Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary

If ambassadors who arrived in ancient Athens or Rome had to live in conditions that would be described as terrible and anti-sanitary today, feeling uncertain of the success of their mission, their counterparts in the Renaissance period had to undergo other kinds of trials. It took weeks and months for the sides to negotiate the details of the protocol.

They would discuss how the king should conduct himself when receiving the foreign ambassador. Should the ruler step down from his throne or should he signal with his foot when receiving the credentials? Should the ruler invite the ambassador to sit down for at least a minute? And when should the ambassador take off his hat? Or, if he speaks in Latin, in which language should the king reply? And a thousand such questions.

But perhaps the most important thing for the diplomatic corpus has been the question of seniority: who, when, and how? This remains a topical question in terms of international ethics.

In 1504 Pope Julius II created an ambassadorial seniority list. The first person on the list was, of course, the Roman emperor, the second person was the king of France, the third—the king of Spain, whereas the king of England was the seventh on the list, after the king of Portugal. The weakening of the Pope’s authority and new international developments prompted the revision of the seniority list.

Seniority was a controversial issue and the same controversy was expected when signing international treaties. They even tried to resolve it through humor by replacing the name of the titular nobleman with a round sign. But that didn’t help either. Then they decided to make copies of the same document so that each side could sign his copy. The seniority mess was finally resolved in Europe at the Congress of Vienna (1815) when they adopted the alphabetical order.

Meanwhile, there have been bloody incidences involving protocol in the history of diplomacy when, for instance, the place of an ambassador was changed at the table, in a line, or elsewhere. There are two possible main causes here, in my opinion. First, the ambassador is always sensitive when the reputation of his country and its symbols (flag, coat of arms, hymn) are at stake. Second, ambassadors, most of whom have high, I would say, excessive pride, don’t tolerate personal insults. I will cite two such examples.

The conflict between France and Spain in 1661 was called off on September 30 by miracle. What happened on that day? The ambassador of Sweden arrives in England. The diplomatic corpus goes out to meet him, according to the protocol. An argument breaks out regarding places in the procession between the French ambassador, Count d’Estrades, and the Spanish ambassador, Carlos de Vatteville. The intervention of the chief of protocol doesn’t help. Apparently the ambassadors were lacking diplomatic cool-headedness. A real street fight begins, leaving dozens dead and many wounded. Charles II of England sends soldiers to stop the bloodshed. Louis XIV wants to declare war on Spain and calms down only after the king of Spain recalls his ambassador and punishes him accordingly. Moreover, the Spanish king issues a circular letter to all his ambassadors in other countries as well, ordering them to yield the way to the French.

There have been other controversies over ranking and place. A hundred years after the Franco-Spanish "scuffle,” in 1768 the royal court organizes a huge ball in London and according to the protocol, the ambassadors line up in a row to greet the Queen of England. The French ambassador is late (which in itself is a violation of etiquette) and, seeing that his place next to the Austrian ambassador is taken by the Russian ambassador Chernyshev, rudely pushes himself between the two men. The two ambassadors maintain their cool during the ceremony, however later, when the Frenchman comes down the stairs, Chernyshev awaits him with a bared saber. A ferocious duel follows. The Russian ambassador is wounded and the duel is stopped with the help of the courtiers.
1456 reads | 29.06.2013

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