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The Professor and the Parson/Adam Sisman

The biographer Adam Sisman is clearly intrigued by con men. His biography of Professor Hugh Trevor Roper necessarily had to discuss how, when and why he was duped into authenticating the Hitler diaries.

The next one on John le Carre had to feature his conman father.

Hugh Trevor Roper was intrigued by Robert Peters, a defrocked cleric and bigamist. He only met him once after he had heard reports emanating from Peters that the Bishop of Oxford was oppressing him.

Peters was an unusual conman. He operated in ecclesiastical circles more interested in status than money. Typically he would set up a ecclesiastical/theological college and endow himself with a grandiose title. These almost all failed and then he moved on.

The most remarkable thing about him was that he operated till the age of eighty-seven, making bigamous marriages and gulling people ostensibly far more intelligent than he. Trevor Roper does not disguise his interest that borders on the affectionate.

Sisman is less sympathetic, making it clear that he treated his wives and staff insensitively, that he preyed on young women – including Trevor Roper’s daughter – and his reaction to being cornered on his many deceits was to bully and threaten.

As much interest as the subject is how the mark is gulled. A cleric can be naive, there is a wish for redemption and Peters was by all accounts engaging, industrious and an inspiring preacher.

He would turn up at some global convention holding forth normally from a treatise he had skillfully plagiarised.

I found him above all a comic character .

This all makes for a fascinating biography though not a normal one as I doubt if many would have heard of the subject.

Research into the truth was difficult as anything written by Peters was unreliable including his date of birth.

There is also an interesting insight into Trevor Roper and the groves of academe.

About Melanie Gay

A former literary agent with three published novels of her own, Melanie retains her life-long love of the written word and recently mastered the Kindle. She is currently writing a historical novel set in 17th Century Britain and Holland. More Posts