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Response to Review of The Oxford History of Poland-Lithuania. Volume 1: The Making of the Polish-Lithuanian Union, 1385-1569

Responding to a positive review is always difficult – if more pleasurable – than trying to piece together one’s thoughts after having them picked apart. I shall therefore keep my reply to Paul Knoll’s review brief. I am pleased that he has recognised what I was seeking to achieve in this book. I will not waste time by discussing the things that Professor Knoll likes about the book, but will simply address the points he raises. Most of them concern sins of omission, and I hold up my hands and say yes, he is right. I am well aware that my treatment of certain issues are rather more straightfoward than they should be. I would very much have liked to go into greater depth on a number of matters, but I was always conscious of the generosity of Oxford University Press in allowing me to write two volumes instead of the one that they had expected, in particular since I was heading back deep into the medieval period in a series devoted to the history of early modern Europe. Their one stipulation – entirely reasonable in the circumstances – was that they would hold me to my word-limit, so I made sure that the typescript I submitted was exactly the 250,000 words laid down in the redrawn contract.

I therefore needed to enforce a self-denying ordinance, and I decided that I must concentrate on the political story behind the making of the union. I would have liked to consider in far greater depth a range of issues, such as the origins of the szlachta; the conversion of Lithuania from paganism; and the influence of conciliarism on Polish political thought, but I had to sacrifice much in order to concentrate on the essentially political story I had decided to tell. It is a story that is necessarily interrupted by a considerable amount of historiographical discussion; with regard to the origins of the szlachta, I felt to enter those turbid waters might confuse rather than enlighten the reader.

Professor Knoll notes my promise to give more considered treatment to certain matters omitted here in volume two, including the influence of Renaissance thought, the engagement of the Polish church with consiliarism, the impact of the Reformation, and matters urban. He is concerned, however, that important developments in the 15th century may be forgotten, or if not forgotten, may be difficult to integrate. I would admit that my promise may be a hostage to fortune, and that I, too, am concerned about this challenge. Nevertheless, I hope that I can rise to it. One of the great pleasures of writing this book, as someone trained on the 17th century, was to venture back through the 15th into the late 14th century and beyond . It is a journey that early modernists should make more often, and I learned a great deal. The most important reason for approaching OUP to ask permission to write volume one was the growing conviction that one cannot understand anything about Poland-Lithuania after 1569 without a clear grasp of 15th- and early 16th-century history. As with the origins of the szlachta, I may not be able to do full justice to those developments in volume two, but I intend to try.

I shall end with one mild point of difference. With regard to the final outcome of the 1569 Lublin Sejm, Professor Knoll writes that ‘[n]either side got what it had hoped to achieve’. That is no doubt true, but it suggests to me that I should have stressed more strongly that despite the considerable trauma of the Lublin negotiations, in essence the Lithuanians won the long argument over the nature of the union. It was their concept of a union of equals that won out in the Lublin treaty over the Polish idea of full incorporation. In that sense they ‘got what they had hoped to achieve’, and that is why, after 1569, the union itself ceased to be controversial. It is a point that I shall take up in volume two.