- In Memoriam:Angus Mackay, 1939–2016
Angus MacKay was a scholar of unique insights and generosity. He was also an engaging and selfless friend. His death on 29 October 2016 represents an immense loss to those who work on European medieval literature and history in general and that of the Iberian Middle Ages in particular. His absence is also one deeply felt by the many of us who knew him personally; who benefitted from his capacious intellect; and with whom he so gracefully shared his knowledge and bonhomie. Born in Lima in 1939, the child of missionary parents (originally from one of the rugged islands on the west coast of Scotland) who had followed their religious calling in rural areas of Peru, Angus' early love for Spanish history and literature may be traced to those early years in South America.
A student of the fabled Denis Hays at the University of Edinburgh, he taught for four years at the University of Reading, before joining the University of Edinburgh and succeeding Hays to the prestigious chair in medieval history in 1986. Edinburgh's history Department was in the [End Page 5] 1980s and 90s (and remains) one of the leading centers for medieval studies, having then a veritable scholarly Pleiades – Angus Mackay, Robert Bartlett, Roger Collins, Anthony Goodman (who also died in 2016), and many others. Angus and his colleagues advanced new and bold ideas about the role of the frontier in medieval society, as evidenced in his co-edited volume with Robert Bartlett, Medieval Frontier Societies (Oxford University Press, 1989). This interest in frontiers, or liminal spaces between two distinct worlds, was evident early in his career. MacKay wrote one of the most insightful interpretative general histories of Spanish medieval history, Spain in the Middle Ages: From Frontier to Empire, 1000–1500 (St. Martin's Press, 1977). It remains one of the most original depictions of the longue durée of medieval Spanish history. Yet, while he could do the broad interpretative work, as few are able to do, Angus Mackay could also write the focused monograph that, anchored on a trove of hitherto unexplored archival sources, dealt with the always complex and difficult task of discussing monetary policy, religious persecution, and other topics. This was surely the case with his Money, Prices, and Politics in Fifteenth-Century Castile (Royal Historical Society, 1981). I had the honor and pleasure to review this book many years ago and thought that it was exemplary in its deployment of archival material, its interpretative trust, and its capacious unraveling of the messy nature of medieval Castilian coinage and economy during the crises of the late medieval period.
Moving between broad interpretations and case studies, Angus Mackay's work was also notable for three additional aspects. First, Angus was specially sensitivity to literary sources and to literary studies. He was a historian who mined literary texts and who deployed literary methodologies, as all historians should do, to illuminate historical issues. He was as much at home with medieval Castilian literary texts as he was with historical ones. His numerous articles on Castilian literature, published together with Geraldine McKendrick and Vikki Hatton, or as it was evident in his classic, "The Ballad and the Frontier in Late Medieval Spain" (published in the Bulletin of Hispanic Studies in 1976) reiterated the connection between frontier and literature. [End Page 6]
Second, Angus authored, among many articles and presentations, several monographic essays that had become classic contributions to our understanding of Castilian medieval history. Following his influential articles on anti-Jewish and converso violence, "Popular Movements and Pogroms in Fifteenth-Century Castile" (Past & Present, 1972), in the next decade and within the short span of two years, MacKay published three seminal articles on Castilian social history that have remained the standard for excellence in the field. They were, in chronological order, his authoritative "Ciudad y campo en la Europa medieval" (Studia historica 1984), providing the historiographical and interpretative framework for our understanding of the relationship between city and country and the social and economic links between rural and urban. This was followed by his impressive "Ritual and Propaganda in Fifteenth-Century Castile" (Past & Present 1985...