Francois De Callieres and the Marquis De Torcy's "Political Academy": New Evidence

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In March 1712, Jean Baptiste de Colbert, Marquis de Torcy, minister and secretary of state for foreign affairs, (1) founded a special institution--the Academie Politique--for the training of future diplomats. A gifted negotiator himself, Torcy was anxious to truly professionalize the king's service in diplomacy at a time when under pressure both at home and abroad, (partly due to the Spanish Succession crisis), the government of France, with unprecedented demands placed upon its national (including diplomatic) resources, was becoming increasingly bureaucratized. (2) In addition, the exactions of war and its aftermath had revealed glaring deficiencies in France's diplomatic preparedness--not least the uneven capacities of her diplomatic agents--all too often novice court favourites, their appointment determined by patronage rather than professional expertise. (3)

Historically, Torcy's initiative was not wholly unprecedented, for Phillip II of Spain had earlier attempted to establish a similar training school, as had the papacy with the Pontifical Ecclesiastical Academy, founded in Rome in 1701. Also, earlier in France, Richelieu had established a royal military academy that served as a model for the numerous privately organized academies d'equitation favoured by young aristocrats, while Louvois had attempted to form instructional regiments where cadets would acquire professional training as well as liberal arts instruction. (4) Somewhat later, in 1747, Frederick II set up a temporary training center to prepare, in this case, non-nobles for lower level diplomatic posts and, later still, an academy was set up at Strasbourg, directed by Carl Adam Koch, which numbered among its members Talleyrand, Metternich, and Benjamin Constant. (5) Even so, Torcy's vision of a professional school for diplomats was novel; indeed, the very concept of diplomacy as a distinct profession in its own right proved an unorthodox departure from traditional assumptions. (6) We now perceive an emerging sense of professionalism--a response in tuna to the realization that diplomacy had become a permanent and vital activity in the life of the state. The same intensity of interstate coexistence that fueled dynastic conflicts also fostered the refinement of collaborative devices on a continental scale: an increase in the number of permanently resident ambassadors and the spread, if not growing effectiveness, of the bureaucratic agencies directing and coordinating their work. Accordingly, diplomacy had become a permanent activity in the life of the state. Like the military, clergy, and judiciary, diplomats gradually acquired the character of professionals with their own ceremonial rules of conduct, methods, and corporate identity. As the diplomat became professional, diplomacy experienced more continuing development as an altogether distinctive enterprise and subject of study. French diplomacy, in particular, came to acquire a reputation for excellence--characterized by negotiating flair, a unique style, resourcefulness, and administrative innovation--providing a compelling model for other states. To augment these advantages, Torcy envisaged a permanent repository or depot for the vast amount of official documents and records of past events that regular diplomacy generated; documents to be centralized, classified and bound becoming a forum for historical research readily available in the Louvre for close analysis by prospective academy recruits. (7) Beyond these resources, central to the Political Academy's function as a teaching institution, Torcy's goal was perfecting the stature of French diplomacy. He also called upon planning consultants to assist in devising a program of study based on their respective areas of interest, expertise, and first-hand experience. Inevitably, he enlisted members of his own secretariat at Versailles: men such as the Abbe Jean Baptiste Dubos; (8) the Abbe Joachim Legrand, who was familiar with John Locke's educational ideas; (9) and Jean Yves de St. …