Letter of credence


Letter of credence

A letter of credence is a formal letter sent by one head of state to another head of state that formally grants diplomatic accreditation to a named individual (usually but not always a diplomat) to be their ambassador in the country of the head of state receiving the letter. A letter of recall is the opposite, a letter sent from one head of state to another head of state recalling an ambassador, either as a means of diplomatic protest (see letter of protest) or because the diplomat is being reassigned elsewhere and is being replaced by another envoy.

In parliamentary democracies, heads of state accept or reject letters of credence on the basis of advice (that is, instructions from the government which put the head of state under obligation) from their state's government. In reality, however, they are almost invariably accepted, as both states will have informally discussed the issue prior to the formal ceremony. If a problem were to arise, it would be sorted out in these earlier government to government contacts.

Letters of credence are the most formal form of exchange between states short of state visits, with formal modes of address such as titles and styles being used. This may be significant; for example, when Italy deposed the Haile Selassie of Abyssinia (Ethiopia) and claimed the King of Italy (Victor Emmanuel III) to be the Abyssinian emperor also, not all states recognized this claim (see diplomatic recognition), and some letters of credence were addressed to the "King of Italy and Emperor of Abyssinia," others to the "King of Italy." King George VI, as King of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, addressed his letters of credence to the "King of Italy"; however, as King of Ireland, on the advice of the Irish government of Éamon de Valera, he addressed his letters of credence to the "King of Italy and Emperor of Abyssinia," because the Irish Free State, unlike the United Kingdom, recognized the King of Italy's imperial title.

Another dispute revolved around the name of the Irish state. Between 29 December 1937 and 2 December 1999, the Irish constitution laid claim to the territory of the entire island of Ireland. The constitution also gave the Irish state the name "Ireland". The United Kingdom rejected the territorial claim and also adopted a policy of referring to the state using forms such as "Republic of Ireland" and "Eire" (the name for Ireland in the Irish language) which did not imply Irish sovereignty over the whole island. Consequently, on the advice of Her Majesty's Government, Queen Elizabeth II for a time addressed letters of credence to the President of Ireland by name (e.g., "President Robinson," "President McAleese," etc.). This compromise was agreed to by the governments of both states. However, as part of the Belfast Agreement Ireland dropped its claim to the territory of Northern Ireland and the United Kingdom now accepts its official name, Ireland, and its letters of credence are now addressed to the President of Ireland.

Until a head of state formally accepts a letter of credence, an ambassador-designate does not formally assume diplomatic status, including the possession of diplomatic immunity. In many states, a minister in the government or in cabinet will "attend" (that is, be present with) the head of state at the actual ceremony, to symbolize the fact that the acceptance or rejection of the letter of credence is on the basis of government advice.

Given that a head of state sends a letter of credence to a fellow head of state, the corollary is true also. The person who sends a letter of credence is by implication a head of state (unless they are acting as the representative or designate of a head of state; for example, a governor-general). This became a source of dispute in independent Ireland from December 1936 to the declaration of the Republic of Ireland in 1949, when from 1937 to 1949 Ireland had both a President of Ireland and King George VI, who had been proclaimed King of Ireland. Given that under the External Relations Act the role of representing Ireland in the accreditation of ambassadors belonged to the King of Ireland on the advice of the Irish government, between those years the Irish head of state was unambiguously the King of Ireland. After April 1949, when that role was given by law to the President of Ireland, the President became Irish head of state.

Traditionally monarchs, particularly European ones, address each other in formal communications in the singular e.g. ‘I being desirous’ but address Presidents and other Heads of State in the Majestic plural e.g. ‘We being desirous’. They also close formal letters with ‘Your good brother/sister’ for sovereigns, but with ‘Your good friend’ for other leaders.

In 2005, Canada changed its Letter of Credence and Letter of Recall by removing all references to Elizabeth II as Queen of Canada, Canada's head of state, instead having them run in the name of the Governor General, who is the Queen's representative. Australia and New Zealand have since followed suit, in consultation with Elizabeth's Private Secretary. There is currently a movement to reverse these decisions by the Monarchist League of Canada.


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Look at other dictionaries:

  • letter of credence — or letters of credence Etymology: Middle English letter of credance, probably part translation of Medieval Latin litterae de credentia, litterae credentiae : a formal document furnished a diplomatic agent for presentation to the government to… …   Useful english dictionary

  • letter of credence — letter of recommendation …   English contemporary dictionary

  • letter of credence — Date: 14th century a formal document attesting to the power of a diplomatic agent to act for the issuing government called also letters of credence …   New Collegiate Dictionary

  • letter of credence — noun a letter of introduction, especially of an ambassador …   English new terms dictionary

  • letter of credence — A letter furnished to a diplomatic agent by the sovereign or other chief magistrate of his own state, which, being addressed to the sovereign or state to which such agent is delegated, states the general object of his mission and requests that… …   Ballentine's law dictionary

  • letter of credence — In international law, the document which accredits an ambassador, minister, or envoy to the courts or government to which he is sent; i.e., certifies to his appointment and qualification, and bespeaks credit for his official actions and… …   Black's law dictionary

  • letter of credence — In international law, the document which accredits an ambassador, minister, or envoy to the courts or government to which he is sent; i.e., certifies to his appointment and qualification, and bespeaks credit for his official actions and… …   Black's law dictionary

  • A Letter of Credence — Infobox Album Name = A Letter of Credence Type = EP Artist = Calerway Released = 2005 Recorded = Genre = Indie rock, Alternative rock Length = 17:59 Label = Valet Records Producer = Reviews = Last album = This album = A Letter of Credence (2005)… …   Wikipedia

  • Credence — can have several meanings: In probability theory, credence means a subjective estimate of probability, as in Bayesian probability. In economics, a credence good is a good whose value is hard for a consumer to ascertain. A letter of credence is a… …   Wikipedia

  • Credence — Cre dence (kr[=e] dens), n. [LL. credentia, fr. L. credens, entis, p. pr. of credere to trust, believe: cf. OF. credence. See {Creed}, and cf. {Credent}, {Creance}.] [1913 Webster] 1. Reliance of the mind on evidence of facts derived from other… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English


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