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Professor Isabel de Madariaga FBA

20 June 2014

Isabel de Madariaga

It is with great sadness that we have learned of the death of Professor Isabel de Madariaga FBA.

Professor de Madariaga, the most distinguished British historian of eighteenth-century Russia and the author of the classic work on Russia in the Age of Catherine the Great (1981), died on Monday 16 June at the age of 94. Born on 27 August 1919, she had a cosmopolitan upbringing in Britain, Switzerland and France, and, as the daughter of Salvador de Madariaga, was introduced to many leading figures of the 1920s and 1930s, including Maurice Ravel. 

She came to SSEES as a student in 1937 and spent much of her career here, firstly as Secretary to the Editorial Board of the Slavonic and East European review, between 1951 and 1964. 

During that time, she worked on her first monograph, Britain, Russia and the Armed Neutrality of 1780 (1962). After a period lecturing at the University of Lancaster, she returned to a Readership at SSEES in 1971 and was promoted Professor of Russian Studies in 1982.

Following her retirement in 1984, she remained astonishingly active as an Honorary Research Fellow at SSEES, bringing out Catherine the Great: A Short History in 1990 (the year in which she was elected to the British Academy), Politics and Culture in Eighteenth-Century Russia, a volume of collected essays, in 1998, and a full-scale reassessment of Ivan the Terrible in 2005, when she was already in her mid-eighties.

She was a founder member of the Study Group on Eighteenth-Century Russia and recalled her career in an unforgettable after-dinner speech at its international conference in Durham Castle in 2005. ‘Lolita’, as she liked her friends to call her (it was a childhood nickname, long pre-dating Nabokov’s novel), was a grande dame in every way, combining formidably forensic scholarship with a natural wit, instinctive elegance, and an exceptionally generous attitude to younger scholars, whom she did all she could to encourage. Everyone who knew her will feel a profound sense of loss, and the passing of an inimitable generation.