Towards a History of Compromise: Comparing Political Unions in the British-Irish Isles and Poland-Lithuania

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This article is a modified and expanded version of the British Academy Raleigh Lecture, delivered at Queen’s University Belfast on 23 February 2022. It argue that historians, as opposed to political scientists, sociologists, and philosophers, have neglected the history of compromise and compromises, despite compromise being a significant social and political practice. It considers how historians might approach the problem of compromise, and what a historical perspective might add to study of compromise. It concludes with a comparative consideration of three political unions, between Poland and Lithuania, between England and Scotland, and between England/Britain and Ireland from the point of view of a historian of compromise.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)43-74
Number of pages32
JournalJournal of the British Academy
Publication statusPublished - 17 Mar 2023
EventBritish Academy Raleigh Lecture - Queen's University, Belfast, United Kingdom
Duration: 23 Feb 202223 Feb 2022

Bibliographical note

I would like to thank the British Academy for inviting me to deliver the Raleigh Lecture, and Queen’s University Belfast for hosting the lecture despite the restrictions imposed during the Covid epidemic, and for the warmth of its welcome. Richard English was the perfect host and chair. I’d like to thank all those in the audience, both in the hall and online, who asked such interesting and challenging questions. This expanded text owes much to their insights and probing of the issues. In particular, I’d like to thank John Brewer, who first inspired me to think about compromise from the historian’s point of view, and Alvin Jackson for his pioneering comparative work on the Scottish and Irish unions, which provides much food for thought. I owe a great debt to Michael Brown, Colin Kidd, Michael Keating, and Sean Connolly, who read drafts of the text; they saved me from many infelicities, and their comments and suggestions were invaluable. Any infelicities that remain are entirely my responsibility.


  • History of Compromise
  • Polish-Lithuanian Union
  • Anglo-Scottish Union
  • British Union
  • Union of Great Britain and Ireland
  • Trust
  • compromise


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