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British Envoys - General Information

British Envoys to the Kaiserreich, 1871-1897

British Envoys to the Kaiserreich presents a comprehensive selection of the diplomatic correspondence that was sent from the British missions in Germany to the Foreign Office between 1871 and 1897. Building on the preceding series, British Envoys to Germany, it will provide further resources for the history of Anglo-German relations and British perceptions of Germany within the wider field of European and international affairs. The correspondence is distinctive for the quality of its reportage, the coverage of local, national and international issues and the diverse thematic scope of political, social and cultural affairs; not least also for the envoys’ personal comments and interpretations. It will give historians, university teachers, and students unique access to a historical period associated with the economic and political ascent of Germany, with Bismarck’s Realpolitik and Britain’s (splendid) isolation, as well as with New Imperialism and the increasing interconnectedness between European states, both in politics and on a societal level. British Envoys to the Kaiserreich is of special historiographical value as it concentrates on Anglo-German history before German Weltpolitik – in contrast to the two seminal editorial series of diplomatic documents before 1914, British Documents on the Origins of War, 1898–1914 and British Documents on Foreign Affairs (Part I; F). The dividing point of the proposed volumes, 1883/1884, correlates with changes in diplomatic reportage, both topical and in opinion, after the Berlin West Africa Conference and the succession of Edward Malet to Odo Russell as ambassador to Berlin.

The edition seeks to modify traditional – and often teleological – accounts of Anglo-German history by highlighting the volatility of relations, and the heterogeneous character of perceptions of Germany. The diversity of British observations is reflected in the simultaneous reportage from five permanent diplomatic missions: the Berlin embassy and the still independent legations in four of Germany’s twenty seven constituent states, at Darmstadt (Hesse), Dresden (Saxony), Munich (Bavaria), and Stuttgart (Württemberg). Correspondence from these so-called minor missions, which were maintained despite continuous public criticism in Britain and mistrust of the Berlin Wilhelmstrasse, has so far been largely neglected and opens up new and comparative perspectives for historical research. Firstly, the dispatches reveal insights into diplomatic practice in a period when ‘old diplomacy’ came under pressure. In contrast to the Berlin ambassador, implanted in the heart of imperial power politics, his colleagues at the grand ducal and royal courts had both time and opportunity to consider local sentiments, dissenting arguments, and repercussions of high politics that usually did not enter diplomatic spheres. Observations on public opinion and reflections on the role of the press in international and Anglo-German relations are of particular value, and, in part, also justified the envoys’ presence in the diplomatic ‘backwaters’. Secondly, the anomaly of several diplomatic missions within one nation-state allowed firsthand experience of German federalism and nation building. British perceptions are presented not only as less Prusso-centric than usually acknowledged, the multiperspectivity of five missions also adds to our understanding of the regional dimensions of both inner German and international developments. Notably, German diplomats who belonged to the diplomatic corps of the respective provincial capitals proved to be an invaluable source of information for their British interlocutors. Thirdly, the envoys’ attention to German affairs was also affected by inner British developments. Links with domestic issues, such as the Irish Home Rule movement, workers’ rights and welfare reform, manifest themselves in numerous reports, particularly at the time of the Kulturkampf and Anti-Socialist Laws. Here, as in the observations on German constitutionalism and liberalism, individual assessments are shaped by deep-rooted – if at times diverging – convictions of the British diplomatic establishment. At the same time the envoys, particularly in Dresden and Munich, countered British misinterpretations of German politics as well as prevalent generalizations and stereotypes. To some extent – and dependent on the length of the postings – diplomats were veritable advocates of their host countries.

While annotations provide the reader with necessary information for the understanding of individual dispatches, the introduction to each of the two volumes identifies the main topics of the period and compares patterns of the selected reports, intertwining them with the chronology of Anglo-German relations. Special consideration is given to the biographical and ideological background of the envoys. Alongside the institutional framework of the Foreign Office, ¬including the highly controversial question of maintaining the minor missions after the foundation of the Kaiserreich¬, these factors account both for specific perceptions and the singularity of British diplomatic reportage from Germany.

British Envoys to Germany (1816-1866)


I Introduction
II The Project
III The Research Context
IV The Envoy's reports and the Subjects they cover
V Selection Criteria
VI Structure of the Volumes and Editorial Principles

I Introduction

In the period following the Congress of Vienna, there was hardly a country that British foreign secretaries and their staff in the Foreign Office in London were better informed about than Germany. A number of factors drew British attention to Germany: the personal union of Britain and Hanover which meant that, until William IV's death in 1837, the British sovereign was automatically member of the circle of German territorial princes; dynastic relations with the German princely houses; Germany's centrality to British security policy and policy for Europe; and Germany's role both as a market and as a country of transit for British goods.

Britain's observation of Germany was especially intense because the German Confederation was divided into individual sovereign states, which resulted in a particularly dense network of diplomatic relations. With British diplomatic missions in Vienna, Berlin, Munich, Stuttgart, Dresden, Hanover (from 1838), Hamburg, and to the German Confederation in Frankfurt, eight of the twenty-two legations and embassies that Britain maintained around the middle of the nineteenth century were on the territory of the German Confederation. France, Russia, and Sweden, by contrast, had only one British diplomatic mission each. Moreover, British diplomats in Germany were usually accredited at more than one court. The British envoy to Stuttgart, for example, was also responsible for Baden from 1841; based in Frankfurt, British diplomats to the Diet of the German Confederation established relations with Hesse-Kassel, Hesse-Darmstadt, and Hesse-Nassau; and the British envoy to Dresden was also accredited at the princely courts in Altenburg, Coburg, Meiningen, and Weimar. In 1852 the network of British missions extended to twenty-two of the thirty-seven states of the German Confederation.1 Britain's representatives regularly reported from and about these states.

II The Project

In the mid-1990s the German Historical Institute London (GHIL) decided to evaluate the correspondence of British envoys to Germany and to publish a selection in a four-volume edition. This editorial work fulfils one of the academic purposes of the GHIL, namely, to research Anglo-German relations. It also achieves the aim of supporting and encouraging academic engagement with German history in Britain. The fact that this edition gives historians, university teachers, and students in Britain and America access to German history on the basis of English-language primary sources is significant in this context.

British Envoys to Germany, 1816-1866 is being published in association with the Royal Historical Society, as part of the Camden Fifth Series. So far three volumes have appeared in print: volume one covers the period after Britain's establishment or re-establishment of diplomatic missions in Germany during the formative phase of the German Confederation between 1816 and 1829; volume two begins with the consequences of the July Revolution of 1830 in France and continues up to the eve of the revolution of March 1847. Volume three covers the years 1848 to 1850; volume four will complete the series by covering the period from 1851 to the dissolution of the German Confederation in 1866. An extension of the project from the German Kaiserreich to the outbreak of the First World War under the title „British Envoys to the Kaiserreich“ is being planned.

III The Research Context

Envoys' reports and diplomatic documents are traditionally source material for editorial projects on the nineteenth century. Among the many publications of this type we can mention here the fifteen-volume edition of French, Prussian, and Austrian reports from Munich (1814 to 1848), supervised by Anton Chroust between 1935 and 1951, while more recent works which demonstrate an unbroken interest in this genre of sources include, for example, Frank Zimmer's edition of the correspondence of the Grand Duchy of Hesse's envoy to Berlin, Karl Hoffman, at the time of the North German Confederation and in the early years of the Kaiserreich.2

It is in the nature of envoys' reports that diplomatic, political, and social developments and events in the respective host country are described and evaluated at regular intervals, though not necessarily at deliberately chosen points in time. As a serial source they reflect the character of historical events as process. This responds to the interest of traditional political and diplomatic history in recreating the complex interconnections of international and interstate relations. Often the authors of the reports are themselves actors on the diplomatic stage. The negotiations which took place between Denmark and Prussia during the Schleswig-Holstein crisis or crises from 1848 to 1852, with Britain mediating, are only one example of reportage by British diplomats based on first-hand knowledge during the time of the German Confederation. The works of Holger Hjelholt and Wendell Holmes Cook are largely based on the reports of British diplomats.3 As well as the German-Danish conflict, the German question in British foreign policy is a topic for which historians turn to the reports of British envoys to Germany. Works by Günther Gillessen, Wolf D. Gruner, Anselm Doering-Manteuffel, Günther Heydemann, and Frank Lorenz Müller are examples.4 These works draw especially on reports filed from Vienna, Berlin, and the German Bundestag in Frankfurt.

The central significance of the envoys' reports for the history of Anglo-German relations justifies compiling the diplomatic correspondence in a selected edition, especially as British Envoys to Germany gives equal weight to reports from the smaller legations in Munich, Stuttgart, Dresden, Hanover, and Hamburg, which are generally sidelined in the research. Envoys' reports, however, do more than document bilateral relations; they also present the perceptions of a foreign country by trained observers. The long time span covered by the diplomatic correspondence from Germany and the opportunities it offers for comparison between the individual missions allow us to apply approaches drawn from cultural history and the history of mentalities. The significance of the 'other' and 'otherness' for a diplomatic observer, envoys' patterns of perceptions and the reality content of their descriptions, the reception of Germany's local and regional peculiarities, and connections between the image of Germany conveyed by the envoys and British policy for Germany could be mentioned in this context.

To pursue this sort of interest in diplomatic correspondence requires individual dispatches to be taken out of their narrow, thematic context, and placed into a new context which reflects the complex conditions of their creation. Thus the multiplicity of topics addressed by the envoys' reports can become the subject of further research.

IV The Envoys' Reports and the Subjects they Cover

When Britain resumed diplomatic relations with the German states in the period from 1814 to 1817, the diplomats posted to Germany were instructed by Castlereagh, the Foreign Secretary, 'to inform [him] ... of all such occurrences which come to your knowledge'. This instruction, which was repeated over the next fifty years by Castlereagh's successors, gave the British envoys a great deal of latitude in choosing what to report. Thus in addition to the grand German and European themes of the time, we find, for example, detailed descriptions of the Munich Oktoberfest in 1834, and of (unsuccessful) attempts to extinguish the 1842 fire in Hamburg. Sometimes we find, appended to reports originating from the middling and small German states, apologies that the addressee, the British Foreign Secretary, is being asked to read 'matters of local interest'.

Reports with a great deal of regional colour, despite their doubtful utility to the Foreign Secretary, are of the greatest interest to us. First, they underline the federal structure of the German Confederation and the independent existence of a 'third Germany' beyond Prussia and Austria. British envoys considered that the discussion about a new order regulating hunting in Württemberg was as worth reporting as the regulations governing duelling in the Royal Hanoverian Army. And secondly, different levels of reportage and observation, and various perspectives on the part of the British envoys are mixed in dispatches with strong regional references.5 Regional events such as a famine in Bohemia were discussed in the context of the threat of revolution in Europe; events and developments of national dimensions, such as the disturbances in Cologne provoked by the issue of mixed marriages and the removal from office of Archbishop Droste zu Vischering, were presented from a regional perspective; and the repercussions of British political acts such as the repeal of the Corn Laws in 1846 on the local political scene in Germany were described.

In the small and middling German states in particular British envoys became a fixture in political life. Contacts which envoys had cultivated with the court and with public figures, often over years, ensured that they gained valuable information which fed into their reports. Personal relations often produced strong ties with the host country, as in the case of Francis Reginal Forbes, who was envoy extraordinary and minister plenipotentiary in Dresden for a total of twenty-six years. The anti-Prussian attitude which pervades Forbes's analyses of Saxon politics reveals a clear identification with Saxony. A similar effect can be observed in a number of other British diplomats. After all, eleven of the fifty envoys accredited to a German court between 1816 and 1866 served in Germany for more than twenty years.

But it was not only the location that coloured the reports. The values and attitudes displayed by British observers themselves differed considerably. Thus a Conservative, George Rose, envoy to Berlin, was more suspicious of the festival on the Wartburg in 1817, which he condemned as a 'scandalous scene of revolutionary effervescence', than his more liberal colleague, John Philip Morier in Dresden. In 1832 Lord Erskine in Munich, in agreement with his Foreign Secretary, Palmerston, rejected the Six Articles, whereas Frederick Lamb, ambassador to Vienna and the outstanding expert on Germany of his time, welcomed them in common with the majority of his colleagues. Although British diplomats were totally dependent on political patronage in career terms, they remained relatively independent of official prescriptions in their personal judgements. Only the very first beginnings of the emergence of the type of the professional diplomat as a pure functionary were visible. The revolution in communications represented by the telegraph and the railway had a relatively small impact on the daily work of the diplomats in the second half of the century.

However individual the assessments of the diplomats were, contemporary clichés about Germany and German politics certainly had their place in diplomatic reportage. The mostly aristocratic observers from the motherland of constitutionalism had no doubt that Bavaria had little to offer but beer; that the stolidity and apathy of the German people was certain protection against revolutions; that Prussia was ruled by the military and the bureaucracy; and that German professors were incapable of producing a practical draft constitution, let alone of actually doing pragmatic parliamentary work. Regardless of such stereotypes, however, British diplomats were capable of differentiated judgements, and, as a rule, were accurate and precise in their assessments. They were all well informed, and generally passed their information on to London several times a week.

While the information it received from Germany was reliable and abundant, the British Foreign Office generally kept its distance and regarded the states of the German Confederation with only moderate interest. Germany moved to the centre of British foreign policy only when it no longer fulfilled the role assigned to it as a peaceful and stabilizing bloc in the centre of Europe. Periods of increased interest were the crisis of 1819-20, the years after the 1830 July Revolution in France, the years of revolution 1848 and 1849, and the various phases of the conflicts in the Electorate of Hesse and between Germany and Denmark from 1848. Although London did not hide its political preferences-there was sympathy for the constitutional states of southern Germany, Prussia was preferred to Austria, and Britain supported the unification of Germany retaining federal structures and with a kleindeutsche solution to the German question-the crucial element determining British policy for Germany between 1815 and 1866 continued to be Germany's function in maintaining peace in Europe. The dispatches which British envoys submitted to the governments of their host countries on behalf of the British Foreign Office at times of crisis always emphasized the system of balances enshrined in the Order of Vienna. As in the case of the notes issued by Palmerston in 1832 and 1834, when the Six Articles and the occupation of Frankfurt by federal troops provoked British protest, such interventions resulted in serious diplomatic ill-feeling between Britain and the states of the German Confederation.

The German governments, by contrast, proved to be more forthcoming when London asked for specific information. Population statistics, harvest forecasts, tariff laws, and the state of the military and railway-building were all important background to consider when framing British security and trade policy. In many reports, an internal British interest, motivated by domestic policy concerns, in events in Germany is evident. Reports on the organization of Prussian poor relief, or descriptions of the cholera epidemic of 1832 indicate that the British observers were responding to contemporary problems in their mother country.

This becomes most apparent in the area of religious policy. The emancipation of the Catholics in 1829, the immigration of Irish Catholics, and the Irish question made diplomats highly sensitive to the (socio)political impact of religious movements. The quarrel between Prussia and the Vatican about mixed marriages, sectarian groups such as the Deutschkatholiken and the Lichtfreunde, and the ultramontane movement were all observed against this background. This is not the place to list more subjects treated by British envoys to Germany between 1816 and 1866, but it should be pointed out that their dispatches to London do not only describe the many facets of Anglo-German relations, the German Confederation and its individual component states. They also reveal the heterogeneous interests of Britain and its observers on the spot. The British image of Germany as presented in the envoys' reports, therefore, always also contained an aspect of self-perception on the part the authors.

V Selection Criteria

The reports of the British envoys to Germany are held in the Foreign Office (FO) papers in the Public Record Office, Kew. Divided into different classes according to the various British missions (FO 7, FO 9, FO 33, FO 34, FO 64, FO 68, and FO 82), the entire existing correspondence between Britain's diplomatic missions in Germany and the Foreign Office between 1816 and 1866 fills about 1,900 files. At least half of them contain official 'political' reports which are potentially relevant for this edition. Given the vast amount of material-each file contains between forty and a hundred individual documents-selection is at the heart of the editing process. Each volume in the published edition contains between about 250 and 350 dispatches, a mere fragment of the entire preserved correspondence if we consider that in 1848 alone, the most prolific year in terms of numbers of dispatches filed, the British envoy to Berlin, Lord Westmorland, sent 447 dispatches to London.

The aim of this edition is to reproduce as broad a spectrum as possible of the diplomatic correspondence from and about the states of the German Confederation. To this end, the selection process for each volume follows three steps. First, all the dispatches are listed and read. Secondly, those which are unsuitable for the edition on grounds of form and content are excluded. These include numerous acknowledgements of receipt and covering letters sent with documents. Dispatches concerning internal matters are considered only if they provide information on the functions of the diplomatic service. Reports which concentrate on non-German topics, such as the recognition of Belgium in the 1830s, conditions in Greece, or the Spanish succession are considered for selection only if they have some significance for Anglo-German relations. Thirdly, thematically related dispatches from within each mission and between the different missions are balanced. In principle, preference is given to reports that comment and evaluate over those which merely report conversations or summarize newspaper articles. In addition to quality, originality of perspective, and information value, the other factor influencing the final selection is the maintenance of a balance between the individual missions. Dispatches from Berlin, Frankfurt (German Confederation) and Vienna, which dominate numerically, and dispatches from the smaller missions in Munich, Stuttgart, Dresden, Hanover, and Hamburg each provide about half of the material included. This fulfils the aim of the edition to provide an adequate representation of the 'Third Germany', which is often neglected in the research.

VI Structure of the Volumes and Editorial Principles

The volumes comprising British Envoys to Germany, 1816-1866 follow a uniform pattern. Each volume contains a thematic introduction which, in addition to providing an overview of the volume's main concerns, places the dispatches selected for inclusion into the overall context of Anglo-German relations. The next section, entitled 'Editorial Principles and Technical Details', explains the sources from which the dispatches included were selected, and the fundamental editorial principles. The main part of each volume contains the dispatches, subdivided according to provenance (the diplomatic missions in Berlin, Frankfurt, Hamburg, Hanover, Dresden, Stuttgart, Munich, and Vienna) and printed in chronological order.

Each dispatch is provided with a standardized heading giving archive class mark, author, addressee, place and date of origin, and a brief summary composed by the editors and intended to give the user an overview of the contents of the dispatch that follows. These, with some exceptions, are reproduced in their entirety, without cuts, in the form of transcriptions, in order to maintain the authenticity of the sources. Appendices, which can be voluminous, are not reproduced, but are listed in a footnote at the end of each dispatch. Most of the dispatches have been preserved in the form of fair copies, which are quite legible. This makes a critical commentary on the text unnecessary, apart from a few exceptions. The orthography and punctuation of the original have been reproduced, and where necessary, explained in a footnote or in parentheses.

Annotations in the form of brief footnotes aim to provide all the information which is required for an understanding of the document and which does not become apparent from the document itself. German expressions and terms used in the reports are translated for the benefit of English-speaking readers. In many cases, reference is made to other annotations and documents in the same volume. Treaties, legislation, and publications mentioned in the reports are specified in the footnotes, and explained where necessary. All individuals mentioned are identified, as far as possible, and listed with brief biographies in a name index. Each volume contains about 500 short biographies. In addition to the dates of birth and death, they mention the most important stages in their subjects' professional careers, and are intended primarily as a service for readers from English-language area. A comprehensive subject index and index of places complete the volumes.

Furthermore a combined subject and biographical index (including the short biographies) of the series is available online. Additionally, all dispatches included in the volumes are listed and accessible via search tools. Data from volume 4 (1851-1866), as well as the volumes in the follow-up series, British Envoys to the Kaiserreich (1871-1914), will be added to the digital indexes as each volume is published.


1 Great Britain held continuous diplomatic relations with the following states: Anhalt-Dessau, Baden, Bayern, Braunschweig, Bremen, Frankfurt, Hamburg, Hannover, Hessen-Darmstadt, Hessen-Kassel, Hessen-Nassau, Lübeck, Mecklenburg-Schwerin, Mecklenburg-Strelitz, Österreich, Preußen, Sachsen, Sachsen-Altenburg, Sachsen-Coburg-Gotha, Sachsen-Meiningen, Sachsen-Weimar-Eisenach, Württemberg. See also: Sabine Freitag, GHIL Project: Reports by British Ambassadors and Envoys to Germany, 1815 to 1871, in: Bulletin of the German Historical Institute London, Volume XX, No.2 (November 1998), S. 116-123.
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2 Anton Chroust (Bearb.), Gesandtschaftsberichte aus München. Abt. I: Die Berichte der französischen Gesandten, Bd. I bis VI, 1935ff; Abt. II: Die Berichte der österreichischen Gesandten, Bd. I bis IV, 1939ff; Abt. III: Die Berichte der preußischen Gesandten, Bd. I bis V, 1949ff; Frank Zimmer (Hrsg.), Vom Norddeutschen Bund ins Deutsche Reich. Gesandtschaftsberichte und Briefe des großherzoglich hessischen Gesandten Karl Hoffmann aus Berlin 1866-1872. Darmstadt 2001.
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3 Holger Hjelholt, British mediation in the Danish-German conflict. 2 Bände 1965 u. 1966; Ders., Great Britain, the Danish-German conflict and the Danish succession, 1850-1852. Copenhagen 1971; Wendell Holmes Cook, The Schleswig-Holstein question and Anglo-German relations, March, 1848, to July, 1849. Phil. Diss. Univ. of New Mexico 1970.
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4 Günther Gillessen, Lord Palmerston und die Einigung Deutschlands. Die englische Politik von der Paulskirche bis zu den Dresdener Konferenzen (1848-1851). Lübeck-Hamburg 1961; Wolf D. Gruner, Großbritannien, der Deutsche Bund und die Struktur des europäischen Friedens im frühen 19. Jahrhundert. Studien zu den britisch-deutschen Beziehungen in einer Periode des Umbruchs 1812-1820. Phil.habil. (masch.) München 1979; Anselm Doering-Manteuffel, Vom Wiener Kongreß zur Pariser Konferenz. England, die deutsche Frage und das Mächtesystem 1815-1866. Göttingen 1991; Günther Heydemann, Konstitution gegen Revolution. Die britische Deutschland- und Italienpolitik 1815-1848. Göttingen 1995; Frank Lorenz Müller, Britain and the German Question. Perceptions of Nationalism and Political Reform, 1830-63. Basingstoke u.a. 2002.
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5 See also James Retallack, ‘Under the name of a constitution…’ British Diplomatic Reports from Germany in the Nineteenth Century, in: Manfred Hettling u.a (Hrsg.), Figuren und Strukturen. Historische Essays für Hartmut Zwahr zum 65. Geburtstag. München 2002. S. 621-643.
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