Lawyers and Diplomats

Temple diplomats from the mid-16th to the mid-20th century – based on a lecture to the History Society on 23 October 2019

In the 16th Century, diplomats were expected to be polymaths, with knowledge that embraced the law among many other disciplines. It is not therefore surprising to find a significant number of members of the Inns of Court in their ranks, especially since the Inns were then equated with universities.

The Third University

Master Baker has written that “For three hundred years between the 1340s and the 1640s the Inns of Court and Chancery constituted one of the greatest law schools the world has ever known. Custodians of the English legal tradition during the period of its foundation as a science, they may fairly be said to have helped create the Common Law.” In contrast, before the nineteenth century Oxford and Cambridge taught merely Canon Law, used in Church Courts. Common Law degree courses commenced at UCL only in 1828 and the Council for Legal Education established Bar examinations only in 1852.

But aside from development of the law, the Inns also provided a sort of finishing school – a third University - for the sons of the gentry. They practiced courtly skills alongside their legal education and many students never saw themselves as destined for the legal profession: only 10% were Called to the Bar in the 16th and early 17thCenturies. The skills they learned spilled over into many other disciplines and they ended up in a wide range of other roles, including diplomacy. These skills would also have included dancing, singing, fencing, attending revels and plays and gaming. Courtly skills will have been at a premium in diplomacy - ‘The Ambassador and his Functions’, published in 1681 by Abraham de Wicquefort, has a whole chapter entitled “The Embassador ought to be agreeable”.

During the English Civil War from 1642-51 the Inns of Court declined; legal education slowed down; and it would be fair to say that the Inns became better known for their plays, entertainment and dissipation than their learning. But recent evidence suggests that there was more legal activity in this period than previously believed and admissions to Inner Temple continued.

The Target Database

A search of our archives admissions database throws up 23 students between the mid-16th and mid-20thcenturies who we know became diplomats. The timeframe is dictated partly because our archives database only ran up to 1940 when I started this research and partly because that is a convenient number of individuals to study. After the mid-20th century I suspect we would find a substantial increase in the number of lawyer diplomats, as well as the overlapping category of Legal Advisers in the modern Foreign and Commonwealth Office. Of my 23 subjects, four come from the 16th century; eight from the 17th; none from the 18th; six from the 19th; and five from the 20th, plus one putative diplomat I will add - making a tally of 24 altogether. Some were Called, some were not, only one was a Bencher.

Why none in the 18th Century? I can only speculate, but it coincided with the period when legal education again took a nosedive, prior to the 19th Century reforms mentioned earlier.    

Let me start with the most famous lawyer diplomat of all – because of something he said. Unfortunately for my purposes, Sir Henry Wotton (1568-1639) was a member of Middle Temple, not Inner.

All the other lawyer diplomats referred to later are Inner Templars. I am sorry that this prevents me from dealing with many other famous figures who were Called by Middle Temple – none more so than Sir Sidney Barton (1876-1946), who was Ambassador in Addis Ababa long before me (1929-36). He and his daughter Esme were the subject of “thinly disguised” and indeed withering caricatures in Evelyn Waugh’s “Black Mischief”, in which he appears as Sir Sampson Courtenay and his daughter as Prudence – who is accidentally eaten by the anti-hero Basil Seal. But I digress…. 


So, back to Sir Henry Wotton, who was one of the founders of modern British diplomacy, active in the late 16thand early 17th Centuries. Wotton was typical of his age and class – writer, politician, scientist, intelligence agent, poet, and what was later called “a diplomatist”. But what made Wotton notorious was what happened when he was on his way to take up his post as ambassador at Venice. While staying the night at Nuremberg with an English friend, Wotton wrote in the guest book that “An ambassador is an honest man sent to lie abroad for the good of his country.” In English, that’s a witty double meaning, “lie” of course also having the sense of “live”. Unfortunately, by the time his boss King James I – he of our Royal Charter - came to hear of Wotton’s aphorism, it had been translated into Latin - Legatus est vir bonus peregre missus ad mentiendum rei publicae causa. Which I’m sure will be readily understood in the Inner Temple.

In the Latin version the double meaning is lost – Wotton was understood as saying that a diplomat is a good man sent to travel for the purpose of telling untruths for the sake of the state. James I was furious about what he saw as a cold, cynical comment about the mendacity of ambassadors. And Wotton was out of favour for some time. Sadly, he is often quoted by those who wrongly claim that diplomats are dishonest. After a few months in the royal cold, Wotton found favour again with the King and continued his successful career. His poetry, however, is unfortunately little-known today – I am only aware of a rather sweet, short poem written on the death of the wife of Sir Albertus Morton, his half-nephew and occasional secretary:

He first deceased; she for a little tried

To live without him, liked it not, and died.


Just as there is a strong link between literature and diplomacy, this holds true too of some of the lawyer diplomats. They fit well with Inner Temple’s long and varied literary tradition of such luminaries as possibly Chaucer and definitely Boswell, Edmund Clerihew Bentley, Erskine Childers, the Lambs, Thomas Gray, A P Herbert, John Mortimer and Bram Stoker, to name but a few. Indeed, the Harvard academic Philip Finkelpearl has observed that in the 16th Century “almost all writers of any value were connected with the Inns of Court…they were the literary centre of England”. But the tradition did not end there.

Chronologically, I start with (Sir) Anthony Shirley (1565-1635), variously spelled, admitted in 1584 and who wrote of his travels in Persia. During his education he acquired, he later said, “those learnings which were fit for a Gentleman’s ornament, without directing them to an occupation”.

Sir Richard Fanshawe (1608-66), a close friend of Henry Wotton’s, was admitted in 1627, but – we find in his wife’s memoirs - the law “seemed so crabbed a study and disagreeable to his inclinations that he rather studyed to obey his mother than to make any progress”. He went on to become a renowned translator from Latin, Italian and French, as well as writing poetry. Several of his poems focus on his dislike of learning law.

Sir Richard Bulstrode (1610-1711), who was Called in 1648 and was one-time resident agent of Charles II at Brussels, wrote lives of Charles I and II and James II – his very considerable literary output of essays and correspondence was published posthumously.

Peter Wyche (1628-99), admitted in 1649, was a capable translator from Portuguese as well as chairing a Royal Society committee to consider the improvement of the English tongue.

Roger Palmer (1634-1705), admitted in 1656, was a noted writer on Catholicism and the second Anglo-Dutch Wars (1665-7).

William Kennedy (1799-1871), admitted in 1828, was a Scottish poet, journalist and writer. When studying at Inner Temple he simultaneously worked for the Morning Journal at five guineas a week. He then went to Canada in 1838 as secretary to the Governor General; spent time in the Republic of Texas and became an advocate for its interests; was made Consul-General for Texas in London in 1842 and resigned in the same year to become British Consul to Galveston until 1847, when ill health took him back to the UK. The Dictionary of National Biography suggests that his verse is of the “gift book” genre and that “He is perhaps more entitled to be remembered as a diplomat than a poet.” Which is slightly concerning, since his diplomacy isn’t that impressive either.

But perhaps the most interesting and certainly the most lurid Inner Templar diplomat in the literary category was the journalist Eustace Clare Grenville Murray (1824-81), admitted in 1850. Astonishingly, since he appears to have been a strikingly inept diplomat, he was recruited into the foreign service by none other than Lord Palmerston and was sent to Vienna as an attaché in 1851. Simultaneously, he signed up as Vienna correspondent of the Morning Post – misconduct which led his Ambassador Lord Westmorland to ostracise him from the British Chancery. Only Palmerston’s patronage saved him from dismissal.

In 1852 we find Murray working as an attaché in Constantinople, where his poor relationship with his Ambassador Sir Stratford Canning resulted in his being banished to Mytilene in Greece as Vice-Consul. Canning subsequently appeared as “Sir Hector Stubble” – shades of Sir Sampson Courtenay - in the satirical “On Her Majesty’s Service” which Murray jointly edited and was published by Charles Dickens (who was seemingly ignorant of the caricature) in “Household Words” in 1854. An extract will give the flavour:

“I was appointed [to Dahomey, that is Turkey] because Sir Hector Stubble, Her Majesty’s Ambassador at Dahomey, had quarrelled with everybody about him, so violently and so often that the service could no longer go on…. I never could account for or explain to myself how a man so thoroughly respectable as Sir Hector could have contrived to make himself so disagreeable. He was a man of fair average capacity, upright and hard-working. But a more hard, stern, unjust, unkind, unlovable man never stood within the icy circle of his own pride and ill temper. He was haughty and stiff-necked beyond any man I have ever seen…. He was not a great-minded man, for he had passions, and by no means an intellect mighty enough to make you forget them  ....Sir Hector Stubble had no heart, no feeling, no eyes, ears, thoughts for any one but Sir Hector Stubble…. No one had ever owed him a service or a kind word.”

Canning, perhaps the best-known diplomatist of his day, not surprisingly tried to destroy Murray’s career. But again Palmerston was unwilling to recall him and he was instead transferred to Odessa as Consul General. After 13 years of discord with the British residents of Odessa, Murray returned to England in 1868 as a contributor to “Vanity Fair” and launched “The Queen’s Messenger”, an early scandal sheet. The charge sheet against him in Odessa included forging documents, charging excessive consular fees and “the ill-treatment of Miss Owen”, on which I have no further information.

Murray is also distinguished for having been horsewhipped by Lord Carrington on the steps of the Conservative Club for a perceived libel of the latter’s father and been charged with perjury for denying authorship of the article in question. He withdrew to Paris where he wrote novels, essays and caustic sketches, his forté. He was Paris correspondent of the Daily News and the Pall Mall Gazette; was one of the early writers in the Cornhill Magazine and in the World, of which he was for a short time joint proprietor; and contributed character sketches to the Illustrated London News, and “Queer Stories” to a magazine titled Truth. 

Murray died in 1881, by which time he had become known as the Comte de Rethel d'Aragon, taking the title of his Spanish wife. He was certainly one of the most accomplished journalists of his day as well as being an inveterate gossipmonger and a progenitor of post-truth. And did he ever regret the way in which he had written about Sir Hector Stubble? As a matter of fact, he did. In a reprint of his works dated 1877, Murray added the following gloss:

It is now nearly a quarter of a century since these lines were first penned, and one of those who wrote them, after pausing long to reflect whether he could upon his honour and conscience answer to God and man, if he deliberately edited them for republication, can only express his regret that the sombre picture then drawn of Sir Hector Stubble was not painted in colours dark enough to give a just resemblance of him.


I only found one Bencher among my target group, who also meshes with the literary theme. Patrick Colquhoun (1745-1820) was Called in 1838; became QC in 1868; was Benched in 1869; and was Treasurer in 1888. After making an impact on rowing at Cambridge University, where he was amateur sculls champion of England one year and instituted a race still named after him, Colquhoun became Plenipotentiary of the Hanse Towns at Constantinople, Persia and Greece from 1840-44. He was a highly competent linguist, supposedly speaking most of the European languages and many of the dialects. Back in England, he broke into the field of legal literature and was made a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in 1845. Later, he was Aulic Counsellor to the King of Saxony and standing Counsel to the Saxon Legation, then a member of the Supreme Court of Justice in Corfu, then Chief Justice of the Ionian Islands – he was knighted while in that role in 1861. Among his publications is “A Concise History of the Order of the Temple”, about the Knights Templar. He died in 1891 in his chambers at Kings Bench Walk.


Quite a few of the lawyer diplomats gained military experience. Sir Anthony Shirley, who seems to have been a diplomatic representative for almost everyone but England, fought with the English troops in the Netherlands under Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester – who is thought to have given Inner Temple our Pegasus emblem. Later, during an expedition to Normandy in 1591 under the Earl of Essex, he behaved with extraordinary bravery against overwhelming odds. He was knighted by Henri IV of France, which led to English royal displeasure and a short imprisonment – it was around that time that Elizabeth I remarked, though not specifically about him that “my dogs wear my collars”. (This is why British diplomats cannot to this day receive foreign awards unless in very exceptional circumstances.) He was released in return for renouncing the order, though he was thereafter known as “Sir Anthony” even after there was no sanction for this.

Sir Anthony also annoyed the Queen with a secret marriage, for which he was exiled from court. The marriage proved unhappy, and it is recorded that in order to escape it Shirley led a predatory expedition along the West African coast and across to Central America in 1596. He returned with just one ship after a mutiny, then in 1598 went to Persia to promote bilateral trade but also aiming to stir up the Persians against the Turks. The Shah made him a Mirza or prince and he visited several European countries on his behalf: at this time he was forbidden to return to England. Between 1601-4 he was in Venice, spying variously for the Scots, Spanish and the Emperor Rudolph II - James I at one stage intervened to free him from prison. In 1605 he is on a mission to Morocco for the Emperor and then he is commanding a fleet for the King of Spain – rather unsuccessfully, since he was dropped in 1610 because he appeared to be treating this as a licence for piracy and his only substantial action was an unsuccessful mission to Mytilene. Later in 1619 the English ambassador at Madrid reported that Sir Anthony was on the brink of starvation but was “as full of vanity as ever he was, making himself believe that he shall one day be a great prince, when for the present he wants shoes to wear”. He died in obscurity, probably in 1636.

Sir William Beecher (1580-1651), admitted in 1598, served in the Embassy in Paris twice between 1606-10, for some time as Chargé d’affaires - that being the diplomatic title for someone who stands in for the actual Ambassador. He was there when Henri IV was assassinated and wrote a book about the King’s life and loves. He then served in subordinate roles in Russia (where he helped to conduct peace negotiations with the Swedes and was desperately miserable); then in Paris again having been elevated to the role of agent; then in Germany and the Low Countries; and later he commanded a small supply fleet with 400 troops in the siege of Saint-Martin-de-Ré in 1627. A favourite of the Duke of Buckingham and then Charles I, he was briefly imprisoned by the Lords early in the Long Parliament and then sat out the Civil War in Rouen before dying rich in 1651.

Richard Fanshawe was captured when fighting on the Royalist side at the Battle of Worcester in 1651, but released a few weeks later, suffering from scurvy.

Richard Bulstrode joined Charles I’s army in 1642 and was hit on the head with a poleaxe at the Battle of Powick Bridge that year. He was later involved in two notorious thefts in 1665 and did time in prison before being rehabilitated by the King. He appears to have lived to the ripe old age of 94, though he spent the last two decades of his life in dire poverty. In a letter to his 43-year old son Whitelock some 17 years before his death he complains “how many children we have to provide for and how little we have to do it with”, although the same letter also mentions that Lady Bulstrode is pregnant again. The number of his children is unclear, perhaps a dozen of them, with a 44-year gap between the elder and the youngest. He was well qualified to pen the following, rather moving lines in an essay on old age

“None can imagine how green and vigorous some men's minds are in old age, having a perpetual conflict with their bodies…most men take care to live long, but few take care to live well…life is to be measured by our actions, not by time. A man may die old at thirty, and young at eighty; the one lives after death, the other perished before he died.”

Roger Palmer served as an officer in the Venetian Republic in 1664 and in the Royal Navy in the Second Anglo-Dutch War from 1665-7.

Peter Wyche was a volunteer with the British fleet in 1666.

William Stanhope (1683-1756), Called in 1704, served in the army in Spain during the War of Spanish Succession, rising from Lieutenant to full General.  

Nicholas Monserrat (1910-79), admitted in 1929, could fit into a number of categories but I’m going to put him in a military context even though he was a pacifist. Uninspired by law, he became a freelance writer for newspapers and produced a play and several novels – mostly about social problems - before the Second World War. Beginning in an ambulance brigade, he then joined the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve and served in several small warships escorting convoys before ending the war as commander of a frigate. There is a story of his having seen the Flying Dutchman ghost ship during his service. He drew heavily on the wartime experience in his subsequent sea stories – of which The Cruel Sea, published in 1951, is generally seen as his most accomplished work and is now the one for which he is best known in Britain. It became a film with an all-star cast. After the war he joined the diplomatic service in 1946 and was posted to Johannesburg and then Ottawa in 1953. He drew on this experience in the novels “The Tribe That Lost Its Head” (1956) and “Richer Than All His Tribe” (1968) about colonial Africa – his international fame came more from those books than his sea stories. From 1959 he was a full-time writer, in the Channel Islands and then on Gozo, Malta.


The field of politics was full of lawyer diplomats. Beecher was variously MP for Knaresborough, Shaftesbury and Leominster, Dover, Ilchester and New Windsor, all between 1614-29. He was also Clerk to the Privy Council from 1623-41, in succession to Sir Albertus Morton as it happens, as well as occupying many other public roles.  

Richard Fanshawe sat in the Commons (1661-66) for Cambridge University, having been elected apparently in his absence and without his knowledge. This followed a stint as Charge d’Affaires in Spain. He was thought suited to the diplomatic role because he was “so reserved that he never showed the thought of his heart in its greatest sense”, except – it is said - to his wife. He also held several important public roles. Concurrently with being an MP he was Ambassador to Portugal and for part of that time simultaneously Ambassador to Spain, which must have been an interesting balancing-act. In that latter role he was seen as having exceeded his instructions by negotiating and signing a peace treaty between England and Spain and was recalled – in reality, this was to provide a slot for the Earl of Sandwich to fill to avoid the latter’s impeachment for embezzling prize goods. Fanshawe died of a violent fever before he could return to England.

Sir William Godolphin (1635-96), admitted in 1654, was elected for Camelford in 1665. He may never actually have taken his seat – having instead accompanied the Earl of Sandwich to Madrid.

John Methuen (1650-1706), Called in 1674, was MP for Devizes from 1690 until his death and was extremely active in the House.

William Stanhope took up a family interest in Derby in 1715 and then sat for Steyning for a few months in 1727 before becoming MP for Derby again until 1730. Horace Walpole considered that he had no interest in the institution of Parliament.

William Christie (1816-74), Called in 1840, was MP for Weymouth from 1842-47. Later in life he tried unsuccessfully to re-enter Parliament on a couple of occasions.

And now we come to Roger Palmer, mentioned earlier and ridiculed as “Europe’s most famous cuckold”. He was elected MP for Windsor in 1660, having married Barbara Villiers the previous year. His own father predicted accurately that she would make him one of the most miserable men in the world. By 1660 she was King Charles II’s favourite mistress. In 1661 Palmer was created Baron Limerick and Earl of Castlemaine, but the title was limited to his children by Villiers – which, as Pepys alludes to in his diaries, was humiliatingly for services in the bedchamber: it was apparently forced on him and he never took his seat in the Irish House of Lords. He split from his wife in 1664 and most of her children were later acknowledged by Charles II as his own. Implicated in the Popish plot fabricated by Titus Oates in 1678, Palmer spent time in the Tower of London but defended himself against Judge Jeffreys – also of this parish - and the wonderfully named Chief Justice Scroggs and secured his own release through skilful advocacy. This contributed to the later downfall of the appalling Oates. James II later appointed Palmer Ambassador to the Vatican, with a truly magnificent expenses account and instructions to repair relations with the Papacy. He failed in the latter when Innocent XI demanded his recall. Palmer returned to the Tower after the 1688 Revolution and again in 1696 for failing to attend the Irish Parliament. He died quietly in 1705, maligned by many people – though the scholar Elias Ashmole thought him learned and honourable. He was followed four years later by his voracious wife – of whom Pepys claims in his diary on one occasion in 1662 to have “glutted myself with looking on her”.

Prior to the early 17th Century, the links between the Inns and the royal court had been more developed than those with Parliament – not least because of the mutual taste for masques. Parliament met from time to time: but the court was a constant arbiter of taste for young gentlemen and a source of preferment. That had largely changed by the end of the century.


It is not surprising to discover that certain of these legally trained diplomats were frequently involved in international affairs as negotiators. William Ashby (1536-93), admitted 1576, was one of Sir Francis Walsingham’s “intelligencers” (or spies) on the Continent who was sent as Ambassador to the Court of James VI of Scotland between 1588 and 1590. His main role was to induce the King to stay neutral during any Spanish invasion – though after the Armada was defeated his promises were repudiated. In spite of this he managed to create a relationship which ultimately brought the King to the English throne as James I in 1603 and merged the two crowns.

John Digby, 1st Earl of Bristol (1580-1653), admitted in 1598, was an early favourite in Court because of his good looks and charm – he was also stubborn and hot-tempered. James I sent him to Madrid as Ambassador in the early 1610’s, where his main role was to help negotiate the Spanish Match. This was the plan to marry Prince Charles to the Infanta Anna and – when Digby discovered that she was already engaged – to her sister the Infanta Maria. During this period his desires for a close relationship with Spain grew progressively more out of line with the views of the English court and he fell foul of the Duke of Buckingham. He was recalled and confined to his estates. Charles I offered him a return to favour if he admitted his blame, but Digby refused and was later impeached and sent to the Tower until 1628 without trial – an affair highly damaging to Charles’ reputation. Later, Digby was reconciled to the King; became a hard-line Royalist leader in the House of Lords; and was imprisoned by Parliament for a time, after the outbreak of the Civil War. He then he left for France in 1646, where he wrote an “Apology” drawing on the common law and scripture, seeking to demonstrate that opposition to the King was unlawful. He never returned to England, dying in Paris in 1653. Clarendon writes that “Though he was a man of great parts and a wise man in Council he was passionate and supercilious and was too voluminous in discourse so that he was not considered there with much respect.” And that from someone who knew and liked him – his enemies were less restrained, “evil counsellor” being one of the epithets applied to him.

John Digby was also the uncle of Sir Kenelm Digby, the natural philosopher and father of the modern wine bottle. He was married to the famous beauty Venetia Stanley (1600-33), who died suddenly in suspicious circumstances in 1633 – possibly from viper wine, which she took for health reasons. And she in turn was a collateral forebear of her namesake whom Master Popplewell has written about so interestingly in “The Prime Minister and his Mistress” – the Prime Minister in question being Asquith.

William Godolphin participated in rather more successful negotiations than John Digby’s under the Earl of Sandwich, which led to a commercial treaty with Spain in 1667 – so much so that he was later appointed Ambassador to Madrid in 1672 after a period as Envoy Extraordinary. He was recalled in 1678 on the suspicion of having converted to Catholicism, following an accusation by Titus Oates – he then openly declared his Catholicism and wisely stayed in Spain for the rest of his life. He continued to draw his salary for another year though, and when he died in 1696 he left behind a very tidy sum for his relatives, spread between Madrid, Rome, Venice and Amsterdam: the origins of the funds being somewhat unclear. Pepys said he was “a very pretty and able person, a man of very fine parts”.


John Methuen, conversely was said by Jonathan Swift to be “a profligate rogue without religion or morals, cunning enough but without abilities of any kind”. Others knew him as “the subtlest villain on the face of the earth”, but this may have in part reflected his public prominence. His marriage was unhappy, despite producing five children, probably because of his notorious infidelity, and ended in separation. His professional standing was harmed by a much-publicised alleged affair with the wife of a diplomatic colleague. Appointed the English envoy to Portugal in 1691 he looked forward to a “pleasant and not too onerous position in an agreeable climate” and was able to establish good relations with King Pedro II which came in useful later. He was brought back to England to the Board of Trade, then became Speaker of the Irish House of Lords and then Lord Chancellor of Ireland where - as an often absentee figure - it was felt that though he held office he could hardly be said to occupy it. Returning to Portugal as envoy and then Ambassador he persuaded the Portuguese government to break their alliance with Louis XIV, leading to the Methuen Treaty of 1703, a very important development in the War of the Spanish Succession. Later that same year he also concluded a commercial treaty – trading off English cloth for wine – it was jokingly referred to as the “Port-Wine Treaty”. Perhaps it is unsurprising that he suffered much from gout. Methuen died in 1706 and is buried in Westminster Abbey.

Stanhope, following his military exploits, went on mission to Madrid and then Turin, becoming Ambassador to Spain from 1720-27 – he was involved in negotiations at the Congress of Soissons which led to the Treaty of Seville in 1729 between Britain, France and Spain and was made Baron Harrington as a reward. In Spain, he had lamented having to work with 'the proverbial dilatoriness of the Court of Spain”. As time passed, frustration turned to rage, and his despatches regret the impenetrable, Jesuitical, and deceitful nature of diplomacy at the Spanish court! Stanhope was later Secretary of State for the Northern Department, Lord President of the Council, then created Earl of Harrington and Viscount Petersham. Falling out of favour with King George II, his last main office was Lord Lieutenant of Ireland. Along the way, he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society. He spent his last years out of politics, and his finances were always insecure.


I have mentioned Digby’s, Godolphin’s and Stanhope’s times as Ambassador in Spain; Fanshawe’s in Portugal and Spain; Palmer’s at the Vatican; Ashby’s in Scotland; and Methuen’s in Portugal. Sir John Finch (1626-82), admitted to Inner Temple in 1644, was a physician who became professor of anatomy at Pisa and Fellow of the Royal Society – of which he was a founding member. His particular interest was the anatomy of the brain – he also wrote learned essays about the torpedo fish and vipers. Previously a consul in Padua, he was appointed Minister in Tuscany in 1665 and then Ambassador in Constantinople in 1672 where a major task was to obtain the Sultan’s confirmation of privileges granted to English residents of his dominions. After his death from pleurisy in 1682, he was buried side by side with his lifelong companion Sir Thomas Baines, under the same marble canopy at Christ’s College, Cambridge.

Peter Wyche was Ambassador to Russia, then Poland, and then English resident to the Hanseatic cities. He was at the centre of the major crisis that arose in 1685-86 when Hamburg's sovereignty was threatened by Denmark and Celle. When the Danes attacked, he and James II's ambassador to Denmark worked as mediators and gained much credit for the peaceful settlement that followed. Wyche was also involved in a subsequent dispute between Denmark and the Duke of Holstein-Gottorp. During these crises, he proved an efficient diplomat, reporting not only on Hamburg affairs but on those of Germany in general in extremely detailed letters. Unfortunately, he picked the wrong side in the 1688 Revolution and this, combined with his ardent Catholicism, meant that he spent the rest of his life in obscurity in Lisbon – where he criticised his family for their lack of financial support.

I spoke earlier of William Christie, as MP for Weymouth. Born in Bombay, son of an East India Company medic, his Call to the Bar came when he was editing a newspaper – the Kentish Mercury, Gravesend Journal and Greenwich Gazette. He was appointed Consul General in the temptingly-titled Mosquito Territory, now part of Honduras and Nicaragua, in 1848-51; then he was secretary of legation and often Charge d’affaires to the Swiss Confederation from 1851-54. He was successively Consul General and then Minister Plenipotentiary to the Argentine Republic from 1854-58; sent on a special mission to Paraguay in 1858; and Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary to the Empire of Brazil from 1859-63. In this role he had a notorious quarrel over cards with the American Ambassador at the Russian Embassy.

More seriously, Christie was constantly at odds with Brazil over treaties relating to the slave trade and claims for compensation by British subjects. When Brazil refused to pay reparations for two minor incidents, he ordered British warships to capture Brazilian merchant vessels as indemnity, to “teach Brazil a lesson”. This was in conflict with his orders; diplomatic ties were severed for a period; and he was retired on a pension. In retirement, he wrote in rather radical terms about his diplomatic career; the history and literature of the 17thCentury; and electoral corruption (he was a strong advocate of the secret ballot). There was also a controversy in 1873 with Abraham Hayward who attacked the memory of John Stuart Mill – this led to what is described as “a now-mysterious incident in the whist room of the Athenaeum Club”.     

Julian Pauncefote (1828-1902) was born in Munich and educated partly in Paris and Geneva. He obtained a commission in the Madras Light Cavalry, but instead of taking it up was Called in 1852, becoming a conveyancing barrister. He was private secretary for a short period to the Secretary of State for the Colonies and then, facing huge financial losses due to a bank crash, he went to practice as a barrister in Hong Kong in 1862 where he was elevated to Attorney General in 1865, being occasionally acting Chief Justice. He was involved in a major case there involving the rights of enslaved coolies to free themselves and was sued for false imprisonment in the Supreme Court by a coolie called Kwok A Sing from a French ship. The British jury found 4-3 in Kwok’s favour, but a majority of five was needed for him to win. Later Pauncefote became Chief Justice of the Leeward Islands in 1874 and received the first of a full house of knighthoods. At around the same time, he lost a second fortune in a bank crash.

Pauncefote came back to London as Assistant Permanent Under Secretary of State for the Colonies in 1876 – he was effectively the first of the cadre of Foreign Office Legal Advisors, the title only being formalised for his successor in 1892. It was in this role that he helped facilitate the Disraeli government’s purchase of the Khedive's Suez Canal Company shares. He was then elevated to Permanent Under-Secretary of State (PUS) at the Foreign Office in 1882. Around this time, Sir Charles Dilke – he of the notorious three-in-a-bed scandal - commented that Pauncefote was the only man in England to understand the thorny problem of navigation of the Danube. He was the first British delegate to the Suez Canal Conference in Paris in 1885.

In 1889, Pauncefote was sent to the US as Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary: by the mid-19th Century the title of Plenipoteniary had probably lost its real meaning – of having full powers to act independently - due to the introduction of the telegraph system. In 1893 he was made Ambassador, Britain’s first to the US, where he found his legal training invaluable – given how many lawyers he had to deal with in America. He coped in that role with a variety of thorny questions including disputes over Venezuela, Cuba, Alaska and Samoa. He was due to retire in 1898 but was asked to continue in office and negotiated the Hay-Pauncefote treaty in 1901, which allowed the US to create and control a canal across Central America with free passage – the Panama Canal opened in 1914. After many other awards, he was made Privy Councillor in 1894 and Baron Pauncefote of Preston in 1899 – dying in office at the British Embassy in Washington in 1902. President Roosevelt broke with precedent by flying the White House flag at half-mast.

20th Century

There is a step-change as we move into the 20th Century, as the cult of the gifted amateur progressively gave way to a more professional model of diplomat – though a private income came in useful until somewhat after the Second World War. Roger Makins (1904-96) was Called in 1927 but joined the Diplomatic Service instead of practising – his time at the Bar, he wrote, was “brief as well as briefless”. He was Minister Plenipotentiary in Washington from 1945-47; then back in the Foreign Office, where the much-loved Foreign Secretary Ernie Bevin came to rely on his boundless energy, then Ambassador to the US from 1953-56. He was present at the meeting prior to the Suez Crisis when Macmillan mistakenly believed that President Eisenhower was offering the UK tacit support – his keen legal brain rightly led Makins to conclude the opposite. He was later Joint Permanent Secretary to the Treasury and subsequently Chancellor of Reading University and Chair of the UK Atomic Energy Authority. It was not the latter which led to his nickname, which he didn’t much like, of “Mr Atom” – rather, this came from his previous involvement in post-War US/UK atomic diplomacy. Makins too gathered a full panoply of knighthoods before being raised to the peerage as Baron Sherfield and elected a Fellow of the Royal Society. Late in life he chaired companies ranging from Hill Samuel to Wells Fargo as well as the House of Lords Select Committee on Science and Technology. He was well-known as a collector of Victorian art, including several Millais paintings, and married the American daughter of the founder of the Davis Cup. He was apparently also a sensational ballroom dancer and his social skills were reflected by a joke on the diplomatic circuit about the “Makins of a good party”.

Harold Caccia (1905-90), born in India in Pachmarhi, was admitted in 1926. A rugby Blue who played cricket for Oxfordshire, he joined the diplomatic service in 1929 and was sent to Peking and Athens before becoming private secretary to Anthony Eden. Then back to Athens early in World War II, attached to Harold Macmillan’s staff, and again during the Greek Civil War. He was Ambassador to Austria from 1951-54 and then to the US (Inner Temple’s third Man in Washington) from 1956-61 - where he nurtured the so-called “special relationship” following the dark days of the Suez crisis. He was PUS from 1961-65, then Provost of Eton from 1965-78 and President of the Marylebone Cricket Club from 1973-4. He had many commercial appointments, including being a Director of National Westminster Bank and the Prudential. Along the way he gathered several knighthoods and other appointments and was made a life peer as Baron Caccia.

Patrick Reilly (1909-99) was admitted in 1929, but joined the Diplomatic Service in 1933, having come top in the exams. His subsequent career took him to Tehran and the UK Delegation to the League of Nations; the Ministry of Economic Warfare; serving as Private Secretary to “C” in the Secret Service; as First Secretary to Harold Macmillan in Algiers in 1943; and under Duff Cooper in Paris in 1944. He served in Athens from 1945-48 including at the height of the Greek Civil War; then returned to London, where his assessment that Kim Philby was untrustworthy helped to prevent the latter becoming Head of MI6. Reilly was then Minister in Paris from 1953 and afterwards an extraordinarily young British Ambassador to Russia from 1957, when he was knighted. It is said that his calm reporting following harangues from Khrushchev and Gromyko in the middle of the night were due to his relaxing with a large malt whisky and listening to Gregorian chants before putting pen to paper. While in London, Reilly led the UK delegation to the Icelandic Fisheries Negotiations in 1960 and the UK party at the UN Conference on Trade and Development in 1964, later becoming Ambassador to France in 1965. Then he fell foul of Foreign Secretary George Brown.

George Brown concluded that Patrick Reilly, who came from a privileged background – his father had been Chief Justice of Mysore – was the wrong man in Paris. He is reported to have been moved to “loutish and drunken displays of rudeness” in the face of Reilly’s “natural courtesy”, including telling Lady Reilly that she was unfit to be an Ambassador’s wife, in front of reception guests. In 1968 George Brown terminated his diplomatic career abruptly. Reilly went on to become Chairman of the Banque Nationale de Paris, President of the London Chamber of Commerce and a member of the Legion d’Honneur. A formidable public servant, he may have been too self-effacing for his own good.

Penultimately, I come to Con O’Neill (1912-88). Called in 1936, this Ulsterman entered the Army Intelligence Corps in 1939 at the beginning of the Second World War and was one of those to interrogate Hitler’s deputy Rudolf Hess before he joined the Foreign Office from 1943-6. After a spell as leader writer for The Times, he re-joined the Foreign Office. He was Charge d’Affaires in China from 1955-57; British Ambassador to Finland from 1961-3; and UK representative to the EEC from 1963-65. He had hoped to go as Ambassador to Germany in 1968 but was also vetoed by George Brown. He resigned to work with Hill Samuel but was recalled next year to lead the British delegation which negotiated our entry to the EEC. He was one of the outstanding diplomats of his generation.

Altogether Sir Con, as he became, resigned three times from public service, once over Munich, and was brought back. The diplomat Sir David Hannay called him a "formidable, austere figure. A prominent nose and a remarkably sepulchral voice combined to give an impression that was perhaps more episcopal than diplomatic. The British position was set out at slow dictation speed in language which brooked no misunderstanding. But closer contact revealed a sharp, if acerbic, sense of humour and great integrity. He rode his team from the different Whitehall departments on a loose rein, chain-smoking, intervening seldom but always pertinently and to good effect."

And then finally the putative diplomat, John Maynard Keynes (1883-1946), who was admitted in 1905. I include him because he was at the Versailles Peace Conference in 1920 in the UK delegation, where he strongly opposed the extraction of huge reparations from Germany but was unsuccessful in the face of opposition from Lord Sumner, another Inner Templar. Keynes later led the UK delegation to the Bretton Woods Conference in 1944, which designed the international financial institutions. He was not a diplomat as such, despite a short period as clerk in the India Office. In 1999, Time Magazine counted him as one of the most important people of the 20th Century.

Perhaps the poet and Bletchley Park codebreaker Patrick Barrington, the 11th Viscount Barrington (1908-90), Called in 1934, was conscious of the linkages between Inner Temple and diplomacy when in that same year he wrote one of his more famous poems for Punch magazine, The Diplomatic Platypus. It starts:

I had a duck-billed platypus when I was up at Trinity,

With whom I soon discovered a remarkable affinity.

He used to live in lodgings with myself and Arthur Purvis,

And we all went up together for the Diplomatic Service.

Unlike the other two candidates, the platypus passes the interview and has a highly successful diplomatic career, largely by dint of rarely saying anything. Unfortunately, at the height of his success the platypus, on the anniversary of Greek Emancipation, lays an egg in the Bulgarian Legation. Although included in the Honours List as “Platypus, Dame Vera”, the creature is then compulsorily retired from the service. As it happens, the Schuster Committee were active in 1933-34 in deliberating the question of whether to admit women to the diplomatic service, something which only happened from 1946. It seems quite possible Barrington had this extra dimension to his poem in mind, given the timing of publication.


Looking at the Temple diplomats, I acknowledge that they do not constitute a huge data range. But what can I conclude about them, and what did they have in common? They were all of course male, though if I could carry out a more contemporary study the balance would thankfully have shifted. They were a mixed bunch, including some outright rogues. They were writers, politicians, negotiators, adventurers, fighters, as well as lawyers and diplomats – often simultaneously. In short, they were all multi-taskers, and many were polymaths – becoming in general more specialised as the centuries passed. If I had gone beyond the mid-20th Century I suspect this would have been even more the case. Prior to that, they tended to reflect the image of Holbein’s Ambassadors, painted in 1533, which has been used to advertise this talk. It is one of the most important portraits in history and the significance is still much debated. One of the subjects is almost certainly a priest and the other a French Ambassador. The symbols in the painting mirror the wide range of their interests - contemplation reflected in a book; action with a dagger; globes and astronomy suggesting a wider scientific concern; varied textiles; courtly arts and music; as well as religious conflict. These symbols overlap and reinforce each other and are reflected in the profession and work of ambassadors – very strongly so in the 16th Century and to a lesser extent as the Centuries passed.  

It was Alexis de Tocqueville who reckoned that “lawyers and missionaries make poor diplomats”. Harold Nicholson, presumably aping him, considered that “The worst type of diplomats are missionaries and fanatics and lawyers”. But I’d like to suggest that the combination of diplomacy and legal training can be highly effective, as some of these Inner Temple case histories demonstrate. Both professions live by the written word, but diplomats are more likely to recognise its limitations; to be concerned with underlying contextual, linguistic and cultural differences; and appreciate the importance of underlying political realities, especially when it comes to international contracts. The lawyer on a negotiating team must focus on ensuring that agreements conform with international law and texts say what their drafters want them to say, whereas the diplomats must ensure the survivability of the outcome by ensuring it reflects the underlying political balance of competing interests.

Some countries like Germany see legal training as so important to diplomacy that they appear to give preference to candidates with legal degrees, judging by the number of their lawyers in diplomatic roles. Others, like the UK, prefer to blend pure diplomacy with technical legal advice, while employing a significant number of lawyers in mainstream diplomatic roles. However you approach this issue, a combination of specialisations is needed these days to achieve positive results on the international stage. If you can achieve that in the same person, so much the better – but increasingly that’s asking too much, given the growing complexity of the international scene.

At a time when the number of Bar students vastly exceeds the number of available practicing barrister positions, it is as well to be clear about the wider skills set that the training can offer. Our prime purpose is to ensure that the barrister profession in England and Wales, and ideally internationally, is supplied and trained to the highest level possible. But many will choose or be forced to pursue other careers, including diplomacy. What skills carry across into a foreign service career? I would suggest ability to write clearly and concisely; judgment; sound selection of material; advocacy and negotiating in varied contexts; mooting and debating; acting and communication skills; capability to empathise and influence; sometimes leadership, sometimes knowledge of foreign languages, sometimes even management techniques these days. The early Inns of Court or third University supplied this package, though defined it differently, and it is part of today’s offer too.

In addition, modern diplomats are faced more and more with legal issues - negotiations on international contracts; legal disputes in the countries to which they are accredited; potential judicial reviews in the UK; and employment law conundrums relating to both locally-employed and UK-based staff. Some of these dimensions would be unfamiliar turf to the Inner Templars of earlier Centuries. But an underpinning of the law combined with a wide knowledge of other professional qualifications, skills and experience would have been vital in enabling all of them to navigate the obstacles of their time.

Greg Dorey CVO



Mr Dorey has had a distinguished career in the Foreign & Commonwealth Office, serving at various times as Ambassador to Ethiopia, Djibouti and the African Union; and to Hungary; plus spells as Deputy Head of Mission in Hong Kong and Pakistan. He holds a Masters degree in Modern History from Exeter College, University of Oxford.

Greg Dorey CVO



Mr Dorey has had a distinguished career in the Foreign & Commonwealth Office, serving at various times as Ambassador to Ethiopia, Djibouti and the African Union; and to Hungary; plus spells as Deputy Head of Mission in Hong Kong and Pakistan. He holds a Masters degree in Modern History from Exeter College, University of Oxford.

Greg Dorey CVO



Mr Dorey has had a distinguished career in the Foreign & Commonwealth Office, serving at various times as Ambassador to Ethiopia, Djibouti and the African Union; and to Hungary; plus spells as Deputy Head of Mission in Hong Kong and Pakistan. He holds a Masters degree in Modern History from Exeter College, University of Oxford.