Tuesday, 11 August 2020

Letters of Credence

 

When a British Ambassador arrives at their post, they need to present some evidence of who they are to the receiving state and [1] some evidence that their predecessor has been recalled. Like all things in the British constitutional order, it transpires this is a strangely complicated subject.

For reasons of brevity, the actual ceremonial aspects of all this I will omit. Instead, we will focus on the documents themselves. These comprise the Letters of Credence of the new representative and the Letters of Recall of his predecessor [2]. 

There are, however, no fewer than six different forms of credentials, and only three of them are actually signed by or issued in Her Majesty's name [4]. So let's start with perhaps the most formal and work down.

An Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary to a Foreign King

These take the form of what is, in effect, a personal letter from Her Britannic Majesty [5], which is apparently sometimes called a Lettre de Cabinet, which looks like so

Sir My Brother and Cousin [s] 

Being desirous to maintain without interruption, the relations of friendship and good understanding which happily subsist between the two Crowns, I have selected My Trusty and Well-beloved ........ to proceed to the Court of Your Majesty in the character of My Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary.

Having already had ample experience of ........ talents and zeal for My service, I doubt not that ........ will discharge ........ Mission in such a manner as to merit Your Majesty’s approbation and esteem, and to prove ........ worthy of this new mark of My confidence.

I request that You will give entire credence to all that ........ shall have occasion to communicate to You in My name, more especially when ........ shall renew to Your Majesty My cordial wishes for Your Happiness, and shall assure You of the invariable attachment and highest esteem with which I am,

Sir My Brother

Your Majesty's Good Sister

Elizabeth R [s]

Buckingham Palace

[Date] 

To My Good Brother the King of ........ 

Now, obviously, My Good Brother becomes My Good Sister when writing to Queens Regnant. There are a couple of other things to notice. One, Her Majesty refers to Her new ambassador as Trusty and Well-Beloved. As we saw previously, for certain highly ranked Peers this changes and one supposes were, for example, a Duke to be appointed an Ambassador, this would change to

Our Right Trusty and Right Entirely Beloved Cousin

and so on.

Two, and this is the most striking for me is the consistent use of the first-person through. Except in what amounts to personal correspondence to friends, examples of Her Majesty not using the plural maiestatis or reference to Her office are exceedingly rare.

Third, the Ambassador is not sent to the country of the monarch in question, but to His Court, mirroring how all ambassadors to Her Majesty are accredited to the Court of St. James' - and a reference to now all but defunct notion [6] that the King and the state are entirely fused and inseparable. 

Now, clearly [7] every monarch on Earth is not Her Majesty's sibling and cousin. The origin of this exceedingly familiar form of address eludes me, but is essentially related to how all Kings consider each other equals. It is similar to how senior Peers are referred to as 'cousins' by Her Majesty though. 

Finally, the date. This according to Satow is not in regnal years but is simply something like 

11th August 2020

again underscoring the familiar nature of this communication.

There are still a several monarchies left in the world so this form is still regularly used. One supposes the Middle Eastern monarchs are addressed in a similar fashion [8] . Some minor variation of this is adopted for monarchs below the rank of King [9].

An Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary to a Republic

By definition, the Head of State of a republic is not a monarch. Communications are, of course, still between Heads of State. But now, instead these instead take the form of a Lettre de Chancellerie, which to my eyes looks rather like Letters Patent.
Elizabeth II by the Grace of God of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and of Her other Realms and Territories Queen, Head of the Commonwealth, Defender of the Faith [10][s]

To the President of the Republic of ........ 

Sendeth Greeting! 

Our Good Friend! [s]

Being desirous to maintain, without interruption, the relations of friendship and good understanding which so happily subsist between our Realm and the the Republic of .........., We have made choice of Our Trusty and Well-beloved .........., to reside with you in the character of Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary.

The experience We have of .......... talents and zeal for Our service assure Us that the selection We have made will be perfectly agreeable to You; and that .......... will discharge .......... mission in such a manner as to merit Your approbation and esteem, and to prove .......... worthy of this new mark of Our confidence.

We therefore request that you will give .......... entire credence to all that .......... shall communicate to You in Our name, more especially when .......... shall renew to You the assurances of the lively interest which We take in everything that affects the welfare and prosperity of the Republic of .......... .

And so We commend You to the protection of the Almighty.

Given at Our Court of St James’s, the .........., in the .......... Year of Our Reign.

Your Good Friend

Elizabeth R [s] 

First obvious point: the plural maiestatis is back. Second is that wonderful line, which is entirely unique to this type of Letter

And so We commend You to the protection of the Almighty.

A quick bit of Googling implies that this is common to other formal communications between Her Majesty and the Presidents of Republics (and, indeed, only then). I do wonder why!

We can notice also that no mature the stature of the power in question, even the President of the United States is merely Our good friend. Maintaining the diplomatic pecking order that even the lowliest King ranks above a President.

Her Majesty's Ambassador is also sent, not to the Court, but instead to "reside with you". 

It is, in a way, more formal but as a result clearly lesser. Which in years ago was probably the intent.

A High Commissioner to a Commonwealth Realm

These are the fifteen other countries Her Majesty is also Queen of. Now, one can obviously not send an Ambassador to oneself. Consequently here, the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom simply writes to the Prime Minister of the realm in question informing him of the selection of a new High Commissioner.
To the Most Honourable Andrew Holness ON MP [10]

Dear Prime Minister [s] 

This letter will be presented to you by .........., who has been appointed by Her Majesty's  Government in the United Kingdom to be their High Commissioner to Jamaica . This is .......... letter of introduction to you. 
I am confident that ......... is eminently fitted, both by .......... personal qualities and by .......... experience of affairs of State, for the charge with which .......... has been entrusted, and that .......... appointment will serve to maintain the relations of close friendship which so happily exist between us. 
In this confidence, I commend .......... to you and, on behalf of the United Kingdom Government, ask you to afford .......... all possible help in the fulfilment of .......... important mission.

Yours Sincerely [11]

[Signature]  

The Most Honourable Andrew Holness ON MP

Importantly, as we see above, High Commissioners between realms represent governments not Heads of State. Mostly to avoid an obvious absurdity.

This is in all senses identical in form to any formal letter from the British Prime Minister to another Head of Government, really. 

A High Commissioner to a Commonwealth Republic

Back to the Queen for this one. Republics in the Commonwealth sit, in English law, in an anomalous state, being neither foreign nor domestic [12] territories. Hence Her Majesty's Letters of Credence take a slightly different form [13]

Elizabeth II by the Grace of God of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and of Her other Realms and Territories Queen, Head of the Commonwealth, Defender of the Faith 

To the President of the Republic of ........

Sendeth Greeting! 

Our Good Friend! 

Being desirous to maintain, without interruption, the relations of amity and concord which so happily subsist between our Realm and the Republic of .........., We have to that end made choice of Our Trusty and Well-beloved .........., to be the accredited Representative and Plenipotentiary of the United Kingdom in .......... .

The personal qualities of .......... and .......... long service of the State assure Us that .......... is eminently worthy of the important Mission for which .......... has been selected and that .......... will discharge the duties of .......... High Office in a manner that will fully merit Your Excellency’s approbation and esteem. 

More especially, the United Kingdom and the Republic of .......... being free and equal Members of Our Commonwealth of which We are the Head, as the symbol of the free association of its Independent Member Nations, We have every confidence in commending .......... to Your Excellency, and in requesting that Your Excellency will repose Your Full and complete trust in all that .......... shall communicate to You in Our name.

Given at Our Court of St James’s, the .........., in the .......... Year of Our Reign.

Your Good Friend

Elizabeth R 

While quite similar to the situation for other republics I notice a few things. Firstly, the High Commissioner is "accredited Representative and Plenipotentiary of the United Kingdom", which seems to be a very cunning way of avoiding saying "Ambassador" and also ensuring the realm and republic High Commissioners are both "of the United Kingdom".

This occurs again in the second paragraph, where the claim that the new representative has a "mark of My confidence" is omitted, likely for a similar reason.

Then we see the recital in the third paragraph of the Commonwealth as a "free association of its Independent Member Nations". The reference to the Almighty is also omitted. 

Now, the boring ones.

The Permanent Representative of the United Kingdom to the United Nations

This takes the form of a simple, yet highly formal, letter from the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs to the Secretary-General of the United Nations. Notably, this letter also combines the recall of the previous Permanent Representative.
Your Excellency,

I have the honour to inform you that Her Majesty’s Government in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland has designated .........., with the personal rank of Ambassador, as United Kingdom Permanent Representative to United Nations in succession to .......... . 
.......... is instructed to represent Her Majesty’s Government in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland in the United Nations. .......... is also authorised to designate a substitute to act temporarily on .......... behalf after due notice to you. 

I have the honour to convey to you, the assurance of my highest consideration.

[Signature]

Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs

His Excellency the Secretary-General of the United Nations
A similar letter, replacing United Nations as appropriate is used for almost all other international organisations.

It is worth noting that some variation on "I have the honour to convey to you, the assurance of my highest consideration" occurs in almost all letters between diplomats, and is essentially a very excessive version of "yours sincerely". It is also worth noting how Prime Ministers of Commonwealth Realms do not use such a formal ending to each other.

The Head of the UK Mission to the European Union

For some reason, this letter is amazingly dull, consisting solely of one paragraph
Your Excellency 
I have the honour to inform you that Her Majesty’s Government of the United  Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland has appointed .......... as Head of UK Mission to the European Union with effect from .......... . .......... will hold the personal rank of Ambassador. 

I have the honour to convey to you the assurances of my highest consideration.
[Signature]

Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs

The President of the European Council

All very anodyne, really. 

Letters of Recall of an Ambassador to a Foreign King

These also take the form of a Lettre de Cabinet, for example as
Sir My Brother and Cousin

Having occasion elsewhere for the services of My Trusty and Well-beloved ......, [14] who has lately resided at Your Majesty's Court in the character of My Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary I cannot omit to inform You of his recall.

Having Myself has ample reason to be satisfied with the zeal, ability, and fidelity with which ...... has executed My orders on all occasions during his Mission, I trust that Your Majesty will also have found his conduct deserving of Your approbation and esteem, and in this pleasing confidence I avail myself of the present opportunity to renew to You the assurances of the invariable friendship and cordial esteem with which I am,

Sir My Brother 
Your Majesty's Good Sister 
Elizabeth R
To My Good Brother the King of ......

In a way it sort of reads as the reverse of the Letters of Credence: rather than assuring the receiving King that the Ambassador is good, it asks that he was found to be so. And then an opportunity is taken of reminding His Majesty that Her Majesty is his friend, too.

The Letters of Recall for other representatives follow a similar pattern, but the absurd heat this August day means I really am disinclined to write them out.

In a future blog, the replies - the recredentials - of monarchs when receiving Letters of Credence will be discussed, as will the Letters Patent granting full powers.

Until then, enjoy. 

Colophon

The actual text of the Letters (except the Letters of Recall) are taken from an FOI response from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. I have then interposed Her Majesty's title in the appropriate place and any other things that would be handwritten, as either hinted at or explained in Satow. 

The annotation [s] marks that interposed from Satow, and italics indicate things likely to be handwritten.

Rich Greenhill's exemplary sleuthing abilities unearthed the text of the Letters of Recall for me.

[1] I suppose with the exception of a new state or one where Her Majesty's representatives had previously been permanently withdrawn.

[2] These are last because, due to an oversight, I forgot to ask the Foreign and Commonwealth Office for these so they're from Satow [3] and thus might just not quite reflect modern practice.

[3] Satow's Diplomatic Practice, the Erskine May of the protocol world, basically.

[4] No one said this would be simple, did they?

[5] This being Her Majesty's diplomatic title, have a look in your passport, or at Article 1 of the Treaty of Paris if you are American.

[6] Except, ahem, in the United Kingdom, perhaps...

[7] Despite all of Victoria's daughters.

[8] I am ignoring the anomalous situation of the Pope, because in another oversight I neglected to ask the FCO for that one either (clearly a bad FOI day for me, that one)

[9] It did not occur to me until writing this that the equally anomalous position of the Emperor of Japan is something I neglected to consider.

[10] Holness, the Prime Minister of Jamaica, is our stand-in Commonwealth Realm Prime Minister here, mostly so I can point out how the Order of the Nation in Jamaica makes one a Most Honourable.

[11] Or whatever the Prime Minister of the day deigns to write, really.

[12] Hence the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. A similar privilege is afforded the Republic of Ireland by the Republic of Ireland Act 1949.

[13] Monarchies within the Commonwealth was something that, like the Emperor of Japan, I did not think about until now.

[14] For a retiring Ambassador this might read "being now on the point of retiring from My Foreign Service, I cannot omit to inform You of the termination of his Mission in that capacity."

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