Researching Early Modern History

Home » Uncategorized » The dismissal and appointment of ambassadors, RBE 33 – TD Jacobs

The dismissal and appointment of ambassadors, RBE 33 – TD Jacobs


Bulstrode Whitelocke, anon. artist, 1634, National Portrait Gallery

I have spent the last month writing a draft of the introduction to my dissertation. I still have three years to go, but my contract is for half time teaching, half time researching. So it is above time that I got started writing. Although it was difficult knowing that I will probably end up rewriting the entire introduction just prior to submission (that seems to be the norm) it remained worth it as I now have a very clear overview of the literature. Moreover, I now have an outline for my analysis, which I can start filling in. I currently plan to have the first chapter completed by September 1, 2020.

The activities of the past few weeks have prevented me from following the US news with my usual interest, but I have since got caught up. And the evolving case surrounding the former US ambassador to the Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch, has caught my eye. It appears that the Ukrainian authorities have started an investigation into allegations that she was spied upon during her time in office. The tip off derives from documented text messages that were released as part of the impeachment trial of Trump. Yovanovitch was a witness during the House of Representatives’ investigation, when she testified regarding her recall, and the possibility that she was removed from her post so that she could not prevent Trump’s long-time associate and TV lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, from brokering a deal with the Ukrainians to interfere in the upcoming presidential election. There is a growing body of evidence, much of it from Lev Parnas – another White House hanger-on turned snitch among a long list of indicted and eventually convicted criminals – that this may indeed be true.

Scandals involving Early Modern diplomats – and their subsequent recall – are not unknown. Balthazar Gerbier is a good case in point. But I recently came across allegations made by one, Bulstrode Whitelocke, concerning his appointment. Whitelocke wrote in his Journal of the Swedish embassy in the years 1653 and 1654, that he was blackmailed into accepting the post in an effort to get rid of him following his protests over Oliver Cromwell’s dissolution of Parliament. Another government official – in fact, the man originally appointed to the position – came to him, arguing that it

“would be a very great honor and advantage to him [Bulstrode] and his family, and to his profession, wheras his refusal of it would extreamly endaunger him and his fortune; that those in power would be highly offended att it, and all clamours of persons discontented att any thing that he had done would be let loose upon him, and favoured against him; an though he ware free from the least corruption, yet in these times, it was not prudent to put a man’s selfe upon the duanger of complaints, and to judges not his friends”

The problem with Whitelocke’s account, however, is that the preface (at least) appears to have been produced after the Restoration. And he had good reason to attempt to distance himself from the disgraced regime. Other members of the Interregnum governments had had their property seized and/or were imprisoned for treason, and those who had signed the warrant of execution for Charles I had themselves been executed.  Blair Worden has thoroughly covered the problems that Whitelocke poses as a credible source. However, I find this aspect of his account rather credible. The ambassador, prior to his falling out with Cromwell, had been a very influential member of the government. He was a long-time member of Parliament, and that institution’s lead negotiator with Charles I during the Civil Wars. During the first years of the Commonwealth, he served as a councillor of state and commissioner of the Great Seal. And the historical record (not just his self serving report of a conversation in his Memorials) shows that he did indeed object (and publicly at that) to the increasing concentration of power in the circle around Cromwell.  

So an extended trek to see Queen Christina of Sweden may have been a convenient way for him to be got rid of. It was both an honourable position, and a long way away. The fly in the ointment, however, is that he resumed his Interregnum career upon his return, sitting in the Protectorate Parliaments, was a commissioner of the treasury, and advised Cromwell on foreign affairs. So he wasn’t exactly an enemy of the rebel state. At the same time, however, he was not a staunch republican – which may have been what saved him following the Restoration. Maybe Whitelocke was temporarily got out of the way while the Protectorate was consolidated. It does seem plausible.

In any case, it certainly makes me wonder how many modern day ambassadors may be serving time in honourable exiles. And how many more career diplomats in the Trump regime may be treated as dishonourably as Ambassador Yovanovitch before all is said and done.


Ruth Spalding. The improbable Puritan. A life of Bulstrode Whitelocke, 1605-1675. London: Faber and Faber, 1975.

Bulstrode Whitelocke. Journal of the Swedish embassy in the years 1653 and 1654, impartially written by the ambassador Bulstrode Whitelocke, 2 vols. Edited by Henry Reeve. London: Longman, Brown, Green, and Longmans, 1855. (Revised edition).

Bulstrode Whitelocke.  Memorials of the English affairs: or, an historical account of what passed from the beginning of the reign of King Charles the First, to King Charles the Second his happy restauration […] London: Nathaniel Ponder, 1682.

Blair Worden. “Review: the ‘Diary’ of Bulstrode Whitelocke.” The English Historical Review 108, no. 426 (1993), 122-34.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: