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.
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