Book Review of The Diplomatic Corps under Charles II and James II

Phyllis S. Lachs. The Diplomatic Corps under Charles II and James II. New Brunswick, New Jersey: Rutgers University Press, 1965. ISBN-13 9781299343917. Notes. Bibliography. Index. Pp. xv, 269.

LachsBritish diplomats and diplomacy in the early modern age are often subjects in historical studies.  Some of the more specialized studies such as David Bayne Horn’s The British Diplomatic Service, 1689-1789 (1961) and Jeremy Black’s British Diplomats and Diplomacy, 1688-1800 (2001) focus on the eighteenth century.  There are few specialized studies for earlier periods.  Those studies include Christian Edmund Henneke’s unpublished doctoral dissertation “The Art of Diplomacy under the Early Stuarts, 1603-1642” (University of Virginia, 1999) and the work currently under review.

Dr Phyllis S. Lachs, formerly of Bryn Mawr College in Pennsylvania, provides us a monograph on the diplomatic corps of Charles II and James II in the late seventeenth century.  In this study Lachs surveys the English diplomatic institution and its growth from 1660 to 1688.  The author includes detailed descriptions of the nature of English embassies, the intricacies of business and ceremonial duties, the ambassadors and their households, the cost of service, as well as diplomatic privileges and immunities.

Lachs refers to the English diplomatic corps during this era as a “youthful, rather irregularly developed organization” (p.4).  Unlike the Italian states and France, England had not yet established a network of permanent or resident embassies.  The monarchy maintained permanent diplomatic representation only in certain European capitals where English political and commercial interests were strong, and in Istanbul and Moscow the diplomatic function was carried out by trading companies.  Lachs notes that the monarchy chose its own diplomats, but few of these men measured up to the seventeenth-century ideal of a nobleman chosen for his skills in statecraft, law, and foreign languages.  The author attributes this deficiency in the quality of diplomats to the fact that the majority of English noblemen did not consider the foreign service as a profitable or prestigious career but as a way station toward political preferment at home.  Appointments as ambassadors, envoys, ministers, or agents were usually contingent on a man’s record of loyalty to the royal cause during the English Civil War, or his active support of the court.

The author professes that a post as the head of a mission might be an arduous one for several reasons.  First, she notes the poor diplomatic communications between Whitehall and ministers abroad, which kept diplomats ill-informed about important ongoing negotiations.  Secondly, the gathering and transmitting of intelligence presented both personal and official problems for diplomats because of the expense of paying for information and courier service, and the fact that diplomatic secrets were easily intercepted in the mail.  Moreover, diplomats were expected to adhere to the elaborate, expensive, and rigidly defined etiquette of seventeenth-century diplomacy although salaries were constantly in arrears.  The author emphasizes that rules regarding public entries, audiences, visits, and the signing of treaties were taken as serious indicators of international prestige.

During this period the English monarchy began to improve its administration of the diplomatic corps.  Lachs describes how England reformed its diplomatic corps by fixing salaries by grade and assignment location to attract quality diplomats, and by increasing the professionalism of the members of the embassy staffs.  The monarchy began choosing official secretaries, who were picked for their diplomatic experience, to head embassy staffs and assist ambassadors with correspondence, gathering intelligence, and keeping embassy files, in addition to providing continuity between successive ambassadors at one location.

Although the work is about fifty years old, The Diplomatic Corps under Charles II and James II is still a valuable contribution to the study of the role and practices of English diplomats in the later Stuart era.  The monograph is based primarily on English diplomatic papers.  It includes a valuable list of English diplomatic personnel during this period.

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 17th Century (1598-1715) and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Book Review of The Diplomatic Corps under Charles II and James II

  1. William Young says:

    Reblogged this on The War Studies Group.

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