Professor Margaret M. McGowan (1931-2022)
History will probably remember Margaret M. McGowan primarily as a historian of dance, and her interdisciplinary approach brought new rigour and depth to that area of study. Yet her research interests, while always founded in this same interdisciplinary approach, extended much more widely. She published, both as author and editor, on central areas of French early modern literature, notably Ronard, Montaigne, and seventeenth-century French drama. More connected with dance history were her publications on court celebrations, royal entries and their attendant performance events, and the elements of politics and propaganda behind them.
Margaret was born in Lincolnshire on 21 December 1931. She chose to read French at Reading rather than Oxford, in order to benefit from a mandatory year in France, which she spent in Paris. After graduation she taught at the University of Strasbourg from 1955 to 1957, while already preparing her doctorate at the Warburg Institute. She was supervised by the formidable Dame Frances Yates, with whom she could nonetheless disagree, when necessary! In 1957 she became a lecturer in French at the University of Glasgow. Given her interests, this was a wonderful time to be in Glasgow, because it coincided with the arrival of William Stirling Maxwell’s unrivalled (then as now) collection of emblem books and related material, including a significant number of fête books. Margaret, along with Gillian Jondorf and Dorothy Gabe Coleman, was among the first (but not the last) to use this exceptional body of material. In 1964 she left Glasgow to take up a post at the (still very new) University of Sussex, where she remained until retirement. In that year she married Sydney Anglo, whom she had met in 1957: he too was a student of Frances Yates, working on Tudor tournaments. They joined the small number of couples, like ourselves, lucky enough to share analogous research interests; it was always a delight to meet the two of them travelling together.
At Sussex she would rise to the very top of the profession, becoming Senior Pro-Vice Chancellor, and her administrative skills were in no way inferior to her intellectual prowess. Her colleagues remember her as both potentially intimidating, and at the same time warmly supportive.
She was elected as a Fellow of the British Academy in 1993, eventually becoming one of the Vice-Presidents. She was appointed CBE in 1998, and in 2020 made a Chevalier de l’ordre des arts et des lettres.
She remained loyal to both the Warburg Institute and Glasgow throughout her life. She had been chairman of the Advisory Council for the Warburg Institute, and in particular, while in her eighties, she headed the successful campaign to maintain the independence of the Warburg’s Library, taking the cause all the way to the High Court. But it is her loyalty to Glasgow which is of most importance to emblem scholars. She returned quite regularly to Glasgow, making some use of the collection, and visiting old friends. In our own endeavours to promote the University as a centre for emblematic research, she was a constant source of support. She came to Glasgow to launch both Glasgow Emblem Studies, and the French Emblems at Glasgow website, and expertly, to make sure they understood the importance of both emblems and the Glasgow collection, “bent the ear” (to use her own expression) of two different Principals!
A personal reminiscence, less closely connected to emblems, was a lecture given to the Glasgow French Department in the 1990s, when she spoke about the importance of ruins in the perceptions of early modern authors and artists, which would feed into her book The Vision of Rome in Late Renaissance France (2000). It epitomised her special ability to use carefully researched observations and historical details to construct an understanding of the broad picture.
We last saw her in Glasgow in September 2015, at a small colloquium to celebrate the University Library’s acquisition at Christie’s from the Barton Court Collection, of important emblem material: she thanked us charmingly for inviting her. The boot was on quite the other foot: we in Glasgow were honoured that nearly 60 years on from her first contact with it, she came to celebrate the collection which all emblem scholars prize.
Margaret died on 16 March 2022, in Brighton.
Alison Adams and Stephen Rawles
University of Glasgow