UCL School of Slavonic and East European Studies (SSEES)

Prof Richard Butterwick - Pawlikowski

Prof Richard Butterwick - Pawlikowski

Professor of Polish-Lithuanian History



Joined UCL
2nd Jan 2005

Research summary

For more than thirty years I have been fascinated by the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. This extraordinary community of citizens was no failed state, put out of its anarchic misery between 1772 and 1795 by its better governed neighbours. Instead it was a going concern, rapidly returning to health after a long crisis. It was this very vitality which prompted the neighbouring absolute monarchies - Russia, Prussia and Austria - to dismember the Commonwealth and endeavour to suppress its memory. I argue this case in my latest books: The Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth 1733-1795: Light and Flame, published by Yale University Press in 2020, and in a longer Polish edition in 2022, and the briefer The Constitution of 3 May 1791: Testament of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, published by the Polish History Museum in 2021,This book has also been published in Polish, Ukrainian, German and Lithuanian translations. The latter has also appeared in a Braille edition.

The Commonwealth is noted for its parliamentary institutions and republican political tradition. In the eighteenth century this tradition engaged with the ideas of Montesquieu and Rousseau; it was a pleasure for me to translate the late Jerzy Michalski's Rousseau and Polish Republicanism into English. But republicanism did not enjoy a monopoly. I argued for the importance of monarchist discourse in the Four Years’ Parliament or Polish Revolution of 1788-92 in the English Historical Review in 2005. That article set out the methodological premises for my monograph, The Polish Revolution and the Catholic Church, 1788-92: A Political History, published by Oxford University Press in 2012. Its principal aim was to establish why certain decisions were made by a parliamentary assembly in a republican political culture, while others, which at the time seemed equally plausible, were not. It explains how the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth went to the verge of schism with the Holy Apostolic See, before the negotiation of a face-saving compromise. A feature are extended comparisons between the Polish-Lithuanian reforms and the reforms undertaken by Joseph II in the Habsburg Monarchy and the National Assembly in Revolutionary France. A longer edition of this opus monstrum was published in Polish translation in 2012, thanks also to the Polish History Museum.

The Grand Duchy of Lithuania has taken an increasingly important part in my research. My final contribution as editor of Central Europe was a special issue on the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, and I have also co-edited the collection Social and Cultural Relations in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania: Microhistories, published by Routledge in 2019. Both were preceded by conferences held at UCL in cooperation with Lithuanian and Belarusian partners.

My research interests take in the Enlightenment and Anti-Enlightenment in broader contexts as well. A co-edited collection on Peripheries of the Enlightenment appeared as a volume of SVEC (Studies on Voltaire and the Eighteenth Century) in 2008, following a symposium at the Queen's University of Belfast in 2005. I have published several articles and chapters on Catholicism and Enlightenment in Poland-Lithuania. Among my future plans is an extended comparison of the relationship between Catholicism, Enlightenment and the state in the two great polities of Central Europe: the Habsburg or Austrian Monarchy and the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth.

At some point in future I'd like to return to researching the extraordinary life, works and career of the British diplomat and libertine poet Sir Charles Hanbury Williams (1708-59), who in 1755 introduced the young Stanisław A. Poniatowski to the Grand Duchess Catherine. I have published an article on his libertinism in the Journal for Eighteenth-Century Studies.

Teaching summary

I teach a Thematic (Group 2) course on Poland and Lithuania Transformed, 1569-1923, a survey (Group 1) course on History of the Habsburg Monarchy, 1700-1918 (jointly with Dr Jakub Beneš and Dr Rebecca Haynes) and a Special Subject (Group 3) on Monarchs and the Enlightenment in Russia and Central Europe (jointly with Professor Simon Dixon). I am prepared to supervise research students on diverse topics in Polish-Lithuanian, Polish or Lithuanian history until the mid-nineteenth century, and would also welcome those with a wider interest in the European Enlightenment and its critics.


University of Cambridge
Other higher degree, Master of Arts |
Polish Academy of Sciences
Doctorate, Habilitacja (Doctor of Letters) |
University of Oxford
Doctorate, Doctor of Philosophy | 1994
University of Cambridge
First Degree, Bachelor of Arts | 1993


Having realized while reading History at Queens' College, Cambridge, in 1986-89, that nirvana could be found in the study of the age of Mozart and Canova, my initial research was on the Anglophilia of the last King of Poland. This led to several years spent in Poland, as a Polish government scholar at the Jagiellonian University in Kraków and at the University of Łódź. In the meantime Hertford College, Oxford, was so kind as to bestow the Mary Staruń scholarship in Polish Studies upon me, so I left Cambridge for the other place, where I found the best of supervisors in R. J. W. Evans. A DPhil in Modern History was awarded in 1994 for a thesis 'Stanisław August Poniatowski, his Circle and English Political Culture'. A revised version was published by Oxford University Press in 1998 as Poland's Last King and English Culture: Stanisław August Poniatowski 1732-1798, named as an academic book of the year by Choice in 1999. An expanded Polish edition appeared under the auspices of the Institute of Literary Research of the Polish Academy of Sciences in 2000.

My first teaching appointment was at the History Institute of the University of Łódź in 1993-94. It was followed by British Academy Postdoctoral Fellowship at Oxford in 1994-97, combined in 1995-97 with a Research Fellowship at Wolfson College. In 1997 I was appointed Lecturer in Modern European History at The Queen's University of Belfast, where I co-founded the interdisciplinary Centre for Eighteenth-Century Studies. I moved to London to become Lecturer in Polish History at SSEES in January 2005, Senior Lecturer in 2006 and Professor of Polish-Lithuanian History in 2013.

In 2014 I moved to Warsaw to take up  the European Civilization Chair (founded by the European Parliament in memory of Bronisław Geremek) at College of Europe, Natolin, while researching, teaching and supervising for UCL on a part-time basis. This move broadened my horizons. I gained the degree of habilitated doctor (DLitt.) from the Polish Academy of Sciences in 2016. In the summer of 2020 I returned full-time to UCL. I periodically return to the College of Europe as a visiting professor. In 2022 I became the Principal Historian of the Polish History Museum in Warsaw on a part-time basis, with a proportionate reduction at UCL.

For me the greatest pleasure to be had from history is to make an unexpected discovery in an archive.