Walter Alison Phillips
Born21 October 1864
Epsom, Surrey, England
Died28 October 1950(1950-10-28) (aged 86)
Academic background
Alma mater
Academic work
Sub-disciplineHistory of Europe

Walter Alison Phillips MRIA (21 October 1864 – 28 October 1950) was an English historian, a specialist in the history of Europe in the 19th century. From 1914 to 1939 he was the first holder of the Lecky chair of History in Trinity College Dublin. Most of his writing is in the name of W. Alison Phillips, and he was sometimes referred to as Alison Phillips.

A former president of the Oxford Union and special correspondent of The Times newspaper, he was a prolific author, including contributions to the Encyclopædia Britannica, of which for eight years he was chief assistant editor.

Early life

The son of John and Jane Phillips of Epsom in Surrey, Phillips was educated at Merchant Taylors' School, which he left in 1882, then at Merton College, Oxford, where he was an exhibitioner, and lastly from 1886 at St John's, where he was Senior Scholar.[1] He graduated BA in 1885, with first class honours in History, and MA in 1889.[2][3]

In the Michaelmas term of 1886, he was President of the Oxford Union.[2][4] On 7 June 1887, as a guest in the Cambridge Union, he supported the motion "That in the opinion of this House it is desirable to concede Home Rule for Ireland",[5] while Sir John Gorst, a former Solicitor General, came to speak against the motion.[6]


At first, Phillips concentrated his efforts on writing. His first book, published in 1896, was a translation of selected poems of Walther von der Vogelweide,[7] followed the next year by The War of Greek Independence, 1821 to 1833.[8] In 1901 appeared his Modern Europe, 1815–1899.[9]

From 1903 to 1911, Phillips was Chief Assistant Editor of the projected 11th edition of the Encyclopædia Britannica,[3] serving under Hugh Chisholm, who was editor-in-chief.[10] In 1912, he went to South America as a Special Correspondent of The Times newspaper, and then in 1913 was on the staff of The Times.[2][3] In 1914 he was appointed Lecky Professor of Modern History in Trinity College Dublin, the first holder of the new chair, in which he remained until his retirement in 1939.[3][11] From 1939 until his death he was an honorary Fellow of his old Oxford college, Merton.[3][12][13]

Phillips was strongly opposed to Irish Home Rule and once declared that "Ireland is not a nation, but two peoples separated by a deeper gulf than that dividing Ireland from Great Britain".[12] His 1923 book The Revolution in Ireland 1906–1923 was criticized for being too partisan of the Unionist point of view.[14]

By 1922, Phillips was a member of the Royal Irish Academy (MRIA).[15] Outside his own specialism in European history, he contributed articles to the Encyclopædia Britannica on musical and literary subjects, including the Nibelungenlied.[16]



  1. ^ Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Table of contributors". Encyclopædia Britannica. Vol. 9 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. xi.
  2. ^ a b c E. P. Hart, Merchant Taylors' School Register, 1851-1920 (1923), p. 130: "Phillips, Walter Alison, b. 21 October 1864, s. of John and Jane, Epsom. Left 1882; Exhib. of Merton Coll., Oxf.; BA (1st Cl. Hist.) 1885; MA 1889; Sen. Schol. of St. John's 1886; Pres. Oxford Union Soc. 1887; Chief Asst. Editor of the Ency. Brit. (11th Ed.) 1903-11; Special Correspondent of the Times in S. America 1912; on staff of the Times, 1913; Lecky Prof. of Modern Hist. T.C.D. since 1914... W. Alison Phillips, Trinity College Dublin."
  3. ^ a b c d e Levens, R.G.C., ed. (1964). Merton College Register 1900-1964. Oxford: Basil Blackwell. p. 300.
  4. ^ The Taylorian: a journal devoted to the interests and amusements of the boys of Merchant Taylor's school; vol. VII (1886), p. 229: "W. A. Phillips, of Merton College, has been elected President of the Oxford Union Society, of which C. J. Blacker, of the same College, is Treasurer."
  5. ^ The Cambridge Review; Volume 8 (1887), p. 396: "Mr. W. A. Phillips, St. John's, Ex-President of Oxford Union Society, substitute for Mr. J. D. Power, Downing College, the mover of the adjournment, opened the Debate "That in the opinion of this House it is desirable to concede Home Rule for Ireland".
  6. ^ Joseph S. Meisel, Public Speech and the Culture of Public Life in the Age of Gladstone (Columbia University Press, 2001), p. 24
  7. ^ Appleton's Annual Cyclopædia and Register of Important Events, 1896–1899, p. 475
  8. ^ The War of Greek Independence, 1821 to 1833, publication details at
  9. ^ Modern Europe, 1815–1899, outline at
  10. ^ S. Padraig Walsh, Anglo-American general encyclopedias: a historical bibliography (1968), p. 49
  11. ^ James Johnston Auchmuty, Lecky: a biographical and critical essay (Dublin: Hodges, Figgis & Co., 1945), p. 127: "The first holder of the Lecky Chair was Professor Walter Alison Phillips, Litt.D ., later Honorary Fellow of Merton College, Oxford, who was appointed in 1914. Few more suitable appointments could have been made..."
  12. ^ a b G. K. Chesterton, Irish Impressions (2002 reprint), p. 138
  13. ^ Chris Wrigley, A. J. P. Taylor: radical historian of Europe (2006), p. 378
  14. ^ Review in Journal of the British Institute of International Affairs vol. 2, no. 6 (Nov. 1923), pp. 260–262 at (subscription required)
  15. ^ Encyclopædia Britannica, 12th edition, vol. 3, schedule of contributors
  16. ^ Phillips, Walter Alison (1911). "Nibelungenlied" . In Chisholm, Hugh (ed.). Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.