As a career diplomat during the Victorian era, Richard Lyons served as one of the figures who defined and represented British power in the 19th century. The son of a Royal Navy admiral, Lyons entered the diplomatic service after an indifferent educational performance. He quickly proved a good fit for his new profession, serving first in Greece and then in Rome before gaining appointment as minister to the United States in 1858. In this post, Lyons soon found himself at the center of the turmoil surrounding secession and civil war, and he played a prominent role in representing British interests while steering Britain clear of greater involvement in the conflict. Such was the growing regard for Lyons that after his resignation he was appointed to run the embassies, first in Constantinople, then in Paris, where he spent two decades as ambassador during a critical period in French history.
In an era when diplomats exercised considerable autonomy, Lyons played a prominent role in shaping British foreign policy throughout his career. For this reason alone Brian Jenkins is to be commended for giving Lyons the attention he deserves, yet this is only one reason why Jenkins deserves praise for this book. He has written an exemplary biography of his subject, one that draws upon the full range of primary and secondary sources available to him. He strikes an ideal balance between context and personal detail, situating Lyons within the constantly changing context of the political and diplomatic environments in which he served. Nor does he neglect Lyons as a person, showing him as a man devoted to his career yet one who was an individual with his own quirks and problems. The result makes it clear why Lyons was lauded upon his death as "the idea of a pattern and ideal diplomatist," one who established the standard by which modern diplomats are judged. In that respect Jenkins's book is an unqualified success, one that should be read by everyone interested in diplomatic history and the history of British foreign policy.