The British Embassy in Paris, 1714-63

J. LaVerne Anderson describes how the post of British Ambassador to the rulers of France has been a difficult assignment, and not only in the eighteenth century.

In late October, 1715, James, the Old Pretender to the British throne, left Paris to journey to St Malo. He and his Jacobite supporters were plotting an attempt to regain the throne lost by his father. On many roads, however, James Dalrymple, Earl of Stair and newly appointed British Ambassador to the French court, had hired agents to stop the Old Pretender by whatever means available. Although the plans collapsed, the function of the British Ambassador to Paris is made clear; he was in France to protect British interests. Few imagined, however, he would go this far.

In eighteenth-century Paris, the elements of intrigue, conspiracy, and political machinations formed an almost continuous pattern. Since the French capital served as the diplomatic and social centre of western Europe, most European nations maintained diplomatic representatives there. Britain, perhaps more than any other European nation, needed constant vigilance to protect herself from French intrigue as well as from the festering plots of the Jacobites.

To this end, the British Ambassador led a vigorous life. Seeking to enhance the prestige of the new Hanoverian King of England at gala parties, the gaming tables, and in the bed chambers, the British Ambassadors left behind as evidence of their activities tales of nocturnal sorties into Parisian coffee-houses in the pursuit of information, the hiring of professional brigands to waylay the Old Pretender and the buying of a French nightgown for the Duchess of Marlborough. Because of these diverse functions, the diplomatic representatives kept the greyhound-decorated leather pouch of the courier service filled with reports.

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