trevelyan : Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004-2014)

(38) H. G. Wells, letter to Charles Trevelyan (October, 1924)

(39) Mary Moorman, George Macaulay Trevelyan (1980) page 165

(40) David Cannadine, George Macaulay Trevelyan : Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004-2014)

(41) David Cannadine, G. M. Trevelyan: A Life in History (1992) page 218

(42) John P. Kenyon, The History Men (1983) page 227

(43) J. C. D. Clark, Revolution and Rebellion (1986) page 18

(44) Laura Trevelyan, A Very British Family: The Trevelyans (2006) page 176

(45) David Cannadine, BBC World Service (22nd February, 2002)

(46) Laura Trevelyan, A Very British Family: The Trevelyans (2006) page 177

(47) Laura Trevelyan, A Very British Family: The Trevelyans (2006) page 127

(48) Charles Trevelyan, letter to Bertrand Russell (May, 1929)

(49) Jennie Lee, My Life with Nye (1980) page 54

(50) Morgan Philips Price, My Three Revolutions (1969) page 267

(51) A. J. A. Morris, Charles Trevelyan : Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004-2014)

(52) Charles Trevelyan, letter to Mary Trevelyan (16th November 1930)

(53) Charles Trevelyan, letter of resignation to Ramsay MacDonald (19th February, 1931)

(54) Charles Trevelyan, speech to the Parliamentary Labour Party (19th February, 1931)

(55) Tony Cliff and Donny Gluckstein, The Labour Party: A Marxist History (1988) page 170

(56) A. J. A. Morris, Charles Trevelyan : Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004-2014)

(57) Martin Pugh, Speak for Britain: A New History of the Labour Party (2010) page 255

(58) Charles Trevelyan, BBC Radio Broadcast (23rd March, 1937)

(59) Charles Trevelyan, letter to Claud Bicknell (9th November, 1950)

(60) Mary Moorman, George Macaulay Trevelyan (1980) page 232

(61) John H. Plumb, G. M. Trevelyan (1951) page 31

(62) David Cannadine, George Macaulay Trevelyan : Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004-2014)

(63) The Times (16th February, 1956)

(64) Laura Trevelyan, A Very British Family: The Trevelyans (2006) page 144

(65) Charles Trevelyan, letter to Jennie Lee (23rd February, 1949)

(66) Humphrey Trevelyan, Public and Private (1980) page 140

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