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  • O. J. WRIGHT (a1)

During the nineteenth century the British consular service was often dismissed as an organization with purely commercial responsibilities. A succession of governments and diplomats insisted upon this notion, despite the fact that at certain times both relied very much on consular officials for information on foreign affairs. This dependence was especially evident in Italy during the decade after 1860, when British leaders had lent their moral and diplomatic support to the creation of the modern Italian state against considerable international opposition. During this period their desire not to see the achievement undone led them to maintain a close watch on Italian affairs. The contribution made in this area by the consular service, and the manner in which it was reorganized in response to Italian unification, show how such a role could take priority over its other functions. Although this state of affairs was no doubt exceptional on account of the remarkable level of British interest in the Unification of Italy, it nonetheless provides a clear demonstration of how the organization could be used under certain circumstances. The extent to which British consuls were used to monitor affairs in post-unification Italy also encourages reflection upon the widespread view that British foreign policy rejected interventionism in favour of isolation from European affairs during the 1860s.

Corresponding author
Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, Kingston University, Penrhyn Road, Kingston upon Thames. Surrey, KT1
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Michael Hughes , ‘British diplomats in Russia on the eve of revolution’, European History Quarterly, 24 (1994), pp. 342–3

D. C. M. Platt , ‘The role of the consular service in overseas trade, 1825–1914’, Economic History Review, n.s., 15 (1963), pp. 494512

Peter Byrd , ‘Regional and functional specialisation in the British consular service’, Journal of Contemporary History, 7 (1972), pp. 127–45

David Reynolds , ‘International history, the cultural turn and the diplomatic twitch’, Cultural and Social History, 3 (2006), pp. 7591

L. J. Riall , ‘Liberal policy and the control of public order in western Sicily, 1860–1862’, Historical Journal, 35 (1992), pp. 345–68

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The Historical Journal
  • ISSN: 0018-246X
  • EISSN: 1469-5103
  • URL: /core/journals/historical-journal
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