Catalogue description Records of Embassies, Legations, Consulates, etc

Details of Division within FO
Reference: Division within FO
Title: Records of Embassies, Legations, Consulates, etc

Embassy and Consular archives are made up of the papers produced by the staff of the permanent embassies and consulates situated abroad.

They consist of:

  • Dispatches and telegrams received by the missions from the Foreign Office in London and draft dispatches for reply;
  • Correspondence with the foreign ministry of the country to which they were accredited;
  • Correspondence with individuals and organisations, including British officials and representatives of business interests in the country (this correspondence between the embassy and the consular posts for the country concerned is not duplicated elsewhere);
  • Letterbooks of outgoing correspondence compiled at the embassy and consulate, but which fell into disuse as a form of record by the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries;
  • Registers of incoming and outgoing correspondence;
  • Miscellaneous material, including registers of births, marriages and deaths, shipping regulation papers, legal records and others.

Date: 1567-1994

The archives of embassies, consulates and legations have generally been grouped under the country exercising sovereignty at the time of their creation. Some countries, notably Egypt and the Barbary States, although not formally independent at the time when the records were first created, are regarded as such for the grouping of their embassy and consular archives.

In some cases, where a post performed both diplomatic and consular functions, the records relating to these have been intermingled; they are usually classified as archives of the mission. Records of vice-consulates are usually included with the records of the consulates to which they were subordinate.

Related material:

For registers of returns of births, death, marriages from consulates see:

For further Chinese dipomatic correspondence see Division within FO

RG 32

RG 33

RG 34

RG 35

Held by: The National Archives, Kew
Legal status: Public Record(s)
Language: English
Physical description: 643 series
Custodial history: Embassies, legations and consulates kept their own archives until they were returned to London after a certain period of time and transferred like other Foreign Office records to the Public Record Office.
Administrative / biographical background:

An embassy is a diplomatic post whose head is an ambassador; a legation is one whose head is a minister; either might be called a mission. Consular posts may be consulates general, consulates or vice-consulates depending on the rank of their head. Consular posts within a country are subject to the control of the head of the mission in that country. Technically, the channel of communication of an embassy is direct with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (formerly Foreign Office) in London and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in the host country, whereas a consulate communicates with a wide range of offices in both countries.

Certain consulates were charged with extra-territorial jurisdiction over British subjects and in certain cases arising between British subjects and members of the indigenous population. This jurisdiction was conferred by treaty and regulated by order in council.

In the case of the British political residencies and agencies in the Persian Gulf, these developed out of a commercial contract between the East India Company and the Sheikh of Bushire, signed in 1763, which established the first residency at Bushire. In 1948 the residency and its various agencies in the Persian Gulf came under the control of the Foreign Office.

Have you found an error with this catalogue description?

Help with your research