John Charmley is, of course, no stranger to controversy.... How tempting it would be to begin a review of his latest book in this vein.
This book charts the ‘experimental’ peace between Britain and France in 1801–1803, often regarded as little more than an interlude in the twenty-year struggle between the two.
If there is a popular image of George II, it derives from the Whig historians of the 19th century, who established him as the counterpoint to their chief subject of 18th-century interest, his grandson and successor, George III.
As a field, diplomatic history is not generally known for its conceptual adventurousness. To resort to stereotypes, if representatives of the historical profession were invited to a party, the diplomatic historian would be the stiff, bespectacled man in a suit examining his host’s bookshelves in the corner while the cultural historians smoked weed in the kitchen.
The consular official has often been a derided figure in the historiography of foreign services, often seen as uneducated, involved in commerce, and corrupt, perhaps personified in the figure of ‘Charles Fortnum’ in Graham Greene’s spy novel The Honorary Consul.(1) Such criticisms were often levelled at consuls.
Throughout his lengthy career as a leading historian of 18th-century Britain, Peter Marshall has written extensively on, to quote the title of one of his many books, ‘the making and unmaking of empires,’ and he spent more than a decade editing the correspondence of Edmund Burke.(1) But, as he admits on this monograph’s opening page, ‘the West Indies only feature in a p