Lord Odo Russell and Bismarck

For thirteen years, writes Alec Randall, Odo Russell was British Ambassador in Berlin where he was an appreciative critic of Bismarck’s policies.

In July 1870 two crucial events in European history occurred. On the 16th Papal Infallibility was proclaimed. The next day France declared war on Prussia. Odo Russell left Rome to go straight back to the Foreign Office, where he was appointed an Undersecretary.1

He kept up his interest in Rome; his assistant there, Jervoise, stayed on and sent reports which Russell passed to his old friend Cardinal Manning. He was glad that the Pope had, after the fall of the Temporal Power and the capture of Rome by the Italian army, decided to remain in the Vatican.

At the Foreign Office Odo Russell gave evidence to a Parliamentary commission on the British Diplomatic Service. He said: ‘If you could organize diplomacy properly, you would create a body of men who might influence the destinies and ensure the peace of mankind’. This showed the idealism associated with his chosen profession. But it did not lessen the admiration he felt for Prussia. He had been enthusiastic over the defeat of Austria by Prussia, at the battle of Sadowa in 1866 that gave Italy Venetia, which had been Austrian since the Napoleonic wars.

In November, 1870, he was sent to Versailles where, in October, the Prussians had set up their headquarters. Russia had repudiated the clause in the Treaty of Paris, which ended the Crimean War, prohibiting Russian naval forces in the Black Sea. Odo Russell’s first task was to consult Bismarck and try to get his support for Great Britain’s protest. Bismarck sent an officer to escort him to Versailles, a favour he never wholly withdrew.

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