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Born and brought up in Edinburgh, I was educated at St Andrews University, the Jagiellonian University, Kraków, and the School of Slavonic and East European Studies, University of London, where I wrote my doctorate under the supervision of Professor Norman Davies.
After three years as a schoolteacher, I joined the department of history at King's College London in September 1987. I was promoted to reader in 2001, and served for three years as Head of Department, until 2004, when I was appointed to a chair in Early Modern History at the University of Aberdeen, and to the headship of the School of Divinity, History and Philosophy, which I held until 2009.
I have held the Burnett Fletcher Chair in History at Aberdeen since 2013. In 2009 I was awarded a three-year Research Chair by the British Academy and the Wolfson Foundation for my history of the Polish-Lithuanian union. Oxford University Press published the first volume of this study in 2015: The Oxford History of Poland-Lithuania, volume 1 The Making of the Polish-Lithuanian Union, 1385-1569. In July 2016 I was elected to the Fellowship of the British Academy, and began a three-year Leverhulme Major Fellowship to work on volume two (2016-2019). Volume 1 was awarded the Pro Historia Polonorum prize in 2017 for the best work on Polish History published by a foreign author between 2012 and 2017. It also received the 2017 prize from the Polish Foreign Ministry for the best foreign-language book on Polish history published between 2015 and 2017, and the Benedict the Pole prize, awarded by the Travellers Club. A Polish translation of volume one appeared in October 2018, published by Rebis. In 2020 I was awarded the Knight's Cross of the Order for Merits to Lithuania, and was elected to the Fellowships of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, and the Polish Academy of Arts and Sciences (Polska Akademia Umiejętności).
University of London
My PhD study was based in the School of Slavonic and East European Studies, then a School of the University of London, now part of University College London.
My main research interests lie in the history of eastern Europe from the fourteenth to the eighteenth centuries. I am also interested in the history of Scandinavia, in particular the history of Sweden, and in the history of warfare. In my work on Poland-Lithuania I have a particular interest in the Polish-Lithuanian monarchy under the Vasa dynasty (1587-1668) and in noble society and culture. Since 2000 my main research interest has been in the history of the Polish-Lithuanian Union and its legacy.
Main Project: The Oxford History of Poland-Lithuania. My current project is to write a history of the Polish-Lithuanian union from its inception in 1385-6 to its demise during the partitions of Poland-Lithuania at the end of the eighteenth century. It was for this project that I was awarded a British Academy/Wolfson Foundation Research Chair in 2009. I had a contract with Oxford University Press to produce a 250,000-word study, but it rapidly became clear to me that the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, created at the Union of Lublin in 1569, cannot be properly understood without a clear idea of how the union between the kingdom of Poland and the grand duchy of Lithuania was forged after 1385. There has been no detailed study of this topic since Oskar Halecki's 2-volume work published in Polsh in 1919, which was written from a Polish perspective, albeit one broadly in sympathy with the peoples of the grand duchy of Lithuania, and was written as a very different Polish state struggled to establish itself following the collapse of the partitioning powers at the end of the First World War.
The formation of the Polish-Lithuanian union profoundly altered the historical course of eastern Europe; it lasted over four centuries and its legacy can be seen to this day, yet there is no study in English of its formation. OUP therefore generously agreed to publish the work in two 250,000-word volumes, the first of which, The Making of the Polish-Lithuanian Union, 1385-1569 was published in June 2015: http://ukcatalogue.oup.com/product/9780198208693.do. It appeard in Polish translation with Rebis in 2018.
As part of this project I have also run two international conferences on comparative unions in late medieval and early modern Europe, one at the Newberry Library in Chicago in September 2014; the second at the Burn, Edzell, Aberdeenshire, in September 2014) co-organised with Professor Michael Brown).
In 2016-2019 I helda three-year Major Research Fellowship awarded by the Leverhulme Trust to write volume two of the Oxford History of Poland-Lithuania, The Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, 1569-1815. The project will now be published in three volumes. Volume two, entitled The Making of the Polish-Lithuanian Republic, 1569-1648 is nearly complete. Volume three will be entitled The Downfall of the Polish-Lithuanian Republic, 1648-1815.
I am also preparing a study of a painting in the National Portrait Gallery collections that claims to be a portrait of Bonnie Prince Charlie in Polish dress. Experts in Stuart portraiture have dismissed the attribution, but the painting has never been properly studied, and there is a considerable amount of circumstantial evidence to suggest that there is a possibility at least that the painting genuinely does depict Charles Edward Stuart. I have a contract for a short book on the topic with Palgrave USA; it is hoped that the book will appear in 2022.
My first book, After the Deluge: Poland-Lithuania and the Second Northern War (Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1993) is a study of the political impact on Poland-Lithuania of the series of wars that engulfed it after the great Cossack rebellion of 1648-54. It set out to answer the question of why, when there was considerable support for introducing political reform in the aftermath of the military collapse of the Commonwealth's forces following invasions by Muscovy and Sweden in 1654 and 1655, the royal court chose to pursue the election of a successor to king John Casimir vivente rege (in the lifetime of the king). The decision has been much criticised: historians have asked why the royal government did not end the notorious liberum veto, the practice by which the veto of one envoy to the Sejm, the Polish Diet, was sufficient to block legislation and break the whole session without passing any legislation. I devoted particular attention to the role of queen Louise Marie Gonzaga, one of the most impressive female politicians of the early modern period: this research produced a 2013 article on queenship in an elective monarchy that challenged standard views of the relationship betwen the queen and her husband.
My second book looked more closely at the impact of the new methods of waging war on state and society across a much wider chronological period, and with an expanded geographical focus. As an admirer of Michael Roberts's work on Sweden, I set out to examine his theory of the Military Revolution in the context of the wars of northern and eastern Europe. This was published as The Northern Wars: War State and Society in Northeastern Europe, 1558 - 1721 (Longmans, Harlow, 2000), which won the 2005 Early Slavic Studies Association Distinguished Scholarship Award.
As Director of the new Research Centre for Polish-Lithuanian Studies at the Unversity of Aberdeen, I am developing collaborative relations with a range of partners, in particular with the Museum of Polish History in Warsaw. The Centre is beginning a collaboration with Professor Paulina Kewes (Oxford), Professor Paul Seaward, Director of the History of Parliament, and Professor Dorota Pietrzyk-Reeves in a project on comparative parliamentary culture in Europe between 1500 and 1700.
I am happy to supervise doctoral dissertations on Poland-Lithuania from the fourteenth to the nineteenth century, on the Thirty Years War, on the history of Sweden in the early modern period, and on the history of warfare. I accept students wishing to study for a distance PhD.
Mr Christopher Moore: Scotland and Poland in the Early Modern Period (PhD thesis, January 2021–). Jointly supervised with Professor Karin Friedrich.
Mr Dan McCollum: 'The Polish and Irish Clergy in the state of Wisconsin in the late nineteenth century.' (PhD thesis, January 2020–) Jointly supervised with Dr Colin Barr.
Mr Paweł Grabowski: 'The relations of the Kingdom of Poland with the Duchy of Burgundy to 1477' (part time distance PhD, 2019–)
Dr Rose Luminiello: 'Confronting Modernity. Pope Leo XIII, Rerum Novarum, and the Catholic Church in Ireland and Poland, 1878-1914 . (University of Aberdeen PhD thesis, awarded 2019). Jointly supervised with Professor Michael Brown.
Dr Mindaugas Šapoka: 'The Genesis of the Confederation of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania in 1710-1715' (University of Aberdeen PhD thesis, awarded January 2015).
Dr Piotr Stolarski: 'Friars on the Frontier: the Dominican Order in Southeastern Poland in the reign of Wladyslaw IV, 1632-1648' (University of Aberdeen PhD Thesis, awarded 2008).
Dr Christoph Witzenrath: 'Institutional Culture and the Government of Siberia, 1598-1721' (University of London PhD Thesis, awarded 2005).
Dr Dominic Phelps: 'Saxony and the Thirty Years War, 1629-1635' (University of London PhD Thesis awarded 2004).
Dr Artūras Vasiliauskas: 'The Szlachta of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania in the reign of Sigismund III, 1587-1632; (University of London PhD Thesis awarded 2001)
Research Funding and Grants
Leverhulme Major Research Fellowship, 2016-2019: £165,000
British Academy/Wolfson Foundation Research Chair, 2009-2012: £150,000
I teach late medieval and early modern European history from circa 1400 to circa 1815. I have two honours courses, on the Military Revolution (level three) and the Thirty Years War (level four special subject). I have contributed lectures on eastern Europe to the first year course on twentieth century Europe. At level five, I teach on Research Preparation in History and Presenting Historical Research, and have developed a new course on History and the Media.