I have emerged from my various Public Speaking sessions with different United Nations colleagues, Only to be plunged into a new venture: an online course on Diplomatic Protocol and Etiquette.

Today’s principles of diplomatic protocol including the idea of diplomatic immunity itself trace back over 2000 years. The core principle is that leaders of nations or states need to communicate with each other safely, privately, frankly and fearlessly. When in doubt, a leader should treat another leader’s messenger with full courtesy and respect. That said, the messenger himself (or herself) needs to think carefully in delivering a leader’s message, and may wish to leave home armed with a certain discretion in how best to do that when the final moment appears.

In other words, our old friend “know what you’re dealing with“. If your leader’s message is a bit too strong to the point of being obnoxious, it might not be wise to rely upon the fulness of the diplomatic graciousness of the addressee (or his wife). As this stupendous example shows:

Our own Queen Elizabeth I did not take quite such drastic action when a cheeky new Polish Ambassador appeared and presented his credentials,  using the occasion to grumble about English trade policy. But she did give him a Royal ticking-off. In Latin!

The first speech any Ambassador makes in her/his own right is the formal address to the Head of State in presenting his or her credentials. Tone is everything. The Head of State will be alert to any nuance suggesting that the new Ambassador represents a national leadership unhappy with the state of bilateral relations.

A fascinating early example of messing this up was given by the youthful Duke of Finland when he arrived as the new Ambassador from the King of Poland to the Court of Queen Elizabeth I. The Ambassador used the occasion to express the unhappiness of the King of Poland at disruption to Poland’s trade caused by disputes between Queen Elizabeth and the King of Spain.

The Queen responded angrily in fluent Latin, saying that the Ambassador did not know what he was talking about:

How I have been deceived! I was expecting a diplomatic mission, but you have brought me a quarrel!

Never in my life have I heard such audacity. I marvel, indeed I marvel at so great and such unprecedented impertinence in public.

In all protocol matters it’s vital to remember that even at the dizziest top levels of global leadership, leaders themselves have strong personal views about where they fit into the Hierarchy of Leaders. Woe betide any diplomat or fluttering protocol official who somehow gets top people in the wrong order. Although these days such mistakes do not usually lead to street battles and gunfire between rival ambassadors through the streets of London, as used to occur in those happy days before Health and Safety spoiled everything.

Here are some earlier thoughts of mine from 2011 on this general subject:

As the Wikipedia entry on Diplomatic Protocol puts it: There is no upper limit to politeness. But there is an irreducible minimum below which bad manners become obvious’.

The failure by one country to extend to another country’s representatives an appropriate level of good manners may well be taken as a sign of deliberate insult, or a least a level of carelessness which amounts to the same thing.

Assange. Stupidity.  Flags, Alcohol. Jet-lag. Pompousness. Pride. Blunders. Diplomatic bags. Did I mention stupidity?

Diplomatic protocol. Where anything can happen, and usually does. A splendid time is guaranteed for all.