The New Republic has printed an insightful appraisal of famed historian Hugh Trevor-Roper’s capstone work, Europe’s Physician. Reviewer Peter Miller points out that doctors can provide a unique historical window into politics because of their trusted status, proximity to power, and necessary philosophical balancing of science, religion and humanity. “[I]t was not until he immersed himself in the history of the Reformation that Trevor-Roper hit upon a worthy subject for a thorough examination of the doctor in politics,” Miller writes.
Trevor-Roper is perhaps best known for his meticulous investigation of Hitler’s death, but his career began and ended with compelling histories of the early seventeenth century. During that period Theodore de Mayerne, the subject of Europe’s Physician, treated the kings of England and France as well as other royalty while caught in a maelstrom of religious persecution.
Trevor-Roper spent more than thirty years perfecting this manuscript, which was still unpublished at the time of his death in 2003. It may have taken him that long, Miller suggests, because as Trevor-Roper matured as an historian, he became disappointed with his first study of the time period, a revisionist biography of Archbishop William Laud.
“But long after today’s interpretation of Henri IV or Charles I or Laud will be challenged by some new revisionism,” Miller writes, “people will return to Europe’s Physician for its ‘big picture,’ and for its humanity, and for its ability to think historically about problems that are five hundred years old and as fresh as the morning newspaper.”