Born into a wealthy English family, Gertrude Bell was an explorer at heart and went down in history for her journeys across the Middle East and for helping establish the Hāshimite dynasty in Iraq. Though she graduated in history from Oxford, being a woman, she wasn’t awarded a degree.
The son of a soldier and intelligence officer, Rory Stewart was educated at Eton and Oxford and was also a tutor to princes William and Harry. Apart from being a diplomat and MP later, he also traveled across several countries on foot and wrote about this remarkable journey in a bestselling book.
Richard Francis Burton was a British explorer, soldier, and scholar. He is best remembered for his explorations in Africa, Asia, and the Americas. Along with John Hanning Speke, Burton was the first European to witness the Great Lakes of Africa. A prolific writer, Burton wrote several scholarly articles about numerous subjects like sexual practices, falconry, human behavior, travel, and ethnography.
At age 10, John Montagu succeeded his grandfather, Edward Montagu, as the earl of Sandwich. The Eton- and Cambridge-educated statesman had held several important positions, such as the First Lord of the Admiralty. While gambling, he would often have bread and meat, leading to the delicacy being named “sandwich.”
Remembered as the principal secretary to Queen Elizabeth I, Francis Walsingham had initially followed in his father’s footsteps to study law. He fled after Mary Tudor came to power and returned when Elizabeth took over the throne. He later employed spies to counter Catholic conspiracies such as the Throckmorton Plot.
Rumored to be a possible lover of the English king James I, statesman George Villiers, was a royal favorite but later grew unpopular with people for his inefficiency and faulty foreign policies. He practically ruled England in the initial years of Charles I’s reign and was eventually assassinated by an army officer.
Born to an English judge in British India, James Brooke was educated in England and then served the Bengal Army. He later established the Brooke Raj, or the State of Sarawak, in Borneo and reigned as its first White Rajah. He was knighted and later handed over his Raj to his nephew.
While he was a member of the British Foreign Office, diplomat Donald Maclean was also simultaneously spying for the Soviet Union as part of the Cambridge Five, supplying them confidential information. He eventually vanished from England and reappeared as a Communist in the Soviet Union, years later.
Son of All-India Muslim League president Aga Khan III, Aly Khan was known for his numerous affairs and his marriage to Hollywood star Rita Hayworth. The socialite and race-horse owner was stripped of his inheritance, as Aga Khan’s will mentioned Aly’s son Karim as his successor.
Best known for his 14-volume book A History of Soviet Russia, British historian and diplomat E. H. Carr had been part of the Foreign Office for a long time, before stepping into the academic world. He had also been an assistant editor of The Times and a fellow of both Oxford and Cambridge.
Former British Conservative politician Geoffrey Howe was also the longest-serving minister in Margaret Thatcher’s cabinet. While he once served as the deputy prime minister of the UK, he is remembered as someone who virtually ended Thatcher’s reign as the prime minister with his resignation over Britain’s European policy.
Born to a popular politician father and a socialite mother, John Julius Norwich was educated at Eton and later served the navy. A diplomat, historian, and traveler, he is known for his books such as Absolute Monarchs and for hosting documentaries such as Maestro and the BBC radio show My Word!
Former British Liberal Democrats leader Paddy Ashdown was the son of a British Indian Army officer and had himself served the Royal Marines and the MI6. He knew 6 languages, including Mandarin, and had also been the UN high representative in Bosnia-Herzegovina. He eventually succumbed to bladder cancer.
Born to a British civil servant in British India, Hastings Lionel Ismay later joined the British Indian Army. During World War II, he rose to be the most trusted military advisor of British prime minister Winston Churchill. He later also served as NATO’s first secretary-general and was eventually knighted.
Former MI6 chief John Sawers has also been a Permanent Representative of the UK to the UN and the British ambassador to Egypt. His work has taken him to Yemen, Syria, and South Africa. A descendant of the aristocratic Stratford family, he later founded Newbridge Advisory and also taught at King's College London.
Sir Edward Grey spent a long 11-year stint as the British foreign secretary, the longest uninterrupted tenure anybody has had in the same post. He is known for his support of France in the Moroccan crises and his iconic “the lamps are going out” remark made to the Westminster Gazette.
Born into an aristocratic family, Victor Hope, 2nd Marquess of Linlithgow received an elite education at Eton. He later became India’s longest serving viceroy of India. He is also remembered for his numerous conflicts with the Indian National Congress and for his efforts in suppressing the independence movement.
The only son and heir of Henry, 3rd Earl of Lancaster, Henry of Grosmont, 1st Duke of Lancaster, lost his mother at 12 but grew up to be one of the most affluent peers of his time. His memoir Livre de seyntz medicines revealed a lot about his life and his character.
Renowned British diplomat Thomas Roe had started his career as an ambassador to the Mughal emperor Jahangir’s court in India, where he furthered British interests, and was later an ambassador to the Ottoman Empire. He also negotiated treaties during the Thirty Years’ War and was later knighted for his achievements.
British Army field marshal Garnet Wolseley had been part of countless campaigns, such as the 1857 Indian Mutiny and the Crimean War. Born to an army major, he became the British Army’s youngest lieutenant colonel, at 25. He had lost an eye in battle and was eventually credited with modernizing the British troupes.
British diplomat Gladwyn Jebb is best remembered for his service as the acting secretary-general of the UN after World War II, before the first secretary-general was declared. While his diplomatic work took him to places such as Tehran and Rome, he was later knighted for his achievements.
William Hamilton didn’t just hold significant posts such as that of the British ambassador to Naples, but also made extensive studies at Vesuvius and Etna, as a volcanologist. He was also a passionate collector of Greek and Roman vases, and many of his prized possessions are now housed at the British Museum.
Part of the famous Rothschild banking family from Frankfurt, Alfred de Rothschild started his career with his family’s N.M. Rothschild Bank in London. He later had a 20-year stint as the director of the Bank of England. A passionate art collector, he later also served as a trustee of the National Gallery.
Irish-British diplomat James Cross had worked in New Delhi, Halifax, Winnipeg, and Kuala Lumpur before moving back to Canada as a trade commissioner. In late 1970, the Quebec Liberation Front abducted him, though he was released after 2 months. He died of COVID-19 complications at age 99.
British diplomat and Conservative politician Mark Sykes is best remembered for his association with the Sykes–Picot Agreement, which was related to the partitioning of the Ottoman Empire following World War I. He also played a role in the Balfour Declaration. He succumbed to the Spanish flu pandemic at age 39.
Once the viceroy and governor-general of India, Lord Hardinge was the grandson of another governor-general, Henry Hardinge. His tenure witnessed the transfer of India’s capital from Calcutta to New Delhi. He was also instrumental in sending a large number of Indian soldiers to fight for Britain in World War I.
Diplomat Peter Westmacott had been the British ambassador to the US, Turkey, and France. He had started his career with the Foreign Office and was initially posted in Tehran, Iran. He has been knighted for his achievements and has also received the Legion of Honour.
Steven Dick served as the deputy British ambassador to Hungary and had previously served in Kabul and Riyadh. He was well-versed in Arabic, too. The Glasgow-born diplomat had started his career as a trainee with the Bank of Scotland. He died after contracting COVID-19 at age 37.
British statesman and Conservative Party politician Samuel Hoare is best remembered for framing the 1935 Government of India Act as the secretary of state for India. Initially a military officer, he had served in Russia and Italy. His Hoare–Laval Plan for partitioning Ethiopia was highly criticized.
The son of a former London mayor, British merchant and financier Thomas Gresham was initially trained as a lawyer. He advised Queen Elizabeth I to reform Britain’s monetary policies, giving rise to the Gresham’s law. He also established the Royal Exchange, initially known as the Bourse, in London.
English diplomat Sir George Downing, 1st Baronet was the person who lent his name to the iconic Downing Street in London. One of the first to graduate from Harvard, he was initially a preacher and then a military leader. An MP under Oliver Cromwell, he, however, supported the Stuart restoration later.
Best known for his 24-year stint as the British agent and consul-general in Egypt, Evelyn Baring had started his career at the War Office and had then accompanied his cousin, Lord Northbrook, the viceroy of India, as his secretary. He is largely held responsible for modernizing Egypt and its economy.
Victor Alexander Bruce, 9th Earl of Elgin was a British politician who served as the governor-general of India from 1894 to 1899. He is remembered for presiding over an investigative enquiry pertaining to the Boer War. The enquiry, which came to be known as The Elgin Commission, was the first to consider the feelings of the relatives of the dead.
Thomas Howard, 2nd earl of Arundel is also sometimes referred to as the 14th or 21st earl of Arundel. A lover of paintings, marble sculptures, and coins, he also gained the nickname Collector Earl. Most of his prized possessions are now housed at the Oxford University and the British Museum.
Remembered for his role in the Glorious Revolution, a plot to depose King James II of England, Charles Talbot, 1st Duke of Shrewsbury had become an earl age 7, after his father’s death. Though initially a Whig, he later switched to the Tory party. He died childless, and thus his dukedom ended.
While he initially studied law, Gilbert Elliot-Murray-Kynynmound, 1st Earl of Minto later became a prominent diplomat. Named the governor-general of India, he prevented the invasion of bandit leader Amīr Khan and later signed the Treaty of Amritsar with Ranjit Singh. He also controlled the French in the East Indies.
British archaeologist Austen Henry Layard initially worked in a London law office but quit it suddenly to go on an impromptu trip to Syria. He was later hired as an unofficial British diplomat in Turkey. He is remembered for his excavations in Nineveh and his exploration of the Assyrian and Babylonian culture.
English diplomat Nicholas Throckmorton was an MP and had also been knighted during Edward VI’s reign. Under Queen Elizabeth I’s rule, he was not only the chamberlain of the exchequer but also an ambassador to France and Scotland. However, he failed to prevent the marriage of Queen Mary and Lord Darnley.
William Amherst, 1st Earl Amherst was initially sent as an ambassador to China but returned without securing any trade relations because of his refusal to show complete subordination. He later became the governor-general of India and annexed major parts of Burma after the First Burmese War.
Remembered as the first British envoy to China, George Macartney, 1st Earl Macartney had also been the governor of Grenada, Madras and Cape Colony. However, he hardly succeeded in furthering British trade interests in China, which considered itself self-sufficient. He termed the British empire as one on which the sun never sets.
Italian-born humanist scholar, historian and priest, Polydore Vergil is especially famed for his magnum opus, Twenty-six Books of English History, often being dubbed as the Father of English History for this feat. Sent to England soon after being ordained as priest, he spent major part of his life there, authoring many other works, including Proverbiorum libellus and De rerum inventoribus.
Apart from being a diplomat, Henry Wotton was also a poet and a patron of the arts. The Oxford alumnus is best remembered for his poems such as You meaner beauties of the night, which were dedicated to Elizabeth of Bohemia, the daughter of King James I.
George Villiers, 4th Earl of Clarendon had earned the nickname The Great Lord Clarendon. A Liberal Party politician, he had been the foreign secretary of Britain under 4 prime ministers. He was also a significant member of the Congress of Paris, which put an end to the Crimean War.