Bertie, Francis Leveson, first Viscount Bertie of Thame 1844-1919, diplomatist, was born 17 August 1844 at Wytham Abbey, Berkshire, the second son of Montagu Bertie, sixth Earl of Abingdon, by his wife, Elizabeth Lavinia, only daughter of George Granville Vernon Harcourt, M.P., of Nuneham Courtney, Oxfordshire. He was educated at Eton, and entered the Foreign Office by competitive examination in 1863. There he remained for forty years. From 1874 to 1880 Bertie was parliamentary private secretary to the Hon. Robert Bourke, afterwards Baron Connemara [qv.], under-secretary of state for foreign affairs. In 1878 he was attached, as acting second secretary, to the special embassy of the Earl of Beaconsfield and the Marquess of Salisbury to the Congress of Berlin. From 1882 to 1885 he was acting senior clerk at the Foreign Office, and senior clerk from 1889 to 1894. In the latter year Bertie was appointed assistant under-secretary of state for foreign affairs, a position which he held until 1903 when, after his long term of service at the Foreign Office, he was sent as ambassador to Rome. He only remained there a year, being transferred at the beginning of 1905 to Paris, where he remained for thirteen years, his term of service being twice prolonged.
When Bertie came to Paris, the Anglo-French entente, concluded 8 April 1904, was barely nine months old. The Russo-Japanese War was still raging, though Russia was practically defeated. France was the ally of Russia, and Great Britain of Japan. Germany, believing France to have been weakened by the Russian disasters, and wishing to break the French entente with England, suddenly raised the question of Morocco, in which France had been promised British diplomatic support. The German Emperor's visit to Tangier, 31 March 1905, was intended to prove to France the worthlessness of British assurances. In this crisis Bertie's firm straightforwardness was conspicuously revealed; and, despite the ejection of M. Delcassé from the French Foreign Office at the instance of Germany, Bertie's composure helped the French government to recover from panic and to follow the policy which triumphed at the Algeciras Conference of 1906.
During the European crisis brought on by the Austro-Hungarian annexation of Bosnia-Herzegovina in October 1908, Bertie's aim was to preserve the Anglo-French entente. Though he distrusted the Russian foreign minister, Isvolsky, by dint of plain speaking and upright conduct he kept the confidence of the French government as fully as that of his own. Later on, when a policy of economic and financial co-operation, as a prelude to political co-operation, between France and Germany was favoured by M. Caillaux, Bertie understood at once that the effect would be to subordinate France to Germany and to make of France, under German influence, an instrument of anti-British designs. He stood by France throughout the Agadir crisis of July 1911, and subsequently combated the French and German tendencies which sought to estrange France from England during the years 1912 and 1913. In so doing he made not a few enemies; but in all sections of French society—from the aristocratic Faubourg Saint-Germain to the Republican Left—his personal influence was such that succeeding French governments constantly sought his advice.
In the crisis of July 1914 Bertie's apparent imperturbability was severely tested. As late as 27 July he felt confident that France would not go to war on account of Serbia, even if Russia did so. When war came, he hoped (3 August) that Great Britain would give naval aid to France without taking part in the land war. His dispatches show little trace of the ordeal through which he was passing. Down to his retirement in April 1918 he remained a fixed and constant element in the ebb and flow of the military and political intercourse that was carried on through other than diplomatic channels. For a long period he suffered from the subtle opposition of the semi-official British personages in Paris who supplied sundry British ministers with special information. He resigned, owing to ill-health, in April 1918, and left Paris in June. He died suddenly in London, after a short illness, 26 September 1919.
Few diplomatists of the first rank ever sought public recognition less than Bertie, or disliked it more. He respected neither persons nor reputations until personal experience had enabled him to judge of them. His mind was shrewd and his language blunt, his demeanour hearty without effusiveness, and his uprightness unfailing. Lord Grey of Fallodon, his chief from 1906 to 1916, wrote in the preface to Bertie's Diary: He had the gift of making himself trusted, and he had it in a rare degree. — The Foreign Office in London felt sure that a friendly policy with France would be carried out, with him as its intermediary, in the most efficient and wholesome manner. M. Clemenceau, who placed implicit trust in him, gave him, on his retirement, such proofs of esteem on behalf of France as a British ambassador can rarely have received.
Bertie was created K.C.B. in 1902, G.C.M.G. in 1904, G.C.B. in 1908, and a privy councillor in 1903. He also received the grand cordon of the French legion of honour. He was raised to the peerage under the title of Baron Bertie of Thame, in 1915, and advanced to a viscounty on his retirement in 1918. He married in 1874 Lady Feodorowna Cecilia (died 1920), daughter of Henry Richard Charles Wellesley, first Earl Cowley [qv.], by whom he had one son, Vere Frederick (born 1878), who succeeded his father as second viscount.
The diary which Lord Bertie kept in Paris during the years of the European War was edited by Lady Algernon Gordon Lennox under the title of The Diary of Lord Bertie of Thame, 1914-1918, 2 volumes (1924).
Lord Bertie's Diary
British Documents on the Origins of the War, vol. xi, ed. J. W. Headlam-Morley, 1926
Contributor: H. W. S. [Henry Wickham Steed]