Professor Harold Livermore: Historian of Iberia who wrote the prize-winning 'A History of Portugal'
Friday 05 March 2010
Harold Livermore's long career as a major historian of Iberia dates essentially from 1947 with the publication of A History of Portugal, a monumental study which established his reputation as the first anglophone scholar to write a detailed and closely researched account of the annals of England's (and in due course the United Kingdom's) oldest ally. It won for him Portugal's coveted Camões Prize.
After graduation and research at Cambridge University, he had been appointed headmaster for the school year 1941-42 of St Julian's School at Carcavelos on the Lisbon peninsula. On his return journey to England in November 1942 he flew for the first time, accompanied by his wife Ann, a prominent musicologist. The commercial aircraft in which they were travelling was attacked by a German fighter plane but miraculously managed to escape, despite the bullet holes in the nose and fuselage. Some 18 months later the film star Leslie Howard was less fortunate when making the same journey.
After a short post-war period lecturing in Cambridge, Livermore worked for the Foreign Office, with periods of duty in Brazil, before becoming Educational Director of the Hispanic and Luso-Brazilian Councils at Canning House. It was at that time that he acquired the dilapidated Sandycombe Lodge in Twickenham, formerly the property of the artist J.M.W .Turner, and set about restoring it to its pristine splendour, though nowadays it finds itself at the centre of development battles.
In this period he also researched A History of Spain (1958), again the first scholarly anglophone history of that country. There followed other briefer historical studies, especially reworkings of his history of Portugal, as well as a steady torrent of articles. The principal appointment of his career was as Professor and Head of Hispanic Studies at the University of British Columbia, a post he held until 1976, though in later years he served as tutor in Portuguese studies both at Cambridge and at the University of Westminster.
His output was prodigious even late in life: in 2004, when aged 90, he published Portugal: A Traveller's History, which was followed in 2006 by his Twilight of the Goths. He was a member of the Lisbon Academy of Sciences and of the Portuguese Academy of History. In 2006 he was awarded the Grand Cross of the Order of Prince Henry the Navigator, the highest-ranking cultural decoration of Portugal.
Always a controversial figure, Livermore earned criticism for his right-wing, anti-liberal stance, for what many saw as his failure to condemn the Salazar and Franco regimes. He cared not a fig. Above all, he had the courage openly to esteem scholarship above academic administration, the bane of any true scholar's existence.
Professor Clive Willis
Harold Victor Livermore, historian: born London 29 September 1914; married; died 28 February 2010.
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