Saturday, August 11, 2012

The Extraordinary Clandestine Activities of a Nineteenth Century Diplomat

by Maggi Andersen

Part British diplomat and part spy, relatively little has been written about Charles Stuart, Lord Stuart de Rothesay (later 1st Baron Stuart de Rothesay) 1779-1845. 

Headstrong, daring and never lacking personal courage or conviction, Charles Stuart was in many respects a product of his age, but in others he, and his like, also helped to shape that age, and consequently the fact of Europe as we know it today.  The Book Guild Ltd.

Charles was no ordinary diplomat. His story is also the story of the British intelligence service coming of age. Britain’s secret service came of age in the 19th Century, when it was developed as a key weapon in both politics and war. 

Portrait by Francis Gerard 1830

This portrait of him has him holding a pair of gloves which could easily be imagined to be a dagger. It’s not difficult to understand why he chose his profession, his paternal grandfather, John Stuart, 3rd Earl of Bute, was one of the two Secretaries of State in the days when those great functionaries controlled the country’s Secret Service, chiefly through the agency of the Post Office. As Prime Minister, Lord Bute’s greatest achievement was to bring the Seven Years’ War to an end, bribing Members of Parliament; it’s reputed, from secret funds.

Charles’ father, General Sir Charles Stuart, a distinguished soldier, could not rely on official sources for intelligence as the Army had no intelligence service until 1803 when the Depot of Military Knowledge was set up. He learned the ways and means of intelligence-gathering when he saw active service in the American War of Independence. 

Young Charles was at Eton until 16 years age in 1795. Two years later he went up to Christ Church, Oxford. During those two years he traveled with his father and kept a journal: Travels in Germany and the Imperial Hereditary States, 1795-1797. At Weimar he sat at the feet of Goethe and Schiller, and penned descriptions of these great men in letters. His letters to his father revealed his burgeoning interest in the political situation: “…the Prussians are exceedingly busy in fortifying all their frontier places towards Galacia in the newly acquired part of Poland. Some people say ware is declared; I must confess it appears to me very odd that the House of Austria should take such a step after being so weakened as she certainly has been in the French war. Everything in this country has a very war-like appearance though few people seem to know how it will turn out.”

His travels left him restless. After a year at Oxford, he moved to Glasgow University. In 1801 his father died. Admitted to Lincoln’s Inn, Charles began to read for the Bar, but was unable to settle. He considered politics and proposed himself as Member of Parliament for Poole, in Dorset, a borough that his father had represented for many years. But Lord Hobart found him a place in the Diplomatic Service. He was to be Secretary of Legation at Vienna, but he had time to spare and decided to see something of Russia. It was the summer of 1801 and Europe was in a state of suspended animation: the French Revolutionary War was over, but the Peace of Amiens had not yet come into being.

When the Second Coalition against France crumbled, England was alone. Charles set out in July traveling through Prussia, Berlin, partitioned Poland and St. Petersburg. In Vienna, he kept a journal again, Journal, Northern Europe 1801, and this time he recorded what he saw and heard as a budding diplomat, rather than a student or the dutiful son of a British officer.

Between 1810 and 1814 he served as Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary to Portugal and Brazil.

In 1812 he was appointed a Knight of the Order of Bath (KB) and was sworn of the Privy Council in 1814.

Knight of the The Grand Cross of the Order of the Bath 1812

In 1815 he was made Knight Grand Cross of the Ode of the Bath and appointed British Ambassador to France during Napoleon’s Hundred Days he left Paris and was in Brussels at the start of the Waterloo Campaign.

After the fall of Napoleon he returned to Paris as the Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary to Portugal and Brazil.

One of the English visitors to Paris, Lady Granville, observed of him: “He discovers what others re about or would be about to a degree that must be very useful to him in his present situation.”

Charles felt some responsibility for the safety of Wellington and Castlereagh – which was made more difficult due to the fact that neither man was over-concerned for himself. There were at least two attempts on Wellington’s life during this period and other may have been prevented by Charles’ vigilance. Nobody was punished for either of the best-known attempts on Wellington’s life. One attempt was carried out by an old soldier, devoted to Napoleon. He was arrested, but was not convicted, despite the fact that there was no doubt of his guilt. The court held that the evidence was not strong enough. Charles suspected a political motive and sent one of his agents, a man called Darby, to the trial. He took notes, which were sent to Castlereagh, and whether or not on the Foreign Secretary’s instructions, he lodged an official complaint.

Two events, one in England and one in France dominated Charles’ private and secret work during the second half of his first term as ambassador at Paris. In January 1820 George III died, and the accession of the Prince Regent as George IV made his wife, Caroline, Queen of England; in February 1820 the Duc de Berri, second in line of succession to the French throne, was assassinated, and public reaction brought power to the ultraroyalists. He also had to contend with Castlereagh’s death in 1822, when Canning became Foreign Secretary again. Neither George IV nor Canning was well known or trusted by the sovereigns and statesmen of Europe.

The Prince of Wales’ marriage to Caroline of Brunswick had been a disaster from the first, and the Princess had been living abroad for several years. Now that they were king and queen, George wanted to divorce her, but his ministers were anxious to avoid a divorce because as much mud would stick to him as to her and the Monarchy would suffer. Charles Stuart was drawn into the affair officially as one of the King’s ministers abroad, and unofficially as a private investigator.

When Caroline returned to England and proved to be more popular than the king, Stuart worked to bring to light Caroline’s sexual relationship with her servant, Pergami, but he failed. He had several agents working on the case, and there was no doubt that Pergami had lived with the lady, but they found no evidence that she had provided him with more than board and lodging. The trial duly took place, but it had an inconclusive ending. The bill was withdrawn but Caroline was never given the recognition that she craved, and she died less than a year later.

Charles was created Count of Machico in 1825 and Marquess of Angra in Brazil in 1825.
In 1825 the Portuguese King John VI named Stuart his plenipotentiary with powers to negotiate and sign with Brazil a Treaty on the recognition of that country's independence. Invested with those powers, Stuart signed the treaty recognizing Brazilian independence on 29 August 1825, and on 15 November of the same year the Portuguese King ratified the treaty.

Painted in Paris by George Hayter 1830.
 In January 1828 he was once again appointed Ambassador to France and was raised to the peerage Baron Stuart de Rothesay, of the Isle of Bute, at the same time. He continued as Ambassador to France until 1831. In 1841 he was made Ambassador to Russia, a post he held until 1844.
Charles Stuart is suspected of having been involved in the escape of the Comte de Lavalette from the prison of the Conciergerie the day before he was to be executed.

Painted in Paris by George Hayter 1830. 

Lord Stuart de Rothesay married Lady Elizabeth Margaret, daughter of Philip Yorke, 3rd Earl of Hardwicke, on 6 February 1816. They had two daughters: 
Hon.Charlotte Stuart (21817-1861, wife of Charles Canning, 1st Earl Canning.
Hon. Louisa Anne Stuart (1818-1891), wife of Henry Beresfor, 3rd Marquess of Waterford.

Highcliffe Castle at Highcliffe, Dorset.
Copyright Mike Searle and licenced for re-use under this Creative Commons licence.

Between 1831 and 1835 Lord Stuart de Rothesay constructed Highcliffe Castle at Highcliffe, Dorset. The estate had previously been sold by his father.  With his wife at his side, Lord Stuart de Rothesay died there most likely from cerebro-vascular disease in November 1845, aged 66, when the barony became extinct. Lady Stuart de Rothesay remained a widow until her death in June 1867.

Maggi Andersen
A Baron in Her Bed ~ The Spies of Mayfair Series, Book One, coming 6th September to the UK. 
Resource: PRIVATE & SECRET by Robert Franklin
Images: Wikipedia
Author website: AUTHOR WEBSITE:


  1. That was very interesting and informative! Thank you for sharing!

  2. The Prince Regent, later George IV, was known--whether he was trusted, I cannot say--by the sovereigns of Europe: Tsar Alexander, the Prussian Kaiser and the Austrian Emperor, Francis, had all been feted by him in London in the summer of 1814. They had met with him, accepted gifts from him, conducted many meetings with him, danced at his parties, dined with him, been driven in carriages with him.

    The French princes had also been well-known to him and had relied upon English hospitality, intelligence work, and financial subsidies for two decades.

    But intelligence work during the period is very iffy...From the fall of the French monarchy in 1792, Britain had been engaged in espionage (bigtime!)often in cahoots with the French Royalists. As the French Empire grew, so too did Britain's spy networks--but what makes it tricky to research is that none of these 'agencies' or individual spies talked to each other.

    Wellington, on the Peninsula, relied on his own private set of intelligence men, for example. Same goes for the Home Office and the Foreign Office and Horseguards...Ha ha ha.

    Thank you for bringing my attention to another 'strand' in the intelligence network.

  3. Now I want to find a biography of this interesting man..

  4. How very interesting. Difficult to warm to a fellow who was busy "digging up the dirty" on Queen Caroline -- or was he concealing it perhaps? One cannot refuse a regal assignment. And the Brazil connection, so odd. Would love to know more about Britain's relations with Portugal and Brazil. Thank you, Maggie!

  5. Great post! I'm new follower via GFC! I found you on Twitter. I'm a historical fiction author and often try to include "historical tidbits" on my blog. I look forward to your posts! :D

  6. Farida, Barbara and David, thanks for your comments!

  7. East Sussex Record Office has a copy of my article on William Wood of Woodlands Nursery, Maresfield in Sussex. William Wood was a personal servant of Charles Stuart. (copies of letters in ESRO by Duke of Wellington, Charles Stuart owned by descendants of W.Wood.) Robert Franklin's two books are seminal.


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