Book Review of Charles Whitworth: Diplomat in the Age of Peter the Great

Janet M. Hartley. Charles Whitworth: Diplomat in the Age of Peter the Great. Aldershot, England: Ashgate, 2002. ISBN 978-0-7546-0480-8. Maps. Appendix. Notes. Bibliography. Index. Pp. xvi, 242. $140.00 (hardcover).

Janet M. HartleyDr Janet M. Hartley, Professor of International History at the London School of Economics and Political Science (University of London), examines the diplomatic experiences of Charles Whitworth (1685-1725) as a career British diplomat in the early eighteenth century.  Hartley is known for her works on Russian history, including The Study of Russian History from British Archival Sources (1986), Alexander I (1994), A Social History of the Russian Empire, 1650-1825 (1999), and Russia, 1762-1825: Military Power, the State, and the People (2008).

Charles WhitworthHartley depicts the diplomatic missions of Charles Whitworth in the conduct of British foreign policy.  Whitworth served in the British diplomatic service at Ratisbon (Regensburg) (1702-1704, 1714-1716), Vienna (1703-1704, 1711), Moscow (1705-1712), Berlin (1711, 1716-1717, 1719-1722), The Hague (1717-1719), and Cambrai (1722-1725).  The author focuses on Whitworth’s diplomatic assignments from 1705 to 1725.  Whitworth’s difficult task in Russia was to further the commercial interests of English merchants.  The importance of his mission increased after Peter I of Russia’s defeat of Charles XII of Sweden at the battle of Poltava (1709) in the Great Northern War (1700-1721).  In fact, Whitworth warned the British government of the growing power of Russia, noting the increasing strength of the Russian army and navy and threat to British interests.

George I of BritainWhitworth found his diplomatic postings from 1713 to 1717 as “frustrating” experiences (p.105).  In 1714, he was sent to the German Imperial Diet at Ratisbon (1714) in the midst of the making of the Austro-French Treaty of Rastatt (1714) and Franco-Imperial Treaty of Baden (1714) ending the War of the Spanish Succession (1701-1713/14).  Austria and the Holy Roman Empire had not agreed to the earlier Peace of Utrecht (1713).  Then, in 1716, Whitworth served for a brief time in Berlin.  As the German Elector of Hanover, King George I of Britain (ruled 1714-1727) was interested in solidifying Hanover’s recent acquisition of Bremen and Verden from Sweden during the Great Northern War.  But, the crisis over the Russian military occupation of the Duchy of Mecklenburg (north of Hanover) in 1716 was the turning point in Hanoverian cooperation with Russia against Sweden.  George I would seek a northern alliance against the territorial aspirations of Peter the Great.  Whitworth failed in his mission of convincing Frederick William I of Brandenburg-Prussia to abandon his alliance with Russia.  Peter the Great was too strong to oppose at this time.

Hanover (1720)In 1717, Whitworth gained the prestigious posting to the Dutch Republic.  The Hague was the heart of European diplomacy.  His main task was to gain Dutch approval of expanding the Triple Alliance of 1717 (Britain, France, and the United Provinces) to include Austria (the Quadruple Alliance).  The alliance was designed to oppose Philip V of Spain’s territorial aspirations in southern Europe.  The Dutch, however, dragged their feet in agreeing to the alliance during the so-called War of the Quadruple Alliance (1718-1720) against Spain (pp.142-45).  Whitworth was frustrated with the Dutch government.  Shortly after the end of his diplomatic mission the United Provinces agreed to the terms of the Quadruple Alliance (December 1719).

Frederick William IBritain sent Whitworth to Berlin in 1719.  Hanover had already joined an alliance with Emperor Charles VI of Austria and Augustus II of Poland-Saxony in the Treaty of Vienna (1719) against the Russian threat.  Now Whitworth successfully convinced Frederick William I to drop his Russian alliance and join the Northern Alliance of Britain, Hanover, Sweden, Austria, Poland-Saxony, and Denmark in 1719-1720.  The alliance, however, soon broke down and gave Peter the Great the opportunity to gain a favorable Peace of Nystad (1721) to end the Great Northern War.

In 1722, Whitworth became the key British diplomat at the Congress of Cambrai in northeastern France.  The congress, including Britain, France, Austria, and Spain, sought to achieve a final settlement of  the outstanding issues of the War of the Spanish Succession and War of the Quadruple Alliance in southern Europe.  The congress opened in 1724, but soon collapsed when Austria and Spain ignored Anglo-French diplomacy and came to a separate agreement and alliance in the Treaty of Vienna (1725).  In response, Britain, France, Prussia (and later the Dutch Republic) formed an alliance in the Treaty of Hanover (1725) against Spain.

Charles Whitworth: Diplomat in the Age of Peter the Great is a valuable study of the experiences of a British diplomat in the early eighteenth century.  Hartley describes Whitworth’s diplomatic missions and puts them in context with the international relations of the period.  The study in based on extensive archival research in Britain.  Hartley makes use of Whitworth’s official and private correspondence.  The work is highly recommended to scholars interested in the history of international relations in early modern Europe.

Dr William Young
University of North Dakota
Grand Forks, North Dakota

About William Young

Dr William Young is a retired historian with more than 30 years of experience in teaching and research. He has 18 years of teaching experience at the University of North Dakota and Valley City State University. Moreover, he was a historian in the United States Air Force History Program for 15 years. He possesses a doctoral degree in international and military history and master’s degrees in history and international relations. Young is the author of German Diplomatic Relations, 1871-1945 (2006), International Politics and Warfare in the Age of Louis XIV and Peter the Great (2004), and European War and Diplomacy, 1337-1815 (2003). He has also written 42 official Air Force unit histories, two monographs, and other studies. Young is the recipient of many history awards, including three U.S. Air Force Historian of the Year Awards and a U.S. Air Force History Program of the Year Award. He has studied and worked for 13 years overseas in the United Kingdom, The Netherlands, Germany, and Saudi Arabia. He has traveled extensively in Europe and the Middle East. His hobbies include collecting and reading history books and attending college ice hockey games.
This entry was posted in Book Reviews, British Foreign Policy, Diplomacy, Europe in the 18th Century (1713-1789), Great Northern War (1700-1721), War of the Quadruple Alliance (1718-1720) and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s