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Stanyan, Abraham (1672–1732), diplomatist, was born—according to a reference in his father's bible—on 28 February 1672 at Monken Hadley, Middlesex. He was the third son of the six sons and two daughters of Lawrence Stanyan (d. 1725), merchant, farmer, and commissioner of the revenue, of Monken Hadley, and Dorothy (d. 1730), daughter and coheir of Henry Knapp of Woodcote, South Stoke, Oxfordshire. Both he and his cousin Abraham carried the first name of their paternal grandfather, a prosperous plasterer who had inherited the post of city plasterer from his father, Edward. The elder Abraham (c.1610–1683) fought on the side of parliament as a captain of trained bands in the Red regiment, and later rose to the rank of lieutenant-colonel within the Honourable Artillery Company. Two of his sons, John and Lawrence, named their first-born sons after this prosperous progenitor, whose will especially favoured these two grandsons. Abraham Stanyan's cousin and namesake, the son of John, was admitted from Winchester College as a scholar of New College, Oxford, on 14 July 1691, and died of smallpox in 1696.

First postings

Abraham Stanyan himself entered as a student of the Middle Temple in 1690. His commencement in the law gave way almost immediately to employment in the diplomatic service, which became his whole career. In the same year he went as secretary to join Sir William Trumbull in his embassy to Constantinople (August 1687–July 1691). Trumbull thought well of him, while Stanyan early gained a fondness for the display and comfort of such overseas postings. On 10 September 1697, through the patronage of Trumbull as secretary of state for the northern department, Stanyan was appointed secretary of embassy to Charles Montagu, earl of Manchester, who was appointed ambassador-extraordinary to Venice. He arrived in Venice with Manchester early in December 1697 and left in late February 1698. While there he received the news of Sir William Trumbull's resignation, ‘my misfortune, which it so much concerned me to know’ (BL, Add. MS 28900, fol. 404). Stanyan was unsuccessful in a clumsily expressed application to be allowed to stay in Venice as a resident.

In 1698 Stanyan was offered, but declined, the post of secretary to Sir William Norris on his mission to India to obtain trading privileges from the Mughal emperor, Aurangzeb. A contemporary report indicates his standing as one of the regular personnel of the office of secretaries of state: ‘Mr Stanyan of the Secretaries Office, seems to decline going Secretary to Mr Norris, ambassador to the great mogull, altho' the [Levant] company offer him 40s per diem’ (Luttrell, 4.454). More attractive employment became available in the following year. In May 1699 he was made a clerk-extraordinary to the privy council. On 8 June Stanyan was once again appointed secretary to embassy under the earl of Manchester, this time in his posting to France, the two arriving in Paris on 28 June 1699 NS. He entered on his functions at the end of August 1699, when he was particularly on the watch for Jacobite support, keeping a close eye on the movements of suspected Irishmen. Despite his zeal, however, at this early stage of his career Stanyan does not seem to have been especially successful. His correspondence shows two flaws: a tendency to be by turns meddling and reticent in diplomatic business, and an unfortunate manner in his way of seeking patronage. In late June 1700 he left Paris, and for some time seems to have been out of employment. He wanted an overseas posting, and was realistic about his merits, content to rise up the ladder of the service. In 1703 he wrote to John Ellis, under-secretary for the northern province:
I thank you for the kind offers of Service you make me, and beg your friendship in giving Me timely Notice of any opportunity of going abroad in a Character that I may with Modesty pretend to, for those are the employments I most desire, and I fancy are most easily obtained. (BL, Add. MS 28890, fol. 281)


In the event, Stanyan was given the post of envoy, even though to a minor power, and events ensured that the great period of his career came in Switzerland between 1705 and 1714. In late May 1705 he was given credentials as envoy-extraordinary to succeed William Aglionby. His disinclination for routine business soon appeared in his expressions of shock at how much correspondence in his own hand he had to cope with. His love of ceremonious feasting was again evident. The magistrates of Zürich gave entertainments which were at first curtailed, since Stanyan had mistakenly acquired an abstemious reputation:
T'other day the Magistrates of this Citty invited me to dinner; we sat down just at Noon, and had din'd by Six by a mistake which my Landlord here drew 'em into; for he having observ'd I had hitherto led a very sober life, told them I did not love drinking, so in Complaisance to me they broke off in the middle of their Dinner, which generally lasts till twelve at Night. T'will be my Turn to treat one of these days and then I shall endeavour to retrieve my reputation. (BL, Add. MS 4740, fol. 171)
Soon, however, he settled in Bern, ‘which I find to be the great Scene of Negotiation in this Country’ (ibid., fol. 181). The great threat to British interests in the region was the encroaching power of France, and Stanyan was keen to stiffen in Basel and Bern a sense of protestant solidarity against any French expansion. He behaved with resolution and address, even in such small but significant ways as insisting, in the ceremonies of reception, on occupying the same quality of chair and dignity of placing as those given to the ambassador of France.

In 1707–8 came a crisis which at the time was seen as a pivotal episode in the wars with France, and a crucial demonstration of the waning of French power. A succession contest was triggered by the death on 16 June 1707 NS of the duchess of Nemours, princess of the sovereignty of Neufchatel and Vallengin. Stanyan's firm support of the claim of the king of Prussia, seconded by the Dutch envoy, Runckel, bolstered Britain's position in that part of Europe. On 22 July Stanyan arrived in Neufchatel to stiffen the resolve of its council against the French, and three days later delivered to them a memorandum, which he also printed and distributed, addressed to the burghers and clerics. The nub of his argument was that the several French pretenders were all equally dangerous to liberties, while the Prussian king had the best title. In the autumn, together with Runckel, he presented and published another memorial, which painted a lively picture of the inconsistencies and deceit of French policy, and of the threat to religious and political liberty. Two vigorous joint addresses were made in December, stressing the ambition and designs of France, after which the council of Neufchatel accepted the claim of Prussia.

In January 1708 Stanyan argued to the protestant cantons assembled at Baden that Louis XIV, who had moved 12,000 troops close to the border of Neufchatel, clearly designed to annex it, and that all the cantons were in danger. In response the canton of Bern announced to the French that they would defend Neufchatel if it were attacked, and soon after moved 4500 troops to the frontier. The French threat was removed, and Stanyan had scored a considerable personal victory, not least over the dynamic French envoy, Puisieulx. His standing with the heir to the British throne can be seen in friendly personal letters to Stanyan from the future George I, while he was still elector of Hanover, between 1708 and 1710. In 1710 Stanyan negotiated for Britain a loan of £150,000 by the canton of Bern, a sum which was paid only after some delay, but on which he was granted commission of £750 and a promise from the treasurer of future prompt payments of his allowances. In March 1711 Stanyan was given instructions as envoy-extraordinary to Berlin, and Bolingbroke expressed confidence in Stanyan's ability to control the ‘vain & uncertain temper’ of the Prussian king. Despite Bolingbroke's intervention, however, Queen Anne would not give Stanyan the title and pay of a plenipotentiary, and, burdened by large arrears of pay, he insisted that he could not live in Berlin on less. In 1712–13 he was special commissioner to mediate between the emperor and the duke of Savoy, but his success with the duke was not matched by the emperor's consent. Stanyan was by now a seasoned professional of ‘the office’ and apparently discontented with the often inexperienced management of diplomacy in Britain. In April 1712 he presented to Bolingbroke his ‘Reflections upon the management of our foreign affairs’, proposing the setting up of a committee for foreign affairs, the members of which should have at least seven years' experience of diplomatic service abroad. Stanyan had made himself master of the complex politics, history, and constitution of Switzerland, and on his return to England published an Account of Switzerland (1714). Although this does not seem to have advanced his diplomatic career, it was a highly informed and clear survey which was still seen by Lord Chesterfield, a generation later, as the standard work on its subject: ‘Mr Stanyan from a long residence there, has written the best account, yet extant, of the Thirteen Cantons’ (Letters, 68).

Constantinople and final years

A staunch whig and member of the , and personally on good terms with George I, Stanyan had reason to hope for advancement on the accession of the new king. He was made a lord of Admiralty in 1714, and elected MP for Buckingham in 1715 on the interest of his cousin Lord Cobham. In July 1716 Stanyan was appointed envoy-extraordinary and plenipotentiary to the emperor, and arrived in Vienna in early December. In October 1717 he was made clerk of the privy council, and gave up his parliamentary seat. In November 1717 he was given credentials as ambassador to the Ottoman empire, charged with mediating a peace. In December he had his formal audience of leave in Vienna, from where he set off to Constantinople in March 1718, and arrived there in September. If his successor, Lord Kinnoull, is to be believed, Stanyan's Turkish mission gradually settled into the languorous luxury of an elderly man whose ambitions were over. Kinnoull passed with him three friendly months, surviving daily feasts which he said ‘had almost kill'd me’. He had a poor opinion of Stanyan's diplomatic influence and skill:
Mr. Stanian, is a well behaved complaisant Gentleman, of an indolent temper, has been allways govern'd by those about him, loves Grandeur & show & is very careless in his private affairs, so that I don't believe he is rich, tho he says himself that he has been 25 years in the publick service. He seems to me, either never to have been a man of Business, or to have forgot it. His whole life, for these 12 years past, as I am informed, has been upon a sofa, with the Women. Having, all his Life, been used to a great deal of company, he will be unhappy, if he does not get into some imployment about the Court. (TNA: PRO, SP 97/26, fol. 121)
Before leaving Constantinople Stanyan obtained, with much difficulty, a personal audience with the vizier in which to solicit a personal letter of recommendation on his embassy. Stanyan brought this missive home with him and presented it in person to George II on 29 October 1730 OS, though it was far from a glowing endorsement of his embassy. It says merely that Stanyan ‘behaved himself with Prudence and Dexterity in all the affairs recommended to his Care, and discharg'd the Duty of his Embassy, and executed his Commission to the mutual satisfaction of both Nations, and in the most adequate manner’ (TNA: PRO, SP 97/26, fol. 57). Though Kinnoull predicted that Stanyan would lobby for a court place, in fact he made no further figure in public life other than a brief tenure as commissioner of the privy seal from January to June 1731. He died, unmarried, in early September 1732. His will had been made in September 1729 before his departure from Constantinople, in case he did not survive the journey home. To Lord Cobham he bequeathed the large diamond brilliant ring he usually wore, a ‘small token of my gratitude in acknowledgment of the friendship he has constantly honoured me with’. The wife of the chief dragoman received 2500 dollars ‘for friendship’, and smaller bequests were made to the secretary and chaplain of the embassy. The residue of Stanyan's estate was left to ‘my beloved Brother Temple Stanyan’, his sole heir and executor.

Abraham's younger brother, Temple Stanyan (1675–1752), politician and writer, was born on 8 February 1675 at Monken Hadley, the fifth son of Lawrence and Dorothy Stanyan. He was presumably named in compliment to the child's maternal uncle, Sir Richard Temple, third baronet, father of the first Lord Cobham, who was an important patron to the brothers. Temple entered Westminster School as a queen's scholar in 1691, and on 18 June 1695 matriculated at Christ Church, Oxford. Like Abraham, he does not appear to have taken a degree, and as early as November 1697 the elder brother was trying, unsuccessfully, to have Temple placed in the secretary of state's office as a clerk. Temple must have entered the office at some point before 1715, by which date he had acquired enough experience to be made one of the two under-secretaries in the northern department. In 1717 he was transferred to the southern department, at a time when conditions both at home and abroad were delicate, with divisions within the ministry and the impeachment of Oxford making men in office cautious. Temple told George Bubb: ‘I need not tell you how dry our Office News Letters are, and how cautious we Under Ministers here are of saying anything that may give offence’ (BL, Egerton MS 2171, fol. 308). He lost this post in 1718, but probably remained involved in the office, as was customary, since he was still receiving correspondence from secretaries of embassies in 1721. Among these letters is one which refers to his reputation for ‘doing service to those who are in distress’ (BL, Add. MS 22521, fol. 83). In February 1719 he was appointed clerk-in-ordinary to the privy council in the room of his brother: he returned to a southern under-secretaryship in 1724 and then served until 1735. In 1739 he brought out an enlarged second edition of the scholarly book for which he is best known, his Grecian History, from the Original of Greece, to the Death of Philip of Macedon, first published in 1707, and which for some decades was a standard work.

Temple Stanyan was three times married: first to Elizabeth Boys (née Shirley), the widow of William Boys, and second to Susannah Hobbs (bap. 1689, d. 1725), on 3 January 1721; she died on 23 March 1725 without children. His third marriage was to Grace Pauncefort (1692/3–1768), daughter of Grimbold Pauncefort of Clater Park, Herefordshire. Stanyan died at his seat, Rawlins, Oxfordshire, on 25 March 1752. He was survived by his wife, Grace, who died, aged seventy-five, on 10 June 1768.

Philip Woodfine and Claire Gapper


DNB · BL, Add. MS 28900 · BL, Add. MS 5131–5132 · BL, Add. MS 40774 · TNA: PRO, SP 97/26 · BL, Add. MS 28890 · TNA: PRO, SP 96/15 · BL, Add. MS 4740 · BL, Add. MS 63093 · NYPL, Montague collection, Bolingbroke MS box 10 · BL, Stowe MS 246 · BL, Add. MS 36129 · N. Luttrell, A brief historical relation of state affairs from September 1678 to April 1714, 6 vols. (1857) · A. Boyer, The history of the life and reign of Queen Anne (1722) · A. Stanyan, Memoire de Monsieur de Stanian, envoyé extraordinaire de sa majesté la reine de Grande Bretagne, vers les louables cantons réformés, présenté le 25 juillet 1707 (1707) · A. Stanyan and J. Runckel, Memoire de Monsieur de Stanian, envoyé extraordinaire de sa majesté la reine de Grande Bretagne et de Monsieur Runckel, secretaire d'État de leurs-hautes puissances, présenté le 18 d'octobre 1707 (1707) · A. C. Wood, A history of the Levant Company (1935) · D. B. Horn, The British diplomatic service, 1689–1789 (1961) · B. Bucher, Abraham Stanyan, 1705–1714: die englische Diplomatie in der Schweiz zur Zeit des spanischen Erbfolgekrieges (1951) · The letters of Philip Dormer Stanhope, earl of Chesterfield, ed. Lord Mahon, 4 vols. (1845) · R. S. Lea, ‘Stanyan, Abraham’, HoP, Commons, 1715–54, 2.440–41 · family bible, priv. coll. [L. Stanyan]


BL, letters to Henry Davenant, Add. MS 4740 · BL, corresp. with James Vernon, Add. MS 40774 · CKS, corresp. with Alexander Stanhope · Longleat, corresp. with Matthew Prior · NYPL, corresp. with first Viscount Bolingbroke · Yale U., Beinecke L., Osborne MSS, Manchester papers, fc 37


G. Kneller, oils, c.1710–1711, NPG · J. Faber junior, mezzotint, 1733 (after G. Kneller), BM, NPG