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“The interests of our Allies”: Allied public diplomacy in Britain and the making of the Treaty of Utrecht

Kevin Tuffnell


Entre la fin de l’été 1711, alors que les négociations secrètes engagées entre l’Angleterre et la France devinrent publiques, et la signature du traité d’Utrecht en avril 1713, le discours politique de la Grande-Bretagne se centra essentiellement sur l’établissement de la paix. Renvoyant au concept de « sphère publique » élaboré par Habermas, ce discours a déjà fait l’objet d’analyses. En revanche, le rôle joué par les alliés de la Grande-Bretagne a suscité relativement peu d’intérêt. S’appuyant sur des études qui relèvent du champ de la diplomatie publique, cet article s’efforce de rétablir l’équilibre ; il analyse la façon dont ces alliés intervinrent dans le discours public britannique afin d’influencer l’opinion publique, le parlement et les négociations afin d’asseoir leurs objectifs diplomatiques.

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1“Our Allies […] whose interests I look upon as inseparable from our own, have […] expressed their entire confidence in me” (Boyer, History 282-83). So spoke Queen Anne when, in December 1711, she announced to Parliament the peace congress which would lead to the Treaty of Utrecht, and the end of the War of the Spanish Succession. Yet relations with Britain’s Allies in the war against France – principally the States-General (the Dutch) and the Holy Roman Emperor, the Habsburg Archduke Charles of Austria – were already fraught, and would become more so during the negotiations leading to the conclusion of the Treaty in April 1713.

  • 1 See Castellano’s article in this journal issue.

2InPropaganda and Peace: Robert Harley’s Press Strategies Towards the Peace of Utrecht,”1 Manuel Castellano García explains how, on taking office in summer 1710, Robert Harley’s new Tory ministry commenced secret negotiations with France to end the war, then in its ninth year. The efforts of the previous Whig-dominated ministry to make peace – at The Hague in 1709, and at Geertruidenberg in 1710 – had foundered on the insistence of that ministry, and of Britain’s Allies, on securing “Spain entire” - Spain and all its possessions in Italy and the Americas - for the Habsburgs. The new ministry started from a different position: securing the whole of Spain for the Emperor was impractical, and continuing the war to that end pointless. Spain would instead be partitioned, with the greater part going to the French Bourbon claimant - Louis XIV’s grandson, Philip, Duke of Anjou.

3These negotiations coincided, both in time and place, with the emergence of the model public sphere identified by Jürgen Habermas (57-58). Mark Knights has described how public opinion, a concept at the heart of the Habermasian construct, had by the reign of Anne developed into a potent political force (95). And public opinion was concerned not only with domestic policy, but also foreign affairs: Geoffrey Holmes identified rapid development of informed opinion in England on continental issues at the turn of the eighteenth century (245).

  • 2 Harley was created Earl of Oxford in 1711, and St John was created Viscount Bolingbroke in 1712. Fo (...)

4In his paper, Castellano describes the efforts made by Harley’s ministry, and particularly his principal secretary of state, Henry St John, to mobilise that opinion in support of peace, employing Jonathan Swift, Daniel Defoe and other writers to do so.2 These efforts, and those of domestic opponents of the peace, have been the subject of much analysis, to which Castellano has made a significant contribution (Downie Robert Harley; Poston; Castellano).

5This paper focuses not on these domestic interventions in political discourse, but on how Allied diplomats acted in Britain’s nascent public sphere in pursuit of the interests which the Queen had declared to be so aligned with her own. In doing so it reflects a trend running alongside the evolution of the historiography of the public sphere: the development of the new diplomatic history, embracing issues of gender, culture and language (Leffler; Watkins). The exploration of “public diplomacy” has followed: historians including Jason Peacey and Helmer Helmers have described how diplomats intervened in the public spheres of foreign countries through pamphlets and periodicals in pursuit of their objectives (Peacey; Helmers Public Diplomacy). Helmers instances the impact in 1673 of England’s Appeal, a pamphlet instigated by William of Orange to break the Anglo-French alliance against the States in the Third Anglo-Dutch War; and William made another material intervention with the Declaration of Reasons in advance of his invasion of 1688 (Helmers, Public Diplomacy 407; Haley 222).

6Discussion of public diplomacy has comprehended not only the forms which it might take, but also the conditions conducive to it. Writing of English public diplomacy in the Dutch Republic in the early 17th century, Helmers identified the Republic’s devolved structure: diplomats could address themselves to numerous individuals involved in provincial decision-making, which could in turn influence the States-General’s foreign policy (Helmers, English Public Diplomacy 414). Peacey identified another factor facilitating public diplomacy in the Republic: a vibrant print culture exemplified by the growth of Dutch newspapers, although such a culture could be a two-edged sword; Thomas Jacobs has attributed the failure of the Spanish ambassador’s attempts at public diplomacy in mid-seventeenth century London to a press community that was not only hostile, but also highly competitive (Peacey 424; Jacobs 430). Nonetheless, a flourishing print media could play a further role, by nourishing narratives which public diplomacy could exploit: Steven Pincus has attributed the impact of England’s Appeal to the way in which it dovetailed with earlier English polemic (243).

7These analyses of public diplomacy provide a framework within which to consider the Allies’ role in British political discourse during the finalisation of the Treaty of Utrecht, a subject which has received relatively little attention: D. S. Coombs’ work on British opinion of the Dutch during the war was published some 60 years ago, and a recent study of representations of the Empire in the British press covers a much longer timescale, and does not discuss the Empire’s role in generating discourse (Coombs; Rühl). This paper addresses that deficit, demonstrating how Allied diplomats intervened in Britain’s political discourse in the 18 months leading to the making of the Treaty through leaks and the publication of sensitive communications, and how the British ministry responded to those interventions; it assesses their impact, and the extent to which the prevailing conditions were conducive to successful public diplomacy.

Gallas’s leak

  • 3 It has been suggested that the disclosure of Prior’s return was deliberate, but this seems unlikely (...)

8When the diplomat Matthew Prior returned from talks in Paris in August 1711, he and two French agents were apprehended at Dover (Boyer, History 231-32).3 The ministry’s negotiations were now public knowledge, prompting pamphlets on both sides of the peace debate (e.g. Swift, New Journey; Hare). However, despite St John’s complaints over the reporting of Prior’s mission, the ministry did not immediately lose control of public discussion of the peace (Parke 361). It soon would.

9British ministers and French agents met in late September to sign outline peace terms, which were shared with the Allies’ ministers in London. They were then leaked to the Whig-inclined Daily Courant, a move widely attributed to Count Gallas, the Emperor’s ambassador (Daily Courant, 13 October 1711; 1 November 1711). The motivation seemed clear – the terms simply provided that the French and Spanish crowns should never be united, with no suggestion that the Emperor would secure the whole Spanish monarchy for himself. Two days later it was reported that the intention was for Anjou, the French claimant, to have Spain and its American colonies, with the Emperor receiving only Spain’s Italian possessions (British Mercury, 15 October 1711).

10For ministers, the leak was unhelpful; it provoked furious opposition to the proposed terms, focussing initially on their inadequacy (Bridges, Letter 22 October 1711; Swift, Journal 308). On 16 October the Whiggish Flying Post printed them alongside the preliminary terms agreed by the previous ministry in 1709, without comment; readers could draw their own conclusions (Flying Post, 16 October 1711). Remarks on the Preliminary Articles, published within a week of the initial disclosure, again drew unfavourable comparisons to those preliminaries. Given the Allies’ recent victories, it questioned what could have induced France to think that the Allies would accept the proposals (Maynwaring 21).

11The States’ diplomat de L’Hermitage reported to The Hague that pamphlets criticising the peace were appearing daily, and described reaction in London’s coffee houses: the terms had not been found palatable, even among those who might have been expected to approve them (de L’Hermitage, Letters 27 October 1711; 6 November 1711). Abel Boyer, admittedly an observer of Whiggish sympathies, commented that even adherents of the ministry thought them an inadequate basis for detailed negotiations (Boyer, Political State 1-2: 579-80). The initial unfavourable reaction had, he believed, led Abel Roper’s Post Boy – which operated under ministerial influence – to print a detailed defence of the terms, and six further provisions to which it claimed France had agreed (Post Boy, 16 October 1711). Boyer discerned a ministerial attempt to address public disappointment with the terms initially disclosed, but believed most remained unconvinced (Boyer, History 249-50).

12Shortly after the Daily Courant printed the terms, St John betrayed his frustration as control of public discourse over the peace slipped from his grasp (Parke 412-13). The ministry turned to repression to regain control, arresting the Daily Courant’s printer and demanding to know the source of the leak (de L’Hermitage, Letter 3 November 1711). Action was also taken against Gallas, who was excluded from court; the incident was probably a significant factor (de L’Hermitage, Letter 10 November 1711; Burnet 71; alternatively Swift, Journal 310). And repression went further: on 17 October St John boasted to the Queen that he had discovered fifteen people responsible for “scandalous libels,” and had thirteen in custody (Parke 410-12).

13Despite these moves, the number of pamphlets continued to grow (Boyer, Political State 1-2: 646). Gallas’s leak was not the only cause of this upswell of pro- and anti-peace print discourse in the early autumn of 1711 – the initial disclosure of Prior’s mission to France also played a role, as did September’s Allied victory at Bouchain which, for the anti-peace lobby, justified continuing the war. But the leak was probably the greatest contributory factor, enabling considerable adverse commentary on the details of the terms, and forcing the ministry both to intervene in print, and to turn to repression in an attempt to regain control.

“No peace without Spain”

14While St John claimed that the flow of anti-peace discourse generated by the disclosure of the peace talks and by Gallas’s leak would not deflect the ministry, Boyer believed otherwise (St John, Letter 30 October 1711; Boyer, Political State 1-2: 658). Ministers had reason to be concerned - the approach of the new Parliamentary session, which eventually opened on 7 December 1711. At the outset, the Queen would announce a peace congress at Utrecht commencing in the New Year, and debates on the peace were expected in both Houses; to prepare the ground the ministry turned to Swift. The result was the Conduct of the Allies, possibly the single most influential pamphlet concerning the peace (Swift, Conduct; Downie, “Conduct”). Published just ten days before the session commenced, it would provoke an immediate Allied response (Swift, Journal 330).

15Conduct was built around three arguments, each relevant to the Allies. First, Swift claimed that Britain was fighting for her Allies’ objectives, not her own, and complemented that assertion with a detailed account of the failures of both the Dutch and the Empire adequately to contribute to the war effort. Swift highlighted the Anglo-Dutch barrier treaty of 1709, in which Britain had promised the Dutch parity in Spanish commerce, and a substantial barrier in Flanders against French aggression; in return, the Dutch guaranteed Britain’s Protestant succession. Discounting the guarantee, Swift argued that Britain was fighting not only to win Spain for the Emperor, but also for territorial gains for the Dutch. Secondly, he questioned why the war had been begun contrary to reason, and had been conducted so badly. The answer came back in part to the Dutch – they had been colluding with the leading Whigs to keep them in power, a strategy which required the war to continue. Finally, Swift explained why the objective of “Spain entire” should be dropped: it was not part of the original war aims; to now combine the Empire and the whole Spanish monarchy would disturb the balance of power; and Britain’s finances were so depleted that it was impossible to continue the war to that end (Swift, Conduct 12-34, 17, 35-40, 41, 46, 47-52).

16The Allies reacted swiftly. Four days before the opening of Parliament, the Daily Courant and the British Mercury printed a letter from the Emperor to the princes of the Empire; the Earl of Strafford, Britain’s ambassador at The Hague, had tried unsuccessfully to prevent its publication (British Mercury, 3 December 1711; Daily Courant, 3 December 1711; Strafford, Letter 24 November 1711). The letter emphasised each Ally’s obligation not to make a separate peace, and argued that leaving Spain and her American colonies with the Bourbons would represent a threat to the liberties and security of Europe. The Emperor would not be represented at Utrecht, and the states of the Empire should persevere with the war (British Mercury, 3 December 1711). This theme, that the Allies were willing to fight on, echoed a petition of the Dutch Council of State which had appeared in the Daily Courant three days earlier: God willing, one more victory would compel France to accept a safe and lasting peace (Daily Courant, 30 November 1711). These Allied documents drew on established narratives within Britain’s political discourse: that one more victory would deliver a satisfactory peace; that such a peace would secure a balance of power by ceding Spain to the Emperor, protecting Europe’s liberties; and that Britain’s bilateral negotiations with France breached the Allies’ obligation to make peace in concert, and would enable the French to sow discord within the Alliance (The Ballance of Europe 34; Hare 6; Maynwaring 5, 11, 24). The documents also made clear that, whatever Britain’s intentions, her principal Allies were opposed to the peace, and prepared to talk up their future commitment of resources (Bridges, Letter 30 November 1711).

17A further intervention came with the publication of a memorial criticising the peace terms addressed to ministers by Bothmar, the Elector of Hanover’s envoy in London – the Elector was not only an Ally, but also the Queen’s mandated Protestant successor. The memorial, in which Whig opponents of the peace were rumoured to have had a hand, was printed in the Daily Courant on 5 December, just two days before Parliament met, reproduced in other papers, and published as a pamphlet (Swift, History 24; HMC Portland 7: 80; Daily Courant, 5 December 1711; Bothmar). The memorial stressed the importance of the Allies remaining united, and argued against the Bourbon Duke of Anjou having Spain and its American colonies. If the Bourbons were to have Spain, France would dictate Spanish affairs, and Louis xiv would have the resources he needed to thwart Britain’s Protestant succession by imposing the Catholic Pretender. Here, recycled, was another narrative prevalent in domestic discourse opposing the peace (Observator, 31 October 1711).

18Opposition to the peace – both domestic and Allied – had its reward when, following the Queen’s speech announcing the congress in Utrecht, the House of Lords voted to add to its customary address of thanks a statement that no peace could be safe or honourable to Britain or Europe, if Spain and its American colonies were allotted to any branch of the House of Bourbon (Boyer, History 288-89). This was a serious setback, but the Queen and her ministers were undeterred: diplomats began gathering in Utrecht in the new year. The Emperor, still refusing to be represented, now sent his minister and general, Prince Eugene, to London to attempt to break the negotiations. The ministry feared the Whigs would use the visit to provoke popular opposition, and Strafford tried (and failed) to prevent it (Strafford, Letter 22 December 1711). The concern proved well-founded: Eugene was reportedly greeted by cheering crowds wherever he went (Boyer, History 336-37). His reputation for military prowess ranked alongside that of the recently dismissed Duke of Marlborough, and his visit provided an opportunity for public demonstrations of support for both the war and the Allies.

  • 4 Eugene had earlier in the visit discussed with Bothmar and the leaders of the previous ministry, Go (...)

19Eugene’s purpose was not, however, to raise a mob, but to convince the ministry of the Emperor’s commitment to provide the resources needed to continue the war, and to persuade Britain to fight on. To that end, he submitted two memoranda to ministers; in a move calculated to put pressure on the ministry, the second was published in the Flying Post, and as a separate pamphlet, probably with his approval (Flying Post, 1 March 1712).4 The memorial promised that the Emperor would put over 100,000 men in the field, and stressed the need actively to pursue the war to secure a safe and honourable peace. It did not go unchallenged: before Eugene had even embarked, Strafford proposed to Harley that he should procure “some under-scribbler” to write a pamphlet of welcome which would recite the shortcomings of the Empire’s contribution to the war effort (HMC Portland 9: 307-9). This may explain an article in the Post Boy in early January which satirised the promises which Eugene was anticipated to make on the Emperor’s behalf (Post Boy, 1 January 1712). The Examiner, again probably at the ministry’s behest, asked of the promise of 100,000 men: “who can forbear laughing?” (Examiner, 24 January 1712)

The prospect of a separate peace

20Despite these Allied efforts to derail the peace, the congress in Utrecht proceeded, with the Allies (now including the Empire) responding to France’s proposed terms at the beginning of March 1712. The British, impatient at the lack of progress, then opened direct negotiations with the French. The result was a bilateral agreement for a ceasefire, in advance of which the ministry issued orders to the Duke of Ormond, Britain’s commander on the continent, to refrain from further military action. These restraining orders, issued in May 1712 and initially concealed from the Allies, were followed by a speech by the Queen to Parliament on 6 June setting out the terms agreed with France, and outlining what the Allies might expect from a general peace – the Allies had not been consulted in advance.

21As bilateral negotiations with France had progressed in the preceding months, British ministers had attempted a balancing act – reassuring the public that they were seeking peace alongside Britain’s Allies, while at the same time preparing them to accept that this might not be achieved, forcing Britain to make peace alone. Paradoxically, if one or both of the principal Allies could be convinced that the British public was receptive to the idea of a separate peace, they would be more likely to recognise that resistance was futile, and that they should join the Queen in a treaty with France. While the Emperor did not escape entirely, relatively little attention was paid to him; it was unlikely that he would join in a peace which did not secure for him Spain entire, and that would not be on offer. Instead, the ministry came to focus its interventions in discourse principally on convincing the Dutch that domestic opinion was reconciled to peace. They also stoked anti-Dutch feeling to a level calculated to ensure that it would be difficult for them to prevent the peace through appealing either to Parliament or to the public, a move which the States sought to neutralise through public diplomacy.

22The ministerial assault took Conduct as its starting point, and came to focus on the barrier treaty. Britain’s undertakings to the States on commerce, and on the extent of their barrier against France, stood in the way of peace on the terms which the ministry was now contemplating; from the outset, British diplomats had instructions to renegotiate it (Queen Anne, Instructions 23 December 1711). The onslaught began with a debate in the Commons on the conduct of the war, culminating in eleven resolutions highly critical of the Allies and their inadequate commitment to the war effort (Chandler 253-54). The House then turned to resolutions on the barrier treaty: it was destructive of the trade and interest of Britain, and highly dishonourable to the Queen (Chandler 256). Both sets of resolutions were published in the Votes of the House of Commons, but the ministry pushed for more, procuring a Commons’ representation to the Queen detailing the Allies’ shortcomings, and their objections to the barrier treaty (Votes, issues 33, 42). An issue of the Votes was dedicated to it, and it was also sold as a separate pamphlet (Burnet 112; Chandler 262-73; Votes, issue 56; Evening Post 8, March 1712).

23As with Conduct, this called for a response. The States-General passed a resolution complaining that they had been publicly condemned through the resolutions and the representation without being heard. Von Borsele, a Dutch minister in London, submitted a memorial to the Queen, refuting the charges made. Reflecting ongoing contention in domestic discourse over whether Britain should make a separate peace, the memorial stressed the importance of maintaining the union between the nations. As to the barrier treaty, the Dutch stood by their rights, while accepting that clarifications might be required. Stated to be printed with the authority of the States-General, the resolution and the memorial were published together in English; the Daily Courant lent its support, reprinting the memorial, and claiming that it answered most of the Commons’ criticisms (Resolutions; Daily Courant 7, 8 April 1712).

24The ministry hit back. The documents were alleged to be forgeries, and the Commons moved to arrest the editor of the Daily Courant (Boyer, Political State 3: 234; Chandler 297). The ministry’s written response followed a few weeks later, briefly refuting the arguments made and concluding with the key point: the Queen had done all she could to satisfy the States and wished to make peace alongside them (Evening Post, 27 May 1712). British diplomats in Utrecht remonstrated directly with their Dutch counterparts: making such appeals was futile (St John, Letter 8 April 1712).

25If their intention had been to prevent a recurrence, they failed: the restraining orders provoked a further Dutch foray into public diplomacy – a letter from the States-General to the Queen - on the eve of the Queen’s speech on the peace on 6 June. Printed as a pamphlet in London, the letter complained of both the orders to Ormond, and the justification given at Utrecht that if the Dutch would not join the peace, Britain would have no alternative but to act alone. This conduct, the letter asserted, was inconsistent with the requirement that the Allies act in concert, especially as the Dutch had agreed to a peace congress, even though uncertain of the basis on which it was founded. Once again, drawing on themes prominent in domestic discourse, the letter asserted that the union between the nations was essential to protect the liberties of Europe and the Protestant interest - implicitly, no separate peace should be made (Letter from the States-General).

26Again, this prompted a reaction. The Commons, reportedly prompted by the ministry, approved an address to the Queen noting the indignity that the States-General’s letter offered her, and recommending that she not reply (Pittis 116-18; Chandler 322-29). A reply was nonetheless sent, appearing in print in a report from The Hague in the Flying Post, possibly following a leak by a British diplomat, and as a pamphlet in London (Flying Post, 1 July 1712; Her Majesties Letter). Revisiting familiar themes, the Queen reasserted her commitment to the two nations acting in union; it would be the fault of the States-General if her measures concerning war and peace were not taken in concert with them. In closing, she rebuked the Dutch for making a direct appeal to her subjects, their letter having been published almost as soon as she had received it: “’Tis […] an appeal to the people, instead of an address to the sovereign” (Flying Post, 1 July 1712). This complaint was taken up by pro-ministerial pamphleteers: one, contemplating in July the possibility that Britain might have to declare war on the Dutch if they did not make peace, complained not only that the various Allied letters and representations to the Queen had been concerted with the Whig opposition, but that their true purpose had been to appeal to the British people (Justice and Necessity 31).

27The ministry, however, pressed on. The Queen’s speech committed Britain to peace; further negotiations would be needed, and the Allies would need to decide if they could come to terms, but Britain’s involvement in the war was almost certainly over. Nonetheless, the Allies continued to intervene in discourse as contention over the peace continued through the remainder of 1712. At the beginning of July the Empire took the initiative: the Flying Post printed a summary of what purported to be a memorandum of the Emperor’s minister at Utrecht, Count Sinzendorf, to the States. Referring to the Queen’s speech, the restraining orders and a British declaration at Utrecht that the Queen no longer considered herself bound to her Allies, Sinzendorf rejected the idea of a separate peace, and called for a continuation of the Alliance to secure Spain for the House of Austria; to that end, the Emperor would furnish 108,000 troops (Flying Post, 1 July 1712). Playing on the continuing currency of the idea of Spain entire in discourse concerning the peace, the message was aimed at the British public – the ministry was beyond being convinced by promises of additional resources, and was certainly not going to continue the war if securing the whole of the Spanish monarchy for the Emperor was the objective.

28Sinzendorf was also suspected to be behind one of the principal pamphlets against the peace prompted by the Queen’s speech, the Groans of Europe (Prior, Letter 9 September 1712; HMC Portland 9: 340-46). Complaining that the Queen had been secretly negotiating a separate peace with the French, the pamphlet analysed the proposed terms, with a focus on the Emperor’s concerns: the arrangements to keep separate the French and Spanish crowns were inadequate; the peace failed to meet the Emperor’s expectation of recovering the whole of the Spanish monarchy; and the proposed barrier for the Empire was insufficient. In short, the Queen could hardly claim that she had omitted nothing to procure for the Allies what was due to them under the treaties between them (Dumont). Groans provoked the Post Boy, probably on ministerial instructions, to print a letter in reply over five issues (Post Boy, 11, 13, 15, 20, 22 November 1712).

  • 5 The report appeared in the Flying Post of 3 January 1713, which has not been located; a summary of (...)
  • 6 No published copy of this further letter from the States-General has been identified.

29Shortly afterwards, the Allies’ interventions in British political discourse ended not with a bang, but with a whimper. By the time of the final public exchanges with the States, in December 1712 and January 1713, the initiative lay firmly with the British. In late November Strafford had delivered to the Dutch final peace terms, a replacement barrier treaty and an ultimatum: come to terms within three weeks, or be excluded. In a final throw of the dice, the States wrote to inform ministers that there remained issues they wished to raise, which were then submitted by von Borsele. St John’s detailed response, through the British diplomats in Utrecht, rejected almost all of the points made, and expressed his annoyance that the States’ intentions had been reported in the Flying Post at the same time as the letter had been delivered – yet again Britain’s diplomats were to make clear that such conduct was an affront to the Queen (St John, Letter 7 January 1713).5 A few weeks later, however, St John was congratulating Strafford on the terms of a further letter from the States (which he implied Strafford had procured) signalling their intention to come into the Queen’s measures.6 The Dutch capitulation appeared complete, and St John celebrated the beneficial effect on domestic political discourse: it should “silence those who might pretend to deplore the hard fate of the Dutch” (Parke 452-54).


30These persistent Allied interventions had a direct impact on British political discourse, catalysing anti-peace commentary and provoking ministerially-inspired responses. This was not, however, an end in itself. The purpose, rather, was threefold: to influence the public; to influence Parliament; and to influence the negotiations.

  • 7 At least fifteen advertisements appeared in various periodicals between 24 November and 6 December (...)

31To begin with public opinion – as ministers’ efforts to forestall and to counteract the Allies’ interventions demonstrated, it mattered. The Earl of Shaftesbury, writing in 1709, opined that, in making foreign policy, ministers must attend to the public, “and to that conceal’d party of sober and honest men: who, as few as they are, and as little noisy, have a much greater part in the influence of affairs, than ministers are apt to think; especially those ministers who affect a high contempt of coffee-houses and pamphlets” (Toland 22-23). The political appetites of Shaftesbury’s “sober and honest men” were fed by the media of the rising public sphere; numerous London-based periodicals, whose news output focused largely on foreign affairs, were complemented by a constant flow of pamphlets, sermons, poems and ballads. Their readership is difficult to assess, but the example of Conduct gives some indication: with the support of intensive advertising, and promotion by the Post Boy, 1,000 copies were sold in two days, and a new edition was required (Post Boy, 29 November 1711; Swift, Journal 332).7 In all there were seven editions, and sales estimated at 11,000 – and each copy may have been read by up to twenty people (Richards 9; Barker 46).

32The effect on opinion of the leak of the peace terms in October 1711 has already been described, and two months later there were similar reports concerning the reception of Bothmar’s memorial. It was certainly a commercial success: “many thousands” were reportedly sold in a few days, and some versions were designed to be framed and hung on the wall (Boyer, Political State 1-2: 678-80). One commentator noted that its publication had given great satisfaction to opponents of the peace, and another agreed it had had a substantial impact (Boyer, History 277; Burnet 75). St John himself remarked that it was inconceivable how much people were alarmed by the memorial, and it was sufficiently influential for challenges in print to both its authorship and its arguments to continue into 1712 (Parke 48-54; Letter from a Whig Gentleman; Respectful Observations). It is harder to assess the effect on the public of the principal Dutch interventions into British political discourse in 1712 – those responding to the Commons’ representation and to the restraining orders, as their reception could depend on one’s political outlook. De L’Hermitage reported positively to The Hague on the impact of both (Letters 19 April 1712; 21 June 1712). And while the Tory William Pittis dismissed the Dutch response to the representation as empty and insignificant, even he accepted that the States’ letter complaining of the restraining orders had been generally applauded, and numerous copies sold (Pittis, 82-83; 116-18). What is clear is that in each case the ministry was sufficiently concerned to take the trouble to respond, and to attempt to dissuade the Dutch from adopting similar tactics in future.

  • 8 Mark Thomson has argued convincingly that the turn of eighteenth century was marked by an increased (...)

33Allied interventions in print were also calculated to influence Parliamentary proceedings; the petition of the Dutch Council of State, the Emperor’s letter to his princes, and the Bothmar memorial were all published in the week before Parliament met in early December 1711. Parliament was important, not least because of an unresolved conflict over the extent of the Queen’s prerogative – the power to make war and peace without Parliamentary approval. In 1711 the ministry was seeking to establish that peace could be concluded without that approval, as the Treaty of Utrecht would ultimately be made in 1713.8 In late 1711, however, ministers’ efforts to avoid defeat over the peace at the opening of the Parliamentary session demonstrated that the argument had not yet been won, and the Lords’ address insisting that no peace should be made without Spain was so serious a setback to the government’s peace policy that it was thought the ministry might fall (Swift, History 18-19; Swift, Journal 344). St John was clear that the Allied interventions in British political discourse during the autumn of 1711 had contributed to that defeat, and de L’Hermitage cited Bothmar’s memorial in particular: it had frequently been referred to in the Parliamentary debates, and had made a great impression (Letters, 18 December 1711; 22 December 1711).

34While it might yet have a role in blocking the peace, Parliament had another role, through itself generating discourse – either in the anti-peace cause, as with the Lords’ address of December 1711, or in support of the ministry, as in the case of the Commons’ resolutions and representation of February and March 1712. Just as it was in the interests of the Allies for Parliament to contribute to the former, they had reason to attempt to prevent the latter. A Dutch intervention of early 1712 provides an example: in February, after the Commons had passed its resolutions on the state of the war, but before the debate on the barrier treaty, the States wrote to the ministry stressing that they had agreed to join the Queen in the negotiations, describing the barrier treaty as the firm basis of the understanding between the two nations, and expressing a willingness to accommodate Britain’s desire to renegotiate its terms. Boyer believed the letter, which was published in the Daily Courant, was designed to head off the Commons’ anticipated assault on the treaty (Daily Courant, 3 March 1712). However, he acknowledged that it had had little or no effect, a conclusion borne out by outcome of the Commons’ debate. By the time the Daily Courant had published the letter in early March it was too late to forestall the Commons’ resolutions on the treaty and the representation, but it may have gone some way to mitigate their adverse impact on public opinion: Boyer claimed that the letter was well received, showing the States ready to rectify anything in the treaty prejudicial to British trade (Boyer, History 348-51).

35The States had greater success with their letter to the Queen of June 1712 on the restraining orders. Following the Queen’s speech on the peace terms, several peers tried, and failed, to secure an amendment to the Lords’ address of thanks which implicitly rejected the prospect of a separate peace. The dissentients nonetheless entered a protestation, which cited the States’ letter to the Queen, and endorsed its complaint that the ministry had conducted separate negotiations without reference to the Allies. While the protestation was deleted from the Lords’ records, it nonetheless appeared in print; the States’ letter, as well as being itself an intervention in discourse, had influenced the dissenting Lords and gained further validation through their protestation (Collection 10).

36The House of Lords address on “no peace without Spain” points to the third purpose of these Allied interventions: it provided the States with an opportunity to apply leverage in the negotiations. One Dutch diplomat told St John that the address made it difficult for Britain to give up Spain; the British should concede commercial advantages to the Dutch in order to secure their co-operation to extract themselves from the difficulty in which the address had placed them. St John’s response reflected his assessment of the role the Allies had played: the Lords’ address “was in great measure due to foreign ministers intermeddling in our affairs,” and the Dutch had conspired with their Whig friends in the House of Lords to procure it (St John, Letter 18 December 1711).

37Nonetheless, this Dutch attempt to turn the fruits of their interventions in discourse to advantage in the negotiations was ultimately unsuccessful, and subsequent Allied efforts fared little better. The Imperial interventions into British political discourse in 1712 had negligible impact on the outcome of the negotiations; Britain was committed to peace on terms unacceptable to the Emperor. And the impact of the Dutch interventions of that year on the closing stages of the talks was also limited. At the beginning of the year the States’ objectives had been to ensure that they maximised the extent of their barrier, and shared in the commercial advantages which Britain had negotiated for itself. By its end they had long conceded on the principal commercial issue, and were reduced to accepting the inclusion of only one of the towns – Tournai – which they had been seeking to add to the barrier the French had proposed for them.


38As the peace negotiations progressed, the Queen’s principal Allies persistently intervened in Britain’s political discourse by leaking sensitive documents, procuring the publication of their own diplomatic correspondence in periodicals and (even if inadvertently) provoking public demonstrations. The purpose was threefold: to influence public opinion, to influence Parliament, and to influence the negotiations, all in service of one overriding objective – to secure peace on terms more favourable to them.

39The conditions in which this public diplomacy was undertaken were broadly favourable: a vibrant print culture fostered sympathetic periodicals opposed to the peace in which Allied documents could be published, including the Daily Courant and Flying Post, and facilitated the publication both of those documents, and of pamphlets which drew on them. It also established discursive narratives on which the Allies could rely in their own interventions: the notion that a secure peace could be achieved if only the Allies would continue the conflict a little longer; the imperative of establishing a balance of power in Europe in order to curb the power of France; and the threat which France might otherwise pose to liberty, the Protestant interest and the British succession. But the competitiveness of that print culture proved a disadvantage: a ministry well-attuned to the importance of public opinion had readily to hand the periodicals and writers required to respond to the Allies’ endeavours.

  • 9 By contrast, Haley concluded that England’s Appeal had no Parliamentary impact (105).

40Public diplomacy also requires an audience; Helmers has argued that in the States of the seventeenth century this comprised those engaged in provincial decision making. In early eighteenth century Britain it was the increasing role of Parliament in foreign policy which facilitated the Allies’ public diplomacy, providing an audience including not only members of the House of Lords and MPs, but also the electorate to whom those MPs were accountable.9 And Parliament provided the most notable success of that public diplomacy: the passing of the Lords’ address on “no peace without Spain.” This success, however, was short-lived: faced with a British ministry determined to achieve peace, the Allies failed in their principal objectives.

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1 See Castellano’s article in this journal issue.

2 Harley was created Earl of Oxford in 1711, and St John was created Viscount Bolingbroke in 1712. For simplicity they are referred to throughout as Harley and St John respectively.

3 It has been suggested that the disclosure of Prior’s return was deliberate, but this seems unlikely (Alsop).

4 Eugene had earlier in the visit discussed with Bothmar and the leaders of the previous ministry, Godolphin and Marlborough, the possibility of making a public intervention (Parke 146-48).

5 The report appeared in the Flying Post of 3 January 1713, which has not been located; a summary of the letter was printed by the paper on 15 January 1713.

6 No published copy of this further letter from the States-General has been identified.

7 At least fifteen advertisements appeared in various periodicals between 24 November and 6 December 1711.

8 Mark Thomson has argued convincingly that the turn of eighteenth century was marked by an increased role for Parliament in foreign policy making.

9 By contrast, Haley concluded that England’s Appeal had no Parliamentary impact (105).

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Kevin Tuffnell, « “The interests of our Allies”: Allied public diplomacy in Britain and the making of the Treaty of Utrecht »XVII-XVIII [En ligne], 79 | 2022, mis en ligne le , consulté le 29 novembre 2023. URL : ; DOI :

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Kevin Tuffnell

After a career as a corporate finance lawyer in London, Kevin returned to academic study, and was awarded an MA in Early Modern History at Birkbeck College, University of London, in 2014. He is currently in the process of completing a PhD at University College London, analysing British politics and political discourse relating to the making of the peace of Utrecht between 1708 and 1713, with the objective of identifying the ways in which British policy concerning the peace was formulated, and how public and political discourse were used to influence, and to articulate, that policy.

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