George Macaulay Trevelyan, the son of the Liberal politician, George Otto Trevelyan, was born in Stratford-on-Avon on 16th February, 1876. His grandfather Sir Charles Edward Trevelyan was a reforming civil servant. His great-uncle was the historian, Thomas Babington Macaulay. His brother Charles Philips Trevelyan, was a future cabinet minister.
Trevelyan was educated at Harrow and Trinity College, where he studied history. While at the University of Cambridge was soon elected to the Apostles, the university's most exclusive and influential undergraduate society. Other members included Lytton Strachey, E. M. Forster, Roger Fry, Leonard Wolff, George Edward Moore, Goldsworthy Lowes Dickinson and Desmond MacCarthy. His contemporaries included John Maynard Keynes, Bertrand Russell and Ralph Vaughan Williams.
In 1896 he obtained a first in the historical tripos, and soon after 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 with the Peasants Revolt. This was followed by England under the Stuarts (1904). He also edited the progressive journal, The Independent Review.
In 1904 he married Janet Penrose Ward, the daughter of the novelist Mary Augusta Ward and Thomas Humphry Ward, a journalist. The couple moved to Cheyne Gardens in Chelsea and Janet had three children, Mary Caroline (1905), Theodore Macaulay (1906), who died from appendicitis in 1911, and Charles Humphry (1909).
According to his biographer, 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." Trevelyan's next book, a biography of John Bright, also received excellent reviews.
Although his older brother, Charles Trevelyan, resigned from Asquith's government in protest at Britain's involvement in the First World War, George Trevelyan supported the war effort. His defective eyesight meant he was unfit for military service, and so in 1915 he became commandant of the first British Red Cross ambulance unit to be sent to Italy. He spent the next three years transporting wounded soldiers to hospitals behind the lines. Trevelyan recorded his experiences in Scenes from Italy's War (1919).
Trevelyan finally completed his long awaited book on Earl Grey and Lord Grey of the Reform Bill was published in 1920. This was followed by British History in the Nineteenth Century (1922), Manin and the Venetian Revolution of 1848 (1923) and History of England (1926). A book that achieved very high sales. By this time he abandoned the Liberal Party for the Conservative Party. Whereas his brother, Charles Trevelyan, was a leading member of the Labour Party.
In 1927 Trevelyan was appointed him regius professor of modern history at University of Cambridge. Other books by Trevelyan included Blenheim (1930), Ramillies and the Union with Scotland (1932), The Peace and the Protestant Succession (1934), Sir George Otto Trevelyan: A Memoir (1932), Grey of Fallodon (1937) and The English Revolution, 1688–1698 (1938).
In the 1930s Trevelyan became concerned about the rise of Adolf Hitler and Nazi Germany. But as a supporter of Stanley Baldwin and Neville Chamberlain, he argued for appeasement. The author of G. M. Trevelyan: A Life in History (1903) has pointed out: "Although he admired Winston Churchill as a writer and historian, he had no time for Churchill's views on India, Germany, or Edward VIII, and he was a firm supporter of the Munich settlement. But he had little doubt that another war with Germany would come, and that whatever the result, a second such conflict in his lifetime would spell the end of the world as he had known it." His last important work, English Social History: A Survey of Six Centuries, was published in 1944.
George Macaulay Trevelyan died at his home in Cambridge on 20th July 1962.