LONDON – For the British historian and writer Hugh Thomas, Spanish history was a life-long passion, his daughter Bella told EFE on Monday, two days after his death.
Lord Thomas de Swynnerton (1931-2017), the author of a seminal text on the Spanish Civil War, died Saturday after a long career as a highly respected historian, novelist, politician and university professor that marked a whole generation of Anglo-Saxon students of Hispanic culture.
“He went to Spain in the fifties and found a fascinating and extraordinary place and wanted to know more, and he found there was a lot of poverty in the 1950s; there were children in the streets with no shoes and he wanted to know what happened and wanted to read about it and found there was no book about it,” said Bella.
That was when he decided to write “The Spanish Civil War,” which was published in 1961, when Thomas was barely 30 years old, and is considered one of the most important texts in its field, though at the time it was banned by the regime of Gen. Francisco Franco, whose forces had won the country’s internecine 1936-1939 conflict.
Bella said her father tried to make it as neutral as possible, though its sympathies did skew towards the Republicans, as he sought not to take an ideological position but to be fair and understand the conflict.
“One of the reasons why the book was a complete success,” she said, adding that it was adored by the political left and accepted by the right.
Thomas also published a trilogy on the Spanish empire, starting with “Rivers of Gold” (2003) which covered the rise of the empire, from Christopher Columbus’ arrival in the Americas to Ferdinand Magellan’s voyage to the East Indies, which resulted in the first circumnavigation of the Earth by Juan Sebastian Elcano.
Its final volume and his last-ever book, “World Without End” (2014) is dedicated to the empire under King Philip II, the 16th-century monarch famed for his unsuccessful Armada launched against England in 1588.
Other highly-acclaimed works to his name are “The Conquest of Mexico” (1993), which describes Hernan Cortes’ fight to take over Mexico from 1519 to 1521, and “Cuba or the Pursuit of Freedom” (1971), an exploration of the island’s history from colonialism to the revolution.
Thomas received a number of awards for his work throughout his life, including the Grand Cross of the Royal Order of Isabella the Catholic, of the Civil Order of Alfonso X the Wise and of the Mexican Order of the Aztec Eagle.
He died of pneumonia on Saturday at the age of 85 in his home in London.
Along with Raymond Carr and Paul Preston, Thomas spearheaded ground-breaking academic research into Spain’s recent history, helping pave the way for a new generation of historians and Hispanists, many born in Spain.