Richard Lyons, 1st Viscount Lyons

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The Earl Lyons

Richard Lyons, 1st Viscount Lyons - Project Gutenberg eText 13789.jpg
Richard Bickerton Pemell Lyons, 1st Viscount Lyons
British Ambassador to France
In office
Preceded byThe Earl Cowley
Succeeded byThe Earl of Lytton
British Ambassador to the Ottoman Empire
In office
Preceded bySir Henry Bulwer
Succeeded bySir Henry Elliot-Murray-Kynynmound
British Minister to the United States
In office
Preceded byThe Lord Napier
Succeeded bySir Frederick Bruce
British Minister to Tuscany
In office
Preceded byConstantine Phipps, 1st Marquess of Normanby
Succeeded byPeter Campbell Scarlett
Personal details
Born26 April 1817 (1817-04-26)
Died5 December 1887 (1887-12-06) (aged 70)
Alma materChrist Church, Oxford (BA, 1838; MA, 1843; DCL, 1865)

Richard Bickerton Pemell Lyons, 1st Earl Lyons GCB, GCMG, PC (26 April 1817 – 5 December 1887) was an eminent British diplomat, the favourite of Queen Victoria. Lyons was the most influential British diplomat during each of the four great crises of the second half of the 19th century: Italian unification; the American Civil War; the Eastern Question; and the replacement of France by Germany as the dominant Continental power subsequent to German Unification. Lyons is best known for solving the Trent Affair during the American Civil War; for laying the foundations for the Special Relationship and the Entente Cordiale; and for predicting, 32 years before World War I, the occurrence of an imperial war between France and Germany that would destroy Britain's international dominance.

He served as British Ambassador to the United States from 1858 to 1865, during the American Civil War; British Ambassador to the Ottoman Empire from 1865 to 1867; and British Ambassador to France from 1867 to 1887, which was then the most prestigious position in the Civil Service. Famous for his tact, equability towards foreign peoples, staunchness, stoicism, and opulent dinner parties, Lyons was offered the Cabinet position of Foreign Secretary on three separate occasions, by three separate Prime Ministers (Gladstone, Disraeli, Salisbury) and encouraged to accept the post by Queen Victoria, but declined the offer on all three occasions. Lyons was a Francophile, and, although he maintained nominal party neutrality, an advocate of the Tory Party and monarchist whose sympathies were closest to those of 3rd Marquess of Salisbury, his closest political ally.

Lyons – who was distrusted by Gladstonian Liberals as a 'Tory-leaning diplomat' – founded the Tory-sympathetic 'Lyons School' of British diplomacy: which consisted of Sir Edwin Egerton; Sir Maurice de Bunsen; Sir Michael Herbert; Sir Edward Baldwin Malet; Sir Frank Lascelles; Sir Gerard Lowther; Sir Edmund Monson, 1st Baronet; and Sir Nicholas O'Conor. Lyons's biographer Jenkins (2014), in the most recent biography of Lyons, considers him to be the exemplar of the British diplomat, of the ‘Foreign Office mind’, who created a canon of practical norms of British imperial diplomacy, including the necessity for neutrality in domestic party politics and the necessity for extensive confidential correspondence with various Cabinet ministers.

Lyons was the eldest son of Edmund Lyons, 1st Baron Lyons; the cousin of Sir Algernon Lyons, Admiral of the Fleet and First and Principal Naval Aide-de-Camp to Queen Victoria; and the cousin of Richard Lyons Pearson, Assistant Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police.

Family and early life[edit]

Richard Bickerton Pemell was born in Lymington, Hampshire, on 26 April 1817. His father was Edmund Lyons, 1st Baron Lyons and his mother was Augusta Louisa, née Rogers. His siblings were: Anne Theresa Bickerton Lyons (1815–1894), Baroness von Würtzburg; Captain Edmund Moubray Lyons (1819–1855); and Augusta Mary Minna Catherine Lyons (1821–1886), Duchess of Norfolk and grandmother of Philip Kerr, 11th Marquess of Lothian.[1] Lyons's cousins included Sir Algernon Lyons, Admiral of the Fleet and Richard Lyons Pearson, Assistant Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police.[2]

Lyons, who was a descendant of a Norman family,[3] was an ardent Francophile, although a monarchist,[4] who throughout his diplomatic career 'desired Anglo-French cooperation at any price';[5] had 'a perceptive assessment of the French collective psyche';[6] and was 'ever ready to exculpate French behaviour'.[7]


Lyons explored the Mediterranean, during his adolescence, on his father's ship, HMS Blonde

Richard Bickerton was tutored at Elizabeth College, Guernsey, by Sir John Colborne, in classics, English, French, arithmetic, writing, and theology, where he received a Latin Prize in 1828. He and all three of his siblings accompanied their father and mother to Valletta, Malta, in 1828, where they were homeschooled in the works of Enlightenment philosophy, including those of William Robertson, astrology, history, and the classics, in addition to French and Modern Greek, in both of which he developed fluency. After an initial tour of the Aegean, his father returned to Valletta to refit his ship, HMS Blonde, before sailing again for the Aegean on 30 January 1829: on this second journey, he took his two sons. The two sons were tutored on the boat, explored Greece on excursions into the mainland, and were introduced to prominent members of society.[8] Richard Bickerton returned to England to attend Winchester College. He subsequently attended Christ Church, Oxford, at which he graduated BA, in 1838, and MA, in 1843.[8] He later, in 1865,[9] received an honorary DCL from Oxford.[10] By the time at which he had begun his diplomatic career, he possessed, like his father, a mastery of several languages.[11]

Early diplomatic career: Athens; Dresden; Papal States; Florence[edit]

Ambassador to Athens[edit]

Richard Lyons entered the diplomatic service in 1839, when Lord Palmerston appointed him as an unpaid attaché at his father's legation in Athens. In this position, Lyons advocated and sought to implemented, under the authority of his father and his father's direct successor, Thomas Wyse, policies conducive to the establishment of a stable constitutional monarchy that would not impede an Ottoman Empire which served as a bulwark against Russian expansion in the British-dominated Mediterranean.[8]

In Athens, Lyons developed the framework of diplomatic conduct for which he would become famous. He realised that a diplomat was able to win the loyalty of his subordinates with informal hospitality and courtesy, and by consulting them on matters of business. In Athens, Lyons cultivated a family atmosphere: he dined with his juniors several times per week, provided for their welfare, and sought to ease their workloads. He received their loyalty in return.[8]

It was also in Athens that Lyons decided that British embassies should impress the power of the British Empire, and that opulent dinners with foreign diplomats created amicable relationships.[8]

Ambassador to Saxony and Tuscany[edit]

In 1844, Lyons was made a paid attaché and transferred to Dresden, Saxony. He then served as Ambassador to the Grand Duchy of Tuscany.[1]

Ambassador to the Papal States[edit]

Lyons was subsequently appointed, by Lord John Russell, as an unofficial representative of Britain to the Papal States. In this office, Lyons was expected to pursue the reform of the unpopular Papal government. Lyons's analyses of the issues, his clarity in his dispatches, and the integrity of his counsel made him admired at the Foreign Office. Russell was impressed with Lyons's achievement of regaining the favour and of the Papal authorities for Protestant Britain, which had enabled Lyons to dissuade the Vatican from the pursuit of the establishment of a Catholic hierarchy in Scotland, which might have caused Anti-Catholic sedition in Britain. Lyons achieved this restoration of favourable relations with the Vatican by refusing to condemn actions, however disagreeable to him, that Britain had no ability to prevent. Lord Russell was so impressed with Lyons that, when Russell succeeded to the Foreign Office in 1859, he urged his nephew, Odo, who had succeeded Lyons in Rome, to imitate the policies and conduct of Lyons.[8]

Ambassador to Florence[edit]

Between 1856 and 1858, Lyons was Secretary of the British Legation at Florence. He was the British Minister at Florence between February 1858 and December 1858.[12]

Ambassador to the United States[edit]

Richard Lyons, 1st Viscount Lyons caricature in Vanity Fair (April 6, 1878). Lyons's diplomatic influence is demonstrated by the subtitle used instead of his name: 'Diplomacy'.

Lyons's first major appointment came in December 1858 when he succeeded Lord Napier as British envoy to the United States in Washington.

One month previously, Lyons had succeeded to his father's titles: he arrived in the United States, two years before the outbreak of the American Civil War, as 2nd Baronet and 2nd Baron Lyons, of Christchuch, Hampshire. He would later receive the higher noble titles of Viscount (1881) and Earl (1887).

The British Government considered Lyons to be the best choice for the position of Ambassador to the United States. However, US President James Buchanan, ignorant of Lyons's precocious ability, was unhappy with the appointment as a consequence of Lord Lyons's young age and his few years as a diplomat: Buchanan stated that he wanted a “man whose character was known in this country."[13] It is likely that Buchanan was anxious because both of Lyons's predecessors at Washington, (Napier and Crampton), had been recalled because of scandals. Lyons considered President Buchanan to be thoroughly inept and described him as ‘too weak to wring his hands’.[10]

Style of diplomacy[edit]

Lord Lyons contended that the British ‘were the chosen people of history’ and his political sympathies were monarchical. However, he was unprejudiced towards Americans and French, towards whom he behaved with unfailing equanimity, to an unprecedented degree. In America, he was ‘witty and erudite’, ‘tactful and discreet to the point of parody,[14] and possessed ‘a subtle intelligence and a steely resolve’.[10]

Geoffrey Madan records Lyons as the author of two somewhat surprising aphorisms:[15]

  • Americans are either wild or dull.
  • If you're given champagne at lunch, there's a catch somewhere.

Lord Lyons detested displays of emotion: according to Lord Newton, ‘he [Lyons] had never been in debt, never gambled, never quarrelled, never as far as was known, ever been in love’ and he detested outdoor life, exercise, and sport.[11] Lord Lyons became famous for his luxurious dinner parties, both when Ambassador to the United States and when Ambassador to Paris. Lyons's dinner parties ‘nothing could exceed’ in ‘dignity and faultless taste’. He loved gastronomy, agreed with Palmerston's remark that ‘dining is the soul of diplomacy’, and offered at least five courses of Moet and Chandon champagne at his diplomatic dinners because he found that it made United States senators more pliant.[10]

Jenkins states that Lyons sought to create, amongst each ambassadorial community within which he served, the structure of ‘a boys school of which he were the headmaster’.[8] Lyons contended that British legations and embassies should impress the notion of Britain's grandeur by splendour of furnishings and banquets, but his banquets were not exclusive: he often invited junior members of the diplomatic community.[8]

The Civil War[edit]

Early American actions[edit]

Lord Lyons resolved the San Juan Island crisis in 1859 (the "Pig War") by ignoring his orders and showing to the United States, in secret and informally, the ultimatum that he had been instructed to deliver to them: this enabled the United States to realize the position of Britain and thereby enabled an agreement to be reached before the animosity engendered violence.[10]

Lyons regularly attended Willard's Hotel, a centre of political gossip, to covertly discern the opinions of American notables.[10]

Lyons planned and organized the successful tour, in 1860, of British North America and the United States by the Prince of Wales, of whom he was a close personal friend until his death.[16][8] Lyons chose a route that included the centres of Republican Party sentiment in New York, Massachusetts, and Ohio, and included meetings with the politicians Sumner and Chase.[10] For this tour, Lord Lyons received the praise of both the United States, including that of President Buchanan, and that of Great Britain, including that of Queen Victoria. As a consequence of these two successes, Lyons was made a Knight Grand Cross of the Order of St Michael and St George (GCMG).

American Civil War[edit]

Lyons considered Abraham Lincoln to be an unmannered charlatan, but nevertheless developed an amicable relationship with him.
Lyons was the favourite diplomat of Queen Victoria, who said that she would be prepared to allow him to represent Great Britain 'at any court in the world'.

A few weeks after the prince's tour, in November 1860, following the election of Abraham Lincoln to the U.S. presidency, the deepening rift between the nation's slave states and free states erupted into a Secession Crisis. As he wrote in a letter to Foreign Secretary Lord John Russell, Lyons initially considered it "impossible that the South can be mad enough to dissolve the Union."[17] However, as the conflict intensified, Lyons revised his opinion. He foresaw an increasingly bloody conflict in which the Union would prevail, but after which the Union would disintegrate as a consequence of internal animosities. Lyons considered Lincoln's policy of reunion to be inept, and preferred a policy of peaceful separation.[8]

He advocated British non-intervention and instructed his staff to be neutral with dealings with both North and South, and had a network of covert spies reporting on the activities of each side. He considered Lincoln to be a social nobody and an unrefined westerner, and considered U.S. Secretary of State William H. Seward to be an anti-British exhibitionist.[10] He thus feared that American politicians would attempt to distract public attention from domestic problems by increasing their attacks on foreign powers, such as Britain. He also rigorously pursued negotiations intended to preclude the occurrence of a conflict between Britain and either the North or the South, and advocated the continual rejection of French invitations for Britain to join in joint-intervention with France.[8] Lyons successfully resolved numerous other issues, such as the defence of Canada, which he believed would be the first foreign target for a Union military offensive. Among his sources for information concerning this potential threat were the Royal Engineers, who undertook multiple intelligence-gathering operation across the Canada–United States border during the war.[8]

He was prepared to destabilise the Union, and recognise Confederate independence, in order to ensure the security of the cotton supply to Britain, from the Confederacy, after Lincoln's decision to order a blockade of the southern coast. However, he also worked to develop a personal friendship with Seward to provide for the eventuality, which proceeded to arise, in which British favour for the North was in Britain's best interests. Lyons wanted to create what he called a "golden bridge" that would enable the Union to retract the policies that damaged the British cotton trade without humiliating itself.[8] In the words of Jenkins, "by sidestepping questions of principle, he [Lyons] avoided a collision and reached an understanding with Seward."[8]

Lyons maintained such a convincing semblance of genuine honesty that, after the Civil War, the Union praised him for his honesty.[8] Lyons's stratagem so deceived Seward that Seward was led, by his perception of Lyons's apparent honesty, to consider an Anglo-American special relationship to be a possibility.[8] In Britain, Lyons's deceptive powers led the Foreign Office to consider him to be 'one of Britain's most intelligent and skilful diplomats'.[8] Lyons believed, in the words of Jenkins, that the Union "had to be disabused of the notion that there was no limit to his nation's [Britain's] forbearance."[8]

The Trent Affair[edit]

Lyons's most famous diplomatic success, whilst Ambassador to the United States, was the resolution of the Trent Affair, during the autumn of 1861, in which two politicians from the South, (James Mason and John Slidell) who had been sent to Europe to attempt to secure formal recognition for the Confederacy, were abducted from the neutral British mail steamer, Trent which was intercepted by a vessel from the Northern States. This stimulated the animosity of the British public and war between Britain and the United States seemed imminent, but, through idiosyncratic ‘tact and firmness’, Lyons compelled the United States government to release the two envoys, and the likely conflict was averted.[1] Lyons achieved this by two actions: first, he deliberately withheld the official statement of the British response for an extended period after the date on which he was ordered to give it, in order to make the Americans distressed by the uncertainty;[8] second, during the later stages of this period, he used the same technique that he had used, successfully, to resolve the San Juan Crisis: he disclosed to the Americans, without British authorization, and in a manner that suggested the disclosure were an accident, a version of the British policy that deliberately overstated the severity of the British keenness to use force, a number of days before issuing the official British response.[10]

For this victory, Queen Victoria stated that she would be pleased for Lyons to ‘represent Her at any court in the world’.[8]

For this victory, Raymond Jones has described Lyons as ‘Britain's greatest mid-century ambassador.’[18]

Lyons resigns from Washington[edit]

In December 1864, Lord Lyons left Washington, suffering poor health. Before he left, Lyons had amiable final meetings with Abraham Lincoln and Seward, both of whom wished for his rapid convalescence and his return to the position of British Ambassador at Washington. However, Lyons's health deteriorated further and, in the spring of 1865, compelled Lyons to resign his position as Ambassador to the United States. Queen Victoria and the Prime Minister, Lord Palmerston, attempted to persuade Lyons to return to Washington, but he would not. Lyons nominated Sir Frederick Bruce as his successor: the Queen and Palmerston immediately accepted his suggestion, demonstrating their possession of the utmost confidence in Lyons's ability to read the diplomatic situation.[1]

After his resignation, Queen Victoria remarked to Palmerston that she was so pleased by Lyons's service in the United States that she would be happy to have Lyons "represent Her at any Court" in the world. Victoria considered Lyons to have a ‘sterling reputation for integrity’.[8]

Three Volumes of Lyons's American Civil War despatches were published in 2005.[8]

Ambassador to Constantinople[edit]

Subsequent to his resignation from the position of Ambassador to the United States, Lord Lyons served as Ambassador to the Ottoman Empire at Constantinople, for a period of less than two years. He replaced Sir Henry Bulwer, who was embroiled in a humiliating scandal: despite the fact that the Ottoman Government had bought Bulwer an island estate, several thousand pounds had disappeared from the Embassy Accounts. In contradistinction, the new Foreign Secretary, Lord Clarendon was confident that Lord Lyons was an ‘honest man’ who would easily restore amicable Anglo-Ottoman relations: Lyons did so within two years. In this position, Lyons forecast that the Ottoman Empire would disintegrate, and he advocated a policy of British defence of the Ottoman Empire's territory only until the point at which the implementation of this policy would entail British military involvement, at which, he contended, British support should cease.[8]

Lyons successfully persuaded the Court of the Sublime Porte to decline to make concessions to France that would have provided for French control of the Suez Canal, which was an important route for the British supply of the Indian Empire.[8]

Lyons's success was impeded by the injury that Bismarck had inflicted on British credibility during the crisis of Schleswig-Holstein. Lyons responded by cajoling the French Minister into a partnership with himself: this provided for the resolution of the issue of the Danubian Principalities in a manner amenable to British interests. Lyons's success at Constantinople recovered the Ottoman favour for Britain that had been lost by his predecessors: as a consequence, he was appointed to the most senior position in the diplomatic service, British Minister to France.[8]

Ambassador to Paris[edit]

In October 1867, after the resignation of Lord Cowley, Lord Lyons was appointed to the most prestigious position in the British Diplomatic Service: British Ambassador to France, at Paris. The twenty years Lyons spent in Paris coincided with a crucial period in French history which included the last years of the Second French Empire, the Franco-Prussian War, the Paris Commune, the establishment of the Third Republic and the beginning of the Boulanger crisis, which threatened to destruct the republican settlement. Lyons served in this position for a continuous period of twenty years, making him one of the longest serving occupants of the position. He was also one of the most successful: Lyons maintained absolute political neutrality, which he considered to be an imperative quality for a diplomat,[8] that enabled him to develop amicable relationships with Liberal ministers to whose political sympathies he was fundamentally averse:[8] according to Jenkins, ‘the presence of such a reliable and conciliatory man in the most sensitive and important post in Europe gave both Liberal and Conservative British Governments an essential guarantee that their instructions would always be carried out according to the terms determined in London’.[1] The fact that Lyons remained absolutely politically neutral demonstrates that his promotion to the highest ambassadorial rank, by the Tories, was a consequence of '[his] professional not political considerations'.[8]

When Lyons arrived in Paris during the last months of 1867, at the height of the Paris Exhibition, the Second French Empire was stable. Lyons was entrusted by Napoleon III,[9] but considered Napoleon's war with Prussia to be idiotic, and predicted, again correctly, that it would culminate in the destruction of the French Empire.

Lyons's correspondence provides valuable contemporaneous commentary on the siege of Paris, on the insurgency of the Paris Commune, on the transfer of political power to Germany, and on the various inept French attempts to establish a stable polity. Before Paris was invested, Lyons arranged an interview between Otto von Bismarck and M. Jules Favre, but it failed to resolve the problem. During the investment of Paris, Lyons, to secure a position in which he would be able to continue to report to the British Government, departed for Tours, and subsequently to Bourdeaux, along with ministers of the French provisional government. Lyons was criticised in the House of Commons for identifying absolutely with the Provisional Government, but his action was correct, and his critics erroneous, because England had already recognised the Provisional Government as the de facto government.[9]

Lyons advocated the restoration of French military power because he believed that it would restore the balance of power on the Continent. Lyons worked unceasingly to create secure British relations with France, but his actions were met with French aversion to Britain: though Lyons had succeeded to the office as a Francophile, he had lost the favour with which he had considered the French by the time of his resignation.[8]

When travelling through Paris, Queen Victoria often stayed to spend time with Lyons.[8]

Advocacy of an Entente with France and forecast of World War[edit]

Lord Lyons did not consider parliamentary democracy to be a viable system for France. He favoured powerful leaders, such as Napoleon III and Léon Gambetta, believing that only such were able to pacify French society, which was necessary for the perpetuation of the French entente with Britain and its adherence to a free-trade policy.[8]

The later years of Lyons's tenure in France included those in which the Eastern Question determined international policy; those in which France invaded Tunisia and pursued imperial expansion; and those in which the Egyptian Question became an important issue. As the response to all of these issues, Lord Lyons advocated a close association, in international politics, between France and Britain: prophetically, Lyons advocated policies that he thought would prevent a conflict between France and Germany, which he forecast, and that, therefore, would secure the perpetuation of British dominance within Europe. Subsequent to the British Action in Egypt in the summer of 1882, and the formal abolition of the dual rule in Egypt, Lyons became inextricably involved in a confrontation between Britain and France that lasted until 1904: he worked diligently to ease it, but with little success, although his characteristic quality of gracefulness towards those whose interests were antithetical to the British interest, of which his defence was absolute, prevented the antipathy from evolving into animosity. Unlike many members of the British Government, Lyons contended that Britain should, having established its authority over Egypt, not withdraw from the task into which she had entered herself: he advocated a British reform of Egyptian finances and a British observance of French financial rights in Egypt.[8]

Lyons's competence in France led the Prime Minister, Salisbury, with the support of Queen Victoria, to offer Lyons the position of Foreign Secretary, on the formation of the second Salisbury administration, in 1886: this was the third occasion on which Lyons had been offered the Foreign Office, and for the third time, Lyons declined.[8]

Lyons, who had inherited the titles of 2nd Baronet and 2nd Baron Lyons subsequent to the death of his father, Edmund Lyons, in 1858, also received the higher noble titles of Viscount, in 1881, and Earl, in 1887, though he died before he had been formally invested with the latter.[8]

Lyons, photographed by Mathew Brady

Lyons agreed to remain Ambassador to France until the close of 1887: this was against his wishes, but according to those of Salisbury. Lyons finally relinquished this post in October 1887, whereupon it was to be declared that he was to be raised from Viscount to Earl. Lyons was succeeded as Ambassador to France by the Earl of Lytton, who had been his Secretary whilst he had served in the post.[8]

Lyons was exhausted by the time of his retirement: he had served as an Ambassador to the world's most important courts for a continuous period of 50 years. In November, one month after his retirement, he suffered a severe stroke that rendered him paralysed and incapacitated: on 5 December, he died, at Norfolk House, the residence of his nephew, Duke of Norfolk. Lyons was never able to enjoy the retirement which he had intended to begin.[8]

Retirement and burial[edit]

Lyons developed cordial relations with the House of Rothschild, especially Alphonse James de Rothschild (pictured) and his brothers.

Conversion to Roman Catholicism[edit]

In 1886, Lyons's sister, the Duchess of Norfolk, died. Lyons had devoted the first two weeks of his retirement to the study of Catholicism, had received permission from the Prime Minister to attend Mass, and had expressed his desire to convert to Catholicism. He had not converted to Catholicism by the time of his stroke/seizure, which paralysed and incapacitated him to the extent that ‘it is extremely doubtful to what extend he retained consciousness’: however, the Bishop of Southwark, Dr. Butt, with whom Lyons had had several conversations about Catholicism in the short period between the beginning of his retirement and his loss of consciousness, ‘felt so convinced of his [Lyons’s] disposition and intention that he received [Lyons] into the [Catholic] Church and administered to him extreme unction’ whilst Lyons lay unconscious and unable to communicate. Lyons was not conscious for the rite and never regained consciousness: he was, however, in the way aforementioned, converted.[19]


Lord Lyons died before he had formally received the title of Earl: however, because the notice of his possession of this title had appeared in the London Gazette, he is usually, nevertheless, termed 1st Earl Lyons, as in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography,[1] the Dictionary of National Biography,[9] and the American Civil War, Round Table UK Profile.[10]

Lyons never married and died without issue. His only brother had predeceased him, without issue, in 1855. All of Earl Lyons's titles became extinct on his death.[9] He left the possessions and decorations of his father, Edmund, 1st Baron Lyons, to the Dukes of Norfolk, in the hope that they would be kept at Arundel Castle.[2]


Lord Lyons's funeral occurred on 10 December 1887 at the Fitzalan Chapel at Arundel Castle. He is buried under the Chapel, which is the burial ground of the traditionally Catholic Dukes of Norfolk. His sister, the Duchess of Norfolk, her husband, the 14th Duke, and his father, Edmund, 1st Baron Lyons, are buried alongside him.[2]

Numerous members of the British aristocracy attended the funeral at the Fitzalan Chapel. Queen Victoria, the Prince of Wales, Gustave de Rothschild, Alphonse James de Rothschild, and Edmond James de Rothschild sent floral tributes.[2]

"Lyons school" of diplomacy[edit]

Lord Lyons's 1887 obituary in The Morning Post describes him as ‘the idea of a pattern and ideal diplomatist’ who ‘knew the contents of every modern dispatch’ ‘by heart’.[16] Lyons attained the height of his influence during the premierships of his close political ally 3rd Marquess of Salisbury, who offered him the position of Foreign Secretary in 1886.[20] He was always distrusted by Gladstonian Liberals for being a 'Tory-leaning diplomat',[21] and there were complaints that the Lyons-trained Foreign Office during the Salisbury premierships had been packed with Tories.[22]

In the 21st century, including by his biographer Brian Jenkins (2014), by T. G. Otte (2011), and by Scott Cairns (2004),[23] Lyons has been identified as the progenitor of a Tory-sympathetic[24] 'Lyons School' of British diplomacy: which consisted of Sir Edwin Egerton; Sir Maurice de Bunsen; Sir Michael Herbert; Sir Edward Baldwin Malet; Sir Frank Lascelles; Sir Gerard Lowther; Sir Edmund Monson, 1st Baronet; and Sir Nicholas O'Conor.[25] Lyons's biographer Jenkins (2014), in the most recent biography of Lyons, considers him to be the exemplar of the British diplomat, of the ‘Foreign Office mind’, who created a canon of practical norms of British imperial diplomacy, including the necessity for neutrality in domestic party politics and the necessity for extensive confidential correspondence with various Cabinet ministers.

Other legacy[edit]

Through his nephew, the Duke of Norfolk, Lyons was the great-granduncle of the writer Maisie Ward, and the great-great-granduncle of the translator Rosemary Sheed and the writer Wilfred Sheed.

Lyons appears briefly as a character in the alternative history novel Guns of the South by Harry Turtledove. He also appears in the Southern Victory Series novel The Great War: American Front also by Turtledove, where he was a diplomat who was sent to Washington, D.C., after the Battle of Camp Hill to advise Abraham Lincoln that the United Kingdom and France were set to offer recognition to the Confederate, and that if the U.S. did not do the same, Britain would defend the C.S. by use of its military. This, in addition to the claim of the Lord Lyons character that he envisioned a time where both the U.S. and C.S. would "stand together, [as] a pair of sturdy brothers," is historically untrue. He was also a minor character in the historical novel Freedom by William Safire.

See also[edit]

Sources and further reading[edit]

  • Langford Vere, Oliver. History of the Island of Antigua, Vol. 2. Mitchell and Hughes, London, 1894. pp. 214–217.
  • Eardley-Wilmot, S. M. Lord Lyons: Life of Vice-Admiral Edmund, Lord Lyons. Sampson Low, Marston and Company,1898.
  • "Richard Bickerton Pemell Lyons, 1st Viscount Lyons". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.
  • Jenkins, Brian. Lord Lyons: A Diplomat in an Age of Nationalism and War. McGill-Queen’s Press, 2014.
  • "American Civil War, Round Table UK: Profile: Lord Lyons".
  • Otte, T. G. (2011). The Foreign Office Mind: The Making of British Foreign Policy: 1865–1914.
  • Cairns, Scott. T. (2004). "Lord Lyons and Anglo-American Diplomacy During the American Civil War, 1859–1865"; PhD Thesis. London School of Economics.
  • "Papers of Lyons, Richard Bickerton Pemell, diplomat, Viscount Lyons". The National Archives of the UK.
  • "Lyons, Richard Bickerton Pemell" . Dictionary of National Biography. London: Smith, Elder & Co. 1885–1900.
  • Lord Lyons: A Record of British Diplomacy vol. 1 at Project Gutenberg
  • "Edmund Lyons, 1st Baron Lyons". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.
  • "Sir Algernon Lyons". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.
  • O’Byrne, William Richard. A Naval Biographical Dictionary, Lyons, Edmund.


  1. ^ a b c d e f "Richard Bickerton Pemell Lyons, 1st Viscount Lyons". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.
  2. ^ a b c d Langford Vere, Oliver. History of the Island of Antigua, Vol. 2. Mitchell and Hughes, London, 1894. pp. 214–217.
  3. ^ Hewitt, Michael (2014). A Most Remarkable Family: A History of the Lyon Family from 1066 to 2014. AuthorHouse.
  4. ^ Otte, T. G. (2011). The Foreign Office Mind: The Making of British Foreign Policy: 1865 – 1914. p. 135.
  5. ^ Otte, T. G. (2011). The Foreign Office Mind: The Making of British Foreign Policy: 1865 – 1914. p. 138.
  6. ^ Otte, T. G. (2011). The Foreign Office Mind: The Making of British Foreign Policy: 1865 – 1914. p. 148.
  7. ^ Otte, T. G. (2011). The Foreign Office Mind: The Making of British Foreign Policy: 1865 – 1914. p. 143.
  8. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa ab ac ad ae af ag ah ai aj Jenkins, Brian. Lord Lyons: A Diplomat in an Age of Nationalism and War. McGill-Queen’s Press, 2014.
  9. ^ a b c d e "Lyons, Richard Bickerton Pemell" . Dictionary of National Biography. London: Smith, Elder & Co. 1885–1900.
  10. ^ a b c d e f g h i j "American Civil War Round Table UK".
  11. ^ a b Lord Newton (1913). Lord Lyons: A Record of British Diplomacy.
  12. ^ Walford, E. (1882). The County Families of the United Kingdom. p. 404.
  13. ^ Amanda Foreman (2010), A World on Fire: Britain's Crucial Role in the American Civil War, New York: Random House, Prologue, p. 9; Brian Jenkins (1974—1980), Britain and the War for the Union, Montréal: McGill-Queen's University Press, vol. 1, p. 44.
  14. ^ Foreman, Amanda (2010). A World on Fire: An Epic History of Two Nations Divided. Random House, New York.
  15. ^ J.A.Gere and John Sparrow (eds.), Geoffrey Madan's Notebooks, Oxford University Press, 1981, at page 34
  16. ^ a b "Obituary of Richard Lyons, 1st Viscount Lyons, Morning Post, 6 December 1887".
  17. ^ Amanda Foreman (2010), A World on Fire: Britain's Crucial Role in the American Civil War, New York: Random House, Ch. 3, "'The Cards are in Our Hands!'" p. 61.
  18. ^ Raymond A. Jones The British Diplomatic Service, 1815–1914
  19. ^ Obituary Notice of Lord Lyons: The Times, 6 December 1887
  20. ^ Otte, T. G. (2011). The Foreign Office Mind: The Making of British Foreign Policy: 1865 – 1914. pp. 149–155.
  21. ^ Otte, T. G. (2011). The Foreign Office Mind: The Making of British Foreign Policy: 1865 – 1914. p. 138.
  22. ^ Otte, T. G. (2011). The Foreign Office Mind: The Making of British Foreign Policy: 1865 – 1914.
  23. ^ Cairns, Scott. T. (2004). "Lord Lyons and Anglo-American Diplomacy During the American Civil War, 1859–1865"; PhD Thesis. London School of Economics.
  24. ^ Otte, T. G. (2011). The Foreign Office Mind: The Making of British Foreign Policy: 1865 – 1914. pp. 138–139.
  25. ^ Otte, T. G. (2011). The Foreign Office Mind: The Making of British Foreign Policy: 1865 – 1914. pp. 155–156.

External links[edit]

Media related to Richard Lyons, 1st Viscount Lyons at Wikimedia Commons

Diplomatic posts
Preceded by
Henry Howard
(pro tempore)
British Minister to Tuscany
Succeeded by
Peter Campbell Scarlett
Preceded by
The Lord Napier
British Minister to the United States
Succeeded by
Sir Frederick Bruce
Preceded by
The Earl Cowley
British Ambassador to France
Succeeded by
The Earl of Lytton
Peerage of the United Kingdom
New creation Viscount Lyons
Preceded by
Edmund Lyons
Baron Lyons