Would Your Majesty prefer a beaver or a giraffe? History’s strangest diplomatic gifts


A Giraffe

from the Governor of Egypt to the King of France in 1826

Giraffes were a popular diplomatic gift in the renaissance. Lorenzo de’ Medici was presented with one by the Mamluk Sultan Qaitbay in 1487, to aid a commercial treaty (Giorgio Vasari’s portrait of Lorenzo portrays him receiving the giraffe).

The practice rather dried up after that, but in 1826, Muhammad Ali Pasha, Ottoman governor of Egypt, decided to send a giraffe to France to help win him military support. Shipped from Alexandria to Marseille in a vessel that had a hole cut in its deck to accommodate the giraffe’s neck, it was brought to Paris by the naturalist Étienne Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire, who determined the 500-mile journey should be made on foot. The procession included several cows, to furnish the giraffe with its daily ration of 25 gallons of milk, and Saint-Hilaire ordered the giraffe a made-to-measure oilskin, decorated with the fleur-de-lys of the French monarchy, and the arms of Muhammad Ali.

Once in Paris, the giraffe lived at the Jardin des Plantes, and prompted giraffe-themed wallpaper and biscuits. It died in 1845. A second giraffe, sent by Ali Pasha to England in 1827, was painted by Jacques-Laurent Agasse (see above).

The Shah Diamond

from Fath-Ali Shah Qajar, Shah of Iran, to Nicholas I, Tsar of Russia, in 1829


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