Lewis Bernstein Namier

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Sir Lewis Bernstein Namier (UK /ˈnmɪər/;[1] 27 June 1888 – 19 August 1960) was a British historian of Polish-Jewish background. His best-known works were The Structure of Politics at the Accession of George III (1929), England in the Age of the American Revolution (1930) and the History of Parliament series (begun 1940) he edited later in his life with John Brooke.


Namier was born Ludwik Niemirowski in Wola Okrzejska in the Russian-controlled Congress Poland, now part of the Lublin Voivodeship of southeastern Poland. His family were secular-minded Polish-Jewish gentry. His father, with whom young Lewis often quarreled, idolized the Austro-Hungarian Empire. By contrast, Namier throughout his life detested the Dual Monarchy. He was educated at the University of Lviv in Austrian Galicia (now in Ukraine), the University of Lausanne, and the London School of Economics. At Lausanne, Namier heard Vilfredo Pareto lecture, and Pareto's ideas about elites would have a great influence on his thinking.

Namier emigrated to the United Kingdom in 1907,[2] studied at Balliol College, Oxford, from 1908,[3] and became a British subject in 1913, whereupon he anglicised his name.[2] During the First World War, he fought as a private with the 20th Royal Fusiliers in 1914–15 but was discharged owing to poor eyesight. He then held positions with the Propaganda Department (1915–17), the Department of Information (1917–18) and finally with the Political Intelligence Department of the Foreign Office (1918–20).

Professional career

Following the defeat of Germany in World War One, Namier (age 31) joined the British delegation at the Versailles Peace Conference of 1919. Based on his personal background, Namier maintained a firm personal interest in Russian affairs; however, he was also seen as one of the biggest enemies of the newly independent Polish state in the British political environment. During the Polish–Soviet War his relationship with the Polish delegation was highly antagonistic and his attitude towards Poland and Polish territories openly hostile. Asked to personally deliver a cable from the Foreign Office, Namier falsified the British draft of a proposed Curzon Line by detaching the city of Lwów from Poland. His own version called Curzon Line "A" was presented by Namier to the Commissar for Foreign Affairs of Bolshevik Russia, ru,[4] a protégé of Leon Trotsky with strong pro-German leanings, imprisoned at Brixton a year earlier for anti-British activities.[5] Notably, the Polish delegation had no knowledge of the existence of Line "A" whatsoever since the idea of handing Lwów over to the Bolsheviks was rejected by Prime Minister Władysław Grabski at the very beginning of talks. Lwów has never been under the Moscow rule in its history.[6] Prof. Piotr Eberhardt from the Polish Academy of Sciences speculates that Lloyd George could have been aware of Namier's secret modification.[4] The earlier-approved compromised version of Curzon Line which was approved at the Spa Conference in Belgium was renamed by Namier as Curzon Line "B".[7] Chicherin relayed this document to Lenin who rejected it nevertheless, assured of his victory over Poland followed by a planned annexation of its entire territory.[4]

In one of his memorandums Namier falsified the results of a national census from Eastern Galicia originating from Austria-Hungary. He single handedly reduced the number of ethnic Poles living in the region from 2 million down to 600-700 inhabitants. Professor Anna M. Cienciala believes that Namier was not the original initiator of these mystifications, but merely an unscrupulous supplier of handy arguments for the anti-Polish lobby among the Entente members.[8]

After leaving government service, Namier taught at Balliol (1920–21) before going into business for himself. Later Namier, who was a long-time Zionist, worked as political secretary for the Jewish Agency in Palestine (1929–31). For a time he was a close friend and associate of Chaim Weizmann, but Weizmann later severed relations with Namier when the latter converted to Anglicanism to marry his second wife.

Namier served as professor at the University of Manchester from 1931 until his retirement in 1953, having been loudly cheered by his students at the conclusion of his last lecture there on European History. Namier remained active in various Zionist groups (in particular, lobbying the British government to allow the creation of what he called a Jewish Fighting Force in the Mandate of Palestine) and from 1933 was engaged in efforts on behalf of Jewish refugees from Germany.

He was married twice and knighted in 1952 at the onset of Cold War. Also in 1952, Namier was given the honour of delivering the Romanes Lecture, on which subject Namier chose Monarchy and the Party System. Although Namier was well known for his conservative political views, his principal protégé was the left-wing historian A. J. P. Taylor.

Political views

Namier is best known for his work on the Parliament of Great Britain, in particular English politics in the 1760s.[9] His principal conclusion of that decade was that there was no risk of an authoritarian disposal of British parliamentarism. By way of its very detailed study of individuals, this course of study caused substantial revision to accounts based on a party system. Namier's best-known works were The Structure of Politics at the Accession of George III, England in the Age of the American Revolution and the History of Parliament series he edited later in his life with John Brooke.

Namier used prosopography or collective biography of every Member of Parliament (MP) and peer who sat in the British Parliament in the latter 18th century to reveal that local interests, not national ones, often determined how parliamentarians voted. Namier argued very strongly that, far from being tightly organised groups, both the Tories and Whigs were collections of ever-shifting and fluid small groups whose stances altered on an issue-by-issue basis. Namier felt that prosopographical methods were the best for analysing small groups like the House of Commons, but was opposed to the application of prosopography to larger groups. At the time of its publication in 1929, The Structure of Politics at the Accession of George III caused a historiographical revolution in understanding the 18th century.


Namier used sources such as wills and tax records to reveal the interests of the MPs. In his time, Namier's methods were new and quite controversial. Namier's obsession with collecting facts such as club membership of various MPs and then attempting to co-relate them to voting patterns led his critics to accuse him of "taking ideas out of history".[10] Namier was well known for his dislike in ideas and people who believed in them, and made little secret of his belief that the best form of government was that of a grubby self-interested elite.

As former patient of Sigmund Freud, Namier was a believer in psychohistory. He also wrote on modern European history, especially diplomatic history and his later books Europe in Decay, In the Nazi Era and Diplomatic Prelude unsparingly condemned the Third Reich and appeasement. In the 1930s, Namier had been active in the anti-appeasement movement and together with his protégé A. J. P. Taylor spoke out against the Munich Agreement at several rallies in 1938. In the early 1950s, Namier had a celebrated debate on the pages of the Times Literary Supplement with the former French foreign minister Georges Bonnet.[11] At issue was the question whether Bonnet had, as Namier charged, snubbed an offer by the Polish foreign minister Colonel Józef Beck in May 1938 to have Poland come to the aid of Czechoslovakia in the event of a German attack.[11] Bonnet denied that such an offer had been made, which led Namier to accuse Bonnet of seeking to falsify the record.[11] Namier concluded the debate in 1953 with words "The Polish offer, for what it was worth, was first torpedoed by Bonnet the statesmen, and next obliterated by Bonnet the historian".[12]

Namier's writings on German history have been criticised for being influenced by Germanophobia.[13] His hatred of Germany was legendary; Namier himself wrote in 1942 as the war raged on: "it did not require either 1914, or 1933, or 1939 to teach me the truth about the Germans. Long before the last war I considered them a deadly menace to Europe and the civilisation."[14] Like the work of his friend Sir John Wheeler-Bennett, Namier's diplomatic histories are generally poorly regarded by modern historians because he was content to condemn appeasement without seeking to explain the reasons for it; and eager to dismiss political principles as rhetorical posturing.[15]


Cold War era
  • The House of Commons, 1754–1790 (3 vols.), 1966 [1964], edited by John Brooke & Sir Lewis Namier.[16]
  • Crossroads of Power: Essays on Eighteenth-Century England, 1962.[17]
  • Vanished Supremacies: Essays on European History, 1812–1918, 1958.[18]
  • Personalities and Powers, 1955.[19]
  • Basic Factors in Nineteenth-Century European History, 1953.[20]
  • Monarchy and the Party System: The Romanes Lecture Delivered in the Sheldonian Theatre 15 May 1952, 1952.[21]
  • In the Nazi Era, 1952.[22]
  • Avenues of History, 1952.
  • Europe in Decay: A Study in Disintegration, 1936–1940, 1950.[23]
  • Diplomatic Prelude, 1938–1939, 1948.[24]
  • Facing East: Essays on Germany, the Balkans and Russia in the Twentieth Century, 1947.[25]
World War II period
  • 1848: The Revolution of the Intellectuals, 1944.[26]
  • Conflicts: Studies in Contemporary History, 1942.[27]
  • In the Margin of History, 1939.[28]
Interwar years
  • Skyscrapers and other Essays, 1931.[29] Contains his essays on Austrian Galicia.
  • England in the Age of the American Revolution, 1930.[30]
  • The Structure of Politics at the Accession of George III, 1929.[31]


  1. "Definition of 'Namier' ". collinsdictionary.com. Retrieved 29 September 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. 2.0 2.1 Colley 1989, p. 9
  3. Cairns 1974, p. 11.
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 Eberhardt, Piotr (2012). "The Curzon Line as the eastern boundary of Poland: the origins and the political background" (PDF). Geographia Polonica. Polish Academy of Sciences Institute of Spacial Organization. 85, 1, pp. 5-21. 8-9 / 18 in PDF – via direct download, 1.27 MB.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. Логинова, Наталия Сергеевна (1999). "Г.В. Чичерин" [G.V. Chicherin]. Дипломатия России: от посольского приказа до наших дней.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. Bartłomiej Rusin. "Lewis Namier, the Curzon Line, and the shaping of Poland's eastern frontier after World War I". Studies into the History of Central-Eastern Europe and Russia. Jagellonian University. XLVIII. Section 1: 20 (16 / 22) in PDF.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  7. Davies 1971.
  8. Bartłomiej Rusin. "Lewis Namier, the Curzon Line, and the shaping of Poland's eastern frontier..." Ibidem. Section 1: 13 (9-10 / 22) in PDF. Cite journal requires |journal= (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  9. Mansfield 1962, p. 28.
  10. Malin Dahlstrom (2011), The Life and Thought of Herbert Butterfield (book review). Namier's characterisation has been wrongly attributed to Herbert Butterfield, but was actually written by A. J. P. Taylor. Reviews in History.
  11. 11.0 11.1 11.2 Adamthwaite 1977, pp. 183–4.
  12. Adamthwaite 1977, p. 184.
  13. Crozier 1997, p. 226.
  14. Wrigley 2006, p. 70
  15. Jim Smyth, Professor of History at the University of Notre Dame (2015). "Two treatises of government". History Ireland. Dublin: History Publications. The problematic relationship between political ideas and political practice.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  16. Lewis Bernstein Namier & John Brooke (1985), The House of Commons : 1754-1790 at Google Books.
  17. Namier (1962), Crossroads of power: essays on eighteenth-century England at Google Books.
  18. Namier (1958), Vanished Supremacies: Essays on European History, 1812-1918 at Google Books.
  19. Namier (1955), Personalities and powers at Google Books.
  20. Namier (1953), Basic factors in nineteenth-century European history at Google Books.
  21. Namier (1952), Monarchy and the Party System at Google Books.
  22. Namier (1952), In the Nazi Era at Google Books.
  23. Namier (1950), Europe in decay: a study in disintegration, 1936-1940 at Google Books.
  24. Namier (1948), Diplomatic prelude, 1938-1939 at Google Books.
  25. Namier (1947), Facing East at Google Books.
  26. Namier (1944), 1848: the revolution of the intellectuals at Google Books.
  27. Namier (1942), Conflicts: Studies in Contemporary History at Google Books.
  28. Namier (1939), In the Margin of History at Google Books.
  29. Namier (1931), Skyscrapers, and Other Essays at Google Books.
  30. Namier (1930), England in the age of the American Revolution at Google Books.
  31. Prof. Peter Thomas (June 1997), Review of The Structure of Politics at the Accession of George III by Lewis Namier at History.ac.uk.


Further reading

  • Burke, Peter "Namier, (Sir) Lewis Bernstein" page 207 from Great Historians of the Modern Age edited by Lucian Boia, Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1991.
  • Hayton, D. W. "Sir Lewis Namier, Sir John Neale and the Shaping of the History of Parliament." Parliamentary History 32#1 (2013): 187-211.
  • James, Clive. Cultural Amnesia: Necessary Memories from History and the Arts (2007) online excerpt
  • Namier, Julia Lewis Namier: A biography, London: Oxford University Press, 1971.
  • Pares, Richard & Taylor, A.J.P. (editors) Essays Presented to Sir Lewis Namier, London: Macmillan Press, 1956.
  • Price, Jacob "Party, Purpose, and Pattern: Sir Lewis Namier and His Critics" pages 71–93 from Journal of British Studies, Vol. 1, No. 1 November 1961.
  • Rose, Norman Lewis Namier & Zionism, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1980.
  • Smyth, James. "Lewis Namier, Herbert Butterfield and Edmund Burke." Journal for Eighteenth‐Century Studies 35#3 (2012): 381-389.

External links