Francis Bertie, 1st Viscount Bertie of Thame

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The Viscount Bertie of Thame

Francis Bertie 1915.jpg
Lord Bertie of Thame, 1915.
British Ambassador to France
In office
Monarch Edward VII
George V
Preceded by Sir Edmund Monson, Bt
Succeeded by The Earl of Derby
Personal details
Born17 August 1844
Died26 September 1919 (1919-09-27) (aged 75)
Nationality British
Spouse(s)Lady Feodorowna Cecilia Wellesley (1838-1920)

Francis Leveson Bertie, 1st Viscount Bertie of Thame, GCB , GCMG , GCVO , PC ( /ˈbɑːrti...ˈtm/ "barty of tame"; [1] 17 August 1844 – 26 September 1919) was a British diplomat. He was Ambassador to Italy between 1903 and 1905 and Ambassador to France between 1905 and 1918.


Background and education

Bertie was the second son of Montagu Bertie, 6th Earl of Abingdon, and Elizabeth Harcourt, daughter of George Harcourt. He was educated at Eton. From his great grandmother Charlotte Warren he had Dutch and Huguenot ancestral roots from the Schuyler family, the Van Cortlandt family, and the Delancey family of British North America. [2]

Diplomatic career

Bertie entered the Foreign Office in 1863. From 1874 to 1880 he served as Private Secretary to Robert Bourke, the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, and in 1878 attended the Congress of Berlin. He served as acting senior clerk in the Eastern department from 1882 to 1885, and then later as senior clerk and assistant under-secretary in that department. In 1902 he was rewarded for his services by being made a Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath (KCB) in the 1902 Coronation Honours list published on 26 June 1902. [3] [4] He received the knighthood in a private audience with King Edward VII on 2 August, during the King′s convalescence on board HMY Victoria and Albert. [5]

In 1903, Bertie was appointed a Privy Counsellor [6] and made Ambassador to Italy, [7] and then in 1905 became Ambassador to France, [8] a post previously held by his father-in-law, Lord Cowley. Bertie would hold the Paris embassy for the next thirteen years. Having spent most of his career in the Foreign Office, he initially had some trouble adjusting to the role of ambassador, where he had far less control over the development of policy. But in his time at Paris Bertie was able to play a substantial role in strengthening the Entente Cordiale between France and Britain into a genuine alliance, encouraging strong British backing for France during the Moroccan Crises of 1905 and 1911. During these years, he was also showered with honours, being made Knight Grand Cross of the Royal Victorian Order (GCVO) in 1903, [9] a Knight Grand Cross of the Order of Saint Michael and Saint George (GCMG) in 1904, [10] and a Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the Bath (GCB) in 1908, as well as receiving the French Legion of Honour.

Bertie's career coincided with that of Sir Edward Grey at the Foreign Office, his immediate superior, and the wider fortunes of the Liberal governments of Campbell-Bannerman and H. H. Asquith. There are a large number of extant official letters marked "very confidential" that prove and intensive ongoing diplomacy on behalf of the Entente in the protracted period that preceded war. [11] As early as 1906 there were discussions about the possibility of a German invasion of France, yet always the proviso that it was in doubt, "that matters might be brought to a point in which a pacific issue would be difficult." But giving a positive assurance to France might be dependent on the circumstances. Bertie negotiated closely with Théophile Delcassé the foreign minister "toute occasion de concerter avec le Gouvernement Francais," warning them of the revulsion for war in France. He was careful always not to "cause offence to Germany" which characterised the effects of a diplomatic round shuttling between capital cities. David Owen argues that this placed too great a reliance on the Admiralty and War Office to promise unequivocally support of a BEF. It was his view that Germany would try to dissuade France from our friendship. He was of the school that believed that reductions in Naval estimates would not appease German preparations for aggression. [12]

When Clemenceau became Prime Minister in France he pledged never to rompre des accords[ clarification needed ] with Britain. Campbell-Bannerman reasserted the value of an alliance propre on election, but Bertie was concerned about the integrity of secret diplomatic lines of communication & the prompt arrival of dispatches. [13] He was not present at the leaders meeting at the embassy on 7 April 1907; which was a worry for the francophile ambassador. One dispatch of April 1911 was so sensitive that it has since been destroyed by archivists: but it is clear that under Asquith, military leaders questioned Grey's competence; one of these critics must have been the Ambassador to France. His military attache, Colonel Fairholme clearly believed the French would outflank a German army on the frontier, which greatly exercised Bertie's mind "respecting strategical problems." [14] Bertie had played hs part in diffusing the crises off the coast of Morocco, but down the coast in Portugal, the German influence was more sinister still. Unfortunately Grey refused to pressurise the misgovernors of their colonies to sell up, leaving the Germans to fill the diplomatic vacuum. [15] But the Union of South Africa cried foul, as Delgoa Bay represented a strategic naval base area that could not be ceded to Germany. Bertie was reassured, but had his own critics who were most disparaging of his performance, and failure to keep abreast of modern developments of politics and strategy. Bertie was an old school diplomat, admired protocol and court precedents, was reluctant to go beyond his own prescribed powers. In a series of letters at the end of 1911/12 he found to his cost that francophiles were dead set against Metternich's 'satanic invitation.' In fact as time went on he became more sceptical of the Haldane Mission as foolish because it threatened the "excellent position" in Paris. By February 1912 it had become clear to him that Germany was still the problem; not France. In competing with the British Empire Germany sought to acquire lands in southern Africa from Portugal, France, Belgium and Britain, in addition to promising the Portuguese government financial support. Bertie blamed Admiral Tirpitz's sabre-rattling belligerence in the Persian Gulf where it coincidentally met with the Berlin-Baghdad Railway.

He sold the manor of North Weston (now in Great Haseley) and his lands there in 1913, and the estate was divided up. [16]

Bertie was still ambassador in Paris when the First World War broke out in 1914. Although he was raised to the peerage as Baron Bertie of Thame, in the County of Oxford, in 1915, [17] during the war he was frequently bypassed by special missions directly from the British government, particularly the military mission of Lord Esher, with whom he also came into personal conflict. After the February Revolution he advised the British government against the Romanovs being allowed to go into exile in France as the ex-Empress Alexandra was perceived as pro-German. [18] When Bertie fell ill in April 1918, he was replaced by the Secretary of State for War, Lord Derby, and returned to England. On his retirement, Bertie was made Viscount Bertie of Thame, in the County of Oxford. [19] In June 1919, he sold off the manors of Beckley and Horton-cum-Studley, Oxfordshire, which he had inherited from his father. [20] [21] He never fully recovered from his illness, dying in London on 26 September 1919.


Bertie married Lady Feodorowna Cecilia Wellesley (1838–1920), daughter of Henry Wellesley, 1st Earl Cowley and grandniece of the Duke of Wellington, in 1874. They had one child Vere Bertie, 2nd Viscount Bertie of Thame, who succeeded in the viscountcy.


Coat of arms of Francis Bertie, 1st Viscount Bertie of Thame
Coronet of a British Viscount.svg
A Saracen's head affrontee couped at the shoulders Proper ducally crowned Or and charged on the chest with a fret Azure.
Argent three battering-rams fessewise in pale Proper armed and garnished Azure.
Dexter a friar vested in russet grey with a crutch and rosary all Proper, sinister a savage Proper wreathed about the temples and waist with leaves Vert, and each charged on the breast with a fret Azure a crescent for difference.
Virtus Ariete Fortior (Valour Is Stronger Than A Battering Ram) [22]

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  1. G.M. Miller, BBC Pronouncing Dictionary of British Names (Oxford UP, 1971), p. 14.
  2. The Peerage: A genealogical survey of the peerage of Britain as well as the royal families of Europe Accessed February 11, 2015.
  3. "The Coronation Honours". The Times (36804). London. 26 June 1902. p. 5.
  4. "No. 27453". The London Gazette . 11 July 1902. p. 4441.
  5. "Court Circular". The Times (36837). London. 4 August 1902. p. 4.
  6. "No. 27534". The London Gazette . 13 March 1903. p. 1672.
  7. "No. 27518". The London Gazette . 23 January 1903. p. 465.
  8. "No. 27755". The London Gazette . 17 January 1905. p. 415.
  9. "No. 27560". The London Gazette . 2 June 1903. p. 3525.
  10. "No. 27732". The London Gazette . 8 November 1904. p. 7256.
  11. Grey to Bertie, Jan 15, 1906; British Docs, vol.III, p.177
  12. Grey to Lascelles, Jan 31, 1906; British Docs, vol.III, p.184
  13. Nov 21, 22, 1906, Bertie to Grey; Owen, pp.71-2
  14. Letters, Aug 25 and 29, 1911 to Grey; Owen, p.111
  15. British Docs, vol.X, pt.II, pp.265-7
  16. Lobel, Mary D, ed. (1962). "Parishes: Thame". A History of the County of Oxford. Volume 7, Dorchester and Thame Hundreds. London: Victoria County History. pp. 160–178.
  17. "No. 29262". The London Gazette . 13 August 1915. p. 8015.
  18. Massie, Robert K. Nicholas and Alexandra: The Last Tsar and His Family (1967) p. 461
  19. "No. 30968". The London Gazette . 22 October 1918. p. 12490.
  20. Lobel, Mary D, ed. (1957). "Parishes: Beckley". A History of the County of Oxford. Volume 5, Bullingdon Hundred. London: Victoria County History. pp. 56–76. Retrieved 31 January 2016.
  21. Hallchurch, Tim. "The sale of the Abingdon Estate in 1919" . Retrieved 31 January 2016.
  22. Debrett's Peerage. 1921.

Primary sources

Secondary sources

Diplomatic posts
Preceded by
The Lord Currie
British Ambassador to Italy
Succeeded by
Edwin Egerton
Preceded by
Sir Edmund Monson
British Ambassador to France
Succeeded by
The Earl of Derby
Peerage of the United Kingdom
New creation Viscount Bertie of Thame
Succeeded by
Vere Frederick Bertie
Baron Bertie of Thame