School of History, Classics & Archaeology

Angus Mackay, Professor Emeritus of Medieval History - an appreciation by Dr Roger Collins

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

Angus was one of the great ground-breakers of twentieth century British medieval Hispanism.  He was one of very few scholars working in the field to hold a post in a History department (indeed, in his early career he was probably unique in this respect), rather than in one of Hispanic Studies. Furthermore, his chosen field of research, the fifteenth century kingdom of Castile, was largely ignored in Spain itself, until revolutionised by his contributions and those of a small number of his Spanish friends. 

This neglect was the result of a tradition of Spanish historical scholarship that had focussed exclusively on the supposedly great periods of national history that were marked by strong central government and by Castilian pre-eminence over the other kingdoms of the Iberian Peninsula.  Angus’s own personal and political feelings were entirely at odds with such an approach, which was advocated not least by the Franco government. 

He found himself most at home in the period of royal weakness, conflict and civil war that filled most of the fifteenth century, before the accession of Ferdinand and Isabella.  In the process he created strong friendships with those Spanish historians of the period who dared break with the received view, and he came to be appreciated by them for the warmth and strength of his personality as well as for the quality of his scholarship. 

A brilliant extempore speaker, with great powers of memory and natural rhetorical skills, his lectures and conference papers, which drew on the literary as well as the historical sources for his period, were always memorable, as was the informal discussion of any subject to which he turned his attention.  He wrote the best introduction to late medieval Spanish history in English in his Spain in the Middle Ages: From Frontier to Empire, 1000-1500 (Basingstoke, 1977), and he was also the author of a prodigious number of articles and short monographs, the products of his extensive periods of research in numerous Spanish state and ecclesiastical archives, written in both English and Spanish. In the latter language his fluency and perfection of accent were remarkable; not least in his command of some startlingly colloquial vocabulary, acquired during his early years in South America.