T. H. S. (Thomas Hay Sweet) Escott.

The story of British diplomacy : its makers and movements online

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Its Makers and Movements







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INDEX - 409





A HISTORY of English diplomacy, that attempted
the revelation of Foreign Office secrets, might
resolve itself into a series of imaginative conjectures,
sure to prove often most unhistoric and generally
unedifying. The less ambitious object of this work
is systematically to disentangle the thread of inter-
national narrative from the general events of contem-
porary history. Those events have been entirely
avoided, except when they formed a part of the
particular subject in hand. When the notion first
suggested itself to me some years ago, I was in the
habit, as a writer for the public press, of seeing several
of those high in authority at the Foreign Office or
in the diplomatic service. Among these were Lords
Granville, Kimberley and Salisbury. The first of
these was kind enough to recall for my instruction an
oral account of the course of our diplomacy he had
himself received, when first going to the Foreign Office
in 1851, from his predecessor, Lord Palmerston. That
included a summary of our foreign relations, from a
date earlier than that of the Foreign Office itself
indeed from the year 1714. The Secretaryship for
the Southern Department had then been taken by



Stanhope, whom Palmerston seems to have regarded
as the first official who made foreign policy his dis-
tinctive province. And here in passing I may observe
I am aware of some reasons given by Mr Pike* for
seeing in the Northern department rather than the
\ Southern the specific germs of the Foreign Office.
As a fact, I have in the introductory chapter of the
present work opened my brief retrospect with a period
considerably before that of Stanhope. For the rest it
has been my first object, avoiding all excursions into
general history, as well as the more universally familiar
portions of the diplomatic narrative, to confine myself
to the foreign transactions of the English Government,
to the individuals chiefly associated with these, and,
for choice, to dwell in detail rather upon those that
naturally and properly have occupied less space in the
general histories of the time.

My special obligations to other works as well as to
individuals have been mentioned generally at what
seemed the right place in the course of this narrative.
Over and above these, independently too of the
Palmerstonian reminiscences by which Lord Granville
allowed me to profit, I am indebted to Lord Granville
himself for many hints upon those periods of which he
had personal experience and with which I have had to
do. Lord Kimberley also gave me much information
bearing on the epoch of his Copenhagen Commission

* The Ptiblic Records and the Constitution, a lecture delivered at
All Souls College, Oxford, by Luke Owen Pike, M.A. (Frowde, Oxford
University Press, 1907.)


in 1863. As regards the diplomatic story of the early
nineteenth century, I was shown very many years ago
by Mr Spencer Montagu, who afterwards became the
last Lord Rokeby, some most interesting family papers
rich in fresh impressions of Metternich and of Metter-
nich's time generally. I am conscious of having
derived equal or greater profit from frequent conversa-
tions on contemporary or former events and personages
with that kindest of friends, Lord Currie, who abounded
in first-hand knowledge handed down to him by his
father, Raikes Currie, of diplomatic transactions during
the Napoleonic era. Such acquaintance with the
interior of the Department as I may have acquired
began when Lord Currie first became Permanent
Under-Secretary. Nor have my obligations been less
to those connected with the Foreign Office since Lord
Currie's time, especially to the present Lord Dufferin
and to Lord Fitzmaurice. Among all living experts
on international or diplomatic subjects, my greatest
indebtedness is to my kind friend of now very many
years' standing, Sir Charles Dilke, and to my Oxford
contemporary, now of our French Embassy, Sir Henry
Austin Lee. Had any of those now mentioned with-
held from me their good offices my task could not
have been completed. As regards books, Dr Franck
Bright's and Sir Spencer Walpole's histories have
provided me with innumerable data which I could not
otherwise have obtained ; while Dr Bright gave me
invaluable assistance in preparing the whole ground-
work and plan of this volume, as well as in advising



me about some of its details, and Lord Reay assisted
me with invaluable details concerning Pitt's Dutch
diplomacy in the Napoleonic era. Apropos of Pitt's
financial operations at this period, Sir Charles Rivers
Wilson's good offices, and the mastery of the subject
possessed by Mr A. T. King of the National Debt
Office, have enabled me to illustrate the connection
between high politics and high finance, with personal
information of great interest and value now printed for
the first time.


April 1908.





The object of diplomacy Its genesis in Classic Greece
Machiavelli : his influence upon European diplomacy before
and after his death Italy succeeded by Russia as a school of
statecraft English foreign policy The various causes of its
lack of unity Early examples of Britain's relations with
Continental Powers Inclination to Anglo-Spanish rather than
to Anglo-French alliances Anglo-Spanish relations changed by
the divorce of Henry VIII., the Reformation and the naval
enterprises of Elizabeth's reign.

THE elementary object of diplomacy in all
countries and ages may be roughly described
as the maintenance of international relations on terms
of mutual courtesy, forbearance and self-control, such
as regulate the intercourse of individuals in private
life, the reduction to a minimum of causes of inter-
national friction, the actual avoidance or the indefinite
postponement of recourse to war for the settlement of
disputes between independent states. Should pacific
negotiations have failed and hostilities become un-
avoidable, diplomacy, defeated for the moment, does
not sink into an attitude of mere passive, idle
spectatorship ; preserving presence of mind and cool-

The Story of British Diplomacy

ness of head even amid the clash of arms, it awaits
the opportunity of the peacemaker. It follows, from
whatever distance, the varying fortunes of the field.
Trained agents at the courts or capitals of the warring
states keep it accurately informed concerning the
resources of the belligerent Powers, the movement of
their high finance, the conflict of interest or opinion
among allies, concerning fluctuations of popular feeling,
penetrates, if not the tactics of generals, the designs
of the sovereigns or statesmen who direct them. It
watches and seizes opportunities for mediatorial action
with a view to the conclusion of a settled peace. The
different states of classical Greece gradually created
for themselves a species of diplomatic machinery in
that Amphictyonic Council, existing for the purpose of
settling disputes between the various Hellenic com-
munities by peaceful compromise instead of by in-
ternecine war. To the influence of that body may be
attributed the strong public feeling against resorting
to the sword in the earlier stages of a quarrel, and,
above all, against omitting the due formalities when
the rupture came, against, in a word, an appeal to the
god of battles without due proclamation by heralds.

The beginnings, however, of European diplomacy
are not discernible till the Roman Empire was replaced
by the European state system. The essence of the
Renaissance statecraft distilled itself into diplomacy ;
that art had Machiavelli for its first Italian teacher ;
Spain, two centuries later, produced Alberoni ; between
these came the Swedish Oxenstern, remembered for
a single aphorism, to-day more familiar than any
Machiavellian maxim, notwithstanding that the great
Florentine may be said to have had all Europe for his


pupil. No political instructor of any epoch projected
his ideas further or more powerfully into future gener-
ations than was done by the man whose very name has
become a synonym for heartless cunning and un-
scrupulous craft. If the fact of having influenced the
thought and the politics of his time makes a man great,
that epithet unquestionably belongs to Machiavelli.
As a diplomatist the combination of insight into human
nature and dexterity in dealing with it commanded
admiration and success. As a writer he condensed
into pithy and pungent apothegms those generalisations
from his own experience and conversance with affairs
which, as will presently be seen, if they did not
actually mould, at least reflected themselves in the
administrative or executive ideas of his own as well as
of later generations.

The earliest professor of the diplomatic art,
Machiavelli is also the first to describe the stages and
tactics by which this art can alone reasonably count
upon success. For to him diplomacy means nothing
less than the management of human nature by appeals
to its own master-motives or passions. These, from
his point of view, are constant qualities. States rise
and fall. Fortunes, whether acquired by communities
or individuals, are consolidated or melt away. Human
nature never changes ; its manifestations, like its
expedients, may vary in their degrees of complexity ;
its fundamentals are always the same. As humanity is
in its essence unchangeable, so must be the most
effective methods of dealing with it in an individual or
in a community. Much truth is there from this point
of view in the old Italian proverb, " So good a man as
to be good for nothing," or, to quote the nineteenth -


The Story of British Diplomacy

century English variant of the same idea, " A good
man in the worse sense of the words."

Fifty years after his death, Europe began to see,
personified as it were, in Machiavelli's ghost, the evil
genius of the age. Possessed by that sinister spirit,
the pious and devout Calvin became a party to the
burning for heresy of Servetus at Geneva (1553).
Twenty years later the same malignant influence
prompted Catherine de Medici to the massacre of St
Bartholomew's Day. Another hundred years pass ;
the master-strokes of policy which signalised the reign
of Louis XIV., what are they save modernised mani-
festations of Machiavellian statecraft ? But why con-
fine within such limits the operation of a force which,
notwithstanding its Florentine label, amounts in reality
to the sum of human nature's concealed but ever-living,
dissembled yet always in the last resort decisive, in-
stincts and aims. Nor for that matter was the mock-
ing fiend of Machiavellianism, assuming perhaps other
shapes, less busy under the Fronde than under the
League. Or again, to descend to our own days, the
tactics of the twin creators of existing Italy, Cavour
and Napoleon III., what were they but an adaptation
to later needs of weapons, meet for patriotism and
piety, chosen from the Machiavellian armoury ? Yet
once more : the idees Napoleoniennes, the Bismarckian
beatitudes (beatipossidentes), surely these, quite as much
as the policy and maxims of Frederick the Great, are the
latter-day fruitage of the sixteenth-century " Prince."

To pass to the Machiavellian spirit in con-
nection with the diplomatic developments of our
own country. In England Machiavelli's writings
excited much interest very soon after they began



to be known anywhere. They were recommended
to Cardinal Pole, as practical treatises on the arts
of government, by Thomas Cromwell, who had
visited Florence at the time when they were being
written. The eminently practical tone of their leading
principles were akin to those advocated by Bacon
for conducting physical research. As might be ex-
pected, therefore, Machiavelli receives a panegyric in
the Advancement of Learning. As in his masterly
Romanes Lecture (1897) Mr John Morley pointed
out, in both Bacon's Essays and History of Henry
VII. the student of Machiavelli stands revealed.
James Harrington, converted from republicanism to
courtiership, the attendant of Charles I. on the scaffold,
shows familiarity with Machiavelli in his Oceana. After
the Restoration the Leviathan and Human Nature
of Thomas Hobbes testify to the literary vitality of
Machiavelli. No one can miss the family likeness
of the Tudor sovereigns' policy to the Machiavellian
model. Bacon, however, himself describes Machia-
velli as only putting men's actual practice into formulas.
Embodying the materialistic wisdom of his age,
Machiavelli taught diplomatists, like statesmen, to
regard their calling not as an abstract science but an
empirical art. To vary Bacon's phrase, he sublimated
the shrewdest and hardest wisdom of his time into
precepts which stamp themselves on the memory,
though they jar the conscience and revolt the heart.
By the seventeenth century the public as well as
professional statesmen had become familiar with
Machiavelli's ideas and maxims. The statecraft of
the Stuarts or of Cromwell was not more Machia-
vellian than that of Henry VIII. and Elizabeth at a


The Story of British Diplomacy

time when the political ethics of The Prince were
known only to a comparatively limited number of
students and specialists. The commanding prominence
secured by the writer of this work is largely to be
explained by the natural tendency to attach the label
of a well-sounding name to any body of doctrines or
practice. So was it with Epicurus, Arminius or
Calvin. In the same way certain natural and in
themselves commonplace methods in domestic or
international politics seem to gain defmiteness and
consistency by association with Machiavelli. Among
English writers on international topics familiar
aphorisms connect themselves with Sir William
Temple or the men with whom he lived. These, how-
ever, will be most fittingly, if at all, considered at a
later stage in this work. On this the threshold of our
inquiry only one other remark need be made.

The place of Italy as a school of statecraft and diplo-
macy during the Middle Ages was, in modern times, to
a great extent filled by Russia.* Here the intellectual
activities of the higher classes were not distracted, as
has been the Anglo-Saxon experience, from state
duties by agriculture, manufactures, or even by judicial
and civil employments. The two former were left to
the lower classes. Those who constituted the flower
of the nation, such as did not enter the army, were
trained from early youth for diplomacy.

The diplomacy whose movements are now to be
traced is that in which England has taken an active
part and which have had for their headquarters the

* Diplomatic relations between England and Russia seem to have
begun in the February of 1557, when the Czar Ivan Vasilivich sent an
ambassador to the Court of Philip and Mary.



English Foreign Office, in one or other of its various

The traditions of our international administration
and the principles underlying the policy of its directors
are for the most part not less untrustworthy than are
other stereotyped commonplaces of the platform, the
dinner-table or the press. On no subject indeed is
generalisation likely to prove more misleading than on
that of English foreign policy. The insular position
of this realm has affected alike the character of its
population and the temper of its rulers. How dis-
turbed has been the course of our history may be
judged from the fact that, among the thirty-six sove-
reigns since the Conquest, except in the case of
Edward III. (great-great-grandson of John), there is
no instance of the crown descending in lineal and
unbroken succession through four generations.
Repeated changes of dynasty have combined with an
unbroken development of mercantile power to create
new political forces in the nation. The growth of the
English navy and its constantly varying requirements
have produced further solutions of continuity in our
diplomatic record. Nowhere else has opportunism
to such an extent moulded statesmanship. Add to
these interrupting influences two centuries of party-
government, the periodical transformation scenes re-
sulting from them, and the growth of the popular belief
in the international value of matrimonial alliances ;
here there is more than enough to account for lack
of unity in the external policy of the national rulers.

It is, however, possible to trace the varying
tendencies which have been operative from time to
time and have reflected themselves in the relations


The Story of British Diplomacy

between England and other nations during shorter
or longer periods. England's dealings with her
European neighbours only began to be methodised
under the first Tudor sovereign in the sixteenth
century. Long before that, however, and almost from
prehistoric times, the isolated points of contact between
these islands and Continental states had been numerous
as well as, in some instances, so significant or sugges-
tive as to prepare a rude and insular race for the
amenities of peaceful intercourse with countries beyond
the four seas ; they formed the preparatory school of
diplomacy itself. The Western barbarians, described
by the Roman poet as remote outcasts from civilisation,
thus began to acquire an international status when,
after the invasion of their land by the Roman legions,
a British princess became the mother of the future
emperor who made Christianity the State religion.
Before the Welsh or Irish missionaries and the coming
of Augustine, Ethelbert's marriage to Bertha, the
daughter of the Prankish king, had planted the Cross
in Kent. The Latin priest, Birinus, and others of his
order who may have followed Augustine were
additional links in the chain connecting primitive
Britain with the capital of the world. These ties
were from time to time drawn closer by the many
early British sovereigns who, on the warning of con-
science or sickness, retired to Italy that they might
breathe their last on soil which the Apostles had trod.
Met on his journey thither by the King of France,
Charles the Bald, Ethel wulf passed a year in Italy ;
the purpose of his visit was the presentation to the
Vicar of Christ of his son the future King Alfred who
already had the pope for his godfather. A Saxon


college had for some time existed on the Tiber ; from
Ethel wulfs Roman visit dates not only the completion
of its buildings and endowments, but, according to
tradition, the institution of Peter's Pence. During
that residence abroad the English king found a
second wife in Judith, the daughter of Charles the
Bald. Hence his prolonged absence from his realm
and the consequent unpopularity which faced him on
his return.

The next Anglo-Continental marriage in high
places was two hundred years later when, in 1035, the
Princess Gunhild, King Canute's daughter, became
the bride of the Emperor Henry III. Of all the
Anglo-Continental episodes in this century, none
associates itself with events of more importance than
the rivalry between the Saxon party under Godwin
and his sons and the French faction, largely stimulated
by the foreign bishops, favourites of Edward the
Confessor. Hence followed the peaceful visit of
William of Normandy and the alleged promise whose
violation led to the Norman Conquest.

After the events of 1066 it became an absolute
certainty that an anti- French policy would prevail. A
lately arrived invader, formerly the chief vassal and
now the rival of the French king, could not be other
than the enemy of his suzerain. Subsequent events
combined to emphasise the estrangement between the
rulers of the two countries. Germany, Spain and
Guienne entered actively into the situation. A
national era of commercial competition opened. The
bonds of amity uniting Spain and Guienne on the one
hand with England on the other deepened and
broadened the separation of England from France.


The Story of British Diplomacy

During the twelfth century the Anglo- Spanish entente
became increasingly cordial. The marriage of the
second Henry's daughter, Eleanor, with Alphonso of
Castile set on foot an international friendship that
even outlived the Reformation. The next incident
tending in the same direction was the marriage of
Edward I. to a Spanish princess of the same name,
Eleanor of Castile. To that feat of matrimonial
diplomacy the English monarchy owed the establish-
ment of its pecuniary fortunes, and English farming
the most profitable impetus as yet communicated to
it. The earliest among our royal women of busi-
ness, Queen Eleanor, brought her husband a more
valuable dower than her Southern -European territories
in the capacity which, by reconstructing the wool
trade and organising the Northumbrian collieries, not
only increased the national wealth, but doubled the
royal income. Other international connections of the
domestic kind had been made with different foreign
countries about a hundred years earlier. Of the
children born to Henry II., one son at least married a
French princess ; the eldest daughter became wife of
Henry the Lion, of Saxony ; another wedded the
Norman King of Sicily, then the chief naval power in
the Mediterranean. Before, therefore, the twelfth
century had closed, the peaceful agencies of her
diplomatists had won for England a place of European
authority which could never have been gained by the
military triumphs of her kings, notwithstanding that
French addition to their royal title that remained in
use till George III. In 1371, Edward III/s sons,
John of Gaunt and the Earl of Cambridge, found
wives in two Spanish princesses; respectively Constance



and Isabel, both daughters of Pedro the Cruel. The
bias towards Spain, thus instituted, was strengthened
by Henry V.'s strong attachment to the European
unities. To him indeed the Church and the Empire
were the two guarantees for the maintenance of the
national and even social system of Europe. The
foreign policy of the Tudors will receive separate
notice presently. It is enough here to say that the
predecessors of Henry VIII. had all of them, in
different degrees or manners, contributed to the
building up of the Anglo-Spanish alliance. The
master-stroke of Henry VII.'s diplomacy was his
son's union with Katharine of Aragon. The relations
between London and Madrid were of course changed
by the Reformation. English enthusiasm for Spain
may have burned hot during the few years of
Mary's reign ; under Elizabeth it gradually cooled. It
died out amid the glories of Drake and the Armada.
These last words indicate the continuance of influences
as personal and as far-reaching upon English policy as
was that exercised by the seventh Henry himself.
Mercantile enterprise and naval strength, the creations
of a few great men, supported and directed the
management of our external affairs in the Tudor

How the Stuarts inherited the Elizabethan tradi-
tion, how, in spite of his oddities, James I. was true to
his Protestantism, and how amid many variations and
vacillations the diplomacy of that king made France
upon the whole the bulwark of the new religion, all
this and much else will be related in its proper place.




Henry VII. his own Foreign Minister The Great Intercourse
Diplomatic royal marriages The evolution of the Foreign-
Secretary The personal element in English diplomacy under
the Tudors The policy of Henry VIII. and Wolsey England

Online LibraryT. H. S. (Thomas Hay Sweet) EscottThe story of British diplomacy : its makers and movements → online text (page 1 of 31)