School of History, Classics & Archaeology

Angus Mackay, Professor Emeritus of Medieval History - a conspectus by Professor Emeritus Michael Angold

A conspectus of Angus Mackay, Professor Emeritus of Medieval History, who passed away on 29 October 2016. (Published 10 Nov 2016)

From Lima to Edinburgh

Angus Iain Kenneth Mackay was born in 1939 at Lima, Peru, where his father was working for the British Council. He grew up in South America, but was educated at the Royal High School Edinburgh and entered Edinburgh University in 1958, Angus graduated in 1962 with first class honours in History and went on to do research on late medieval Castilian history with Professor Denys Hay at Edinburgh, being awarded his PhD in 1970. His thesis formed the basis of his 'Money, prices, and politics in fifteenth-century Castile' which was published by the Royal Historical Society in 1981.

In 1965 Angus was appointed lecturer in history at Reading University, but returned to Edinburgh, where he would remain for the rest of his career. He was a very successful teacher with his lectures on The Cid a particular high point of the general medieval course, while his special subject on Medieval Spain attracted large numbers of students over many years. From it emerged his Spain in the Middle Ages: from frontier to empire, 1000-1500 (London: Macmillan, 1977), which unusually for a University text book broke new ground because of the wealth of unpublished archival material it deployed.  It remains the best general history of later medieval Spain available in English. Translated into Spanish it has become a standard text in Spanish Universities, too. At the same time, Angus was producing a stream of articles which were collected in his Society, economy, and religion in late medieval Castile (London: Variorum Reprints, 1987). These cemented his reputation as an accomplished practitioner of the ‘new history’, associated in France with the Annales School and in Britain with the journal Past & Present.   Two of his articles in particular stand out: ‘Popular movements and pogroms in fifteenth-century Castile’, Past & Present, 55 (1972), 33-67 and ‘Ritual and Propaganda in fifteenth-century Castile’, Past & Present 107 (1985), 3-43, which sparked off one of Past & Present’s famous debates.

International Links

Angus was promoted to senior lecturer (1981) and then reader (1982) before receiving a personal chair in 1985. From 1990 to 1993 he was head of department and was able to mitigate some of the effects on History of the cuts to University finances, which were felt particularly acutely at the time. He always saw Edinburgh University as a European University and wholeheartedly embraced the Erasmus Exchange scheme for which he created the Coimbra group. This brought together medievalists from the Universities of Edinburgh, Vienna, Poitiers, Siena, Salamanca and Granada, becoming a force attracting European, and in particular, Spanish, students to study at Edinburgh. He was also from 1985 to 1991 Dean of the Scottish Universities International Summer School, which under his guidance went from strength to strength.

Much to his old supervisor Denys Hay’s delight Angus Mackay was made a fellow of the British Academy in 1991. This was deserved recognition of his considerable achievement as a historian. Always held in the highest regard by his Spanish colleagues, he now received international acclaim as a medievalist of uncommon originality. He retired in 1997.

Angus died peacefully at home after a long illness on 29 October and leaves his widow Linda, children Angus John and Anne Marie, and grandchildren Angus and Phoebe. His Requiem Mass took place on 9 November at St Catherine of Alexandria Church, Edinburgh.