Readers' Thoughts

Vivien Zhu 

22nd March 2018 at 12:25 pm

Dr Whittow was one of the first tutors I had at Oxford and quickly became one of the best tutors that I’ve had during my time here. He was a joy to be around and made our tutorials come to life with his remarkable and hilarious stories about his time abroad researching his book, and often random but entertaining segues during tutorials, including one memorable incident where we discussed the film 300’s depiction of the Persian Wars vs. real life! Despite my reservations about studying Ancient History initially, I learned to love it through Dr Whittow’s infectious enthusiasm and he will be missed.

Richard Douglas 

19th March 2018 at 11:02 am

I’ve only recently heard this tragic news. I was only tutored by Mark Whittow briefly – just for one term as a second year History undergraduate at Oriel in the early Nineties – but he made a huge impression on me. To begin with, I made a terrible impression on him, turning up very late to my first tutorial with him, my essay only half-finished, and me in a state of some disrepair after my attendance at a friend’s 21st party the night before had gone on much longer than intended. He was very firm in wanting a completed essay delivered to him that afternoon, but very fair in not holding it against me for the rest of the term. After that, I made sure I laboured for him, and was delighted in return by just how much fun our tutorials were. The work I did for him that term was without doubt the most purely intellectual fun I had in my entire time as an undergraduate, and possibly my whole time in academe since. Reading general European history of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, it seemed like each week opened up a rich and colourful new world, and Mark helped each setting come to life and got me to think into the period. And I think he was enjoying how much I was enjoying the subject. Given we had got along so well, I asked him to be one of my referees when, a few years later, I applied to do an MPhil, and he was really supportive. I was delighted when I’d heard he was going to be the new Provost at Oriel, and was wondering how he might affect the whole atmosphere of the College. It was tremendously sad to hear of this tragic accident. I see from reading the comments of many others who knew him much better than I that what I encountered was just a little taster of his warmth, sense of humour, and inspirational qualities.


Michael Stawpert

13th February 2018 at 11:41 am
Mark tutored me throughout my time at Oxford, taking me on my first courses in Late Antique history. While Mark was hugely friendly, encouraging and attentive, his breadth of knowledge was intimidating to a young undergrad trying to find their place in Oxford; suddenly shifting a tutorial from the Constantinian Roman Empire to sixth century China because “it would do you good” and making us consider the emergence of Christianity in the context of Shinto was heady stuff for a nineteen year old. Mark always pushed the limits of how one thought; why should we think the Roman Empire is big when we look to China or India for real scale? Why do we accept that the Hunnic armies were so fast moving because of their horses “they’re frightfully temperamental beasts”? Challenging orthodoxy made tutorials a test of academic flexibility and did more to shape a young mind in an hour, than many days in the Bod and a simple word of encouragement from Mark could sustain one through the 5th week blues – having Mark ask me to attend one of his classes “because I know you have strong feelings about these things” remains a favourite accolade.
Everyone has their favourite Whittowism, my own was when Mark called through to the History Faculty, not knowing that I was employed there. Upon finding me at the other end of the phone he exclaimed “Michael, you are a treat on toast! Now I have a question that you will be able to help me with…” We will all miss hearing “Watcha” echoing around Holywell or the Faculty. When trying to define my PhD project, I outlined the area to Mark and was told “I can see why that would be a jolly thing to want to do” and this was perhaps the greatest gift Mark bestowed on his students, the feeling that our studies should be fun. Those of us who got to work with Mark have all been touched by a great mind and a great tutor, and I hope that we can all take the feeling that our research should be “a shriek and a giggle” and approach life with the same verve, optimism and enthusiasm that Mark bestowed upon so many of us.

Tanya McKinlay

12th February 2018 at 8:30 pm

I had the immense privilege of having Mark Whittow as my tutor, 2 out of the 3 years I was at Oxford. He was one of the kindest, wittiest, and stereotypically eccentric Oxford professors I had met throughout my undergraduate years. Here is a list of things I remember about him:

– Mark’s office was at the top of a very rickety set of stairs, in (what he claimed to be) the oldest habital building in Oxford
– He made exceptionally dark, percolated coffee at every tutorial
– He would often make a trip to the covered market to buy iced buns for us; this would sometimes mean he was 10 minutes late for tutorials
– Mark made me read aloud every essay I ever wrote for him – a technique I still use to check over any piece of writing
– All Mark’s reading lists consisted of publications by him and his friends; one was titled ‘why did the Vandals cross the river Rhine?’ The answer was ‘to get to the other side’
– Many a tutorial was spent perusing his Byzantium coin collection
– He would punctuate his sentences with the phrase ‘you pays your money, you takes your choice’
– He owned a roost of chickens at home; our friend Jo had the pleasure of joining him on a trip to the outskirts of Oxford to adopt another member of the roost
– He was the only History professor to still lecture in his gown; it was delightful to see him on his bike, on the way to/from Exam Schools, with the tails of his gown bellowing behind him
– He texted me at 11.55pm – 5 minutes away from the deadline of my postgraduate application – to reassure me that he had just submitted a reference in support
– Every year, without fail, he would invite all his students to a drinks party at his home

He has fostered a happy community of enthusiastic young historians and I am honoured to be counted amongst them. You will be sorely, sorely missed Mark.



16th February 2018 at 3:41 pm
Thanks for sharing these memories Tanya. You have awakened all sorts of memories within me!
I still use the phrase ‘you pays your money, you takes your choice’ as a result of Mark’s influence – I had forgotten it came from him though.

You have also jogged my memory regarding the Byzantine coin collection – I was astonished when it first made an appearance in a tutorial and it remains one of the most memorable moments in my (brief!) academic career.

Thanks again for sharing.


Eduardo Manzano Moreno

11th February 2018 at 11:05 pm

It is very difficult and painful to assume that Mark is no longer with us. By “us” I mean those who had the privilege of enjoying his friendship and esteem. Mark turned every single circumstance around him into a unique situation in which knowledge, wit, and ideas merged in a lively and vibrant atmosphere of scholarly passion. Never predictable, never dull, never boring, he liked unexpected visions, innovative interpretations, and exciting new venues for research. Medieval studies have lost a great scholar, whose wide range of interests and genuine belief on multidisciplinary work managed to take the best of many of us. And by “us” I mean those who feel the emptiness that his absence has left.


Bill Finlayson

11th February 2018 at 5:29 pm

I first knew Mark when he was Honorary Secretary of the Council for British Research in the Levant, a voluntary role he took on with what I came to know as his usual cheerful enthusiasm. He was a delight to work with, generous with his time, his knowledge, and his hospitality. He returned to Jordan some years later to give a wonderfully wide-reaching and eye-opening lecture on Pirenne, Muhammad and Bohemond, which reflected the breadth of knowledge that impressed so many of his colleagues and students. In recent years we bumped into each other from time to time in Oxford and I deeply regret that we never found the time to follow through on plans to get together properly, but there seemed to be no urgency. Such a tragic loss.


Katharine Keats-Rohan 

11th February 2018 at 4:04 pm

The hideous news of Mark’s death came like a punch in the solar plexus. Wise, warm and humane, a truly exceptional person and historian, whose support could be relied upon. I worked with him when he was convenor of the Crusades Further Subject. When I was struggling with the heartache of recent widowhood, his tale, over coffee in his room, of his father’s ashes stuck in the drawer of an antique desk brought a very welcome ray of light. A terrible loss of an exceptional person, but a privilege to have known him.


Isabelle Moriceau

9th February 2018 at 2:33 pm

It is very sad to hear about Mark’s death. Whenever he came to the Undergraduate Office, he was always cheerful. I will remember the year he was Chair of the FHS, he would come into the office laden with cakes, pastries, coffee and his own coffee pot, and would prepared coffee for all of us in the Undergraduate Office. Mark will be missed tremendously.


Lyndal Roper

8th February 2018 at 8:09 pm

I find it very hard to write about Mark, and I still can’t believe he’s gone. I was looking forward more than I can say to working with him at Oriel; he would have been a fantastic Provost. Working with Mark was such a delight. I remember him chairing Finals Board – he appeared at the first meeting with utterly extravagant over the top pastries for us all! And it went on from there. He made doing Finals Board FUN!

Mark had such a positive attitude to life. He was always optimistic, and could see how you could move forward. Intellectually he was a power house, and if we as a Faculty have truly moved to thinking about – and doing – global history, that is thanks in very large measure to him.

I know how much he loved Oriel. Time and again I would see him at Oriel events. He was immensely kind to me. One of life’s delights was running into Mark – as you always did – and having one of those conversations where you suddenly saw things differently, and life felt somehow more cheerful, more full of possibilities.


Christina de Bellaigue

8th February 2018 at 7:45 pm

I met Mark as a JRF at Merton and found myself living a couple of doors down from him on Holywell St. The warmth of his welcome was tremendous, and significant for a nervous new fellow not sure if they belonged. I remember a huge wheel of Brie at the garden party at his home I attended at the end of my first year: somehow its hugeness – and the enthusiasm with which he encouraged everyone to try it – has come to symbolise for me something of the expansive generosity, good cheer and delight in sharing what fascinated him that so many of these comments testify to.


Susanne Heinrich

6th February 2018 at 5:30 pm

So desperately sad. Mark’s larger-than-life manner of swooping into the office, or me picking up the phone and hearing a cheerful ‘watcha!’, followed by an efficient conversation and Mark saying ‘you are gold on toast’ is how I remember him, as well as him very evidently being so caring about his students and everyone around him.


Marjory Szurko

31st January 2018 at 9:59 am

I am shocked and saddened by Mark’s death, as we all must be who knew him. I first met him over 20 years ago, when he was Fellow Librarian as well as tutor at St Peter’s and I was Librarian at Keble. He was unfailingly warm, witty, wise, and above all, kind. When I moved to Oriel, I got to know him better, and I would grin every time I heard him leap up those library stairs, pause at my office with his phone in one hand and a book in the other, shout ‘Hello!’ in his inimitable voice, and tell me that he had just seen something that we MUST get for the library. Each encounter with Mark was a joy. He is a great loss, and I treasure every remembrance of him.


Julia Bray 

1st February 2018 at 10:54 am

In the Oriental Faculty too we miss Mark very much. He made us part of his world. The collaborations he organised or hosted were every one a treat and an eye-opener. His extraordinary gift for helping people to become their own sort of scholar (and person) to the best of their ability rubbed off on colleagues as well as students. He will always be a comfort and an inspiration.


Robert Gildea 

31st January 2018 at 9:20 am

It has taken me a long time to find even a few words to capture this tragic loss – a life in full bloom cut brutally short. Mark was a man with strong shoulders and did not flinch from putting them to the wheel, whether of college, Faculty or University administration. Two memories in particular – cheering up a Prelims examination board and transforming the Oxford Historian. He was a man of true loyalty and immense generosity. His energy and his laughter were beyond the ken of most mortals. He leaves an immense void.


Hilde De Weerdt 

29th January 2018 at 10:44 pm

One of the last messages I got from Mark was a picture of a Chinese history book on his kitchen table. It captures what we all loved about him, his enthusiasm for historical knowledge and inquiry, his generosity, and familial touch. Mark made everyone feel welcome and always knew how to add another twist to keep the conversation going. Such a shame.
We will be publishing his “Communication and Empire: Byzantium in Perspective” in the near future, may it be a tribute to the energy and commitment he brought to thinking globally about medieval history.


Malcolm Vale 

29th January 2018 at 6:01 pm

It seems the most banal of platitudes to say that the news of Mark’s death was deeply shocking. But deeply shocking it most certainly was. I knew him as a colleague over many years and, although our interests lay in very different periods and areas of the medieval world, we had some very good and fruitful comparative discussions. We had both been both undergraduates at Trinity and, although Mark was my junior by quite a few years, we could share happy memories of the College. We were both taught by Michael Maclagan and I like to think that Mark’s Byzantine interests, and my interests in the family alliances and insignia (i.e heraldry) of later medieval nobilities both received some stimulus from that kind man, too often dismissed as a toff and dilettante by those who had not experienced his learning and wisdom. Mark and I shared anecdotes about ‘MM’, as he always signed himself, and Mark’s near-paralytic states of laughter on hearing some of those anecdotes will be an abiding memory. And it is not often in Oxford that one is suddenly hailed by a figure on a bike with a loud ‘Hello there!’, who would always stop for a chat. Mark will be very sorely missed by many people for many different reasons. Oriel has lost a potentially first-rate Provost and Oxford a quite irreplaceable figure. R.I.P.


Rosemary Morris 

28th January 2018 at 6:46 pm

Greatly saddened to hear of the death of Mark Whittow, whose DPhil I had the pleasure of examining many years ago and with whom, rather more recently, I joined for a bracing and enjoyable afternoon discussing 11th-century Byzantium whilst we assessed another thesis. Mark was one of those who helped to bring the study of Byzantium right into the mainstream of medieval studies…which is, of course, exactly where it should be! Indefatigably cheerful, intellectually stimulating and just great fun to be with. I shall miss him very much.


Lauren Newman 

22nd January 2018 at 2:05 pm


I was truly shocked and saddened to hear of Mark’s death. He was a wonderful man who influenced my whole Oxford experience, from supervising my first ever tutorial (on my birthday, as it happened—he beamed when he found out and wished me a wonderful day) to smoothing over the hiccups I experienced in my final-year thesis.
I always left Mark’s tutorials feeling incredibly lucky: to be studying in what he assured me was ‘the oldest habitable building in Oxford’, to be given so much of his time (our tutorials regularly lasted an hour and a half, sometimes two), and to leave clutching a new reading list that, as Mark explained, was mostly a list of his friends in the world of Ancient History, many of whom seemed to be popping round for dinner in the near future.
Now that I have left Oxford, I feel that Mark taught me much more than Byzantine History: he was kind and welcoming to even the youngest student, patient in the face of the silliest of mistakes, and encouraging and sympathetic in the face of any stumbling blocks. Oxford can be an awe-inspiring and intimidating place, but Mark’s wit and warmth made me feel so welcome. He will be sorely missed.


Jeremy Abraham 

18th January 2018 at 8:57 pm

I wasn’ t at Oxford with Mark but at school. We didn’t stay in touch, but after 40 years I had lunch with him at Corpus Christi in 2016, during his time as Senior Proctor. It was immediately apparent Mark had lost none of his effervescence, poise and empathy,. Inevitably, Mark added to my many fond recollections of his theatrical flair (his Sir John French in OWALW and Alice in Henry V being another two) by arriving to lunch on a bicycle, in white tie and tails, all carried off with his customary insouciance He was an inspiring man for whom doing great things came naturally. but for me he will always be the one who introduce d me to Cottenham races, lapsang souchong, Oxford marmalade, the Crusades, Venice, Tintoretto, Titian and much more I hope his family are able to reconcile themselves to the agony of his loss by the consolation of knowing how much he gave to so many.


Tom Palmer 

22nd January 2018 at 1:34 pm

I was a student of Dr. Whittow’s whilst he was at St. Peter’s. He was everything I hoped an elbow-patched Oxford tutor might be and more. He was eccentric, relentlessly enthusiastic, wonderfully funny, supportive and, above all, kind. He cared about the college and about us. Mark even supported my theatrical ambitions in spite of its effect on my studies. Instead of heeding me from the stage, he frequently came to watch my plays and showed great support for my endeavours. I’m so saddened and in shock at the news, though every memory I have of him makes me smile. I won’t forget his excessively-strong coffee, his imitation of a bad essay (‘clicking download on you brain’) and his jovial accusations of a fellow tutee being a ‘trot’. I count myself lucky to have known him.


Leif-Erik Hannikainen 

18th January 2018 at 2:24 pm

Mark made the Byzantine East come alive. I shall always remember his wild enthusiasm for maps and battlefields. His voice was in my head as I toured Western Asia Minor, from one dusty ruin to the next, making everything all the more vivid. I feel lucky to have met him. He is very much missed.


Hannah Skoda 

16th January 2018 at 11:16 am

I have truly struggled to find words for this tragic loss. Mark was the first person with whom I studied medieval history – and, my goodness, it was fun. He was an utterly good-natured and kind person – the tensest meeting was lightened by his presence, the most gnawing anxieties allayed by his cheerfulness – his presence was a transformative one. Mark had the very rare gift to make one feel always welcome and always of interest. With his exceptional intellectual flair, he was completely delightful. I shall miss him more than I can say, and I think we will all be regularly drawing on his memory for inspiration as to how best not only to do our jobs, but live our lives.


Louise Parkinson

15th January 2018 at 4:46 pm


I was shocked and saddened by the tragic news about Mark. I worked with him closely during my time in the undergraduate office and, even though it was seven years ago, he made a lasting impression. He was always warm and cheerful and made the most stressful situations bearable with his good humour. He will leave a massive void in History at Oxford but also on a much wider scale. Few people (if any) could meet Mark but not remember him. My heart goes out to his family – he spoke so fondly of you when we talked. I remember the first time I told him I was expecting (my son who is now 11) and he immediately gave me a gift he had just bought for someone else! He said he could go and buy another one and he simply wanted to mark the occasion as soon as I told him! I always look back with happy memories when I think of him and feel very privileged that he crossed my path in life. I send my love to all of you as we try to make sense of such a tragic loss to history but also humanity.


Rachel Moss 

15th January 2018 at 12:29 pm

Mark welcomed me to Oxford with an invitation to drink sherry. It was an unseasonably warm October, and so he and Rowena Archer took me to have a drink in Corpus’s garden. This was back in 2011, but I remember it clearly because it was such a kind way to make me feel at home in a new city and in what felt like a slightly daunting new job. In the years since, Mark was always a welcoming, entertaining colleague. He always took great interest in whatever I was doing and was glad to hear of my successes or commiserate with any problems I might be having. It is such a sudden, shocking loss and I am so very sorry for his family. I hope people sharing their memories here will give them some comfort.


John Blair 

15th January 2018 at 12:08 pm

I was shattered by the ghastly news of Mark’s death. He was one of the kindest and most positive people whom I have ever known, and one of my most unfailingly generous colleagues in the Faculty – generous with both his time and his attention. His range was extraordinary, and he could always be relied on to pick up teaching that nobody else was willing or able to do. Most of us can at times be grumpy, disengaged or elusive, but I think Mark was incapable of that. (I vividly remember one able but highly-strung undergraduate, given to collapsing in tears in tutorials, whom I sent to Mark: she ended up with a First, and I’m sure that was entirely his doing.)

Beyond that, of course, his range and combination of interests, and keen enthusiasm for everyone else’s work, made him one of the most stimulating members of the research community in Oxford. He was the kind of polymath that is now very rare, and few currently active historians can produce work on the range of his.

It still seems too horrible to contemplate clearly. But we can be comforted to some extent by the knowledge that there are countless people, in Oxford and elsewhere, whose lives have been made more cheerful by Mark.


James Pettifer 

15th January 2018 at 10:13 am

Mark’s untimely and tragic death is hard to believe, even now, two weeks or more later. He was such a resilient and strong character, and always at the heart of things in Oxford history and in the University generally. He was a most successful Senior Proctor and an ideal choice to be the next Provost of Oriel with his deep sense of the values and sense of tradition that is needed in a Head of House post. He will be deeply missed by all who knew him.


Thomas Brodie 

13th January 2018 at 10:25 pm

I was privileged to be taught by Mark when I was an undergraduate for the optional subject ‘England and the Celtic Peoples’ and the Further Subject on the Crusades. He was the perfect tutor- brimming with enthusiasm, and masterly in discussing a dazzling range of topics, ranging from Gerald of Wales’ reliability as a guide to the late 12th century Anglo-Celtic borderlands, to David I of Scotland, and the intricacies of siege warfare in the Crusader States. I looked forward tremendously to each of our classes and tutorials- they were so much fun. (As, indeed, were the magnificent parties Mark hosted.) As so many have noted, Mark was an incredibly kind and generous person- nurturing, encouraging and inspiring. I still have the good luck card he sent me a week before my Finals in 2009, over a year since he had last taught me, a student at a different college to his own. My thoughts and prayers are with Mark’s family.


Mathew Barber 

13th January 2018 at 1:41 pm

Mark was a truly inspirational historian, who shaped the medievalist that I am today. My classes with him are the most memorable in all of my Oxford career. He made all the topics he taught exciting and interesting, he was truly inspirational. As part of his course on Justinian and Muhammad I was first introduced to the Islamic world, which would spark an interest that shaped my current research. His monograph The Making of Orthodox Byzantium introduced me to a global perspective on the near east that still influences my own research and teaching today. I was first introduced to independent research under his supervision, supervision which he infused with his own unique joy and enthusiasm. He was always incredibly supportive throughout my career in Oxford, and when I returned earlier last year, he received my research with the same support and enthusiasm. The study of history at Oxford will never be the same without Mark. The only hope is that his many many students can continue his legacy in the years to come.


Alex Murray 

12th January 2018 at 4:01 pm

I was lucky at St Peter’s in choosing early on to specialise in medieval European history. Lucky because it’s a topic that I continue to find rewarding to this day, lucky because Oxford has so many fantastic resources to study it, and lucky because medieval history at St Peter’s meant spending most of my tutorial time with Mark Whittow.

I have to admit that I found Mark a little intimidating at first: on the surface he appeared very much as an awestruck teenager would assume an Oxford don to be. It didn’t take long though for Mark’s generosity to shine through. Yes, he was extremely erudite, but he never failed to share his knowledge widely. Yes, he had refined tastes, but he never failed to share his excellent coffee with sleep deprived tutees during morning tutorials. Yes, he had high expectations, but these were not only that you should work hard: you should also find regular time for ‘a shriek and a giggle’ along the way, preferably at one of his start of term history parties.

I consider myself very lucky to have had the time I did with Mark and find no small comfort after his passing that he lived a full life which he shared unselfishly with others. That can only be a Good Thing.


Jeanette Atkinson 

12th January 2018 at 2:36 pm

This is incredibly sad news. I didn’t know Mark well, but had the pleasure of serving on Development Committee when he chaired it and was always impressed at his efficient, yet collegiate, oversight of the meeting. I was also fortunate enough to sit next to Mark at a Faculty dinner at Oriel College. He was the perfect dinner companion – witty, erudite and wonderfully intelligent, yet also an excellent listener, who appeared genuinely interested in what I had to say. A great loss to everyone who knew him.


Pietro Corsi 

11th January 2018 at 5:30 pm

I met Mark after my coming back to Oxford in 2006, and saw him several times over the last few years, at Faculty meetings, or just for a chat during a casual encounter in the streets. He has left a lot of us with a sense of emptiness, only partly compensated for by the joy to have known him.


Henry Mayr-Harting 

11th January 2018 at 3:29 pm

Mark was 17 when he and I first met. His Classics master at Lord Wandsworth School, a friend of my wife and himself very recently deceased, brought him to Oxford to help him decide whether to apply to St Peter’s or Trinity to read History. He chose Trinity, but he and I always remained on friendly terms thereafter, though it was perhaps an irony that he was appointed to be my successor as Medieval History Tutor for St Peter’s at the age of 40.

At first sight Mark could give the impression of being a toff and hardly right for a college like St Peter’s. However in his eleven years there he was an outstanding success in partnership with another superb tutor, Lawrence Goldman. He established a History Library mainly of the books he himself owned, in the room next to his; his conversational style of tutorials was ideal; the results for History were excellent; and he and his wife Helen welcomed all the undergraduates into their house in Holywell with generous hospitality. Helen, a very distinguished lawyer in her own right, poured herself into this and was much loved by the undergraduates, of whose unsolicited confidences she was sometimes the recipient. The fact is, there was not an ounce of snobbism in Mark’s personality. It is a compliment to one’s own work to see it improved upon by a successor. Such was Mark as my successor.

Others can speak of Mark’s book ‘The Making of Orthodox Byzantium'(1996) with more expertise than I can; to me, it seems a classic, and through his travels and archaeological work he knew the ground so well.

Mark had a powerful presence (anyone who saw him as Proctor in a degree ceremony could witness to this), a high intelligence, and a never failing generosity of mind. These qualities were born of a cheerful self-forgetfulness and a self-confidence that never threatened to descend into arrogance. They would have made him a wonderful Head of House. They made it possible for him to be a great encourager, even giving encouragement to some who one would not have thought needed it. His kindness was often below the surface. I suspect that it was not widely known that he was one of the most frequent visitors to that great and good man Rees Davies at home in his last illness.

The one consolation in his bittern and appallingly untimely death, as Helen pointed out to me, was that in the last month of his life, after his impending election to be Provost of Oriel College had been announced, there was an outpouring of admiration and affection for Mark. It was a blaze of glory in his tragic end.

Henry Mayr-Harting

Abigail Green 

11th January 2018 at 2:09 pm

Mark – sparkling, debonair, generous spirited – was an inspiration not just to his students (many of whom never had a better tutor) but also to his colleagues, for the humanity he brought to every aspect of life as an Oxford tutor. In an age of box ticking, he reminded us all that there were better ways of doing things – and did them, better. Impossible to believe we have to soldier on without him.

Mark Purcell 

11th January 2018 at 11:19 am

Mark’s sudden and shocking death is a terrible loss: for his family and many friends, for Oxford, and not least for Oriel, where his wit, his rigour of intellect, and his generosity of spirit would surely have made one of the college’s great Provosts.

Catherine Holmes 

10th January 2018 at 10:18 pm

I am still in a state of disbelief. The comments already registered by others bear witness to the breadth of Mark’s intellectual interests, the depth of his kindness, the magnitude of our loss. Oxford will be grey and austere without him. I owe Mark many debts, not least for the help he gave me in the final stages of my doctoral thesis and for his invitation to join two of his castle surveys in western Turkey in the 1990s. As others have mentioned, to travel with Mark was not simply to drive to the destination and subject the material evidence to academic scrutiny. It was to observe and attempt to understand the wider history and culture of the place in which one was travelling; to try to encounter local people on their terms and not according to one’s own preconceptions and assumptions; to develop a sense of the constantly evolving relationship between social organisation, the built environment and landscape. For Mark all landscapes were fascinating, whether outside his office in Merton Street or in the grasslands of central Asia. But I will always associate him most strongly with the epic, even numinous, landscape of Anatolia, and with the threadbare Byzantine castles that cling to its vertiginous mountains and hillsides; and I will remember Mark’s expressions of delight when sherds of medieval green and yellow sgraffito pottery suddenly revealed themselves in the blazing summer sun.

Katya Andreyev 

10th January 2018 at 5:44 pm

Mark will be greatly missed as a colleague, scholar, teacher and friend. He was always enthusiastic, positive and cheerful. Although Byzantine history and archaeology were his first loves, his wide range of interests meant that he engaged happily with the his colleagues’ research. You always felt better after talking to him. He was an encouraging and inspirational teacher who still had so much to offer all of us at Oxford. My thoughts are with his family.


Alex Berney-Stewart 

9th January 2018 at 4:38 pm

Absolutely so devastated to hear of the tragic death of Mark. A truly fantastic, caring and wonderful man who brought light and energy wherever he went. I shall treasure to him many memories of picnics laughing so hard we couldn’t breath and reels on the lawn long into the night (not forgetting his one of a kind cooking) He will be greatly missed by all but never forgotten. Oxford has lost one of the best. Huge huge love, hugs and thoughts to Flossy, Mary, George and Helen at this awful time. X

Guy Perry 

9th January 2018 at 2:54 pm

It is hard to find something to add that has not already been said by others. There is simply so much agreement about Mark’s outstanding qualities. If I could be forgiven for sharing a specific memory of him, it is that one of my first academic positions consisted of co-teaching the Crusades with him at St Peter’s (a college, incidentally, to which I returned as a lecturer last year, which brought all the memories flooding back!). I not only learnt an enormous amount from him during the term, but I was also hugely entertained by his practice of making a note of something about each student, as a way of remembering who was who (and so mastering the names very quickly). What a warm and engaging man he was, as well as a truly formidable scholar. It is, in short, a tremendous loss.

Christopher Hallebro 

9th January 2018 at 11:44 am

Very sad to read about my old tutor, Mark Whittow. He took me for British 1 at St Peter’s, amongst his maze of books, and one week when I confessed to having spent the time on my extended essay instead of his paper, he smiled and gave me a tutorial on that instead – despite the fact it was on the religious rhetoric of Christopher Marlowe. I remember hearing that his colleagues found his depth and breadth of knowledge genuinely intimidating; imagine how it felt to a student! At my interview he systematically took apart my essay on the effects of the Depression in England before encouraging me to defend it; he was always after our ‘take’ on topics. His historians dinners at his house were legendary; I remember his son and daughter were trained up as wine waiter and maitre d respectively and at one, a group of black tie clad students ended up on a trampoline. As a tutor he positively encouraged us to have a life beyond the library, and was himself senior member of all the societies with the best dinners! Our inaugural Historians Reading Week involved tramping through fields, alleys, and back gardens with Dr Whittow, a copy of Pevsner in hand, tracing the imprint of the past. I remember a bemused couple confronted by Dr Whittow, brandishing his Bodleian card, asking if we could inspect their house as an example of medieval architecture. He was simultaneously a personification of what was great about Oxford’s heritage and what was dynamic about its future. To me and, I suspect, countless other Undergraduates, he WAS Oxford.

Averil Cameron 

9th January 2018 at 10:06 am

I knew Mark for over 25 years. He took on my late antique and Byzantine teaching at King’s College London when I had research leave in the early 1990’s and I saw much more of him after I moved to Oxford in 1994, first when he was a Fellow of St Peter’s and then after he moved to Corpus. His election as Provost of Oriel gave him and others immense pleasure and it is cruel that he will no longer take that up. He loved being Proctor and was a moving spirit for the many graduate students in Late Antique and Byzantine Studies, who will truly miss him. It is hard to imagine Oxford without him, and it’s still impossible to believe that he is no longer here.

Bernard Gowers 

9th January 2018 at 9:24 am

Mark’s acute historical (and institutional) judgements were suffused with curiosity and enthusiasm and generosity of spirit. He taught a tremendous amount to students and colleagues, but always gave the impression that he could learn from anyone he was talking with. Walking through central Oxford won’t be the same without the chance of seeing him, on foot or bicycle, and stopping for an engaging and enlightening chat. I count myself fortunate to have known Mark, and will miss him.

Mark Nesbitt 

8th January 2018 at 10:14 pm

I first met Mark Whittow in the early 1990s, when we were both digging in Turkey (at different ends of the country and timescale of human occupation). I rapidly found myself the recipient of generous hospitality from Mark and Helen on visits to London, centred on good company, good food and good wine, and greatly easing my settling back in the UK. Looking back on those days, I realise just how much I learnt from Mark, in the most relaxed and pleasurable way, without ever being (formally) his student: new ways of looking at the Near Eastern landscapes, the importance of comparative views over broad regions (wonderfully represented in the scope of Mark’s personal library), being prepared to justify and expand on one’s views…

Much of this came together on a memorable drive in the famous red Land Rover from London to Istanbul, relatively adventurous not so long after the raising of the Iron Curtain. Mark vividly brought the landscapes to life, whether in the Hungarian plains, crossing the Danube, or the Romanian mountains. I was astonished at how he seemed to know every castle, monastery, battle and town. Interspersed with this, in a typical touch, Mark brought along a Wilkie Collins novel that we took turns to read aloud. Unbearably gripping (it might have been ‘No Name’) we had not reached the denouement by the end of the drive. Other moments: getting lost in a fogbound Bucharest, amidst giant Ceaușescu-era buildings, and only finding our way out when a street-sign matched our 1930s guidebook; negotiating with customs officers on a midnight crossing of the Danube bridge; stopping in a wooden church in the Carpathian mountains and joining in the church service in progress. Throughout, every obstacle was met and charmed away by Mark’s enthusiasm.

Every meeting with Mark was an adventure, even if it didn’t involve a trans-European drive. We last bumped into each other in the Sackler Library, which characteristically led to dinner in Thai restaurant and ending the evening greatly cheered and with a mind bubbling with ideas. It wasn’t only his enthusiasm that did this, but also his openness to new fields, willingness to share ideas and contacts, and kindness and tolerance in personal matters. These remain an inspiration.


Matt Dyson 

8th January 2018 at 9:35 pm

I knew Mark not well enough, being new to Corpus and not in the same field. I did know him enough to know that he brought unbridled enthusiasm and joy to every situation it was possible to bring it to. No lunch, meeting, queue for the coffee machine, chat in a quod or pause to manhandled the pidgeon-hole screen was a chore with him nearby, indeed, each was an intellectual and personal pleasure, and I simply have never known anyone else who could do that.

Alexander Morrison 

8th January 2018 at 7:18 pm

As an undergraduate at Oriel in 1999 I was lucky enough to be taught by Mark for General History V, as I think it then was. The Mongols, the Cathars, the Spanish Reconquista, and of course his own Byzantines: his enthusiasm and extraordinary breadth and depth of knowledge shone out in every tutorial, and I left each of them feeling cheerful and heartened. It is no surprise that so many of those who have commented above have used ‘cheerful’ when writing about him – he was irrepressibly cheerful and ebullient in everything he did, and he had the capacity for cheering and enthusing others, so precious in a teacher. He was also (I now realise, though then I took it almost for granted) extraordinarily hard working and conscientious as a tutor – I still have all the essays I wrote for him, covered in his detailed notes and comments. The encouraging response I got to my essay on the Mongols played a big part in sending me down the pathways of Central Asian history. Each time I came back to Oxford I seemed to run into him, and would hear his familiar, cheering cry of greeting. It is hard to imagine that we will never see him again. His death is a devastating blow.

Anders Jay 

8th January 2018 at 5:24 pm

A terrible loss – Dr Whittow was charming and funny, and vastly learned without ever seeming aloof or superior. The perfect tutor – an encapsulation of all that Oxford should be. I pity the students who will not be able to enjoy his glowing intelligence and humanity.

Robin Murphy 

8th January 2018 at 4:54 pm

Mark was a wonderful colleague at Corpus and as my Proctor and I his Pro Proctor I feel a special bond having that shared experience. In the forefront of my mind are memories of a man who was thoughtful, not just about the idea or topic of conversation (for he had an opinion for sure), but he was truly open minded and undogmatic, a first rate intellectual. More rare at Oxford, he was thoughtful with his social and emotional intelligence. A sensitive and caring soul that I will sorely miss, and even now, hear the sounds of his laughter.

Ryan Kemp 

8th January 2018 at 4:42 pm

Mark Whittow was one of the most wonderful, kind, and generous teachers I had at Oxford. Some of my favourite memories from my undergraduate days are from his tutorials on early-medieval European history. He was a mesmerising teacher. I remember being spell-bound in our first tutorial as he explained the fall of the Roman Empire, his hands sweeping over a huge map of Western Europe laid out in front of us. A few weeks later we were discussing the breathtaking rise of Islam, in another comparing and contrasting the actions of late-antique Christian martyrs and modern-day terrorists. Those tutorials convinced me to be a medievalist. He used to provide us with iced buns and I remember how he sat through me reading out one of my essays staring with humorous bemusement at how I had placed one of them on arm of his settee. ‘Thanks for reading your essay out Ryan, but I have to admit for the last 20 minutes I have had my eyes fixated on your iced bun’.

He represented the very best of the university without any of its faults, combining a huge range of learning with an unique eccentricity and humour. His death is a cruel and untimely loss for medieval history, Oxford, and, above all, his family and friends. I hope he is having a ‘shriek and a giggle’ in a far kinder and better place. My generation of St Peter’s undergraduates will always be grateful for the unequalled learning, warmth, and mirth with which he taught us.

Sit tibi terra levis

Simon Skinner 

8th January 2018 at 4:36 pm

As a fellow-lecturer of Oriel from 1994, co-member of a hundred Faculty committees, and near-neighbour of Mark’s, I bumped into and chatted to him nearly every day. And as those who knew Mark will recognise, every single encounter left me the more cheerful. It is hard to think that he was 60, let alone that he is gone – the news was simply shocking. I am only one of literally hundreds of colleagues, friends, and former students who will always mourn and miss his ineffable warmth, wit, and wisdom.

Peter Frankopan 

8th January 2018 at 4:33 pm

Mark was a man blessed with extraordinary gifts. He was a scholar of the very highest order, with a range, perception and vision that were hard to match. He was a colleague who brought sparkle to committees, meetings, seminars with his wit, pragmatism and charm. He was a tutor of profound generosity, ever illuminating, always encouraging. He was a friend of endless good humour, support and kindness. His loss is unbearable to all who knew him. Oxford burns less brightly without Mark Whittow.

Kevin O'Rourke 

8th January 2018 at 4:00 pm

That Mark is gone is unbearably sad. I got to know him from dinners after the Monday medieval seminars in All Souls, as well as from a variety of committees. What a lovely, warm, encouraging, affectionate, curious, enthusiastic man he was. I haven’t known him for several decades as many colleagues will have done, just the six years I’ve been in Oxford, but he always made you feel like you were his oldest friend in the world. What a great Provost he would have been — it would have been such fun, for him and everyone around him. Or as he might have put it himself, an absolute hoot. Oxford really won’t be the same without him, and I’ll miss him very much.

Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam uasal.

Mark Philpott 

8th January 2018 at 3:36 pm

Mark will be sorely missed. He was that very rare thing, both a Good Man and a Good Thing. Yes, of course, he was an outstanding historian with much more to come; but it was even more in his capacity to care for (and to work hard and practically for) his students, his colleagues and the Faculty that he was in a league of his own. He was always on the side of the angels. I know that his pupils are devastated by his loss, and a remarkably wide constituency of others too; I can only begin to guess how awful it is for his family. My prayers are with them.

David Vaver 

8th January 2018 at 3:36 pm

Oxford has lost one of its best. I knew Mark when we were both at St Peter’s College, where we arrived at the same time in 1998. I knew nothing about Byzantine history; yet one could talk with Mark about almost anything including my specialty (law) and come away with some startling insight seemingly casually thrown out. Ineffably cheerful, witty, and urbane, Mark will be missed not just in his field of expertise but by the many others who simply enjoyed his company and conversation. My sympathy and condolences go to his family.

Adrian Gregory 

8th January 2018 at 2:45 pm

I still can’t believe it. Mark was someone who had the rare (in fact almost unique) talent of making service to the Faculty not only bearable but fun. He certainly helped me get through my first stint on Honours Moderations (and was a leader of the great rebellion that shifted us to Prelims). But above all he was someone who simply loved learning about history and had a boundless curiosity about every imaginable aspect of it. He cared about the subject, he cared about his colleagues and he cared about the students. Always witty, always wise. We have lost a true comrade.

Craig Clunas 

8th January 2018 at 2:38 pm

Mark Whittow was a hugely valued colleague with a real commitment to bringing China’s past into the practice of medieval history at Oxford, as well as a constant friend to the History of Art Department. His term as Senior Proctor enabled him to make great contributions too to the Ashmolean Museum Board of Visitors. His generous personality will be immensely missed and always remembered by all who knew him.


mark whittow