Alan John Percivale Taylor (25 March 1906 – 7 September 1990)
was an English historian who specialised in 19th- and 20th-century
European diplomacy. Both a journalist and a broadcaster, he became
well known to millions through his television lectures. His
combination of academic rigour and popular appeal led the historian
Richard Overy to describe him as "the Macaulay of our age".
1.1 Early life
1.2 Academic career
1.3 Manchester years
1.4 Second World War
1.5 Move from
Oxford to London
1.6 Resignation from British Academy
1.7 Personal life
2.1 The Italian Problem in European Diplomacy, 1847–49
2.2 The Struggle for Mastery in Europe 1848–1918
2.3 Bismarck: The Man and the Statesman
2.4 The Origins of the Second World War
2.5 English History 1914–1945
2.6 The Reichstag Fire (introduction)
2.7 War by Timetable
2.8 Beaverbrook: A Biography
3.3 Irony and humour
3.4 "The Establishment"
3.5 Speed Limits
4.1 The Origins of the Second World War
4.2 Portrayal of Mussolini
4.3 The French Third Republic
7 See also
9 External links
Taylor was born in 1906 in Birkdale, Southport, which was then part of
Lancashire. His wealthy parents held left-wing views, which he
inherited. Both his parents, Percy Lees and Constance Sumner
(Thompson) Taylor, were pacifists who vocally opposed the First World
War, and sent their son to
Quaker schools as a way of protesting
against the war. These schools included The Downs School at Colwall
Bootham School in York. Geoffrey Barraclough, a
contemporary at Bootham School, remembered Taylor as "a most
arresting, stimulating, vital personality, violently anti-bourgeois
and anti-Christian". In 1924, he went to Oriel College, Oxford, to
study modern history.
In the 1920s, Taylor's mother, Constance, was a member of the
Comintern while one of his uncles was a founder member of the
Communist Party of Great Britain. Constance was a suffragette,
feminist, and advocate of free love who practised her teachings via a
string of extramarital affairs, most notably with Henry Sara, a
communist who in many ways became Taylor's surrogate father. Taylor
has mentioned in his reminiscences that his mother was domineering,
but his father enjoyed exasperating her by following his own ways.
Taylor had a close relationship with his father, and enjoyed his
father's quirkiness. Taylor himself was recruited into the Communist
Party of Great Britain by a friend of the family, the military
historian Tom Wintringham, while at Oriel; a member from 1924 to 1926,
he broke with the Party over what he considered to be its ineffective
stand during the 1926 General Strike. After leaving, he was an ardent
supporter of the Labour Party for the rest of his life, remaining a
member for over sixty years. Despite his break with the Communist
Party, he visited the
Soviet Union in 1925, and again in 1934.
Taylor graduated from
Oxford in 1927. After working briefly as a legal
clerk, he began his post-graduate work, going to
Vienna to study the
impact of the
Chartist movement on the Revolution of 1848. When this
topic turned out not to be feasible, he switched to studying the
Italian unification over a two-year period. This resulted
in his first book, The Italian Problem in European Diplomacy,
1847–49 published in 1934.
Taylor lectured in history at the
University of Manchester
University of Manchester from 1930
to 1938. He came with his wife to live firstly in an unfurnished
flat (before they could get a furnished one) at the top floor of an
eighteenth-century house opposite the entrance to
Didsbury Park called
The Limes at 148 Wilmslow Road at the southern end of Didsbury village
and set back from the street (still there in 2013).
He became a Fellow of Magdalen College, Oxford, in 1938, a post he
held until 1976. He also lectured in modern history at
1938 to 1963. At
Oxford he was such an extraordinarily popular speaker
he had to give his lectures at 8:30 a.m. to avoid the room
In 1964, when
Oxford refused to renew his term as lecturer in the
aftermath of the controversy occasioned by The Origins of the Second
World War, he became a lecturer at the Institute of Historical
Research in London, University College London, and the Polytechnic of
An important step in Taylor's "rehabilitation" was a festschrift
organised in his honour by
Martin Gilbert in 1965. He was honoured
with two more festschriften, in 1976 and 1986. The festschriften were
testaments to his popularity with his former students as receiving
even a single festschrift is considered to be an extraordinary and
Second World War
During the Second World War, Taylor served in the Home Guard and
befriended émigré statesmen from Eastern Europe, such as the former
Hungarian President Count
Mihály Károlyi and Czechoslovak President
Edvard Beneš. These friendships helped to enhance his understanding
of the region. His friendship with Beneš and Károlyi may help
explain his friendly portrayal of them, in particular Károlyi, whom
Taylor portrayed as a saintly figure. During the same period, Taylor
was employed by the
Political Warfare Executive
Political Warfare Executive as an expert on
Central Europe and frequently spoke on the radio and at various public
meetings. During the war, he lobbied for British recognition of Josip
Broz Tito's Partisans as the legitimate government of Yugoslavia.
Oxford to London
In 1964, while he retained his college fellowship, the University of
Oxford declined to renew Taylor's appointment as a university lecturer
in modern history. This apparently sudden decision came in the
aftermath of the controversy around his book The Origins of the Second
World War. Moving to London, he became a lecturer at the Institute of
Historical Research at University College
London and also at the
Polytechnic of North London.
Resignation from British Academy
In 1979, Taylor resigned in protest from the
British Academy over its
dismissal of Anthony Blunt, who had been exposed as a
Taylor took the position that,
It's none of our business, as a group of scholars, to consider matters
of this sort. The academy's only concern should be his scholarly
credentials, which are unaffected by all this.
Taylor married three times. He married his first wife, Margaret Adams,
in 1931 (divorced in 1951) and with her he had four children. For a
time in the 1930s, he and his wife shared a house with the writer
Malcolm Muggeridge and his wife. It was suggested that he had had an
affair with Kitty Muggeridge.
Taylor lived for a while in Disley, Cheshire, where
Dylan Thomas (who
was his first wife's lover) was his guest; he later provided Thomas
with a cottage in
Oxford so that he could recover from a breakdown.
His second wife was Eve Crosland, whom Taylor married in 1951 and
divorced in 1974; he had two children by her. Even after divorcing
Margaret Adams, Taylor continued to live with her, while maintaining a
household with Eve. His third wife was the Hungarian historian Éva
Haraszti, whom he married in 1976.
The Italian Problem in European Diplomacy, 1847–49
Taylor's first book, published in 1934, addressed the question of
Italian unification The Italian Problem in European Diplomacy,
1847–49 . However, Taylor's speciality was in Central European,
British and diplomatic history. He was especially interested in the
Habsburg dynasty and Bismarck. His main mentors in this period were
the Austrian-born historian
Alfred Francis Pribram and the Polish-born
historian Sir Lewis Bernstein Namier. Taylor's earlier writings
reflected Pribram's favourable opinion of the Habsburgs; however, his
1941 book The
Habsburg Monarchy 1809–1918 (published in a revised
edition in 1948) showed the influence of Namier's unfavourable views.
Habsburg Monarchy, Taylor stated that the Habsburgs saw their
realms entirely as a tool for foreign policy and thus could never
build a genuine nation-state. To hold their realm together, they
resorted to playing one ethnic group off against another and promoted
German and Magyar hegemony over the other ethnic groups in
The Struggle for Mastery in Europe 1848–1918
In 1954 he published his masterpiece, The Struggle for Mastery in
Europe 1848–1918 and followed it up with The Trouble Makers in 1957,
a critical study of British foreign policy. The Trouble Makers was a
celebration of those who had criticised the government over foreign
policy, a subject dear to his heart. The Trouble Makers had originally
Ford Lectures in 1955 and was his favourite book by far. When
invited to deliver the Ford Lectures, he was initially at a loss for a
topic, and it was his friend
Alan Bullock who suggested the topic of
foreign policy dissent.
Bismarck: The Man and the Statesman
The recurring theme of accidents deciding history appeared in Taylor's
best-selling 1955 biography of Bismarck. Taylor controversially argued
that the Iron Chancellor had unified Germany more by accident than by
design; a theory that contradicted those put forward by the historians
Heinrich von Sybel, Leopold von Ranke, and
Heinrich von Treitschke
Heinrich von Treitschke in
the latter years of the 19th century, and by other historians more
The Origins of the Second World War
In 1961, he published his most controversial book, The Origins of the
Second World War, which earned him a reputation as a revisionist.
Gordon Martel notes that "it made a profound impact. The book became a
classic and a central point of reference in all discussion on the
Second World War."
In the book Taylor argued against the widespread belief that the
outbreak of the
Second World War
Second World War (specifically between Germany,
Poland, the United Kingdom and France, September 1939) was the result
of an intentional plan on the part of Adolf Hitler. He began his book
with the statement that too many people have accepted uncritically
what he called the "Nuremberg Thesis", that the
Second World War
Second World War was
the result of criminal conspiracy by a small gang comprising Hitler
and his associates. He regarded the "Nuremberg Thesis" as too
convenient for too many people and held that it shielded the blame for
the war from the leaders of other states, let the
German people avoid
any responsibility for the war and created a situation where West
Germany was a respectable
Cold War ally against the Soviets.
Taylor's thesis was that Hitler was not the demoniacal figure of
popular imagination but in foreign affairs a normal German leader.
Citing Fritz Fischer, he argued that the foreign policy of the Third
Reich was the same as those of the
Weimar Republic and the Second
Reich. Moreover, in a partial break with his view of German history
advocated in The Course of German History, he argued that Hitler was
not just a normal German leader but also a normal Western leader. As a
normal Western leader, Hitler was no better or worse than Gustav
Neville Chamberlain or Édouard Daladier. His argument was
that Hitler wished to make Germany the strongest power in Europe but
he did not want or plan war. The outbreak of war in 1939 was an
unfortunate accident caused by mistakes on everyone's part and was not
a part of Hitler's plan.
Notably, Taylor portrayed Hitler as a grasping opportunist with no
beliefs other than the pursuit of power and anti-Semitism. He argued
that Hitler did not possess any sort of programme and his foreign
policy was one of drift and seizing chances as they offered
themselves. He did not even consider Hitler's anti-Semitism unique: he
argued that millions of Germans were just as ferociously anti-Semitic
as Hitler and there was no reason to single out Hitler for sharing the
beliefs of millions of others.
Taylor argued that the basic problem with an interwar Europe was a
Treaty of Versailles
Treaty of Versailles that was sufficiently onerous to ensure
that the overwhelming majority of Germans would always hate it, but
insufficiently onerous in that it failed to destroy Germany's
potential to be a Great Power once more. In this way, Taylor argued
that the Versailles Treaty was destabilising, for sooner or later the
innate power of Germany that the Allies had declined to destroy in
1918–1919 would inevitably reassert itself against the Versailles
Treaty and the international system established by Versailles that the
Germans regarded as unjust and thus had no interest in preserving.
Though Taylor argued that the
Second World War
Second World War was not inevitable and
that the Versailles Treaty was nowhere near as harsh as contemporaries
John Maynard Keynes
John Maynard Keynes believed, what he regarded as a flawed peace
settlement made the war more likely than not.
English History 1914–1945
In 1965 he rebounded from the controversy surrounding The Origins of
Second World War
Second World War with the spectacular success of his book English
History 1914–1945, his only venture into social and cultural
history, where he offered a loving, affectionate portrayal of the
years between 1914 and 1945.
English History 1914–1945 was an
enormous best-seller and in its first year in print sold more than all
of the previous volumes of the
Oxford History of
Though he felt there was much to be ashamed of in British history,
especially in regard to Ireland, he was very proud to be British and
more specifically English. He was fond of stressing his nonconformist
Northern English background and saw himself as part of a grand
tradition of radical dissent that he regarded as the real glorious
history of England.
The Reichstag Fire (introduction)
In 1964 Taylor wrote the introduction for The Reichstag Fire by the
journalist Fritz Tobias. He thus became the first English-language
historian and the first historian after
Hans Mommsen to accept the
conclusions of the book, that the Nazis had not set the Reichstag on
fire in 1933 and that
Marinus van der Lubbe
Marinus van der Lubbe had acted alone. Tobias
and Taylor argued that the new Nazi government had been looking for
something to increase its share of the vote in the elections of 5
March 1933, so as to activate the Enabling Act and that van der Lubbe
had serendipitously (for the Nazis) provided it by burning down the
Reichstag. Even without the Reichstag fire, the Nazis were quite
determined to destroy German democracy. In Taylor's opinion, van der
Lubbe had made their task easier by providing a pretext. Moreover, the
German Communist propaganda chief
Willi Münzenberg and his OGPU
handlers had manufactured all of the evidence implicating the Nazis in
the arson. In particular, Tobias and Taylor pointed out that the
so-called "secret tunnels" that supposedly gave the Nazis access to
the Reichstag were in fact tunnels for water piping. At the time
Taylor was widely attacked by many other historians for endorsing what
was considered to be a self-evident perversion of established
War by Timetable
In his 1969 book War by Timetable, Taylor examined the origins of the
First World War, concluding that though all of the great powers wished
to increase their own power relative to the others, none consciously
sought war before 1914. Instead, he argued that all of the great
powers believed that if they possessed the ability to mobilise their
armed forces faster than any of the others, this would serve as a
sufficient deterrent to avoid war and allow them to achieve their
foreign policy. Thus, the general staffs of the great powers developed
elaborate timetables to mobilise faster than any of their rivals. When
the crisis broke in 1914, though none of the statesmen of Europe
wanted a world war, the need to mobilise faster than potential rivals
created an inexorable movement towards war. Thus Taylor claimed that
the leaders of 1914 became prisoners of the logic of the mobilisation
timetables and the timetables that were meant to serve as deterrent to
war instead relentlessly brought war.
Beaverbrook: A Biography
In the 1950s and 1960s, Taylor befriended Lord Beaverbrook and later
wrote his biography in 1972. Beaverbrook, Canadian in origin, was a
Conservative who believed strongly in the
British Empire and whose
entry into politics was in support of Bonar Law, a Conservative leader
strongly connected with the establishment of Northern Ireland. Despite
the disdain for most politicians expressed in his writings, Taylor was
fascinated by politics and politicians and often cultivated relations
with those who possessed power. Beside Lord Beaverbrook, whose company
Taylor very much enjoyed, his favourite politician was the Labour
Party leader Michael Foot, whom he often described as the greatest
Prime Minister Britain never had.
Taylor also wrote significant introductions to British editions of
The Communist Manifesto
The Communist Manifesto and of Ten Days that Shook the World,
by John Reed. He had long been an advocate of a treaty with the Soviet
Union so British Communists expected him to be friendly. In 1963, the
British Communist Party, which held the copyright to Ten Days that
Shook the World in the United Kingdom, offered Taylor the opportunity
to write the introduction to a new edition. The introduction Taylor
wrote was fairly sympathetic towards the Bolsheviks. However, it also
pointed out certain contradictions between Reed's book and the
official historiography in the
Soviet Union—for instance, that Leon
Trotsky played a very prominent, heroic role in Ten Days That Shook
The World while in 1963 Trotsky was almost a non-person in Soviet
historiography, mentioned only in terms of abuse. The British
Communist Party rejected Taylor's introduction as anti-Soviet. The
rejection annoyed Taylor. When the copyright expired in 1977 and a
non-Communist publisher reissued the book, asking Taylor to write the
introduction, he strengthened some of his criticisms. Taylor also
wrote the introduction for Fighter: The True Story of the Battle of
Britain by Len Deighton.
Starting in 1931, Taylor worked as book reviewer for the Manchester
Guardian, and from 1957 he was a columnist with the Observer. In 1951
Taylor made his first move into mass-market journalism, spending just
over a year as a columnist at the tabloid Sunday Pictorial, later
renamed the Sunday Mirror. His first article was an attack on the
stance of the
United Nations during the Korean War, in which he argued
that the UN was merely a front for American policy. After leaving
Sunday Pictorial in 1952, in the wake of editor Philip Zec's
dismissal, he began writing a weekly column the following year for the
Daily Herald until 1956. From 1957 until 1982 he wrote for the Sunday
Express, owned by his friend and patron Lord Beaverbrook. His first
column for that paper was "Why Must We Soft-Soap The Germans?", in
which he complained that the majority of Germans were still Nazis at
heart and argued the
European Economic Community
European Economic Community was little more than
an attempt by the Germans to achieve via trade what they failed to
accomplish through arms in the First and Second World Wars. At a time
when the relationship with the EEC was a major issue in Britain,
Euroscepticism became a common theme in many
of his articles. Other frequent targets were the
BBC, the anti-smoking lobby, and reversing his earlier stance, the
motor car, with Taylor calling for all private motor vehicles to be
Second World War
Second World War gave Taylor the opportunity to branch out from
print journalism, initially into radio and then later television. On
17 March 1942 Taylor made the first of seven appearances on The World
at War – Your Questions Answered broadcast by
BBC Forces' Radio.
After the war Taylor became one of the first television historians.
His appearances began with his role as a panellist on the BBC's In The
News from 1950 to 1954. Here he was noted for his argumentative style,
and in one episode he declined to acknowledge the presence of the
other panellists. The press came to refer to him as the "sulky don"
and in 1954 he was dropped. From 1955 Taylor was a panellist on ITV's
rival discussion programme Free Speech, where he remained until the
series ended in 1961. In 1957, 1957–1958 and 1961 he made a number
of half-hour programmes on ITV in which he lectured without notes on a
variety of topics, such as the
Russian Revolution of 1917
Russian Revolution of 1917 and the
First World War. These were huge ratings successes. Despite earlier
strong feelings against the BBC, he lectured for a
series in 1961 and made more series for it in 1963, 1976, 1977 and
1978. He also hosted additional series for ITV in 1964, 1966 and 1967.
In Edge of Britain in 1980 he toured the towns of northern England.
Taylor's final TV appearance was in the series How Wars End in 1985,
where the effects of
Parkinson's disease on him were apparent.
Taylor had a famous rivalry with the historian Hugh Trevor-Roper, with
whom he often debated on television. One of the more famous exchanges
took place in 1961. Trevor-Roper said "I'm afraid that your book The
Origins of the
Second World War
Second World War may damage your reputation as a
historian", to which Taylor replied "Your criticism of me would damage
your reputation as a historian, if you had one."
The origins of the dispute went back to 1957 when the Regius
Professorship for History at
Oxford was vacant. Despite their
divergent political philosophies, Taylor and Trevor-Roper had been
friends since the early 1950s, but with the possibility of the Regius
Professorship, both men lobbied for it. The Conservative Prime
Harold Macmillan awarded the chair to the Tory Trevor-Roper
rather than the Labourite Taylor. In addition, a number of the other
Oxford dons had felt that Taylor's profile in journalism was
"demeaning" to the historian's craft and had lobbied against him.
In public, Taylor declared that he would never have accepted any
honour from a government that had "the blood of Suez on its hands". In
private, he was furious with Trevor-Roper for holding an honour that
Taylor considered rightfully his. Adding to Taylor's rancour was the
fact that he had arrived at
Oxford a decade before Trevor-Roper. From
then on, Taylor never missed a chance to disparage Trevor-Roper's
character or scholarship. The famously combative Trevor-Roper
reciprocated. The feud was given much publicity by the media, not so
much because of the merits of their disputes but rather because their
acrimonious debates on television made for entertaining viewing.
Likewise, the various articles written by Taylor and Trevor-Roper
denouncing each other's scholarship, in which both men's considerable
powers of invective were employed with maximum effect, made for
entertaining reading. Beyond that, it was fashionable to portray the
dispute between Taylor and Trevor-Roper as a battle between
generations. Taylor, with his populist, irreverent style, was nearly a
decade older than Trevor-Roper, but was represented by the media as a
symbol of the younger generation that was coming of age in the
1950s–1960s. Trevor-Roper, who was unabashedly old-fashioned (he was
one of the last
Oxford dons to lecture wearing his professor's robes)
and inclined to behave in a manner that the media portrayed as pompous
and conceited, was seen as a symbol of the older generation. A subtle
but important difference in the style between the two historians was
their manner of addressing each other during their TV debates:
Trevor-Roper always addressed Taylor as "Mr Taylor" or just "Taylor",
while Taylor always addressed Trevor-Roper as "Hugh".
Another frequent sparring partner on TV for Taylor was the writer
Malcolm Muggeridge. The frequent television appearances helped to make
Taylor the most famous British historian of the 20th century. It was a
measure of his fame that he was featured in a cameo in the 1981 film
Time Bandits. Another foray into the world of entertainment occurred
in the 1960s when he served as the historical consultant for both the
stage and film versions of
Oh, What a Lovely War! Though he possessed
great charm and charisma and a sense of humour, as he aged he
presented himself as, and came to be seen as, cantankerous and
Throughout his life, Taylor took public stands on the great issues of
his time. In the early 1930s, he was in a left-wing pacifist group
called the Manchester Peace Council, for which he frequently spoke in
public. Until 1936, Taylor was an opponent of
British rearmament as he
felt that a re-armed Britain would ally itself with Germany against
Soviet Union. However, after 1936, he resigned from the Manchester
Peace Council, urged
British rearmament in the face of what Taylor
considered to be the Nazi menace, and advocated an Anglo-Soviet
alliance to contain Germany. After 1936, he also fervently criticised
appeasement, a stance that he would disavow in 1961.
In 1938, he denounced the
Munich Agreement at several rallies and may
have written several leaders in the
Manchester Guardian criticising
it; later, he would compare the smaller number of Czechoslovak dead
with the number of Polish dead. In October 1938, Taylor attracted
particular controversy by a speech he gave at a dinner held every
October to commemorate a protest by a group of
Oxford dons against
James II in 1688, an event that was an important prelude to the
Glorious Revolution. He denounced the
Munich Agreement and those who
supported it, warning the assembled dons that if action were not taken
immediately to resist Nazi Germany, then they might all soon be living
under the rule of a much greater tyrant than James II. Taylor's speech
was highly contentious, in part because in October 1938 the Munich
Agreement was popular with the public even if subsequently it was to
be reviled along with the policy of appeasement, and also because he
used a non-partisan and non-political occasion to make a highly
partisan, politically charged attack on government policy.[citation
Throughout his life, Taylor was sympathetic to the foreign policy of
Soviet Union, and after 1941 he was overjoyed to have the Soviet
Union as Britain's ally, as this was the realisation of his desire for
Soviet alliance. The
Second World War
Second World War further increased
Soviet feelings, as he was always profoundly grateful for
the Red Army's role in destroying Nazi Germany. Despite his pro-Soviet
views he was strongly critical of Stalinism, and in 1948 he attended
and did his best to sabotage a Stalinist cultural congress in
Wrocław, Poland. His speech, which was broadcast live on Polish radio
and via speakers on the streets of Wrocław, about the right of
everyone to hold different views from those who hold power, was
enthusiastically received by the delegates and was met with thunderous
applause. The speech was clearly intended as a rebuttal of a speech
given by the
Soviet writer Alexander Fadeyev the previous day, who had
demanded obedience on the part of everyone to Joseph Stalin.
After 1945, he was very disappointed to see Britain choose the United
States, not the
Soviet Union, as its major ally. As a
socialist, Taylor saw the capitalist system as wrong on practical and
moral grounds, although he rejected the Marxist view that capitalism
was responsible for wars and conflicts. He felt that the status quo in
the West was highly unstable and prone to accidents, and prevented a
just and moral international system from coming into being. Moreover,
Taylor was enraged by the decision of the Western powers, which he
blamed on the US, to re-build and establish the West German state in
the late 1940s, which Taylor saw as laying the foundations for a
Fourth Reich that would one day plunge the world back into war.
He also blamed the United States for the Cold War, and in the 1950s
and 1960s was one of the leading lights of the Campaign for Nuclear
Disarmament. Though he preferred that the United Kingdom be neutral in
the Cold War, he felt that if Britain should have to align itself with
a major power, the best partner was the
Soviet Union rather than
America, which in Taylor's opinion was carrying out reckless policies
that increased the risk of World War Three. Taylor never visited the
United States, despite receiving many invitations.
In 1950 he was again temporarily banned by the
BBC when he attempted
to deliver a radio address against British participation in the Korean
War. After a public outcry, the
BBC relented and allowed him to
deliver his address. In 1956 Taylor demonstrated against the Suez War,
though not the
Soviet crushing of the 1956 Hungarian Revolution, which
he believed had saved Hungary from a return to the rule of Admiral
Miklós Horthy. He also championed Israel, which he saw as a model
socialist democracy threatened by reactionary
Taylor was also opposed to, and condemned, the US intervention in the
Taylor was also opposed to the
British Empire and against Britain's
participation in the
European Economic Community
European Economic Community and NATO.[citation
In an interview with Irish State radio in April 1976, Taylor argued
that the British presence in
Northern Ireland was perpetuating the
conflict there. Taylor claimed the best solution would be for an
"armed push" by the Irish nationalists to drive out the one million
Ulster Protestants from Ireland. He cited as a successful precedent
the expulsion of Germans from
Czechoslovakia after the Second World
War. On the threat of civil war should Britain quit Ireland, Taylor
answered: "What we have, after all, is an incipient civil war. To put
it brutally, if there were a civil war in Northern Ireland, and I am
not convinced that there would be, quite a lot of people would be
killed and the war would be decided within a few months. Spread over
the years, probably more people have been killed".
Taylor was fearless in championing unpopular people and causes. In
1980, he resigned from the
British Academy in protest against the
expulsion of the art historian and
Soviet spy Anthony Blunt, which he
saw as an act of McCarthyism. Closer to his work as a historian,
Taylor championed less government secrecy and, paradoxically for a
staunch leftist, fought for more privately owned television stations.
His experiences with being banned by the
BBC had led him to appreciate
the value of having many broadcasters. In regard to government
archives, Taylor took part in a successful attempt to lobby the
British government to replace the 100-year rule with a 30-year rule.
Taylor held fierce Germanophobic views. In 1944, he was temporarily
banned from the
BBC following complaints about a series of lectures he
gave on air in which he gave full vent to his anti-German
feelings. In his 1945 book, The Course of German
History, he argued that National
Socialism was the inevitable product
of the entire history of the Germans going back to the days of the
Germanic tribes. He was an early champion of what has since been
Special Way) interpretation of German history,
that German culture and society developed over the centuries in such a
way as to make
Nazi Germany inevitable. Moreover, he argued that there
was a symbiotic relationship between Hitler and the German people,
Adolf Hitler needing the Germans to fulfil his dreams of conquest
German people needing Hitler to fulfil their dreams of
subjugation of their neighbours. In particular, he accused the Germans
of waging an endless
Drang nach Osten
Drang nach Osten against their Slavic neighbours
since the days of Charlemagne. For Taylor, Nazi racial imperialism was
a continuation of policies pursued by every German ruler. The Course
of German History was a best-seller in both the United Kingdom and the
United States; it was the success of this book that made Taylor's
reputation in the United States. Its success also marked the beginning
of the breach between Taylor and his mentor Namier, who wanted to
write a similar book. By the 1950s, relations between Taylor and
Namier had noticeably cooled and in his 1983 autobiography, A Personal
History, Taylor, though acknowledging a huge intellectual debt to
Namier, portrayed him as a pompous bore.
Taylor's approach to history was a populist one. He felt that history
should be open to all and enjoyed being called the "People's
Historian" and the "Everyman's Historian". He usually favoured an
anti-Great man theory, history being made for the most part by
towering figures of stupidity rather than of genius. In his view,
leaders did not make history; instead they reacted to events — what
happened in the past was due to sequences of blunders and errors that
were largely outside anyone's control. To the extent that anyone made
anything happen in history, it was only through their
Though Taylor normally preferred to portray leaders as fools
blundering their way forward, it is fair to add that he did think that
individuals sometimes could play a positive role in history—his
Vladimir Lenin and David Lloyd George.
But for Taylor, people like Lloyd George and Lenin were the
exceptions. Despite Taylor's increasing ambivalence toward appeasement
from the late 1950s, which became explicitly evident in his 1961 book
Origins of the Second World War,
Winston Churchill remained another of
his heroes. In
English History 1914–1945 (1965) he famously
concluded his biographical footnote of Churchill with the phrase "the
savior of his country." Another person Taylor admired was the
historian E. H. Carr, who was his favourite historian and a good
Irony and humour
His narratives used irony and humour to entertain as well as inform.
He examined history from odd angles, exposing what he considered to be
the pomposities of various historical characters. He was famed for
"Taylorisms": witty, epigrammatic, and sometimes cryptic remarks that
were meant to expose what he considered to be the absurdities and
paradoxes of modern international relations. An example is in his
television piece Mussolini (1970), in which he said the dictator "kept
up with his work — by doing none." Or, about Metternich's political
philosophies: "Most men could do better while shaving". His
determination to bring history to everyone drove his frequent
appearances on radio and later on television. He was also careful to
puncture any aura of infallibility that historians might have. On one
occasion when asked what he thought the future might bring, he replied
"Dear boy, you should never ask an historian to predict the future –
frankly we have a hard enough time predicting the past."
Taylor has been credited with coining the term "the Establishment" in
a 1953 book review, but this is disputed. On 29 August 1953, in
reviewing a biography of
William Cobbett in New Statesman, Taylor
The Establishment draws in recruits from outside as soon as
they are ready to conform to its standards and become respectable.
There is nothing more agreeable in life than to make peace with the
Establishment — and nothing more corrupting."
In 1967, Taylor wrote an article for the
Sunday Express in which he
argued that speed limits had made absolutely no positive difference to
road safe and that 'on the contrary, [speed limits] tend to increase
the risks and dangers'. Taylor went on to claim 'I have been driving a
care for 45 years. I have consistently ignored all the various speed
limits. Never once have I encountered the slightest risk as a result'.
The article caused a member of the public to lodged a complaint with
the Press Council, on the grounds that Taylor's remarks 'amount[ed] to
an indirect incitement to drivers to break the law'. The Council
eventually rejected the complaint and ruled that 'while Mr Taylor's
views are controversial, he has an unchallengeable right to express
The Origins of the Second World War
Main article: The Origins of the Second World War
The Origins of the
Second World War
Second World War was received negatively by some
quarters when it was published in 1961. The book set off a huge storm
of controversy and debate that lasted for years. At least part of the
vehement criticism was due to the confusion in the public's mind
between Taylor's book and another book published in 1961, Der
Erzwungene Krieg (The Forced War) by the American historian David
Hoggan. Taylor criticised Hoggan's thesis that Germany was the
innocent victim of an Anglo-Polish conspiracy in 1939 as nonsense but
many critics confused Taylor's thesis with Hoggan's. Most of the
criticism was over Taylor's arguments for appeasement as a rational
political strategy, his mechanistic portrayal of a world destined for
another world war by post-war settlement of 1918–1919, his depiction
Second World War
Second World War as an "accident" caused by diplomatic
blunders, his portrayal of Hitler as a "normal leader" and what many
considered his flippant dismissal of Nazi ideology as a motivating
force. Leading the charge against Taylor was his arch-enemy
Trevor-Roper, who contended that Taylor had wilfully and egregiously
misinterpreted the evidence. In particular, Trevor-Roper criticised
Taylor's argument that the
Hossbach Memorandum of 1937 was a
meaningless document because none of the scenarios outlined in the
Memorandum as the prerequisite for war such as the Spanish Civil War
leading to a war between Italy and France in the Mediterranean or
civil war breaking out in France occurred. In Trevor-Roper's opinion,
what really mattered about the
Hossbach Memorandum was that Hitler
clearly expressed an intention to go to war sooner rather than later
and it was Hitler's intentions rather than his plans at the time which
mattered. However, in the newest edition of the book, Taylor argues
that the significant parts, if not the whole, of the memorandum are in
fact fabrications. Other historians who criticised The Origins of the
Second World War
Second World War included; Isaac Deutscher, Louis Morton, Barbara
Tuchman, Ian Morrow, Gerhard Weinberg, G.F. Hudson, Elizabeth
Wiskemann, W.N. Medlicott, Tim Mason, John Lukacs, Karl Dietrich
Bracher, Frank Freidel, Harry Hinsley, John Wheeler-Bennett, Golo
Mann, Lucy Dawidowicz, Gordon A. Craig, A. L. Rowse, Raymond Sontag,
Andreas Hillgruber and Yehuda Bauer. Rowse, who had once been a close
friend of Taylor's, attacked him with an intensity and vehemence that
was second only to Trevor-Roper's. In addition, several historians
wrote books on the origins of the
Second World War
Second World War with the aim of
refuting Taylor's thesis. Taylor was angered by some of the criticism,
especially the implication that he had set out to exonerate Hitler,
writing that "to the best of my recollection, those who now display
indignation against me were not active [against appeasement] on the
public platform." Some notable examples include Gerhard Weinberg's
two-volume The Foreign Policy of Hitler's Germany and Andreas
Hillgruber's Deutschlands Rolle in der Vorgeschichte der beiden
Weltkriege, translated as Germany And The Two World Wars.
The issue of misinterpretation is also addressed in Gordan A. Craig's
book Germany: 1866–1945, where it is argued that Taylor dismissed
Hitler's foreign policy, as presented in Mein Kampf, and in
particular, the remilitarisation of the Rhineland, as a jumble of idle
thoughts written down under the impact of the French occupation of the
As angry as the reaction in Britain was to The Origins of the Second
World War, it was greater when the book was published in January 1962
in the United States. With the exception of Harry Elmer Barnes, every
American historian who reviewed Taylor's book gave it a negative
review. Perhaps ironically, Taylor had indirectly criticised Barnes
when he wrote contemptuously of certain self-styled American
Revisionist historians whose work Taylor characterised as marked by
obsessive loathing for their own country, nostalgia for isolationism,
hatred for the
New Deal and a tendency to engage in bizarre conspiracy
theories. Despite the best efforts of Barnes and his protégé David
Hoggan to recruit Taylor to their cause, Taylor always made clear that
he wanted nothing to do with either Barnes or Hoggan.
Despite the criticism, The Origins of the
Second World War
Second World War is regarded
as a watershed in the historiography of the origins of the Second
World War. In general, historians have praised Taylor for the
By showing that appeasement was a popular policy and that there was
continuity in British foreign policy after 1933, he shattered the
common view of the appeasers as a small, degenerate clique that had
mysteriously hijacked the British government sometime in the 1930s and
who had carried out their policies in the face of massive public
By portraying the leaders of the 1930s as real people attempting to
deal with real problems, he made the first strides towards attempting
an explanation of the actions of the appeasers rather than merely
By showing that the
Anschluss was enormously popular in Austria, he
helped to discredit the notion of Austria as a victim of Nazi
aggression brought unwillingly into the Reich.
By being one of the first historians to present Hitler as an ordinary
human being rather than as a "madman", Taylor helped to open the door
to seeing Hitler as a human being, albeit one who held morally
repellent beliefs, offering possibilities to explain his actions.
By being the first English language historian to bring attention to
the work of the French economist and historian Étienne Mantoux,
especially his 1946 book The Carthaginian Peace: or The Economic
Consequences of Mr Keynes, he was able to show that Germany was
capable of paying reparations to France after the First World War; the
only problem was that the Germans were unwilling. In this way, he
started an important debate over who was really responsible for the
hyperinflation that destroyed the German economy in 1923.
By highlighting certain continuities in German foreign policy between
1871 and 1939, he helped to place Nazi foreign policy in a wider
perspective, though the degree of continuity is still subject to
By focusing on the improvised character of German and Italian foreign
policy, he helped to create a debate over the degree to which fascist
states were fulfilling a programme versus taking advantage of events.
By showing that Hitler just as often reacted as acted, he offered a
balance to previous accounts where Hitler was portrayed as the sole
agent and the leaders of Britain and France as entirely reactive.
Finally, in response to Taylor's argument that Hitler had no programme
because his foreign policy seemed to operate in a haphazard and
slapdash way, Taylor's critics such as Trevor-Roper worked out a
formula by which Hitler held "consistent aims" but sought to achieve
them via "flexible methods".
Portrayal of Mussolini
Another criticism is of Taylor's views on Italy. Taylor drew a picture
Benito Mussolini as a great showman but an inept leader with no
beliefs. The first part of this picture has not been generally
challenged by historians but the second part has been questioned.
Taylor argued that Mussolini was sincere when he helped forge the
Stresa Front with Britain and France to resist any German challenge to
the status quo in Europe and that only the
League of Nations
League of Nations sanctions
imposed on Fascist Italy for Italian invasion of Ethiopia drove
Mussolini into an alliance with Nazi Germany. Recently, a number of
specialists in Italian history have challenged this by arguing that
Mussolini possessed a belief in the spazio vitale (vital space) as a
guiding foreign policy concept in which the entire Mediterranean, the
Balkans, the Middle East and the
Horn of Africa
Horn of Africa were regarded as
rightfully belonging to Italy, leading to inevitable conflict with the
two dominant Mediterranean powers, Britain and France.
The French Third Republic
Finally, Taylor has been criticised for promoting the La décadence
view of the French Third Republic. This historical concept portrays
the Third Republic as a decadent state, forever on the verge of
collapse. In particular, advocates of the La décadence concept have
asserted that inter-war France was riven by political instability;
possessed a leadership that was deeply divided, corrupt, incompetent
and pusillanimous, which ruled over a nation rent by mass
unemployment, strikes, a sense of despair over the future, riots and a
state of near-civil war between the Left and the Right. Of all the
French governments of the interwar era, only the Popular Front
Léon Blum was presented sympathetically by Taylor,
which he praised for carrying out what he regarded as long overdue
social reforms. Many experts in French history have admitted that
there is a kernel of truth to Taylor's picture of France but have
complained that Taylor presented French politics and society in such a
manner as to border on caricature.
Taylor was badly injured in 1984 when he was run over by a car while
Old Compton Street
Old Compton Street in London. The effect of the accident led
to his retirement in 1985. In his last years, he endured Parkinson's
disease, which left him incapable of writing. His last public
appearance was at his 80th birthday, in 1986, when a group of his
former students, including Sir Martin Gilbert, Alan Sked, Norman
Davies and Paul Kennedy, organised a public reception in his honour.
He had, with considerable difficulty, memorised a short speech, which
he delivered in a manner that managed to hide the fact that his memory
and mind had been permanently damaged by Parkinson's disease.
In 1987, he entered a nursing home in Barnet, London, where he died on
7 September 1990 aged 84. He was cremated at Golders Green
The Italian Problem in European Diplomacy, 1847–1849, 1934.
(editor) The Struggle for Supremacy in Germany, 1859–1866 by
Heinrich Friedjung, 1935.
Germany's First Bid for Colonies 1884–1885: a Move in Bismarck's
European Policy, 1938.
Habsburg Monarchy 1809–1918, 1941, revised edition 1948,
reissued in 1966 OCLC 4311308.
The Course of German history: a Survey of the Development of Germany
since 1815, 1945. Reissued in 1962. OCLC 33368634
Trieste, (London: Yugoslav Information Office, 1945). 32 pages.
Co-edited with R. Reynolds British Pamphleteers, 1948.
Alan Bullock A Select List of Books on European
From Napoleon to Stalin, 1950.
Rumours of Wars, 1952.
The Struggle for Mastery in Europe 1848–1918
The Struggle for Mastery in Europe 1848–1918 (
Oxford History of
Modern Europe), 1954. online free
Bismarck: the Man and Statesman, 1955. Reissued by Vintage Books in
1967 OCLC 351039.
Englishmen and Others, 1956.
co-edited with Sir Richard Pares Essays Presented to Sir Lewis Namier,
The Trouble Makers: Dissent over Foreign Policy, 1792–1939, 1957.
Lloyd George, 1961.
The Origins of the Second World War, 1961. Reissued by Fawcett Books
in 1969 OCLC 263622959.
The First World War: an Illustrated History, 1963. OCLC 2054370
American edition has the title: Illustrated history of the First World
War. OCLC 253080
Politics In Wartime, 1964.
English History 1914–1945 (Volume XV of the
Oxford History of
England), 1965. OCLC 36661639
From Sarajevo to Potsdam, 1966. 1st American edition, 1967.
From Napoleon to Lenin, 1966.
The Abdication of King Edward VIII by Lord Beaverbrook, (editor) 1966.
Europe: Grandeur and Decline, 1967.
Introduction to 1848: The Opening of an Era by F. Fejto, 1967.
War by Timetable, 1969. ISBN 0-356-02818-6
Churchill Revised: A Critical Assessment, 1969. OCLC 4194
(editor) Lloyd George: Twelve Essays, 1971.
(editor) Lloyd George: A Diary by Frances Steveson, 1971.
Beaverbrook, 1972. ISBN 0-671-21376-8
(editor) Off the Record: Political Interviews, 1933–43 by W. P.
A History of World War Two: 1974.
Fritz Fischer and His School," The Journal of Modern History Vol. 47,
No. 1, March 1975
The Second World War: an Illustrated History, 1975.
(editor) My Darling Pussy: The Letters of Lloyd George and Frances
Stevenson, 1975. ISBN 0-297-77017-9
The Last of Old Europe: a Grand Tour, 1976. Reissued in 1984.
ISBN 0-283-99170-4 OCLC 80148134
Essays in English History, 1976. ISBN 0-14-021862-9
"Accident Prone, or What Happened Next," The Journal of Modern History
Vol. 49, No. 1, March 1977
The War Lords, 1977.
The Russian War, 1978.
How Wars Begin, 1979. ISBN 0-689-10982-2 OCLC 5536093
Politicians, Socialism, and Historians, 1980.
Revolutions and Revolutionaries, 1980.
A Personal History, 1983.
An Old Man's Diary, 1984.
How Wars End, 1985.
Letters to Eva: 1969–1983, edited by Eva Haraszti Taylor, 1991.
From Napoleon to the Second International: Essays on
Nineteenth-century Europe. Ed. 1993.
From the Boer War to the Cold War: Essays on Twentieth-century Europe.
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^ Overy, Richard (30 January 1994). "Riddle Radical Ridicule". The
^ Wrigley 2006
^ Staff (2011).
Bootham School Register. York, England: Bootham Old
Scholars Association (BOSA).
^ a b Thompson, A. F. (2004). "A. J. P. Taylor".
Oxford Dictionary of
National Biographies, Volume 53.
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pp. 858–59. ISBN 0-19-861403-9.
^ a b Burk 2000, p.41
^ Taylor, A. J. P. (1984). An Old Man's Diary. London: Hamish
Hamilton. p. 101.
^ "Our History"
University of Manchester
University of Manchester website
^ Burk 2000
^ a b Bernstein, Richard (September 8, 1990) "A.J.P. Taylor, British
Historian, Dies" in The New
^ Taylor, A. J. P. (1983) A Personal History. London: Hamish Hamilton.
^ Addison, Paul (1993) "Introduction" to Taylor, A. J. P. The
Troublemakers Pimlico. ISBN 0-7126-5922-6
^ a b Martel 1999, p.1
^ Taylor , A. J. P. (28 January 1951). "UNO Has Failed!". Sunday
^ Taylor, A. J. P. (27 October 1957). "Why Must We Soft-Soap The
Germans?". Sunday Express.
^ Taylor, A. J. P. (15 July 1962). "Macmillan Has Not Found The Answer
Yet". Sunday Express.
^ Taylor, A. J. P. (31 October 1962). "Why Don't These "Top People"
Think For Themselves?". Sunday Express.
^ Taylor, A. J. P. (2 June 1968). "Will Germany Be The Next To
Explode?". Sunday Express.
^ Taylor, A. J. P. (25 May 1969). "Why Not Tell Us Where You Stand Mr.
Heath?". Sunday Express.
^ Taylor, A. J. P. (11 July 1971). "The Path To Ruin". Sunday
^ Wrigley 2006, p.320
^ Walker, Christopher (12 April 1976) "Protestant expulsion from
Ulster by Irish nationalists would be the best solution, Mr A J P
The Times p.2
^ Taylor, A. J. P. (1965). English History 1914–1945. Oxford:
Clarendon Press. p. 29.
^ The Press and the People. London: The Press Council. 1968.
^ "Press Writer's Freedom is Defended". Birmingham Daily Post. 11
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^ Burk 2000, p.292
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