Diplomatic Gifts

A History in Fifty Presents

January 2022 9781787386457 376pp
EU Customers


Gifts have been part of international relations since ancient times. They can serve as tokens of friendship, apology or authority; as taunts, bribes, boasts or tricks. They can also go wrong: Mali’s 2013 gift of a camel to French President François Hollande was reported to have ended up in a tagine.

Exploring fifty diplomatic gifts given through the ages, Brummell explains the great complexity of this political art—an exercise in brand-building for the giver, via an item that must suit the recipient’s own interests and character. Byzantine emperors sent fragments of the True Cross to fellow Christian rulers around Europe; Kings Louis XV and XVI of France used Sèvres porcelain, while the Ottoman sultans favoured robes of honour. In some cases, recipients have made no secret of the gift they would want. The Amarna Letters, dating to around 1350 BCE, record a communication from Hittite Prince Zita to the Egyptian Pharaoh, offering sixteen men—and hinting rather heavily that he would like some gold in return.

From the Trojan Horse to Cleopatra’s Needle to the Statue of Liberty, this rich history offers a new take on both the curious detail and the grand spectacle of global politics.


‘Would Your Majesty prefer a beaver or a giraffe? History’s strangest diplomatic gifts’ — read an extract from the book in The Telegraph

‘[A] jaunty and instructive book [that] takes the reader through an enchanting … range of gifts made by one nation (or its ruler) to another.’ — The Wall Street Journal

‘Engaging.’ — The Canberra Times

‘We’ve all wrestled with the problem of what to give someone who has everything. In this book, my dear friend Paul illustrates how diplomatic gifts are intended to send subtle or sometimes not-so-subtle messages of power, friendship and, of course, diplomacy. A wonderful gift to all who enjoy exploring history, presented in a highly entertaining and informative way.’ — Baroness Floella Benjamin, actress, writer, presenter, and Chair of the Windrush Commemoration Committee

‘Enchanting. A delight from beginning to end, as funny as it is perceptive. Brummell shows that the best gifts are imaginative, memorable and personalised but, above all, inanimate: animals—from the Trojan Horse to Maksat the Turkmen stallion—spell trouble for the recipient. Read and enjoy.’ — Lord Simon McDonald, former Permanent Under-Secretary and Head of the Diplomatic Service at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office

‘This engaging, impressively researched book shows how objects can help us understand the people and the emotions that drove diplomatic exchanges in the past—and still drive them today. An insightful and deeply enjoyable work.’ — Zoltán Biedermann, Professor of Early Modern History, University College London, and co-editor of Global Gifts: the Material Culture of Diplomacy in Early Modern Eurasia

‘A gem of a book. Easy reading. Witty. A brilliantly told collection of fifty short stories that together reveal the complex history of global diplomacy.’ — Stevie Spring, CBE, Chairman, British Council


Paul Brummell is a British career diplomat, and currently the UK Ambassador to Latvia. His previous postings as ambassador were to Romania; Turkmenistan; and Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan. He has also served as the UK’s high commissioner to Barbados and the Eastern Caribbean.

Request an academic inspection copy Request a press review copy
Inspection Copy Request
Review Copy Request
Join our mailing list

Subscribers receive exclusive discounts and early access to new books from Hurst.