Marcus Merriman: Obituary

Historians in the News

Just on the stroke of the millennium, the Lancaster University historian Dr Marcus Merriman, who has died aged 65, produced the classic that friends had for years urged him to bring to birth. The Rough Wooings: Mary Queen of Scots, 1542-1551 (2000), was the fruit of years of reflection, and of teaching with research - affirming the mutual support that the one ought to have of the other. And in 2001, the Saltire Society made Rough Wooings its best Scottish history book of the year.

Some 36 years earlier, at the then new University of Lancaster, Professor Austin Woolrych was building its history department. It was then that Stanley (ST) Bindoff of London's Institute of Historical Research - then the pre-eminent scholar of the Tudor period - recommended that he take on Marcus, a young American scholar. So in 1964 Marcus became a lecturer in early modern history at Lancaster, focusing on the the military and diplomatic relations of England, France and Scotland.

Across the next four decades Marcus proved himself a superb teacher - and an actor to his fingertips. He displayed idiosyncratic brilliance in the classroom with his carefully researched, but amazingly theatrical, lectures, complete with displays of canonry and gunpowder. There was also a passionate attention to primary documents, meticulously prepared student handbooks and exhaustive bibliographies. His histrionic gruffness was a highly effective foil for his real and deep care and concern for all his students.

His research fed directly into his work as a tutor in history: he published on map-making, on 16th-century wartime collaborators, war propaganda, Mary Queen of Scots as queen of France, on a 16th-century scheme to rebuild Hadrian's Wall, Italian military engineers in Britain, the fortifications of the northern border - and there was the definitive account of British historical public and military buildings and fortification, The History of the Kings Works. Then came The Rough Wooings.

Marcus was born in Baltimore, Maryland; his mother Ruth was an inventor of epoxy resin, originally used to glue aircraft, and his father Paul an engineer, inventor, and professor at Duke University. Educated at a private school, Marcus graduated in the early 1960s from Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine. He then came to Britain to research Tudor history at London's Institute of Historical Research under Bindoff - whom he revered.

Further study at the universities of Grenoble and Edinburgh confirmed Marcus's twin passions for France and Scotland. His promise as a scholar was signalled by the award of the Royal Historical Society Gold Medal Prize for the best essay in the field of Scottish history. Then came the appointment to the new university. Marcus was devoted to Lancaster and knew and loved the old city with a passion, but he remained a quintessential American - direct, forceful, warm and vital. In 1969-70 he was a visiting professor of history at Queens College in New York City and Syracuse University in New York State, and in the mid-1970s he was a visiting professor, to his enormous gratification, in Bowdoin.

For many years he was vice principal of Pendle College at Lancaster University. A classic liberal Democrat in an American context, in Britain Marcus found his ideological home in the Labour party. He was also Lancaster president, and subsequently a national executive member, of the Association of University Teachers. His honours included a partnership award for innovation in teaching (1990) and a Lancaster University Pilkington prize for excellence in teaching (1991). He also knew that history is a public art - and became an accomplished TV regular.

Each year he held an Easter vacation tour of Scottish historic sites. In summer there were barbecues at Westfield, the home where he and his then wife Pip presided over a creative ménage of kids, cats and student boarders.

A son predeceased him. His marriage to Pip ended in divorce; she survives him, as do their two daughters, Catherine and Hannah. In his later years, shadowed by deafness and ill health, he found love and companionship with his devoted partner Irene Lewis.

Read entire article at Guardian (UK)

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