You can read the story here: https://www.arthur-conan-doyle.com/index.php?title=A_Foreign_Office_Romance
And listen to the podcast here:
A closed-caption version of the episode will appear two days after the episode date at our YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCSy23ujzPCKpttfaUwceFfA
By October 1801, Britain and France have been at war for almost ten years, but stalemate and war weariness demands a break in hostilities, which was promised in the shape on an accord later known as the Preliminaries of Amiens.
Throughout the negotiations, the French delegation's main leverage lies in its army's occupation of Egypt. But at the eleventh hour, news has come post haste from Paris than Egypt has fallen to the British. But does Lord Hawkesbury's team know?
Young Alphonse Lacour makes it his personal mission to prevent any further messenger from getting through before the accord is signed in France's favour.
Writing and publication history
During the summer/autumn 1894, Conan Doyle was researching a Regency play with his brother-in-law Willie Hornung. The play was intended for Ellen Terry and Henry Irving, who would play a Regency buck. The idea for ‘A Foreign Office Romance’ probably arose from his research for the play. The play itself would not appear immediately, and instead became the novel Rodney Stone (1896) which, in time, became the play The House of Temperley (1909).
Around the same time as writing ‘A Foreign Office Romance’, Conan Doyle wrote the first of the Gerard stories, ‘The Medal of Brigadier Gerard’, which he read to audiences during his American lecture tour in October/November 1894.
During his lecture tour, Conan Doyle discussed Napoleon with fellow enthusiast Sam McClure, owner of McClure’s Magazine. McClure’s would print ‘A Foreign Office Romance’ in December 1894, a month after the story was syndicated in the American newspaper. It first appeared in the Indianapolis News, 10 November 1894.
The story was later included in The Green Flag and Other Stories of War and Sport (1900).
The Gerard connection
Aside from the framing device, the story has some similarities with Gerard stories to come: the cab fight that reappeared in the second Gerard story; the reference to Napoleon’s escape from St. Helena which is the focus of ‘How Etienne Gerard Said Good-bye to his Master’; and Lacour’s emotional outbursts and his cry of “Courage!”
‘A Foreign Office Romance’ also draws direct comparisons between British and French mannerisms, attitudes and conduct of imperialism, another feature of the Gerard tales.
Background to the events of the story
In Europe, appetite for peace was growing on both sides of the Channel. With the removal of Pitt in March 1801, Henry Addington came to power with a greater mandate and appetite for securing a peace many felt would only be temporary. In this he was aided by Lord Hawksbury, the future Second Earl of Liverpool, who would be Prime Minister 1812-27, the longest serving Prime Minister in British history.
The French too were keen to secure a truce. Tortuous negotiations saw both sides trading territories as far apart as the Caribbean and the Mediterranean. An agreement was being inched towards when Napoleon learned of the fall of Egypt. Gambling that the British had not yet heard the news, he ordered his diplomat, Louis-Guillaime Otto, to sign the treaty, knowing that possession of Egypt secured France a much greater outcome in the negotiations.
Hawkeswbury and Otto signed the Preliminaries of Amiens on 1 October 1801. A day later, the British received news of the fall of Egypt.
Lacour and espionage fiction
While ‘A Foreign Office Romance’ is a bit early for the spy craze of the early twentieth century, it fits into a pattern of early espionage tales emerging in the 1890s, of which ‘The Naval Treaty’ (1893) could also be seen as an example. These early spy tales include Le Queux’s The Great War in England in 1897 (1894) in which a spy uses his friendship with a Foreign Office staff member to get access to a secret treaty, and The Secrets of the Foreign Office (1903), which appeared a year before ACD’s ‘The Second Stain’ (1904), in which a spy is sent to infiltrate the European powers to dismantle plots against Britain.
The rise of espionage fiction was partly inspired by the Dreyfus Affair (1894–99) which contributed much to public interest in espionage. Another writer inspired by the Affair and the spy threat of the day was Baroness Orczy whose The Scarlet Pimpernel (1905), set during the early years of the French Revolution, has a British spy of sorts, operating in France.
|Angelo's School of Arms|
One of the common themes of these stories is the lives of the fancy and London clubland. In ‘A Foreign Office Romance’ there are references to:
Angelo’s School of Arms, a fencing club and school in Soho (https://regrom.com/2018/11/16/regency-hot-spots-angelos-school-of-arms/
John Jackson’s boxing school, which counted Lord Byron as a member
Brooks’s, the exclusive private member’s club at 49 Pall Mall, notable for its elaborate bets: https://www.jstor.org/stable/25105188#metadata_info_tab_contents.
There is also fleeting reference to Watier’s, the club set up by the Prince of Wales (later George IV).
Related works by Conan Doyle
‘The Medal of Brigadier Gerard’ (1894)
Rodney Stone (1896)
Uncle Bernac (1896)
‘How the Brigadier Held the King’ (1895)
‘How the King Held the Brigadier’ (1895)
‘An Impression of the Regency’ (1900)
‘The End of Devil Hawker’ (1930)
The House of Temperley (play, 1909)
Next time on Doings of Doyle
We look at Conan Doyle’s earliest published work, ‘The Mystery of Sasassa Valley’ (1879).
You can read the story here: https://www.arthur-conan-doyle.com/index.php?title=The_Mystery_of_Sasassa_Valley