This article uses the third earl of Malmesbury's friendship with Louis Napoleon Bonaparte as a prism through which to view the Conservative Party's handling of Anglo-French relations during the period when Bonaparte was cementing his hold over France. After noting the long-term historiographical neglect of the subject, it explores Malmesbury's discussions with Louis Napoleon between 1848 and 1852, and indicates what they revealed about the assumptions underpinning Conservative foreign policy. It suggests that analysis of Malmesbury's role illuminates British domestic politics by placing his appointment to the Foreign Office in a clearer context than has been the case hitherto. It then examines the management of Conservative foreign policy in detail, describing how the 1852 Derby government recognized the new French empire and nurtured an Anglo-French entente without alienating Russia, Austria or Prussia. This was a significant diplomatic and political achievement, helping to demonstrate that Conservative diplomacy had a distinct identity and that mid-Victorian Britain did not view the world merely through a Whig or Palmerstonian lens. The article concludes that the events of 1852 represent an important and overlooked phase in the history of Anglo-French relations.