Classic Works

François de Callières, The Art of Diplomacy (1716)

“Such is, judicious Callières,
The Great Work of Peace,
Which covers your name in Light,
And forever makes it famous,
France admires your stature
Among its long cries of elation,
Of all peoples rejoicing.”

–Charles Perrault, Ode to François de Callières on Peace Negotiation, 1698.

François de Callières is considered a leading theorist of diplomacy.[1] And, as Charles Perrault’s ode states above, Callières is recognized as a prominent theorist of peace. He published his De la manière de négocier avec les souverains[2]in 1716,[3] and soon this treatise became one of the standard references on diplomatic practice throughout the eighteenth century.[4] Callières’ book has been hailed as “a mine of political wisdom,”[5] as well as described “as the best manual of diplomatic method ever written.”[6]

Of course, questions regarding how diplomacy should be conducted had occupied many authors and theorist before Callières’ time. In 1436 Bernard du Rosier wrote the first European manual of diplomatic practice, entitled Short Treatise about Ambassadors.[7] The development of a diplomatic system centered on resident ambassadors, particularly in Renaissance Italy, led to the publication of similar works over the next few centuries. For example, in 1620, Don Juan Antonio De Vera, Spanish scholar and diplomat, published El Embajador (translated into French it became known as Le parfait ambassadeur). De Vera’s work was read thoroughly by most aspiring diplomats throughout the next century.[8] In 1681, the Dutch diplomat Abraham de Wicquefort criticized De Vera’s work and published his L’Ambassadeur et ses fonctions (translated into English in 1716 as The Ambassador and His Functions.)[9] However, all these authors, with the exception of Wicquefort, were more interested in the status of envoys than in the art of diplomacy.


Early modern Europe witnessed the intensification of diplomatic activity between states, confirmed by the appearance of permanent embassies. There emerged at this time a distinct French style of diplomacy, which pervaded the literature of diplomacy with political content, moving it away from concerns regarding norms and morals towards the actuality of politics.[10] In this regard, M.S. Anderson notes that, unlike earlier writers, Callières gives little attention to essentially legal questions.[11] For instance, Callières does not say much regarding diplomatic immunity (the Dutch jurist Cornelis van Bynkershoek published, almost simultaneously with Callières’ book, a complete book on the subject).[12] Thus, as Keens-Soper and Schweizer contend, Callières “produced diplomatic theory out of an age-old literature dominated by jurists and guides to good behavior.”[13]

François de Callières, was born inThorigny-sur-Vire, France in 1645.[14] He was an author and a diplomat. He represented the French court discreetly in several European negotiations and was an accredited envoy in The Netherlands, Germany and Poland. As envoy to Bavaria, for example, Callières was involved in early stages of the negotiations that would eventually bring a Bavarian princess as bride to the court of Louis XIV. Callières won admission to the Académie Française and published several books, including a contribution to the Battle of the Ancients and Moderns, entitled in French, Histoire poetique de la guerre nouvellement declarée entre les anciens et les modernes. Yet, the high point in his career came during the Nine Years War when as a secret envoy he negotiated the terms with the Dutch which led to the peace treaty at the Congress of Ryswick in 1697.[15] This success brought him an appointment as one of the private secretaries of the king.

Because of Callières enormous practical experience, his thoughts on the art of diplomacy and negotiation are well detailed and defined. Callières does not attempt to analyze the larger foreign policy field, of which diplomacy is one of its instruments. As the original French title indicates, The Art of Diplomacy examines the requirements for that part of diplomacy that consists of representing one’s state in a foreign capital, negotiating on the state’s behalf, and looking out for the state’s interests in the host state.

Despite Callières’ professional experience on both the policy and the representational sides of diplomacy, his book solely focuses on the latter side. His primary purpose is to discuss the art of negotiation as a distinctive activity, with reference to the setting within which the diplomat performs.[16] As Keens-Soper and Schweizer note “this book represented the final synthesis of his experiences as a diplomat and of the diplomatic customs of his age.”[17]

Structure of Work and Main Arguments:

For Callières, diplomacy is a necessary activity, the prime consequence of sovereignty and necessary to the well-being of the state.[18] In this regard, the practice of diplomacy in the correct manner contributes to protect and strengthen the states’ common values. It calls for technical competence, skills, intelligence and knowledge. For instance, Callières is skeptical of amateurs and he insists that a wise sovereign should recruit and train a professional diplomatic service.

Callières portrays diplomacy as “a profession in itself,” and “a civilized activity to cushion the forcefulness of power politics whose gyrations are not housed institutionally within a developed political order.”[19]  Ambassadors should always follow instructions and should only fail to obey directives when they entail doing something “against the laws of God or of justice.”[20] Ambassadors have two major functions. The first function is to know the other government’s business and the second one is to further one’s own government’s interests. In summary, an ambassador is to be a “good spy” in constant search for information, and in continuous communication with the host government.

The French author describes the qualities a diplomat should possess, among them “an evenness of temper, and a sedate and quiet disposition, always ready to hear patiently those with whom he treats.”[21] Callières explains that a diplomat’s failure to maintain a calm temperament hinders the work of negotiating in the interest of his government. Indeed, anger is contagious and “a man of a peevish contradictory temper often excites him with whom he treats, to answer him with the same spirit of contradiction.” Even experienced diplomats, Callières explains, “often communicate their passions and humors to one another.” A display of anger “exasperates and alienates the minds of people,” and the envoy who acts in such a way “often converts trifles and ill-grounded pretensions into affairs of moment, making thereof shackles wherewith to fetter himself; and which stop him at every moment during the course of his negotiation.”

Callières devotes a good amount of writing to the mental and moral qualities of the ideal negotiator. The negotiator as affable, calm, sensitive and discreet. He explains that “it is one of the greatest secrets of the art of negotiating to know how to listen with attention and with reflection…and then to give a just and pertinent answer to the things that have been proposed to him.” Yet, he insists that open negotiations could only serve as a preamble to the real diplomacy which is secret.

But eventually he contends that secrecy is not to be used all the time for no reason and only as necessary to the negotiations. Finally, Callières states that “above all the good negotiator must possess enough self-control to resist the longing to speak before he has thought out what he intends to say.”

Callières also maintains that a skillful negotiator should never seek negotiating success through false promises or a breach of faith. As Keens-Soper notes, Callières “reveals a view of diplomacy as an essentially moderating influence,” in which “the pursuit of interests in relation to other states is taken to be compatible with civilized behavior.”[22] Honesty is the only sound policy. Callières’ reflection amounts to a response “to Machiavelli’s axiom that only the semblance of good faith is required in a ruler.”[23]

According to Harold Nicolson, for Callières good diplomacy is akin to good banking, being founded on the establishment of credit.[24] In this regard, the French author notes that “the secret of negotiation is to harmonize the real interests of the parties concerned.” There must be no deception, no threats or bullying, and the expression ‘diplomatic triumph’ is one that should never be muttered.  Callières also spends a good amount of time arguing that the art of persuasion is an art of insinuation. In this regard, Callières contends that the diplomat is the agent and not the architect of foreign policy, but his intelligence is essential both to the framing of policy and to persuading representatives of the other governments to follow the path his government advocates.

From reading The Art of Diplomacy, it becomes clear that Callières is aware of the importance of negotiations in the context of war. Yet, for Callières, war is not the most rational policy and negotiations only for the purpose of aiding military operations may not be the best use of this tool. The diplomat “wishes to see that the troubles, disputes and wars which divide nations stop and that nations are united by a spirit of peace and charity.”

Thus, Callières develops his theory of peace and emphasizes that “the art of negotiating has more power than all the laws [human beings] have invented.”  Callières’ reflection defies both legal positivism and natural law views, because, according to the French author, the rule of law becomes secondary with respect to the rule of negotiators, as it is indeed the rule of negotiators which permanently impact and shape the agreements by their persuasive power. For Callières, only persuasion with the help of capable negotiators may succeed in resolving disputes.


Callières was the first author to be in open disagreement with the theory that the fundamental purpose of diplomacy is to deceive. On the contrary, he argued that the art of diplomacy is to build confidence and that this could only be done on the basis of courtesy and good faith.  For the French author, negotiation is not just a technique, but a way of life.

Thus, Callières is associated with the development of what will become to be known as the traditional view of the art of diplomacy, that is, the systematic practice among sovereign states pursuing their national interests within a recognized international framework. He described the art of diplomacy as the mechanism of regular professional contacts among the representatives of independent states, which provides the element of order and system in the otherwise rudimentary state-system.[25] Thus, Callières’ understanding of diplomacy is one that regards its practice as a prime institution of international politics.

For Callières, the relevance of diplomats resides in the fact that they do not simply finish wars but try to prevent them, for example, by blocking the birth of offensive alliances in favor of defensive ones, and in general working towards an atmosphere of reciprocal good will between nations. In Callières’ view, the breach of peace can be resolved, not so much by a priori given norms, but by discussions with other governments through negotiators who, through the practice of their art, refer to possible norms and successfully encourage settlement.

Keens-Soper and Schweizer brilliantly summarize Callières views in the following terms: “The pursuit of state interests is presumed to be compatible with civilized behavior. The latter presupposes intelligence. Without intelligence prudence is impossible and in the absence of prudence men habitually come to rely on will and force.”[26] Thus, Callières’ innovative development is that he redirected the focus of diplomacy to one continuous, productive activity designed not merely to serve the interest of particular states, but of the stability of the international system as a whole.[27] Thus diplomatic theory came to life.[28]

Only a few works can explain clearly how diplomacy is carried out. And Callières achieved just this. Moreover, having lived through times of wars and diplomatic attempts to put an end to them, Callières sensibly poured his professional experience and views into The Art of Diplomacy. It is there that he developed a theory of peace, centered on negotiation, not simply as a set of skills, but as a way of life in society. His theory was founded on the need for national sovereign authorities to build a network of skillful and legitimate negotiators, whose aim was to make nations prosper together. Thus, as M.S. Anderson so eloquently concludes, Callières’ The Art of Diplomacy “…is an enduring milestone in the history of diplomatic method and a universal guide to the principles of salesmanship.”[29]


[1] K. W. Schweizer, François de Callières (1645-1717): Diplomat and Man of Letters (Lewiston, 1995), chapters. 1-11.

[2] The English translation is On the Manner of Negotiating with Sovereigns but is known as either The Practice of Diplomacy or The Art of Diplomacy. This essay prefers thetitle The Art of Diplomacy.

[3] We rely on the most recent and complete translation of the classic work, Francois de Callières, The Art of Diplomacy, edited by H.M.A. Keens Soper and Karl Schweizer (New York: Holmes and Meier Publishers, 1983).

[4] H.M.A. Keens-Soper, Callières, in G.R. Berridge, H.M.A. Keens-Soper and T.G. Otte, Diplomatic Theory from Machiavelli to Kissinger (Houndmills and New York: Palgrave, 2001), 106–7.

[5] Ernest Satow praised de Callières in his A Guide to Diplomatic Practice first published in 1919.

[6] H. Nicolson, The Evolution of Diplomatic Method (London, 1954), 62.

[7] See G. Mattingly, Renaissance Diplomacy (London: Jonathan Cape, 1955), 28–30.

[8] M. Keens-Soper, Wicquefort, in G.R. Berridge, M. Keens-Soper and T.G. Otte, Diplomatic Theory from Machiavelli to Kissinger (Houndmills and New York: Palgrave, 2001), 88.

[9] B.H. Steiner, Another Missing Middle: Diplomacy and International Theory, paper delivered to the 41st Annual Convention of the International Studies Association, Los Angeles, 15–18 March 2000, 1.

[10] Supra note 3, 23.

[11] M. S. Anderson, Review, The International History Review, Vol. 7, No. 2 (May, 1985), 333-335.

[12] De Foro Legatorum tarn in Causa civili, quam criminali, Liber singularis.

[13] Supra note 3, 23.

[14] Biographic information from “Life and Work of Francois de Callières, in Keen-Soper & Schweizer’s The Art of Diplomacy edition, supra note 3.

[15] The treaty settled the War of the League of Augsburg (Nine Years’ War), between France and the Grand Alliance of England, Spain, the Holy Roman Empire and the United Provinces.

[16] Supra note 3, 145.

[17] Supra note 3, 15-16.

[18] Supra note 3, 32.

[19] Ibid.

[20] Callières divides diplomats into four principal categories, in descending rank, namely ambassadors, envoys, residents and deputies or commissionaires.

[21] All of Callières’ quotes in this essay have been taken from Keens-Soper and Schweitzer’s edition of The Art of Diplomacysupra note 3.

[22] M. Keens-Soper, Callières, in G.R. Berridge, M. Keens-Soper, and T.G. Otte, Diplomatic Theory from Machiavelli to Kissinger (New York: Palgrave, 2001), 113.

[23] Supra note 3, 145.

[24] Harold Nicolson, The Evolution of the Diplomatic Method (University of Leicester, 1951), 63.

[25] Supra note 3, 34.

[26] Supra note 3, 32.

[27] Supra note 3, 145.

[28] Ibid.

[29] M. S. Anderson, supra note 13.



Primary Sources

Callières, François de, The Art of Diplomacy, Keens-Soper, H.M.A. & Schweizer, K.W. editors (New York: Holmes and Meier Publishers, 1983).

Callières, François de. On the Manner of Negotiating with Princes (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1963)


Secondary Sources

Berridge G.R, Keens-Soper H.M.A & Otte, T.G. Diplomatic Theory from Machiavelli to Kissinger (Houndmills and New York: Palgrave, 2001).

Berridge, G.R, Diplomatic Classics: The Art of Negotiating with Sovereign Princes (Basingstoke, England: Palgrave MacMillan, 2004).

Jonsson, Christer & Hall, Martin. Essense of Diplomacy (New York: Palgrave Mc Millan, 2005).

Lossky, Andrew. Louis XIV and the French Monarchy (New Brunswick, NJ, 1995).

Lynn, John. The Wars of Louis XIV (1667-1714) (London and New York: Longman, 1999).

Mattingly, G. Renaissance Diplomacy (London: Jonathan Cape, 1955).

Nicolson, Harold.  The Evolution of Diplomatic Method (London, 1954).

Schweizer, K. W. François de Callières (1645-1717): Diplomat and Man of Letters (Lewiston, 1995).