Sir John was born in Reading to Janet (nee Payne) and Thomas Elliott. Fan Court alumni will remember his parents for their dedicated service to the school. His father was Headmaster of Fan Court between 1933-1957 with his mother responsible for the care and well-being of the boys.
Whilst a pupil at Fan Court from 1937 to 1943, Sir John was Editor of the Vox Leonis school magazine and a member of McGregor house. Upon leaving the school, he won a scholarship to nearby Eton College in Windsor before going on to read History at Trinity College, Cambridge. A six week summer holiday travelling around Spain in 1950 established an interest in Spanish history in the early modern period. Sir John was fascinated by the sight of Diego Velázquez’s portrait of the Count-Duke of Olivares at the Prado Museum. This moment would inspire a lifetime’s worth of dedicated research. His career would come full circle when he would join the Prado’s advisory council.
He earned his doctorate in 1955 from Trinity College, Cambridge for a study on the seventeenth century’s Catalan Revolt. For several years later, Sir John taught at Cambridge before he moved to a professorship in 1968 at King’s College London. The British Academy elected Sir John with a Fellowship in 1972. He spent the next seventeen years at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton before he became the Regius Professor of Modern History, Oxford until retirement in 1997.
Sir John believed that individuals were as instrumental in shaping history as historical forces. He too was instrumental in shaping the historiography of Spanish and Hispanic studies, with honorary doctorates from many universities in Spain and other countries, as well as from Cambridge and London. He was knighted in the 1994 New Year Honours list and, amongst other prestigious accolades, he was awarded the Prince of Asturias Prize in 1996 for his outstanding contribution to the study of history.
On behalf of Claremont Fan Court School, we extend our sincere condolences to the family of Sir John Elliott.