Lewis Namier Papers

Scope and Content

Papers of the historian Lewis Namier, including biographical material, cuttings, offprints and reviews, research notes made by Namier and his assistants, and a small body of correspondence.

The collection contains some early research and journalistic material, as well as notes and drafts of his first book,The structure of politics at the accession of George III. However the bulk of the collection consists of research notes and writings (NAM/1). The collection includes a considerable amount of Namier's working papers, including 54 bound notebooks of historical material covering the whole of his professional career (NAM/2).There are numerous notes and transcripts of manuscripts used by Namier, the majority of which relate to 18th-century politics and which were compiled from a very wide range of archive collections. There is also material relating to Namier's associations with the History of Parliament (Box 9), and the biography of Charles Townshend, written with John Brooke, which was published posthumously in 1964 (Boxes 5a, 13, 14).

The collection contains some draft material for a chapter in the uncompleted part II ofEngland in the Age of American Revolution. There are also manuscript and typescript essays, lecture notes and reviews by Namier, nearly all of which ideal with 18th-century English politics, but there is a small body of similar material concerning 19th century Europe (Box 3). The collection includes relatively little correspondence, some of which relates to the Rhodes Trust (Box 1a), and there are letters from historians, such as Richard Pares, J. H. Plumb, Elizabeth Wiskeman and Lucy Sutherland, scattered through the collection.

The archive also contains some of Lady Namier's notes, correspondence and drafts of her biography of Namier, including a number of appreciations, cuttings and biographies. Some of the papers are those of Namier's colleague, John Brooke, with whom he worked closely in the 1950s.

The papers include Namier's certificates and diplomas for his honorary D.Litt from the University of Rome and honorary membership of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (NAM/3).

Administrative / Biographical History

Lewis Namier was born Ludwik Bernsztajn, at Wola Okrzejska in Poland of non-practising Jewish parents, in 1888. He was educated at Lwow and Lausanne universities, before coming to Britain in 1907 to study at the London School of Economics; this was followed by a period at Balliol College, Oxford. He graduated with first class honours in modern history from Oxford in 1911. After changing his name to Lewis Bernstein Naymier in 1909, Namier took British nationality in 1913 and modified his surname to Namier. For a short period before the war, he worked in business in New York.

From 1915 Namier was employed at the Ministry of Information, latterly in the Political Intelligence Department, which was incorporated into the Foreign Office in 1917 . He resigned in 1920 and returned to Balliol as a part-time tutor, but had to re-enter business in 1921 to amass funds to continue his research. He became the European representative of a firm of Manchester cotton manufacturers, and was based in Czechoslovakia. He also speculated on the Viennese stock exchange, and worked as an occasional correspondent for the Manchester Guardian and the Manchester Guardian Commercial.

From 1924 to 1929 he was able to work full-time on his historical research, the result of which were two volumes of eighteenth-century British history; The structure of politics at the accession of George III (1929) and England in the age of the American revolution (1930). These were immediately recognised as works of great significance, and constitute Namier's lasting achievement. His views of eighteenth-century politics were controversial: he rejected the view that George III was trying to restore royal absolutism; denied that politics revolved around Whig and Tory 'parties'; and took a less censorious view of political 'corruption' than many of his predecessors. Namier's views on historical method were also influential, with an emphasis on understanding political actions through the role of institutions and the collective biography of the ruling elite rather than relying on studying the political ideas which were held to motivate them. These views marked him out as an effective critic of the so-called 'Whig interpretation of history'. His commitment to massively detailed archival research, of which he was a pioneer, was also influential within the historical profession.

In 1931 Namier finally achieved a full-time academic post when he became professor of modern history at Manchester University. Much of his later work was in the form of essays and lectures, particularly relating to nineteenth-century European history. His main interests were the working of legislative assemblies and the growth of modern nationalism, and he was much exercised by the contrast between the relative political stability he saw in eighteenth-century parliamentary Britain and the breakdown of political order in twentieth-century Europe, which he traced to the effects of nationalist ideologues. In 1946 he published 1848: the Revolution of the Intellectuals, an expanded version of his Raleigh lecture of 1944. He also published studies of Nazism and appeasement in the 1930s, of which he had been an outspoken critic, notably Diplomatic Prelude: 1938-1939 (1948), andEurope in Decay: A Study in Disintegration, 1936-1940 (1950).

In 1951 Namier returned to his original interest of British parliamentary history, joining the Editorial Board of the History of Parliament Trust. His involvement with this project dated back to the late 1920s, and he had been a member of the committee which had reported to Parliament on the feasibility of multi-volume history of parliament. After he retired from Manchester in 1953, the rest of Namier's life was taken up with running this project. He researched the period 1754-1790, and his three-volume study,The History of Parliament: The House of Commons 1754-1790 was published in 1964. This work summed up Namier's approach to historical writing, with its highly detailed studies of every single M.P. and their constituencies. A biography of Charles Townshend, written in collaboration with John Brooke, was published posthumously in 1964.

Namier was actively involved in politics and public life throughout his career. He was a passionate Zionist, and in 1929 became political secretary for the Zionist Organisation/Jewish Agency of Palestine. During the 1930s, Namier did much to help Jewish emigrants from Nazism. Namier was knighted in 1952. He was twice married and died in London in 1960.

As a historian, Namier was unusual in having experience of business and politics, which influenced his approach to history. He enjoyed controversy and often expressed himself in a deliberately provocative manner, believing that all good historians should be iconoclasts. Although as a young man he had been a strong socialist, he was never a Marxist and as he became older his sympathies were became much more Conservative: these political views, and his early pan-Slavist enthusiasm, informed his historical writings. He was capable of arousing strong feelings, both for and against his opinions. A perfectionist regarding thorough empirical research, Namier was only able to publish a fragment of his intended output. Methodologically he was one of the most significant British historians of the twentieth century, his influence being confirmed by the Oxford English Dictionary in 1976, when it recognised the noun, 'Namierite' and the adjective 'Namierian'.


The current arrangement of the Namier papers is provisional, and will be revised when full arrangement and description of the collection takes place. At present, the collection has been divided into three series: NAM/1 Research notes, papers, correspondence, publications; NAM/2 Notebooks; NAM/3 Personal material. NAM/1 is by far the largest component of the collection.

The collection has been described in this list according to box containers, based on the original disposition of the collection when it was acquired by the Library. Material is arranged and referenced by series and box number, for example, NAM/1, box 3 etc.

Access Information

The collection is open to any accredited reader.

The collection includes material which is subject to the Data Protection Act 1998. Under Section 33 of the Data Protection Act 1998 (DPA), The John Rylands University Library (JRUL) holds the right to process personal data for research purposes. The Data Protection (Processing of Sensitive Personal Data) Order 2000 enables the JRUL to process sensitive personal data for research purposes. In accordance with the DPA, the JRUL has made every attempt to ensure that all personal and sensitive personal data has been processed fairly, lawfully and accurately. Users of the archive are expected to comply with the Data Protection Act 1998, and will be required to sign a form acknowledging that they will abide by the requirements of the Act in any further processing of the material by themselves.

Acquisition Information

The collection was purchased by the Library at auction in 1992. Iit appears that some if not all of the material was in the possession of the historian John Brooke, after Namier's death and the completion of the biography written of her late husband by Lady Namier. The papers she had made use of were divided between Brooke and the Central Zionist Archive in Jerusalem, and although Brooke gave some papers to the Lewis Walpole Library in Farmington, Connecticut, he retained the bulk of the collection for his own purposes, which included the possibility of a study of his own of Namier the historian.

Archivist's Note

I am indebted to Professor David Hayton, Queen's University Belfast, for comments on an earlier version of this catalogue. He has made many comments on the content of the archive, especially attribution and dating of documents.

Conditions Governing Use

Photocopies and photographic copies of material in the archive can be supplied for private study purposes only, depending on the condition of the documents.

A number of items within the archive remain within copyright under the terms of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988; it is the responsibility of users to obtain the copyright holder's permission for reproduction of copyright material for purposes other than research or private study.

Prior written permission must be obtained from the Library for publication or reproduction of any material within the archive. Please contact the Head of Special Collections, John Rylands University Library, 150 Deansgate, Manchester, M3 3EH.

Related Material

The Library also has a small collection of manuscripts and correspondence collected by Lewis Namier during his research.including correspondence of Sir Henry Bilson Legge and papers concerning French and Indian affairs in the late 18th century (Eng Mss. 668-669).

Some of Namier's historical papers were deposited at the Lewis Walpole Library, Farmington, Connecticut, USA, in 1973 by John Brooke. These include:

  • Copy letter from Namier to Josiah Wedgwood, 19 Jun 1929, re. History of Parliament.
  • Drafts if the second volume of England in the Age of the American Revolution
  • Namier's naturalisation papers, two deed polls recording changes of name by Namier, Marie Beer's death certificate, Namier's death certificate, letter returning Lady Namier's naturalisation certificate, 1940, notification to Namier of Marie Beer's death.
. The Lewis Walpole Library also has two files of correspondence between W S Lewis and Namier from 1933-1960, and Namier's annotated copy of England in the age of the American revolution..

The Bodleian Library, Oxford holds a small collection of Namier papers (MSS Eng hist d 341-42, f 22-23).

The Manchester Guardian archive, held by UML, has a substantial body of Namier's correspondence, much of it dealing with politics and public affairs from the 1920s onwards (reference: A/N2/1-21; B/N8A/1-381; 149/N1/1). The Guardian archive includes some letters of Julia Namier (D/977/1-19).

Material relating to Namier's interest in Zionism and German Jewish refugees can be found in the Central Zionist Archives in Jerusalem (A312 series).

Namier's important correspondence with fellow historian, Dame Lucy Sutherland, can be found in the Sutherland Papers in the Bodleian Library, Oxford. Namier's correspondence with fellow historian Sir John Plumb can be found in the Plumb papers at Cambridge University Library. The History of Parliament's archive includes material that remained in Namier's office at the History at the time of his death (N 50-71); most, but not all, relates to Namier's involvement with this project.


There is an official biography of Namier by his widow, Julia Namier, Lewis Namier: a biography (Oxford 1971) , and a critical study by Linda Colley, Lewis Namier (London 1989) . Also John Brooke's explanatory essay, ‘Namier and Namierism’, in Studies in the philosophy of history, ed. G. H. Nadel (1965).