During the middle ages the diplomatic system had entrenched itself into two main types of envoys – the nuncius and the plenipotentiary. The plenipotentiary was travelling as the direct representative of his liege usually of high nobility and had full negotiation powers whereas the nuncius was limited to delivering a message. Sending off an embassy each time negotiations between states would take place became very expensive and troublesome due to the pomp and often quarrels between the negotiators about precedence and ceremony. Partly due to this the resident embassy was born in the Italian city states in the late fifteenth century. It was also soon discovered that not only was having a resident embassy within a state cost effective but also beneficial in the creation of contacts, creating a better understanding of the state and thereby creating an invaluable source of information. (Berridge 2005: 108-109)
Contemporary of the creation of the resident embassy was the infamous political philosopher and career diplomat Niccolo Machiavelli and, although he didn’t spend much time theorizing about diplomacy as such, he had some interesting opinions on diplomatic practice which illustrate the crossroads of which Italy around 1500 can be seen. Machiavelli believed in permanent diplomacy within all courts important to a country – both with friends and foes, as you never could know when a friend turned into a foe. Even though Machiavelli was in favor of the new modern resident diplomacy his ideas were in many ways far from what would later become the widely accepted diplomatic norms. For one he was in strong favor frequent use of deception and bribery to achieve goals – which in later diplomatic practice would be advised against as it in the long run would ruin the reputation and credibility of the embassy and in turn their home government. Also, he didn’t see the diplomat as being part of an international system but rather merely serving selfish interests for the diplomat himself and for the state he served in what he saw as the almost continuous state of war between states. (Berridge 2001: 21-24)
A later but very important diplomatic thinker was the de facto ruler of France 1624-1642 – Cardinal Richelieu. He was a strong proponent of diplomacy and preferred it much to the use of brute force, particularly Richelieu is known for his concept of continuous negotiation. By this he means that the state must have diplomatic representations in all courts – even where it doesn’t seem worthwhile. Furthermore the representations shall not be limited to gathering information but must conduct negotiations at all times to reach objectives even where the objective seems difficult if not impossible to reach or where no interesting objectives are to be found. Negotiations doesn’t necessarily have to take place along the established channels either they can be done in secrecy too if that is preferable. But the most important goal for Richelieu is the reputation of the state and the sovereign – who is the embodiment of the state. Through the vast network of diplomatic representations France in this case would have a large amount of diplomatic agents speaking the case of their home country in all countries. The continuous negotiation is therefore in many cases only secondarily intended to achieve specific political or economic goals, but primarily a way of advocating the viewpoints of the French state and increase awareness and perhaps in time support for these causes. (Berridge 2001: 71-82)
Richelieu can in this regard be seen as much ahead of his time as much of his continuous negotiation concept can be seen as a form of proto-nation branding or public diplomacy centuries before these concepts were even coined.
The French system
As the diplomatic practice became more ingrown it began to be institutionalized. As Richelieu had recommended diplomatic representations had become more widespread and permanent and the role of the resident embassy gradually increased its status – where it previously primarily was the occasional special envoys that had the highest status it was now the ambassador. This institutionalization of diplomatic practice created a sense of professionalism and collegiality between the diplomats in the different capitals – the notion of the diplomatic corps was created. The diplomatic corps became a valuable source of information for all involved diplomats as well as having some similarities with a trade union as all the diplomats had some similar interests, such as maintaining the diplomatic immunity. (Berridge 2005: 112)
Another development introduced with the French system of diplomacy was that of secrecy. Negotiations generally began to be held in secrecy in order for both parties to have a bit more leeway in the process without having too much interference from the negotiators home governments or from public sentiment. This secret style of negotiation was favored because usually both parties of a negotiation would need to give in on some areas to reach a deal. This would be easier to present to their government and in turn the public after the deal had been struck. Unfortunately this also stigmatized the diplomatic corps as being closed and unapproachably, which is a reputation that might limit their success in public diplomacy unless the image undergoes a change.
As the diplomatic practice had become institutionalized some dilemmas became visibly. One of the main dilemmas was the tradeoff between experience and loyalty. The longer time a diplomat was stationed at a location the larger chance he had of establishing an invaluable network of contacts and gains a deeper understanding of the place he was stationed. On the other hand, diplomats who were stationed at the same location for long stretches of time ran the risk of going native. This means that the diplomat can begin to have more sympathetic views of the policies and viewpoints of the place he is stationed rather than his home government. To avoid this, ministries of foreign affairs generally imposed a time limit for how long a diplomat could be allowed to be stationed at the same location, which still is in effect to this day. (Berridge 2005: 110-114)