In the preface to this new volume of his collected essays and lectures, J H Elliott announces that ‘the age of the hispanista’ (the foreign expert who teaches Spaniards about their own cultures) is over. Sir John should know. The former Regius Professor of Modern History at Oxford is one of a trio of English historians who dominated Spanish history in the late twentieth century: the others were Raymond Carr, who almost single-handedly revived and revolutionised the study of Spain’s nineteenth century, and Hugh Thomas, who wrote what remains incomparably the best history of the Spanish Civil War.
Of the three, Elliott had the hardest task. The others dealt with subjects that the Franco dictatorship made inaccessible to Spanish historians, but Elliott, who chose to study the early modern period, was competing with insiders to ravage the archives whose virginal innocence he now so fondly recalls.