1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Diplomacy

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DIPLOMACY (Fr. diplomatie), the art of conducting international negotiations. The word, borrowed from the French, has the same derivation as Diplomatic (q.v.), and, according to the New English Dictionary, was first used in England so late as 1796 by Burke. Yet there is no other word in the English language that could supply its exact sense. The need for such a term was indeed not felt; for what we know as diplomacy was long regarded, partly as falling under the Jus gentium or international law, partly as a kind of activity morally somewhat suspect and incapable of being brought under any system. Moreover, though in a certain sense it is as old as history, diplomacy as a uniform system, based upon generally recognized rules and directed by a diplomatic hierarchy having a fixed international status, is of quite modern growth even in Europe. It was finally established only at the congresses of Vienna (1815) and Aix-la-Chapelle (1818), while its effective extension to the great monarchies of the East, beyond the bounds of European civilization, was comparatively an affair of yesterday. So late as 1876 it was possible for the writer on this subject in the 9th edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica to say that “it would be an historical absurdity to suppose diplomatic relations connecting together China, Burma and Japan, as they connect the great European powers.”

Principles.—Though diplomacy has been usually treated under the head of international law, it would perhaps be more consonant with the facts to place international law under diplomacy. The principles and rules governing the intercourse of states, defined by a long succession of international lawyers, have no sanction save the consensus of the powers, established and maintained by diplomacy (see Balance of Power); in so far as they have become, by international agreement, more than mere pious opinions of theorists, they are working rules established for mutual convenience, which it is the function of diplomacy to safeguard or to use for its own ends. In any case they by no means cover the whole field of diplomatic activity; and, were they swept away, the art of diplomacy, developed through long ages of experience, would survive.

This experience may perhaps be called the science, as distinct from the art, of diplomacy. It covers not only the province of international law, but the vast field of recorded experience which we know as history, of which indeed international law is but a part; for, as Bielfeld in his Institutions politiques (La Haye, 1760, t. I. ch. ii. § 13) points out, “public law is founded on facts. To know it we must know history, which is the soul of this science as of politics in general.” The broad outlook on human affairs implied in “historical sense” is more necessary to the diplomatist under modern conditions than in the 18th century, when international policy was still wholly under the control of princes and their immediate advisers. Diplomacy was then a game of wits played in a narrow circle. Its objects too were narrower; for states were practically regarded as the property of their sovereigns, which it was the main function of their “agents” to enlarge or to protect, while scarcely less important than the preservation or rearrangement of territorial boundaries was that of precedence and etiquette generally, over which an incredible amount of time was wasted. The haute diplomatie thus resolved itself into a process of exalted haggling, conducted with an utter disregard of the ordinary standards of morality, but with the most exquisite politeness and in accordance with ever more and more elaborate rules. Much of the outcome of these dead debates has become stereotyped in the conventions of the diplomatic service; but the character of diplomacy itself has undergone a great change. This change is threefold: firstly, as the result of the greater sense of the community of interests among nations, which was one of the outcomes of the French Revolution; secondly, owing to the rise of democracy, with its expression in parliamentary assemblies and in the press; thirdly, through the alteration in the position of the diplomatic agent, due to modern means of communication.

The first of these changes may be dated to the circular of Count Kaunitz of the 17th of July 1791, in which, in face of the Revolution, he impressed upon the powers the duty of making common cause for the purpose of preserving “public peace, the tranquillity of states, the inviolability of possessions, and the faith of treaties.” The duty of watching over the common interests of Europe, or of the world, was thus for the first time officially recognized as a function of diplomacy, since common action could only be taken as the result of diplomatic negotiations. It would be easy to exaggerate the effective results of this idea, even when it had crystallized in the Grand Alliance of 1814 and been proclaimed to the world in the Holy Alliance of the 26th of September 1815 and the declaration of Aix-la-Chapelle. The cynical picture given by La Bruyère of the diplomatist of the 18th century still remained largely true: “His talk is only of peace, of alliances, of the public tranquillity, and of the public interests; in reality he is thinking only of his own, that is to say, of those of his master or of his republic.”[1] The proceedings of the congress of Vienna proved how little the common good weighed unless reinforced by particular interests; but the conception of “Europe” as a political entity none the less survived. The congresses, notably the congress of Aix-la-Chapelle (q.v.) in 1818, were in a certain sense European parliaments, and their ostensible object was the furtherance of common interests. Had the imperial dreamer Alexander I. of Russia had his way, they would have been permanently established on the broad basis of the Holy Alliance, and would have included, not the great powers only, but representatives of every state (see Alexander I. and Europe : History). Whatever the effective value of that “Concert of Europe” which was the outcome of the period of the congresses, it certainly produced a great effect on the spirit and the practice of diplomacy. In the congresses and conferences diplomacy assumes international functions both legislative and administrative. The diplomat is responsible, not only to his own government, but to “Europe.” Thus Castlereagh was accused of subordinating the interests of Great Britain to those of Europe; and the same charge was brought, perhaps with greater justice, against Metternich in respect of Austria. Canning’s principle of “Every nation for itself and God for us all!” prevailed, it is true, over that of Alexander’s “Confederation of Europe”; yet, as one outcome of the congresses, every diplomatic agent, though he represents the interests of his own state, has behind him the whole body of the treaties which constitute the public law of the world, of which he is in some sort the interpreter and the guardian.

Parallel with this development runs the second process making for change: the increasing responsibility of diplomacy to public opinion. To discuss all the momentous issues involved in this is impossible; but the subject is too important to be altogether passed over, since it is one of the main problems of modern international intercourse, and concerns every one who by his vote may influence the policy of the state to which he belongs. The question, broadly speaking, is: how far has the public discussion of international affairs affected the legitimate functions of diplomacy for better or for worse? To the diplomatist of the old school the answer seems clear. For him diplomacy was too delicate and too personal an art to survive the glare and confusion of publicity. Metternich, the last representative of the old haute diplomatie, lived to moralize over the ruin caused by the first manifestations of the “new diplomacy,” the outcome of the rise of the power of public opinion. He had early, from his own point of view, unfavourably contrasted the “limited” constitutional monarchies of the west with the “free” autocracies of the east of Europe, free because they were under no obligation to give a public account of their actions. He himself was a master of the old diplomatic art, of intrigue, of veiling his purpose under a cloud of magniloquence, above all, of the art of personal fascination. But public opinion was for him only a dangerous force to be kept under control; and, even had he realized the necessity for appealing to it, he had none of the qualities that would have made the appeal successful. In direct antagonism to him was George Canning, who may be called the great prototype of the “new diplomacy,” and to Metternich was a “malevolent meteor hurled by divine providence upon Europe.” Canning saw clearly the immense force that would be added to his diplomatic action if he had behind him the force of public opinion. In answer to Metternich’s complaint of the tone of speeches in parliament and of the popular support given in England to revolutionary movements, he wrote, “Our influence, if it is to be maintained abroad, must be secure in its sources of strength at home: and the sources of that strength are in the sympathy between the people and the government; in the union of the public sentiment with the public counsels; in the reciprocal confidence of the House of Commons and the crown.”[2]

It would be a mistake to jump to the conclusion that Canning was wholly right and Metternich wholly wrong. The conditions of the Habsburg monarchy were not those of Great Britain,[3] and even if it had been possible to speak of a public opinion in the Austrian empire at all, it certainly possessed no such organ as the British parliament. But the argument may be carried yet further. In the abstract the success of the policy of a minister in a democratic state must ultimately rest upon the support of public opinion; yet the necessity for this support has in the conduct of foreign affairs its peculiar dangers. In the difficult game of diplomacy a certain reticence is always necessary. Secret sources of information would be dried up were they to be lightly revealed; a plain exposition of policy would often give an undue advantage to the other party to a negotiation. Thus, even in Great Britain, the diplomatic correspondence laid before parliament is carefully edited, and all governments are jealous of granting access to their modern archives. Yet a representative assembly is apt to be resentful of such reservations. Its members know little or nothing of the conditions under which foreign affairs are conducted, and they are not unnaturally irritated by explanations which seem to lack candour or completeness. Canning himself had experience of this in the affair of the capture of the Danish fleet at Copenhagen; and Castlereagh’s diplomacy was hampered by the bitter attacks of an opposition which accused him, with little justice, of pursuing a policy which he dared not reveal in its full scope to parliament. Moreover, the appeal to public opinion may be used as a diplomatic weapon for ends no less “selfish” than any aimed at by the old diplomacy. Bismarck, whose statesmanship was at least as cynical as that of Metternich, was a master of the art of taking the world into his confidence—when it suited him to do so; and the “reptile press,” hired to give a seemingly independent support to his policy, was one of his most potent weapons. So far the only necessary consequence of the growth of the power of public opinion on the art of diplomacy has been to extend the sphere of its application; it is but one more factor to be dealt with; and experience has proved that it is subject to the wiles of a skilful diplomatist no less than were the princes and statesmen with whom the old diplomacy was solely concerned.

The third factor making for change—the revolution in the means of communication which has brought all the world into closer touch—remains to be discussed. It is obvious that before the invention of the telegraph, the diplomatic agent was in a far more responsible position than he is now, when he can, in most cases, receive immediate instructions from his government on difficult questions as they arise. When communication was still slow there was often no time to await instructions, or the instructions when they arrived were not seldom already out of date and had to be set aside on the minister’s own responsibility. It would, however, be easy to exaggerate the importance of this change as affecting the character and status of diplomatic agents. It is true that the tendency has been for ministers of foreign affairs to hold the threads of diplomacy in their own hands to a far greater extent than was formerly the case; but they must still depend for information and advice on the “man on the spot,” and the success of their policy largely depends upon his qualities of discretion and judgment. The growth of democracy, moreover, has given to the ambassador a new and peculiar importance; for he represents not only the sovereign to the sovereign, but the nation to the nation; and, as a succession of notable American ambassadors to Great Britain has proved, he may by his personal qualities do a large amount to remove the prejudices and ignorances which stand as a barrier between the nations. It marks an immense advance in the comity of international intercourse when the representatives of friendly powers are no longer regarded as “spies rather than ambassadors,” to be “quickly heard and dismissed,” as Philippe de Commines would have them, but as agreeable guests to be parted from with regret.

As to the qualifications for an ambassador, it is clearly impossible to lay down a general rule, for the same qualities are obviously not required in Washington as in Vienna, nor in Paris as in Pekin. Yet the effort to depict the ideal ambassador bulks largely in the works of the earlier theorists, and the demands they make are sufficiently alarming. Ottaviano Maggi, himself a diplomatist of the brilliant age of the Renaissance, has left us in his De legato (Hanoviae, 1596) his idea of what an ambassador should be. He must not only be a good Christian but a learned theologian; he must be a philosopher, well versed in Aristotle and Plato, and able at a moment’s notice to solve in correct dialectical form the most abstruse problems; he must be well read in the classics, and an expert in mathematics, architecture, music, physics and civil and canon law. He must not only know how to write and speak Latin with classical refinement, but he must be a master of Greek, Spanish, French, German and Turkish. He must have a sound knowledge of history, geography and the science of war; but at the same time is not to neglect the poets, and never to be without his Homer. Add to this that he must be well born, rich and of a handsome presence, and we have a portrait of a diplomatist whose original can hardly have existed even in that age of brilliant versatility. The Dutchman Frederikus de Marselaer, in his κηρυκεῖον sive legationum insigne (Antwerp, 1618), is scarcely less exacting than the Venetian. His ideal ambassador is a nobleman of fine presence and in the prime of life, famous, rich, munificent, abstemious, not violent, nor quarrelsome, nor morose, no flatterer, learned, eloquent, witty without being talkative, a good linguist, widely read, prudent and cautious, but brave and—as he adds somewhat superfluously—many-sided.

With these theoretical perfections one or two instances of the qualifications demanded by the exigencies of practical politics may be cited by way of illuminating contrast. At the court of the empress Elizabeth of Russia good looks were a surer means of diplomatic success than all the talents and virtues, and the princess of Zerbst (mother of the empress Catherine II.) wrote to Frederick of Prussia advising him to replace his elderly ambassador by a handsome young man with a good complexion; and the essential qualification for an ambassador to Switzerland, Germany, Poland, Denmark and Russia used to be that he should be able to drink the native diplomatists, seasoned from babyhood to strong liquors, under the table.

History.—In its widest sense the history of diplomacy is that of the intercourse between nations, in so far as this has not been a mere brute struggle for the mastery;[4] in a narrower sense, with which the present article is alone concerned, it is that of the methods and spirit of diplomatic intercourse and of the character and status of diplomatic agents. Earlier writers on the office and functions of ambassadors, such as Gentilis or Archbishop Germonius, conscientiously trace their origin to God himself, who created the angels to be his legates; and they fortify their arguments by copious examples drawn from ancient history, sacred and profane. But, whatever the influence upon it of earlier practice, modern diplomacy really dates from the rise of permanent missions, and the consequent development of the diplomatic hierarchy as an international institution. Of this the first beginnings are traceable to the 15th century and to Italy. There had, of course, during the middle ages been embassies and negotiations; but the embassies had been no more than temporary missions directed to a particular end and conducted by ecclesiastics or nobles of a dignity appropriate to each occasion; there were neither permanent diplomatic agents nor a professional diplomatic class. To the evolution of such a class the Italy of the Renaissance, the nursing-ground of modern statecraft, gave the first impetus. This was but natural; for Italy, with its numerous independent states, between which there existed a lively intercourse and a yet livelier rivalry, anticipated in miniature the modern states’ system of Europe. In feudal Europe there had been little room for diplomacy; but in northern and central Italy feudalism had never taken root, and in the struggles of the peninsula diplomacy had early played a part as great as, or greater than, war. Where all were struggling for the mastery, the existence of each depended upon alliances and counter-alliances, of which the object was the maintenance of the balance of power. In this school there was trained a notable succession of men of affairs. Thus, in the 13th and 14th centuries Florence counted among her envoys Dante, Petrarch and Boccaccio, and later on could boast of agents such as Capponi, Vettori, Guicciardini and Machiavelli. Papal Rome, too, as was to be expected, had always been a fruitful nursing-mother of diplomatists; and some authorities have traced the beginnings of modern diplomacy to a conscious imitation of her legatine system.[5]

It is, however, in Venice, that the origins of modern diplomacy are to be sought.[6] So early as the 13th century the republic, with a view to safeguarding the public interests, began to lay down a series of rules for the conduct of its ambassadors. Thus, in 1236, envoys to the court of Rome are forbidden to procure a benefice for anyone without leave of the doge and little council; in 1268 ambassadors are commanded to surrender on their return any gifts they may have received, and by another decree they are compelled to take an oath to conduct affairs to the honour and advantage of the republic. About the same time it was decided that diplomatic agents were to hand in, on their return, a written account of their mission; in 1288 this was somewhat expanded by a law decreeing that ambassadors were to deposit, within fifteen days of their return, a written account of the replies made to them during their mission, together with anything they might have seen or heard to the honour or in the interests of the republic. These provisions, which were several times renewed, notably in 1296, 1425 and 1533, are the origin of the famous reports of the Venetian ambassadors to the senate, which are at once a monument to the political genius of Venetian statesmen and a mine of invaluable historical material.[7]

These are but a few examples of a long series of regulations, many others also dating to the 13th century, by which the Venetian government sought to systematize its diplomatic service. That permanent diplomatic agencies were not established by it earlier than was the case is probably due to the distrust of its agents by which most of this legislation of the republic is inspired. In the 13th century two or three months was considered over-long a period for an ambassador to reside at a foreign court; in the 15th century the period of residence was extended to two years, and in the 16th century to three. This latter rule continued till the end of the republic; the embassy had become permanent, but the ambassador was changed every three years.

The origin of the change from temporary to permanent missions has been the subject of much debate and controversy. The theory that it was due, in the first instance, to the evolution of the Venetian consulates (bajulats) in the Levant into permanent diplomatic posts, and that the idea was thence transferred to the West, is disproved by the fact that Venice had established other permanent embassies before the baylo (q.v.) at Constantinople was transformed into a diplomatic agent of the first rank. Nor is the first known instance of the appointment of a permanent ambassador Venetian. The earliest record[8] is contained in the announcement by Francesco Sforza, duke of Milan, in 1455, of his intention to maintain a permanent embassy at Genoa[9]; and in 1460 the duke of Savoy sent Eusebio Margaria, archdeacon of Vercelli, as his permanent representative to the Curia.[10] Though, however, the early records of such appointments are rare, the practice was probably common among the Italian states. Its extension to countries outside Italy was a somewhat later development. In 1494 Milan is already represented in France by a permanent ambassador. In 1495 Zacharia Contarini, Venetian ambassador to the emperor Maximilian, is described by Sanuto (Diarii, i. 294) as stato ambasciatore; and from the time of Charles V. onwards the succession of ambassadors of the republic at the imperial court is fairly traceable. In 1496 “as the way to the British Isles is very long and very dangerous,” two merchants resident in London, Pietro Contarini and Luca Valaressa, were appointed by the republic subambasciatores; and in June of the same year Andrea Trevisano arrived in London as permanent ambassador at the court of Henry VII.[11] Florence, too, from 1498 onwards, was represented at the courts of Charles V. and of France by permanent ambassadors.

During the same period the practice had been growing up among the other European powers. Spain led the way in 1487 by the appointment of Dr Roderigo Gondesalvi de Puebla as ambassador in England. As he was still there in 1500, the Spanish embassy in London may be regarded as the oldest still surviving post of the new permanent diplomacy. Other states followed suit, but only fitfully; it was not till late in the 16th century that permanent embassies were regarded as the norm. The precarious relations between the European powers during the 16th century, indeed, naturally retarded the development of the system. Thus it was not till after good relations had been established with France by the treaty of London that, in 1519, Sir Thomas Boleyn and Dr West were sent to Paris as resident English ambassadors, and, after the renewed breach between the two countries, no others were appointed till the reign of Elizabeth. Nine years before, Sir Robert Wingfield, whose simplicity earned him the nickname of “Summer-shall-be-green,” had been sent as ambassador to the court of Charles V., where he remained from 1510 to 1517; and in 1520 the mutual appointment of resident ambassadors was made a condition of the treaty between Henry VIII. and Charles V. In 1517 Thomas Spinelly, who had for some years represented England at the court of the Netherlands, was appointed “resident ambassador to the court of Spain,” where he remained till his death on the 22nd of August 1522. These are the most important early instances of the new system. Alone of the great powers, the emperor remained permanently unrepresented at foreign courts. In theory this was the result of his unique dignity, which made him superior to all other potentates; actually it was because, as emperor, he could not speak for the practically independent princes nominally his vassals. It served all practical purposes if he were represented abroad by his agents as king of Spain or archduke of Austria.

All the evidence now available goes to prove that the establishment of permanent diplomatic agencies was not an unconscious and accidental development of previous conditions, but deliberately adopted as an obvious convenience. But, while all the powers were agreed as to the convenience of maintaining such agencies abroad, all were equally agreed in viewing the representatives accredited to them by foreign states with extreme suspicion. This attitude was abundantly justified by the peculiar ethics of the new diplomacy. The old “orators” of the Summer-shall-be-green type could not long hold their own against the new men who had studied in the school of Italian statecraft, for whom the end justified the means. Machiavelli had gathered in The Prince and The Discourses on Livy the principles which underlay the practice of his day in Italy; Francis I., the first monarch to establish a completely organized diplomatic machinery, did most to give these principles a European extension. By the close of the 16th century diplomacy had become frankly “Machiavellian,” and the ordinary rules of morality were held not to apply to the intercourse between nations. This was admitted in theory as well as in practice. Germonius, after a vigorous denunciation of lying in general, argues that it is permissible for the safety or convenience (commodo) of princes, since salus populi suprema lex, and quod non permittit naturalis ratio, admittit civilis; and he adduces in support of this principle the answer given by Ulysses to Neoptolemus, in the Ajax of Sophocles, and the examples of Abraham, Jacob and David. Paschalius, while affirming that an ambassador must study to speak the truth, adds that he is not such a “rustic boor” as to say that an “official lie” (officiosum mendacium) is never to be employed, or to deny that an ambassador should be, on occasion, splendide mendax.[12] The situation is summed up in the famous definition of Sir Henry Wotton, which, though excused by himself as a jest, was held to be an indiscreet revelation of the truth: “An ambassador is an honest man sent to lie abroad for the good of his country.”[13] The most successful liar, in fact, was esteemed the most successful diplomatist. “A prime article of the catechism of ambassadors,” says Bayle in his Dictionnaire critique (1699), “whatever their religion, is to invent falsehoods and to go about making society believe them.” So universally was this principle adopted that, in the end, no diplomatist even expected to be believed; and the best way to deceive was—as Bismarck cynically avowed—to tell the truth.

But, in addition to being a liar ex officio, the ambassador was also “an honourable spy.” “The principal functions of an envoy,” says Francois de Callières, himself an ex-ambassador of Louis XIV., “are two; the first is to look after the affairs of his own prince; the second is to discover the affairs of the other.” A clever minister, he maintains, will know how to keep himself informed of all that goes on in the mind of the sovereign, in the councils of ministers or in the country; and for this end “good cheer and the warming effect of wine” are excellent allies.[14] This being so, it is hardly to be wondered at that foreign ambassadors were commonly regarded as perhaps necessary, but certainly very unwelcome, guests. The views of Philippe de Commines have already been quoted above, and they were shared by a long series of theoretical writers as well as by men of affairs. Gentilis is all but alone in his protest against the view that all ambassadors were exploratores magis quam oratores, and to be treated as such. So early as 1481 the government of Venice had decreed the penalty of banishment and a heavy fine for any one who should talk of affairs of state with a foreign envoy, and though the more civilized princes did not follow the example of the sultan, who by way of precaution locked the ambassador of Ferdinand II., Jerome Laski, into “a dark and stinking place without windows,” they took the most minute precautions to prevent the ambassadors of friendly powers from penetrating into their secrets. Charles V. thought it safest to keep them as far away as possible from his court. So did Francis I.; and, when affairs were critical, he made his frequent changes of residence and his hunting expeditions the excuse for escaping from their presence. Henry VII. forbade his subjects to hold any intercourse with them, and, later on, set spies upon them and examined their correspondence—a practice by no means confined to England. If the system of permanent embassies survived, it is clear that this was mainly due to the belief of the sovereigns that they gained more by maintaining “honourable spies” at foreign courts than they lost by the presence of those of foreign courts at their own. It was purely a question of the balance of advantage. Neither among statesmen nor among theorists was there any premonition of the great part to be played by the permanent diplomatic body in the development and maintenance of the concert of Europe. To Paschalius the permanent embassies were “a miserable outgrowth of a miserable age.”[15] Grotius himself condemned them as not only harmful, but useless, the proof of the latter being that they were unknown to antiquity.[16]

Development of the Diplomatic Hierarchy.—The history of the diplomatic body[17] is, like that of other bodies, that of the progressive differentiation of functions. The middle ages knew no classification of diplomatic agents; the person sent on mission is described indifferently as legatus, orator, nuntius, ablegatus, commissarius, procurator, mandatarius, agens or ambaxator (ambassator, &c.). In Gundissalvus, De legato (1485), the oldest printed work on the subject, the word ambasiator, first found in a Venetian decree of 1268, is applied to any diplomat. Florence was the first to make distinction; the orator was appointed by the council of the republic; the mandatorio, with inferior powers, by the Council of Ten. In 1500 Machiavelli, who held only the latter rank, wrote from France urging the Signoria to send ambasiadori. This was, however, rather a question of powers than of dignity. But the causes which ultimately led to the elaborate differentiation of diplomatic ranks were rather questions of dignity than of functions.[18] The breakdown of feudalism, with the consequent rise of a series of sovereign states or of states claiming to be sovereign, of very various size and importance, led to a certain confusion in the ceremonial relation between them, which had been unknown to the comparatively clearly defined system of the middle ages. The smaller states were eager to assert the dignity of their actual or practical independence; the greater powers were equally bent on “keeping them in their place.” If the emperor, as has been stated above, was too exalted to send ambassadors, certain of the lesser states were soon esteemed too humble to be represented at the courts of the great powers save by agents of an inferior rank. By the second half of the 16th century, then, there are two classes of diplomatists, ambassadors and residents or agents, the latter being accounted ambassadors of the second class.[19] At first the difference of rank was determined by the status of the sovereign by whom or to whom the diplomatic agent was accredited; but early in the 16th century it became fairly common for powers of the first rank to send agents of the second class to represent them at courts of an equal status. The reasons were various, and not unamusing. First and foremost came the question of expense. The ambassador, as representing the person of his sovereign, was bound by the sentiment of the age to display an exaggerated magnificence. His journeys were like royal progresses, his state entries surrounded with every circumstance of pomp, and it was held to be his duty to advertise the munificence of his prince by boundless largesses. Had this munificence been as unlimited in fact as in theory, all might have been well, but, in that age of vaulting ambitions, depleted exchequers were the rule rather than the exception in Europe; the records are full of pitiful appeals from ambassadors for arrears of pay, and appointment to an embassy often meant ruin, even to a man of substance. To give but one example, Sir Richard Morison, Edward VI.’s ambassador in Germany, had to borrow money to pay his debts before he could leave Augsburg (Cal. State Pap. Edw. VI., No. 467), and later on he writes from Hamburg (April 9, 1552) that he could buy nothing, because everyone believed that he had packed up in readiness to flit secretly, for “How must they buy things, where men know their stuff is ready trussed up, and they fleeting every day?” (ib. No. 544). But the dignity of ambassador carried another drawback besides expense; his function of “honourable spy” was seriously hampered by the trammels of his position. He was unable to move freely in society, but lived a ceremonial existence in the midst of a crowd of retainers, through whom alone it was proper for him to communicate with the world outside. It followed that, though the office of ambassador was more dignified, that of agent was more generally useful.

Yet a third cause, possibly the most immediately potent, encouraged the growth of the lesser diplomatic ranks: the question of precedence among powers theoretically equal. Modern diplomacy has settled a difficulty which caused at one time much heart-burning and even bloodshed by a simple appeal to the alphabet. Great Britain feels no humiliation in signing after France, if the reason be that her name begins with G; had she not been Great, she would sign before. The vexed question of the precedence of ambassadors, too, has been settled by the rule, already referred to above, as to seniority of appointment. But while the question remained unsettled it was obviously best to evade it; and this was most easily done by sending an agent of inferior rank to a court where the precedence claimed for an ambassador would have been refused.

Thus set in motion, the process of differentiation continues until the system is stereotyped in the 19th century. It is unnecessary to trace this evolution here in any detail. It is mainly a question of names, and diplomatic titles are no exception to the general rule by which all titles tend to become cheapened and therefore, from time to time, need to be reinforced by fresh verbal devices. The method was the familiar one of applying terms that had once implied a particular quality in a fashion that implied actually nothing. The ambassador extraordinary had originally been one sent on an extraordinary mission; for the time and purpose of this mission his authority superseded that of the resident ambassador. But by the middle of the 17th century the custom had grown up of calling all ambassadors “extraordinary,” in order to place them on an equality with the others. The same process was extended to diplomatists of the second rank; and envoys (envoyé for ablegatus) were always “extraordinary,” and as such claimed and received precedence over mere “residents,” who in their day had asserted the same claim against the agents—all three terms having at one time been synonymous. Similarly a “minister plenipotentiary” had originally meant an agent armed with full powers (plein-pouvoir); but, by a like process, the combination came to mean as little as “envoy extraordinary”—though a plenipotentiary tout simple is still an agent, of no ceremonially defined dignity, despatched with full powers to treat and conclude. Finally, the evolution of the title of a diplomatist of the second rank is crowned by the high-sounding combination, now almost exclusively used, of “envoy extraordinary and minister plenipotentiary.” The ultimate fate of the simple title “resident” was the same as that of “agent.” Both had been freely sold by needy sovereigns to all and sundry who were prepared to pay for what gave them a certain social status. The “agent” fell thus into utter discredit, and those “residents” who were still actual diplomatic agents became “ministers resident” to distinguish them from the common herd.

The classification of diplomatic agents was for the first time definitively included in the general body of international law by the Règlement of the 19th of March 1815 at Vienna[20]; and the whole question was finally settled at the congress of Aix-la-Chapelle (November 21, 1818) when, the proposal to establish precedence by the status of the accrediting powers having wisely been rejected, diplomatic agents were divided into four classes: (1) Ambassadors, legates, nuncios; (2) Envoys extraordinary and ministers plenipotentiary, and other ministers accredited direct to the sovereign; (3) Ministers resident; (4) Chargés d’affaires. With a few exceptions (e.g. Turkey), this settlement was accepted by all states, including the United States of America.

Rights and Privileges of Diplomatic Agents.—These are partly founded upon immemorial custom, partly the result of negotiations embodied in international law. The most important, as it is the most ancient, is the right of personal inviolability extended to the diplomatic agent and the members of his suite. This inviolability is maintained after a rupture between the two governments concerned, and even after the outbreak of war. The habit of the Ottoman government of imprisoning in the Seven Towers the ambassador of a power with which it quarrelled was but an exception which proved the rule. The second important right is that of exterritoriality (q.v.), a convenient fiction by which the house and equipages of the diplomatic agent are regarded as the territory of the power by whom he is accredited. This involves the further principle that the agent is in no way subject to the receiving government. He is exempt from taxation and from the payment at least of certain local rates. He also enjoys immunity (1) from civil jurisdiction, e.g. he cannot be sued, nor can his goods be seized, for debt; (2) from criminal jurisdiction, e.g. he cannot be arrested and tried for a criminal offence. For a crime of violence, however, or for plotting against the state, he can be placed under the necessary restraint and expelled the country.[21] These immunities extend to all the members of an envoy’s suite. The difficulties that might be supposed to arise from such exemptions have not in practice been found very serious; for though, in the case of crimes committed by servants of agents of the first or second class the procedure is not clearly defined, each case would easily be made the subject of arrangement. In certain cases, e.g. embassies in Turkey, the exterritoriality of ambassadors implies a fairly extensive criminal jurisdiction; in other cases the dismissal of the servant would deprive him of his diplomatic immunity and bring him under the law of the land. The right of granting asylum claimed by diplomatic agents in virtue of that of exterritoriality, at one time much abused, is now strictly limited. A political or criminal offender may seek asylum in a foreign embassy; but if, after a request has been formally made for his surrender, the ambassador refuses to deliver him up, the authorities may take the measures necessary to effect his arrest, and even force an entrance into the embassy for the purpose. The “right of chapel” (droit de chapelle, or droit de culte), enjoyed by envoys in reference to their exterritoriality, i.e. the right of free exercise of religious worship within their house, formerly of great importance, has been rendered superfluous by the spread of religious toleration. (See L. Oppenheim, Internat. Law (London, 1905) ,i. p. 441, &c.; A.W. Haffter, Das europäische Völkerrecht (Berlin, 1888), p. 435, &c.)

The Personnel of the “Corps diplomatique.”—The establishment of diplomacy as a regular branch of the civil service is of modern growth, and even now by no means universal. From old time states naturally chose as their agents those who would best serve their interests in the matter in hand. In the middle ages diplomacy was practically a monopoly of the clergy, who as a class alone possessed the necessary qualifications: and in later times, when learning had spread to the laity as well, there were still potent reasons why the clergy should continue to be employed as diplomatic agents. Of these reasons the most practical was that of expense; for the wealth of the church formed an inexhaustible reserve which was used without scruple for secular purposes. Francis I. of France, who by the Concordat with Rome had in his hands the patronage of all the sees and abbeys in France, used this partly to reward his clerical ministers, partly as a great secret service fund for bribing the ambassadors of other powers, partly for the payment of those high-placed spies at foreign courts maintained by the elaborately organized system known as the Secret du Roi.[22] None the less, in the 16th century, laymen as diplomats are already well in evidence. They are usually lawyers, rarely soldiers, occasionally even simple merchants. Not uncommonly they were foreigners, like the Italian Thomas Spinelly mentioned above, drawn from that cosmopolitan class of diplomats who were ready to serve any master. Though nobles were often employed as ambassadors by all the powers, Venice alone made nobility a condition of diplomatic service. They were professional in the sense that, for the most part, diplomacy was the main occupation of their lives; there was, however, no graded diplomatic service in which, as at present, it was possible to rise on a fixed system from the position of simple attaché to that of minister and ambassador. The “attaché to the embassy” existed[23]; but he was not, as is now the case, a young diplomat learning his profession, but an experienced man of affairs, often a foreigner employed by the ambassador as adviser, secret service agent and general go-between, and he was without diplomatic status.[24] The 18th century saw the rise of the diplomatic service in the modern sense. The elaboration of court ceremonial, for which Versailles had set the fashion, made it desirable that diplomatic agents should be courtiers, and young men of rank about the court began to be attached to missions for the express purpose of teaching them the art of diplomacy. Thus arose that aristocratic diplomatic class, distinguished by the exquisite refinement of its manners, which survived from the 18th century into the 19th. Modern democracy has tended to break with this tradition, but it still widely prevails. Even in Great Britain, where the rest of the public services have been thrown open to all classes, a certain social position is still demanded for candidates for the diplomatic service and the foreign office, and in addition to passing a competitive examination, they must be nominated by someone of recognized station prepared to vouch for their social qualifications. In America, where no regular diplomatic service exists, all diplomatic agents are nominated by the president.

The existence of an official diplomatic service, however, by no means excludes the appointment of outsiders to diplomatic posts. It is, in fact, one of the main grievances of the regular diplomatic body that the great rewards of their profession, the embassies, are so often assigned to politicians or others who have not passed through the drudgery of the service. But though this practice has, doubtless, sometimes been abused, it is impossible to criticize the wisdom of its occasional application.

A word may be added as to the part played by women in diplomacy. So far as their unofficial influence upon it is concerned, it would be impossible to exaggerate its importance; it would suffice to mention three names taken at random from the annals of the 19th century, Madame de Staël, Baroness von Krüdener, and Princess Lieven. Gentz comments on the “feminine intrigues” that darkened the counsels of the congresses of Vienna and Aix-la-Chapelle, and from which the powers so happily escaped in the bachelor seclusion of Troppau. Nor is it to be supposed that statesmen will ever renounce a diplomatic weapon so easy of disguise and so potent for use. A brilliant salon presided over by a woman of charm may be a most valuable centre of a political propaganda; and ladies are still widely employed in the secret diplomacy of the powers. Their employment as regularly accredited diplomatic agents, however, though not unknown, has been extremely rare. An interesting instance is the appointment of Catherine of Aragon, when princess of Wales, as representative of her father, Ferdinand the Catholic, at the court of Henry VII. (G. A. Bergenroth, Calendar of State Papers ... England and Spain—in the Archives at Simancas, &c., i. pp. xxxiii, cxix).

Literature.—Besides general works on international law (q.v.) which necessarily deal with the subject of diplomacy, a vast mass of treatises on diplomatic agents exists. The earliest printed work is the Tractatus de legato (Rome, 1485) of Gundissalvus (Gonsalvo de Villadiego), professor of law at Salamanca, auditor for Spain at the Roman court of the Rota, and bishop of Oviedo; but the first really systematic writer on the subject was Albericus Gentilis, De legationibus libri iii. (London, 1583, 1585, Hanover, 1596, 1607, 1612). For a full bibliography of works on ambassadors see Baron Diedrich H. L. von Ompteda, Litteratur des gesammten sowohl natürlichen als positiven Völkerrechts (Regensburg, 1785), p. 534, &c., which was completed and continued by the Prussian minister Karl Albert von Kamptz, in Neue Literatur des Völkerrechts seit dem Jahre 1784 (Berlin, 1817), p. 231. A list of writers, with critical and biographical remarks, is also given in Ernest Nys’s “Les Commencements de la diplomatie et le droit d’ambassade jusqu’à Grotius,” in the Revue de droit international, vol. xvi. p. 167. Other useful modern works on the history of diplomacy are: E. C. Grenville-Murray, Embassies and Foreign Courts, a History of Diplomacy (2nd ed., 1856); J. Zeller, La Diplomatie française vers le milieu du XVI^e siècle (Paris, 1881); A. O. Meyer, Die englische Diplomatie in Deutschland zur Zeit Eduards VI. und Mariens (Breslau, 1900); and, above all, Otto Krauske, Die Entwickelung der ständgien Diplomatie vom fünfzehnten Jahrhundert bis zu den Beschlüssen von 1815 und 1818, in Gustav Schmoller’s Staats- und socialwissenschaftliche Forschungen, vol. v. (Leipzig, 1885). To these may be added, as admirably illustrating in detail the early developments of modern diplomacy, Logan Pearsall Smith’s Life and Letters of Sir Henry Wotton (Oxford, 1907). Of works on modern diplomacy the most important are the Guide diplomatique of Baron Charles de Martens, new edition revised by F. H. Geffcken, 2 vols. (Leipzig, 1866), and P. Pradier-Fodéré, Cours de droit diplomatique, 2 vols. (Paris, 1881).

(W. A. P.)


  1. La Bruyère, Caractères, ii. 77 (ed. P. Jouast, Paris, 1881).
  2. To Wellesley, in Stapleton’s Canning, i. 374.
  3. For the motives of Metternich’s foreign policy see Austria-Hungary : History (iii. 332-333).
  4. e.g. A History of Diplomacy in the International Development of Europe, by D. J. Hill (London and New York, 1905).
  5. For this see Hinschius, Kirchenrecht, i. p. 498.
  6. The Venetians, however, in their turn, doubtless learned their diplomacy originally from the Byzantines, with whom their trade expansion in the Levant early brought them into close contact. For Byzantine diplomacy see Roman Empire, Later : Diplomacy.
  7. See Eugenio Albèri, Le Relazioni degli ambasciatori Veneti al senato, 15 vols. (Florence, 1839-1863).
  8. The apocrisiarii (ἀποκρισιάριοι) or responsales should perhaps be mentioned, though they certainly did not set the precedent for the modern permanent missions. They were resident agents, practically legates, of the popes at the court of Constantinople. They were established by Pope Leo I., and continued until the Iconoclastic controversy broke the intimate ties between East and West. See Luxardo, Das vordekretalische Gesandtschaftsrecht der Päpste (Innsbruck, 1878); also Hinschius, Kirchenrecht, i. 501.
  9. N. Bianchi, Le Materie politiche relative all’ estero degli archivi di stato piemontese (Bologna, Modena, 1875), p. 29.
  10. Ib. Note 2, teneamus et deputemus ibidem continue mansurum.
  11. The first ambassador of Venice to visit England was Zuanne da Lezze, who came in 1319 to demand compensation for the plundering of Venetian ships by English pirates.
  12. Germonius, De legatis principum et populorum libri tres (Rome, 1627), chap. vi. p. 164; Paschalius, Legatus (Rouen, 1598), p. 302. Étienne Dolet, who had been secretary to Cardinal Jean du Bellay, and was burned for atheism in 1546, in his De officio legati (1541) advises ambassadors to surround themselves with taciturn servants, to employ vigilant spies, and to set afoot all manner of fictions, especially when negotiating with the court of Rome or with the Italian princes.
  13. See Pearsall Smith, Sir Henry Wotton, pp. 49, 126 et seq.
  14. François de Callières, De la manière de négocier avec les souverains (Brussels, 1716). See also A. Sorel, Recueil des instructions données aux ambassadeurs et ministres de France (Paris, 1884), e.g. vol. Autriche, pp. 77, 88, 102, 112.
  15. “Nova res est, quod sciam, et infelicis hujus aetatis infelix partus.... Hinc oriri securitatem universorum, hinc stabiliri pacem gentium. Quae utinam tam vere dicerentur, quam speciose. Ego quidem, ne quid dissimulem, ab istis seorsum sentio. Nimirum, effoeta virtutis, foecunda fraudis haec saecula video peperisse spissata haec imperia, sive summas potestates, unde, ut e vomitariis, hae legationes undatim se fundunt.” Paschalius, Legatus (1598), p. 447. So too Félix de la Mothe Le Vayer (1547-1625), in his Legatus (Paris, 1579), says “Legatos tunc primum aut non multum post institutos fuisse cum Pandora malorum omnium semina in hunc mundum ... demisit.”
  16. De jure belli et pacis (Amsterdam, 1621), ii. c. 18, § 3, n. 2.
  17. The term corps diplomatique originated about the middle of the 18th century. “The Chancellor Furst,” says Ranke (xxx. 47, note), “does not use it as yet in his report (1754) but he knows it,” and it would appear that it had just been invented at Vienna. “Corps diplomatique, nom qu’une dame donna un jour à ce corps nombreux de ministres étrangers à Vienne.”
  18. So too Pradier-Fodéré, vol. i. p. 262.
  19. Thus Charles V. would not allow the representatives of the duke of Mantua, Ferrara, &c., to style themselves “ambassadors,” on the ground that this title could be borne only by the agents of kings and of the republic of Venice, and not by those of states whose sovereignty was impaired by any feudal relation to a superior power. (See Krauske p. 155.)
  20. See Pradier-Fodéré, i. 265.
  21. Gentilis, who had been consulted by the government in the case of the Spanish ambassador, Don Bernardino de Mendoza, expelled for intriguing against Queen Elizabeth, lays this down definitely. An ambassador, he says, need not be received, and he may be expelled. In actual practice a diplomatic agent who has made himself objectionable is withdrawn by his government on the representations of that to which he is accredited, and it is customary, before an ambassador is despatched, to find out whether he is a persona grata to the power to which he is accredited.
  22. See Zeller.
  23. A. O. Meyer, p. 22.
  24. See the amusing account of the methods of these agents in Morysine to Cecil (January 23, 1551-1552), Cal. State Pap. Edw. VI., No. 530.