Practices of Diplomacy in the Early Modern World c.1410-1800

book coverPractices of Diplomacy in the Early Modern World c.1410-1800 builds on recent ground-breaking work in diplomatic history and cultural history to offer an important new intervention in the ongoing reassessment of early modern international relations. By exploring shared themes across diverse geopolitical relationships, it proposes that diplomatic practices developed in a more complex, multifarious and globally interconnected manner than the traditional state-focused and national paradigm allows. Cumulatively, the essays in this volume, by virtue of their broad geographical and chronological range, further our understanding of the development of diplomatic phenomena in world history and contribute to wider debates about the nature of cross-cultural encounters and the commensurability of different political cultures. Edited by Tracey Sowerby and Jan Hennings, this volume was published by Routledge in May 2017.

Table of contents

Introduction: Practices of Diplomacy by Jan Hennings (CEU Budapest) and Tracey A. Sowerby (University of Oxford)

Section One: Status and Sovereignty beyond the State

1: Burgundian Clients in the South-western Holy Roman Empire, 1410–1477: Between International Diplomacy and Regional Political Culture. Duncan Hardy (University of Central Florida)

2: Transylvanian Diplomats at Buda: Provinces and Tributaries in Ottoman International Society. Gábor Kármán (Hungarian Academy of Sciences)

3: The City whose ‘ships sail on every wind’: Representations of Diplomacy in the Literature of Early Modern Ragusa (Dubrovnik). Lovro Kunčević (Croatian Academy of Sciences and Arts)

4. Staged Sovereignty or Aristocratic Values? Diplomatic Ceremonial at the Westphalian Peace Negotiations (1643-1648). Niels F. May (Deustches historisches Institut, Paris)

Section Two: Familiarity, Entertainment, and the Roles of Diplomatic Actors

5: Wondrous Welcome: Materiality and the Senses in Diplomatic Hospitality in Sixteenth-century Genoa. Giulia Galastro (University of Cambridge)

6: Sincerity, Sterility, Scandal: Eroticizing Diplomacy in Early Seventeenth-century Opera Librettos at the French Embassy in Rome. Katharina Piechocki (Harvard University)

7: ‘Minister-like Cleverness, Understanding and Influence on Affairs’: Ambassadresses in Everyday Business and Courtly Ceremonies at the Turn of the Eighteenth Century. Florian Kühnel (Humboldt Universität zu Berlin)

8: The Dutch Merchant-diplomat in Comparative Perspective: Embassies to the Court of Aurangzeb, 1660-1666. Guido van Meersbergen (University of Warwick)

9: Trans-imperial Familiarity: Ottoman Ambassadors in Eighteenth-century Vienna. David do Paço (Sciences Po, Paris)

Section Three: Objects and Beasts

10: Presenting Noble Beasts: Gifts of Animals in Tudor and Stuart Diplomacy. Felicity Heal (University of Oxford)

11: Gift Exchanges, Self-Presentation and the Political Use of Objects during Ferdinand the Catholic’s Reign. Germán Gamero Igea (University of Valladolid)

12: Merchant-Kings and Lords of the World: Diplomatic Gift-exchange between the Dutch East India Company (VOC) and the Safavid and Mughal Empires in the Seventeenth Century. Frank Birkenholz (University of Groningen)

13: The Failed Gift: Ceremony and Gift-giving in Anglo-Russian Relations, 1662–1664. Jan Hennings (CEU Budapest)

Afterword: From Social Status to Sovereignty–Practices  of Foreign Relations from the Renaissance to the Sattelzeit  by Christian Windler (University of Bern)

Chapter abstracts

Section One: Status and Sovereignty beyond the State

Chapter 1: Burgundian Clients in the South-western Holy Roman Empire, 1410–1477: Between International Diplomacy and Regional Political Culture. Duncan Hardy.

The Holy Roman Empire presents a challenge to established concepts and models of state formation and diplomacy in the late medieval and early modern periods. This sprawling, polycentric, and fragmented political entity at the heart of Europe was ruled by multi-layered networks of autonomous political actors, who maintained relations with other powers within and beyond the Empire’s borders. These relations did not constitute ‘diplomacy’ in the strict sense of negotiations between well-defined, (proto-)sovereign polities. Indeed, the historian Otto Brunner famously argued that there was no diplomacy whatsoever in the Empire before the Reformation, since the elites within it exercised only delegated ‘lordship’ (Herrschaft), not sovereign authority. However, many of the powers within the Empire were sufficiently ‘state-like’ that German historians of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries have recently characterised some of their activities as ‘foreign policy’ (Außenpolitik).

This essay makes sense of the evidence of the political interactions of powers in the south-western Holy Roman Empire in the fifteenth century through an interpretive lens that falls between these two extreme positions. It argues that close attention needs to be paid to political culture – that is, the formats, conventions, and discourses which encased and shaped interactions between political actors. At the regional level within Upper Germany, relations were framed by a distinctive political culture centred on the formation of leagues and negotiation at mediatory and consultative ‘diets’ (Tage). Interactions with ‘external’ and better-defined powers, such as the Valois duchy of Burgundy, might take place within this same set of Upper German league- and diet-based conventions, or might be more clearly ‘diplomatic’, involving envoys with formal, ambassadorial functions. The essay illustrates these different types of political interaction by reference to three multilingual, multivalent actors – Duchess Catherine of Austria (d. 1425); Margrave Wilhelm von Hachberg (1406–82), Philip of Burgundy’s ambassador to the Council of Basel and an Austrian officer; and Peter von Hagenbach a.k.a. Pierre d’Aquembacq (d. 1474), Charles the Bold’s Alsatian bailiff – who were deeply enmeshed in Upper German alliance- and committee-based political conventions and practices, but also functioned as diplomats in the higher-level interactions of the dukes of Burgundy with the princes and monarchs of the Empire and the fifteenth-century General Councils of the Church.

‘Diplomacy’ in the fifteenth century needs to be understood as part of a spectrum of political interactions which operated concurrently at regional, trans-regional, and transnational levels. The dynamics of customary negotiations in Upper Germany differed in some ways from those of diplomatic contacts between Burgundy and the major powers in the Empire, but they overlapped in many respects, and were mediated through the same key actors. Only by paying close attention to political culture is it possible to assign the complex development of diplomacy in fifteenth-century Europe its proportionate place.

Chapter 2: Transylvanian Diplomats at Buda: Provinces and Tributaries in Ottoman International Society. Gábor Kármán

Research on European diplomatic contacts with the Ottoman Empire, which has experienced a renaissance in the last few decades, has mostly concentrated on diplomats coming from the western part of the continent to Istanbul, the centre of the empire. This paper changes both perspectives by offering an analysis of diplomats coming to the court of the pasha of Buda, the most important provincial governor in the western part of the empire, from the neighbouring Principality of Transylvania. The ceremonies surrounding these visits provide an excellent opportunity to demonstrate the functioning of different diplomatic cultures and at the same time the problems that arose from Transylvania having an entirely different status in two different international societies. Whereas the princes were regarded as independent actors in the seventeenth-century European theatre of politics, they were also tributaries of the Ottoman Empire. Taking the first interpretation of their international status into account, these missions should have mirrored the hierarchical difference between a sovereign monarch and a provincial governor of a neighbouring ruler’s territories. However, as it was the Ottoman interpretation that enjoyed a hegemonic status in this case, there was no hierarchical difference between the two parties. Using the comparative examples of Habsburg envoys visiting Buda, as well as the representatives of other tributaries visiting neighbouring provincial seats, and dedicating special attention to specific ceremonial conventions such as the act of the diplomat kissing the pasha’s hand (or the sleeves of his garment), this essay highlights problems of negotiating hierarchy and also those of the different meanings attached to specific ritual actions by different diplomatic cultures.

Chapter 3: The City whose ‘ships sail on every wind’: Representations of Diplomacy in the Literature of Early Modern Ragusa (Dubrovnik). Lovro Kunčević

Early modern Ragusa enjoyed a precarious but immensely profitable international position: it was one of the main mediators of goods and information between Western Europe and the Ottoman Empire. The crucial role of diplomacy in the survival of the small republic, which invested enormous efforts to maintain good relations with everyone, resulted in an intriguing fact. In Ragusan epic poetry the martial themes, typical of other Baroque epics, were largely replaced with the glorification of skilful diplomacy. The heroes of Ragusan literature were diplomats, not warriors, and the virtue it celebrated was not military prowess, but diplomatic cunning. Ragusan literati developed a series of well-known metaphors in order to describe their city’s perilous position, e.g. stressing that it lay ‘between the mouth of the angry dragon (Ottomans) and the claws of the ferocious lion (Venice)’. The central literary theme was the glorification of the patriciate’s diplomatic skill, in particular its ability to manipulate vastly superior states into acting in the city’s best interests. Thus, literati turned the embarrassing multiple political patronage into a diplomatic feat, claiming that ‘in Christendom there is no Crown which does not defend this city of ours’ or that Ragusa has ‘the power to tame the grey eagle, mighty dragon and the fierce lion’ (i.e. the Habsburgs, the Ottomans and Venice). Another important motif was depicting diplomatic struggles and negotiations with the neighbouring Ottomans in terms of the defence of Christendom from the ‘infidel’.

Such glorifications of diplomacy fulfilled three important ideological functions. First, they legitimized patrician rule by insisting on the great diplomatic skill of the city’s rulers. Second, by representing Ragusa as a skilful manipulator of more powerful states it mitigated the embarrassing fact that the small republic depended on the goodwill of greater powers. Finally, they justified Ragusa’s position as an Ottoman tribute-payer, turning it into a shrewd diplomatic arrangement which enabled Ragusans to protect Christian interests without even having to battle the Ottomans – actually, representing Ragusa as a peculiar diplomatic ‘bulwark of Christendom’. The richest and most extensive among such literary elaborations of diplomacy is the epic Ragusa Restored written by J. Palmota in the seventeenth century. Its author describes his successful embassy to the Porte in 1667/8 and reiterates all the classical topoi of Ragusan discourse about diplomacy. The central part of my argument is an analysis of this text, which is contextualized both with similar Ragusan works and with European analogies.

Chapter 4: Staged Sovereignty or Aristocratic Values? Diplomatic Ceremonial at the Westphalian Peace Negotiations (1643-1648). Niels F. May

This essay analyses the relationship between macro- and microhistorical perspectives on performing status in the diplomatic ceremonial of early modern Europe. Social status is only visible within symbolic communication and always has to be confirmed, in every interaction. Recent research has therefore emphasized the importance of quarrels about symbolic representation in the process of early modern state-building. Confrontations between diplomats are interpreted in current research as a struggle for the recognition of supremacy between absent kings through their representatives. Peace conferences especially, as the most important instrument for resolving international issues in the second half of the seventeenth century, were one of the best occasions for princes to demonstrate their claims regarding sovereignty.

This interpretation, which is based on a macrohistorical perspective, is complemented in the present paper by a microhistorical focus. Through a thick description of the motivations and mechanisms determining ceremonial quarrels during the international peace negotiations in Münster and Osnabrück (1643–48) this essay examines the connection between the status politics of diplomats as noblemen and as representatives for their superiors. This comparison between the micro and the macro perspective shows how performances on the international scene could be reinterpreted and exploited for different purposes. On the one hand, a macrohistorical approach allows us to reveal the monarch’s ambitions, on the other hand microhistory counterbalances the latter view by underlining the importance of individual ambitions. In ancien régime society, many noblemen used diplomatic ceremonial to defend their personal status, not just to assert the position of their prince.

Section Two: Familiarity, Entertainment and the Roles of Diplomatic Actors

Chapter 5: Wondrous Welcome: Materiality and the Senses in Diplomatic Hospitality in Sixteenth-century Genoa. Giulia Galastro

For high status visitors, early modern Genoa pulled out all the stops. Sumptuary laws were lifted, splendour was sanctioned, and showmanship reigned: multisensory spectacle involving perfume, music, and in one case an enormous, floating ‘piazza’ made of painted canvas, manipulated ‘with much majesty’ by underwater cords. Alongside carefully choreographed official welcoming parties, crowds filled the streets, perching on walls and rooftops for a better view of any foreign curiosities, and occasionally strewing flowers in the visitors’ paths. Over the course of the sixteenth century, the Republic developed a unique system for organising accommodation whereby the wealthiest citizens drew lots to house guests – the so-called Rolli, or roster of suitable palaces. The result was an intriguing collaboration between state officials and private individuals. Genoa – with its ‘natural amphitheatre’, the harbour – provided the perfect setting for such spectacles. Against this backdrop, the present essay focuses on Genoa’s internationally famous textiles, taking its lead from contemporary sources on ceremonial robes and the fabric used in interior spaces, as well as the dress of both the visitor and those assembled to meet them. It offers several key case studies, including the 1548 visit of the Spanish Infant Prince Philip, the 1589 visit of Valois princess and Medici bride Christine of Lorraine, and that of Margarethe, Queen of Spain, in 1599, in order to further explore the idea of communication by non-verbal, sensory, and material means, of things and even smells as a lingua franca. Joseph Nye has famously described the value of the ‘soft power’ of a country’s culture. As the Genoese Republic sought to advance its position by spectacular hospitality, perhaps the tactile silk damasks and velvets which it deployed to do so can be seen as ‘the power of soft’.

Chapter 6: Sincerity, Sterility, Scandal: Eroticizing Diplomacy in Early Seventeenth-century Opera Librettos at the French Embassy in Rome. Katharina Piechocki

Italian diplomat, poet, and ‘dottor di legge e di medicina’ Ottaviano Castelli (d. 1642) is the author of what some scholars consider to be the first French opera. Performed, in Italian, at the French Embassy in Rome at the occasion of the birth of Louis XIV, La Sincerità trionfante overo l’erculeo ardire (1638) is as much an operatic innovation as it is a diplomatic intervention. Written and performed to celebrate the continuation of the Bourbon dynasty with the birth of the Dauphin, which occurred over twenty years after the marriage of his parents, Louis XIII and Anne of Austria, the 200-page libretto exhibits the librettist’s anxiety about Louis XIII’s capacity to procreate – and thus to guarantee the continuation of the French kingdom during the Thirty Years’ War and a time of religious tensions between France’s Catholic and Protestant population. While the libretto (over)emphasizes Louis XIII’s sexual activity by introducing a string of fictitious erotic encounters, it only imperfectly veils the potential scandal of dynastic discontinuation all-too-easily caused by a king and/or a queen’s sterility. ‘Sincerity’, the title’s first word, appears as an allegorical figure on stage alongside ‘Dissimulation’, who encapsulates the subtle diplomatic negotiations and sexual machinations leading to the event of the Dauphin’s birth as well as the librettist’s ingenious literary masquerade of an intimate yet public topic. This essay investigates the emergence of the opera libretto in Italy and France as a diplomatic genre performed primarily at occasions that marked outstanding dynastic events such as births and marriages. The recurrently used figure of Hercules emerges here not only as a paradigmatic figure blending diplomacy (body politic) and sexuality (body natural), but also as a subversive character testing – and transgressing – the boundaries of diplomatic and poetic decorum.

Chapter 7: ‘Minister-like Cleverness, Understanding and Influence on Affairs’: Ambassadresses in Everyday Business and Courtly Ceremonies at the Turn of the Eighteenth Century. Florian Kühnel

‘Men are best suited for the management of State affairs.’ According to the German lawyer Friedrich Karl von Moser, who in 1752 published a treatise on The Rights and Duties of the Female Envoy, this was just an ‘old prejudice’: a lot of women already had proved their ability in ‘using their mind and dexterity to initiate and maintain the progress of State affairs as if they had achieved mastery in the minsters’ guild’. Just like Moser’s contemporaries, historians for a long time have ignored the role women played in diplomatic relations and focused instead on ambassadors and their political negotiations. And although recently ‘female diplomacy’ has begun to receive more and more attention, for instance regarding rulers or mistresses, the diplomatic agency of the wives of ambassadors has hardly been explored. In my paper, I will explore the examples of Lady Elizabeth Trumbull and Lady Mary Wortley Montagu who both followed their husbands to represent England at different courts at the end of the seventeenth and the early eighteenth centuries, such as Paris, Vienna, Florence or Istanbul. Early modern diplomacy depended to a large extent on the participation of women and these women often acted jointly with their husbands. In this regard, one could actually speak of a ‘diplomatic working couple’. Ambassadrices kept their own social network and had access to certain areas of activity that their husbands lacked. Ambassadors’ wives were also living in a constant struggle for recognition of ceremonial claims at court and were willing to defend these claims when they were affronted. Finally, I underline the importance of ambassadrices in the case of their husband’s death. It was common that they then kept the diplomatic business going until a new representative arrived. As it turns out, this mattered especially in Istanbul where, due to the distances involved, the direct influence of the regnancy was relatively small. By comparing the role of women in everyday diplomatic practices at different courts – and in a cross-cultural perspective – it is possible to examine how ‘female diplomacy’ differed at these courts and how differences were perceived and interpreted.

Chapter 8: The Dutch Merchant-diplomat in Comparative Perspective: Embassies to the Court of Aurangzeb, 1660-1666. Guido van Meersbergen

The problem of cultural commensurability remains high on the agenda in the historiography of cross-cultural diplomacy. Works on early modern diplomatic encounters between Europeans and Asians have typically addressed this issue by analysing (a) particular moment(s) in a bilateral relationship. With regard to European diplomacy in the Mughal Empire, the strong scholarly focus on the embassy of the English diplomat Sir Thomas Roe to the court of Jahangir (1615-1618) provides a case in point. This essay seeks to shift the grounds of the debate by making two distinct contributions. First, it calls attention to the hitherto overlooked prominence of the Dutch East India Company (VOC) as the principal European diplomatic partner of the Mughal state. As will be argued, it was not the one-off royal embassy led by Roe, but the nearly continuous diplomatic activity of the Dutch merchant corporation that typified the Euro-Mughal diplomatic encounter. Secondly, this essay seeks to understand the reception of European envoys at Asian courts not as isolated instances of cross-cultural encounter, but as an integrated part of a wider setting. Dircq van Adrichem’s embassy to the court of Aurangzeb in 1662 is particularly conducive to such a comparative analysis. It occurred as part of a flurry of diplomatic activity following Aurangzeb’s assumption of the throne in 1658, with ambassadors from Persia, the Uzbek domains, Basra, and Ethiopia making their way to the Mughal court in Delhi within the span of a few years. Based on the chronicles of Aurangzeb’s reign, Van Adrichem’s embassy journal, travel accounts, and other primary sources, this essay investigates the extent to which the Dutchman’s conduct and treatment set him apart on the Eurasian diplomatic stage. It argues that rather than indicating structural and incommensurable difference, the reception and response of the VOC envoy reveals diplomatic strategies defined by incorporation, accommodation, and acculturation.

Chapter 9: Trans-Imperial Familiarity: Ottoman Ambassadors in Eighteenth-Century Vienna . David do Paço

Based on the vibrant renewal of the history of cross-cultural diplomacy, this chapter explores both formal and informal expressions of social bonding at play between political agents from different religious and cultural backgrounds. In the eighteenth century, Vienna gradually substituted Venice as the pivotal place for European diplomacy with the Ottoman Empire, a fact that is fully documented by the unpublished materials of the Austrian archives, especially the rich reports written by the ‘Imperial and Royal interpreters in Oriental languages of the Court’ all through the century. Recent historiographical developments call for a new understanding of the classical documentation of diplomatic history, placing diplomatic action in its sociocultural context. It has paved the way to develop an approach to diplomacy that recovers not only diplomats’ networks and resulting forms of sociability, but also more implicit sociocultural codes and habits that had to be mastered in order to carry out a mission in a specific cultural context.

Diplomacy took place among a Viennese milieu composed of Austrian reforming ministers, expert scholars in oriental languages who became major administrators of the monarchy, as well as Ottoman merchants and diplomats who all shared common economic, social, and political interests. This chapter successively examines the three circles of familiarity of the Ottoman agents. First, it moves the focus away from the single person of the ambassador to examine the composition of the numerous Ottoman diplomatic delegations, the solidarities and the tensions that structured it as a micropolis and how they evolved. Secondly, it explores the multiple sorts of interaction between the different Ottoman diplomatic representatives and the Viennese Court and its agents to stress the flexibility and the permeability of both of them. Finally, the dynamics that supported the deep embedding of the Ottoman ‘Quartier’ in the city’s economy and social life are analysed calling for a social approach to early modern diplomatic history that is not restricted to an exclusive political circle.

Section Three: Objects and Beasts 

Chapter 10:  Presenting Noble Beasts: Gifts of Animals in Tudor and Stuart Diplomacy. Felicity Heal

The gifts employed in early modern diplomacy came in many shapes and forms. Almost anything, though preferably something distinctive with recognisable value, could be labelled as a gift and handled with the proper ritual of presentation that secured its impact. In practice, however, offerings and rewards to ambassadors and their trains began in this century to stabilise, narrow in type and acquire a ‘tariff’ of value. This was not true of gifts between sovereigns. Presents were often part of an alternative to direct dynastic encounters: the latter being logistically difficult and fraught with challenges about status and political identity. As such, much thought had to be given to the proper things to give and receive: for example, when John Chamberlain labelled a miscellaneous offering of animals and other things to the king of Spain by James I ‘a rabblement’ he recognised that there had been a failure of royal diplomacy. This essay will examine sovereign gifts of animals appropriate to a monarch. After some brief observations on exotic beasts – lions, tigers and elephants that were destined for the royal menagerie – it will concentrate on the hawks, hounds and horses exchanged between the English monarchs and their peers. It will reflect on the diplomatic significance giving and receiving in the English and Scottish courts, at the competitive element in giving valuable types of horses, and at the degree to which animals were used to sustain alliances between Scotland and France, England and the Habsburgs.

Chapter 11: Gift Exchanges, Self-Presentation and the Political Use of Objects during Ferdinand the Catholic’s Reign. Germán Gamero Igea

Due to the political evolution of the Iberian Peninsula, diplomatic relationships in the late fifteenth century became a key issue in the configuration of the Spanish monarchy. The union of Castile and Aragon implied the reorganization of their traditional alliances,  balancing the two countries’ sometimes complementary and sometimes competing foreign policy goals. Meanwhile, the Catholic Monarchs were not isolated from the development of diplomatic practices elsewhere in Europe, particularly the adoption of resident diplomacy by an increasing number of Italian power. The inauguration of a permanent embassy in Rome in 1480 indicates this new reality. Here, the crown of Aragon had a clear advantage over Castile as Aragonese kings had cultivated political, cultural and even personal connections with Florence, Rome and Naples since the reign of Alphonse V, making it easier for Aragonese diplomats to becomes the face of the ‘new diplomacy’ for Spain. Thus there was a need to combine Castilian interests and

This essay explores how Ferdinand and Isabella responded to the diplomatic challenges of their dynastic union through the specific prism of their gift-exchanges with other sovereigns and the gifts they gave to ambassadors. Ferdinand and Isabella’s diplomatic gifting strategies drew upon medieval traditions that were established long before the introduction of resident diplomacy and offer important insights into how the monarchs adapted to the ‘new diplomacy’. Analysing the Catholic Monarchs’ diplomatic gift-giving elucidates how the different traditions and innovations were mixed with respect to domestic and foreign relationships, Aragonese and Castilian practices and perspectives, and Christian contact with Muslim powers. While the line between internal and external relations was often blurred during their reigns, as it was in other complex polities of the time, Ferdinand took responsibility for certain aspects of international gifting and Isabella for others. This essay first explores how Ferdinand and Isabella organized their diplomacy, before turning to their gifting relationships within Europe. Finally, it analyses how their gifting strategies related to the war in Granada and military campaigns in the north of Africa. It demonstrates that the two monarchs co-operated, with each taking primary responsibility for different spheres of action.

Chapter 12: Merchant-Kings and Lords of the World: Diplomatic Gift-exchange between the Dutch East India Company (VOC) and the Safavid and Mughal Empires in the Seventeenth Century. Frank Birkenholz

In 1652 the VOC ambassador Joan Cunaeus presented the Safavid Shah Abbas II with a set of diplomatic gifts including goods of Asian and European origin during an audience ceremony in the Ali Qapu palace in Isfahan. A decade later, VOC director Dircq van Adrichem offered the Mughal emperor Aurangzeb a comparable array of presents in the Red Fort in Shahjahanabad. Cunaeus and Van Adrichem were two of many VOC representatives who established or maintained trade relations with Asian rulers in the early modern period. During such encounters these VOC officials offered and received various gifts in elaborate ceremonies which greatly resembled early modern diplomatic practices.

Historians have tended to characterize the VOC as a trade organization engaged in purely commercial practices, neglecting the political and diplomatic history of the Company, and especially its employment of gifts in establishing trade agreements. Complementing van Meersbergen’s argument that the VOC operated as a diplomatic actor in Mughal India, this essay will engage in the ongoing debate concerning the boundaries of the VOC as a diplomatic agent. Various Dutch historians have shown that, as an adaption to the political cultures of Asian states, the Dutch Republic authorized the Company to act as a state, allowing it not only to wage wars, build settlements and administer justice, but also to conduct diplomatic negotiations with Asian rulers. The diplomatic aspects of the Company’s policy becomes clear in Cunaeus and Van Adrichem’s missions, which have both been described in detail in travel reports. Both are interesting examples of cross-cultural diplomatic exchanges in which cultural signifiers, in the form of gifts, were employed as tools to articulate political messages. Through studying these two travel reports alongside other archival sources, this paper explores the function of ceremonial gift-exchange in the representation of political legitimacy and sovereignty in diplomatic relations between the VOC and the Safavid and Mughal Empires in the seventeenth century. It does so by applying social-anthropological and historical theories of gift-exchange, concepts of political legitimacy and notions of universal sovereignty to these instances of diplomatic gift-giving and discussing the political connotations and geopolitical nature of the gifts.

This essay shows that the Safavid Shahs and Mughal emperors utilized gift-giving practices as an acknowledgement of their claims to universal sovereignty. They expected foreign representatives to present themselves as being of lower rank by offering gifts in exchange for trade agreements. At the same time, VOC envoys used gifts to represent the Company as a strong state with a widespread commercial network to persuade these rulers to trade with them. Therefore, diplomatic gift-giving had an indispensable role in the establishment of trade relations between the VOC and the Safavid and Mughal empires.

Chapter 13: The Failed Gift: Ceremony and Gift-Giving in Anglo-Russian Relations 1662–1664. Jan Hennings

A situation in which communication goes awry often says more about the function of that communication’s media than does the error-free flow of routine. This applies as much to consciously instigated conflicts as it does to severances based on misunderstandings. It is when something fails to function that its actual function becomes apparent. This is particularly true for the diplomatic gifts that are today familiar to us from museum visits. But the splendid items of a country’s foreign relations put on display in glass cabinets sometimes distract from the difficulties involved in the actual exchange of gifts. The exhibits which surround us in their splendour in the museum can be the very obverse of a symbol of successful diplomatic communication or of a starting point for close historic relations between states; rather, they can be the remnants of oftentimes precarious and unpredictable encounters. Despite its permanent links to voluntariness and informality, gift exchange was subject to a substantial process of formalization and standardization to prevent, through more or less clearly defined standards, the potential conflicts which arose as a result of this in practice. Thus careful calculations were made in advance to determine who would receive what, based on what one oneself had previously received, in order to preserve the balance of reciprocity, and therefore the claims to rank and honour. This essay traces the interaction between the object given, its function, and its meaning, using as examples the Russian embassy that Tsar Aleksei Mikhailovich dispatched to London in 1662, and the English embassy sent to Moscow shortly thereafter by King Charles II. The purpose is to also examine those gifts which cannot be found in museum collections, commodities such as hemp, potash, Cornish tin, lead, and an old, used pistol, for instance. The first case study explores the relationship between diplomatic gifts and economic exchange; the second examines the role of the gift in diplomatic ceremonial and political communication, as the symbolic exchange of objects was inevitably integrated into the complex processes of mutual recognition of sovereignty, the negotiation of rank and honour and their public observance.

Afterword: From Social Status to Sovereignty–Practices  of Foreign Relations from the Renaissance to the Sattelzeit  Christian Windler

Professor Windler’s  afterword builds upon the common threads woven throughout our book and discusses new trajectories in the field. He also situates the essays against other ongoing, state of the art work by Anglophone and European scholars.


We are busy editing three collections of essays that have emerged from the network’s activities. One comprises case studies that suggest theoretical and methodological approaches to literary-diplomatic studies and a second explores the relationship between English diplomacy and literary production in some depth. Jo and Tracey are editing these together. A third volume, Practices of Diplomacy in the Early Modern World c. 1410-1800, ed. Tracey A. Sowerby and Jan Hennings, is now under contract with Routledge. For more information, click here.

If you would like to read about specific ‘textual ambassadors’ we have been researching please visit our web-gallery.

A gift-portrait with a poem in Latin by Andrew Marvell, sent from Oliver Cromwell to Queen Christina of Sweden by Edward Holberton

CromwellOliver Cromwell was painted many times by the artist Robert Walker but this image is a special one: Cromwell is shown wearing a white mantle, which frames a gold pendant on which appear the three crowns of Sweden.* Its connection with Andrew Marvell’s poem, and with an exchange of portraits which took place between Cromwell and Queen Christina in 1653, was only re-established relatively recently. The identification brings into focus some of the ways in which a gift-portrait can do diplomatic work.

The exchange of portraits had become a regular feature of early modern diplomacy.[1] In a context where meetings between princes were expensive and infrequent, a portrait might serve as a surrogate for a monarch, and represent his or her power and magnificence. Exchanges of portraits were part of the economy of prestige, which took place around diplomatic embassies. By presenting such a gift, a diplomat could demonstrate his intimacy with and knowledge of the prince that he represented. Similarly, princes who collected such portraits could use them to show their own diplomatic prestige, and the history of their relationships with other dynasties and states. As with Walker’s painting of Cromwell, a gift-portrait could suggest shared cultural values and interests, or hint at the political directions a negotiation might take. The inclusion of verse on a gift portrait is relatively unusual, however, and it allows this representation of Cromwell to be especially eloquent. Marvell’s lines ventriloquize Cromwell. He had not yet become Lord Protector, and though a powerful political figure, his official role was Lord General of the republic’s army. Accordingly, in Marvell’s poem, he claims that the lines on his face are from military service. He acknowledges his role in the wars that led to the execution of Charles I (which Queen Christina had condemned), but this experience, he claims, has not made him hostile to all monarchs:

Bellipotens virgo, septem regina trionum.

Christina, arctoi lucida stella poli;

Cernis quas merui dura sub casside rugas;

Sicque senex armis impiger ora fero;

Invia Fatorum dum per vestigia nitor,

Exequor et populi fortia jussa manu.

At tibi submittit frontem reverentior umbra,

Nec sunt hi vultus regibus usque truces.

Powerful Virgin, Queen of the Seven Oxen. Christina, clear star of the northern pole. You see what wrinkles I have acquired under a hard helmet. Thus an old man, yet vigorous, I face my enemies while I press through the pathless tracks of the Fates and execute the strong commands of the people with force. But this image submits its brow more respectfully to you, nor are these features always hostile to kings.[2]

The nuances of Marvell’s ‘reading’ of the portrait are illuminated by the diplomatic context. At the time when this portrait was sent to Christina, the English republic was embroiled in the first Anglo-Dutch war of 1652-54. English privateers had captured some Swedish ships, and Christina had sent several emissaries to ask for their release. One of these men, Benjamin Bonnel, having had little success in petitioning the Council of State, approached one of its members in particular – Cromwell. Over the coming months Bonnel developed a political relationship with Cromwell on behalf of Christina (it was Bonnel who reports having received and sent on the portrait of Cromwell in September 1653). This relationship was useful to Christina because it might help in her longer-term diplomatic strategy of a negotiating an Anglo-Swedish treaty. Like many European monarchs, Christina had expressed horror at the republic’s execution of Charles I, but with the republic’s successes in Scotland and against the formidable Dutch navy in the seas of Northern Europe, it became an attractive ally. Cromwell had been growing disillusioned with the radicalism of some MPs in Barebone’s Parliament. Along with some allies among the more moderate officers and MPs, he had been hoping to negotiate an alliance with the United Provinces. At the same time, he realised that an alliance with Sweden might be a more reliable option. An Anglo-Swedish alliance would give the English republic legitimacy and influence in diplomatic and commercial affairs, and in the longer term, it could become the core of a Protestant alliance.

Cromwell’s position was therefore delicately-poised, and might be easily misunderstood. Though no record survives of the gift, it seems highly likely that the three-crown pendant modelled by Cromwell was a gift sent to him by Christina. Sending a gift between private individuals during war was an established way of signalling that peace was desired between the parties, and something comparable seems to have been happening here, showing that Christina was not so hostile to the English republic after all. But the kind of unofficial diplomacy that Cromwell and Bonnel had been conducting was ostensibly banned under the republic, so Cromwell could not receive Christina’s gifts with due ostentation. The portrait exchange nicely negotiates this difficulty, by demonstrating gratitude which Cromwell could not show so well in public in England. According to ambassador Bulstrode Whitelocke, who was sent to Sweden shortly after this exchange, Christina had been forming high expectations of Cromwell, and saw a parallel between the Lord General and the founder of her own royal line, Gustavus I, who ‘had risen up and rescued his country from the bondage and oppression … and for his reward, he was at last elected king of Sweden’.[3] Although some in England shared these expectations, Cromwell was far from comfortable with the idea of becoming king, and recognised the political difficulties that it would entail, so Walker’s portrait and Marvell’s epigram attempt to refocus Christina’s anticipations.

The cuirass armour is a standard element of portrait costume for military men in European portraits of this period. The white mantle is more unusual. Draped and tied as it is, it corresponds to the Roman paludamentum, the military counterpart to the civilian toga. The tactful message to Christina is that for all his influence, and his receptiveness to Swedish amity, Cromwell is still the republic’s military servant, not its political leader.

Marvell’s poem emphasises that Cromwell is an instrument of the Republic too, but it uses the epigram’s conventional formal ‘turn’ to reassure that he is not a republican zealot, and to highlight a particular show of respect to Christina in modelling the three-crown arms of Sweden. In the epigram the Lord General is ‘senex’ – an old man. This detail is perhaps a little surprising, but it gives some context to his gratitude for the pendant. Cromwell was of the same generation as Christina’s father, Gustavus Adolphus, whose campaigns during the Thirty Years War had made him into a Protestant hero in the eyes of his admirers in England. Cromwell’s age helps to explain why his hardened features soften into an expression of respect for the Swedish monarch. Barely suppressing reference to the regicide, he disavows anti-monarchism, but perhaps only for a special kind of monarch – a Swedish Vasa.

It turned out that Cromwell and Christina had very different visions of what an Anglo-Swedish alliance might involve, and Whitelocke’s negotiations in Sweden proved very difficult. Both the portrait epigram, like Marvell’s longer diplomatic poem ‘Angelo suo Marvellius’ (which Marvell sent later to a member of Whitelocke’s entourage) do a different, though complementary, kind of diplomatic work. They soften cultural differences, by suggesting shared aspirations, and historical perspectives. It doing so, they also throw light on some of abilities that were needed from an aspiring diplomatic secretary at this point. Marvell’s poem seems to have been written as part of his pursuit of patronage for a diplomatic career, and he later gained a job as a secretary in the commonwealth’s Latin office, where he translated and drafted diplomatic documents. The epigram showcases some of the competencies needed in this role. In a few lines it shows a delicate sense of decorum, as well as the ability to bend it slightly for an extraordinary occasion. The poem itself is a kind of letter, including a carefully-crafted address: as ‘clear star of the northern pole’ the Swedish queen becomes a stable point of reference for Cromwell, something by which he navigates. While the republic’s enemies were seeking to represent them as low-born revolutionaries, this also provides implicit reassurance that Cromwell is not seeking to subvert monarchies abroad.

In giving Cromwell’s image a voice, Marvell’s poem also shows how to make an absent figure engagingly present. His Cromwell speaks with respect and pays compliments, but he does so with a directness which implies England’s autonomous and equal authority within the international system. And like ‘Angelo suo Marvellius’, this poem also shows Christina that her messages and gifts are being read, reproduced, and circulated in ways that invite further diplomatic exchanges and do her reputation and memory credit – in spite of the secrecy, they provoke elegant literary responses from accomplished Latinists such as Marvell.

* Image reproduced with the kind permission of the Euston Estate.

[1] Tracey A. Sowerby, ‘‘A Memorial and a Pledge of Faith’: Portraiture and Early Modern Diplomatic Culture’, English Historical Review, 129 (2014), 296-331.

[2] The Poems of Andrew Marvell. ed. Nigel Smith, 2nd edn (Harlow: Pearson/Longman, 2007), p. 314

[3] Bulstrode Whitelocke, A Journal of the Swedish Ambassy, in the Years M.DC.LIII and M.DC.LIV, from the Commonwealth of England, Scotland, and Ireland, ed. Charles Morton, 2 vols. (London: T. Becket and P. A. de Hondt, 1772), I, 296.

Further Reading:

Edward Holberton, ‘Bellipotens Virgo’, Times Literary Supplement, 21 November 2008

—, Poetry and the Cromwellian Protectorate: Culture, Politics, and Institutions (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008)

John Kerrigan, Archipelagic English: Literature, History, and Politics, 1603–1707 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008)

Laura Knoppers, Constructing Cromwell: Ceremony, Portrait, and Print, 1645–1661 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000)

Nigel Smith, Andrew Marvell: The Chameleon (Pittsburgh: Yale University Press, 2010)

The Poems of Andrew Marvell. ed. Nigel Smith, 2nd edn (Harlow: Pearson/Longman, 2007).

Tracey A. Sowerby, ‘‘A Memorial and a Pledge of Faith’: Portraiture and Early Modern Diplomatic Culture’, English Historical Review, 129 (2014), 296-331.

Bulstrode Whitelocke, A Journal of the Swedish Ambassy, in the Years M.DC.LIII and M.DC.LIV, from the Commonwealth of England, Scotland, and Ireland, ed. Charles Morton, 2 vols. (London: T. Becket and P. A. de Hondt, 1772), I, 296.

Blair Worden, Literature and Politics in Cromwellian England: John Milton, Andrew Marvell, Marchamont Nedham (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007)


Diplomacy and Culture in the Early Modern World

Registration for our conference has now closed.

The conference builds upon the recent ‘cultural turn’ in diplomatic studies that has seen more innovative, interdisciplinary approaches to a subject that was once viewed in heavily bureaucratic and constitutional terms. Scholars are increasingly appreciating the importance of ritual and other forms of symbolic communication in diplomatic practices and the role of diplomatic processes in cultural exchanges. Diplomats were important political brokers whose actions could have profound implications for international relations, but they played an equally important role in the transfer and adaptation of cultural ideas and artefacts through their activities as cultural agents, authors and brokers. The profound impact of diplomacy on culture in this period is, moreover, seen in the increasing prominence of representations of diplomacy in literature and a range of other media. The aim of this conference is to further our understanding of early modern diplomatic practices, of the dynamics of diplomatic exchanges both within and without Europe, and how diplomatic ideas and practices interacted with other cultural and political processes.

The keynote lecture ‘Diplomacy as a Social Practice: Recent Research Perspectives’ will be delivered by Professor Christian Windler (Bern). The conference will feature two panel discussions: one on the impact of the ‘diplomatic moment’ and another on future directions in diplomatic studies. Papers and panels will address aspects of diplomatic culture in Europe and the wider world including gender, gifts, material culture, the dissemination of information, archival practices, international law, cross cultural exchanges and translation, as well as the impact of diplomacy on literary writing and representations of diplomacy. The conference programme is now available as are the paper abstracts.

SRS logoWe are grateful to TORCH for sponsoring this event. Thanks to the generosity of the Society for Renaissance Studies we have been able to provide a number of travel bursaries to doctoral students.

A letter from Elizabeth I to Tsar Ivan 'the Terrible'

Tracey A. Sowerby

A letter from Elizabeth I to Ivan IV of Muscovy, 25 April 1561 (TNA PRO 22/60/3)

A letter from Elizabeth I to Ivan IV of Muscovy, 25 April 1561 (TNA PRO 22/60/3)

Much early modern English diplomacy was conducted by letter. Rulers corresponded with one another on a fairly regular basis even when they had ambassadors continually stationed at one another’s courts. If we are to understand fully how early modern diplomacy was practiced, then it is important for us to understand how such royal correspondence functioned, especially as early modern letter writing was fraught with difficulties that we rarely encounter today.  In later seventeenth-century France, for instance, conventions had developed about how people of a lower social status should correspond with their social superiors or equals. Writers had to pay attention to how their letter was laid out, what forms of address they used (how familiar should they be? should they include the person’s full titles?) and what material it was written on. If they got it wrong, they risked offending the person to whom they were writing or even disgracing themselves.[1] Letters, then, were an important means by which people established and maintained their place in political society.

The words and rhetoric that a writer used not only put forward the argument s/he wanted to make, they also asserted his or her status and revealed how the writer viewed the recipient. So many early modern letter writers had to walk a fine line between claiming status and conceding it when dealing with fellow politicians. Early modern rulers faced this problem writ large: they wanted their letters to demonstrate their superiority to the person to whom they were writing, even if that was another king or queen, but they did not want to offend or alienate their correspondent. And they had to do this while maintaining amicable relations. Rulers had to be careful what they wrote for another reason: if they made claims that were too bold or promised specific policies, then they were honour bound to fulfil their word. If they did not, then they would lose respect and status in international society, where honour was a valuable commodity. Letters, then, could leave hostages to fortune if a monarch was not careful. But if a ruler was too vague, or if s/he criticised a fellow monarch too harshly, then their letter might create a breach in international relations, rather than furthering their friendship. How then could rulers show their power and magnificence without overstepping the mark? And how might they use the appearance of their letters to say things that they could not, or should not, write down?

SP 102 49 5The physical nature of the letter could be used to communicate political ideas and make political claims. This meant that it too had to be negotiated delicately if it were to have the desired effect. As you can see, the visual impact of some of the Russian tsars’ letters to Elizabeth was quite striking.

In recent years, historians and literary scholars have both become much more interested in material culture. We are appreciating that how a text looked, felt, and even smelled can tell us something about what its author intended and how it was used.[2] When it comes to manuscript collections of poetry, for instance, physical evidence such as the type(s) of ink used and how the pages were bound together can help to reveal in what order the poems were written, how individual poems were adapted, and how the collection of verses was compiled.[3]

charles to teh tsarWe can get some ideas about what rulers aimed to do with illuminated correspondence if we examine a single letter: the second letter Elizabeth I of England sent to Ivan IV of Russia (Ivan the Terrible). Heavily damaged, as you can see from the image at the top of the page, it is highly decorated in colour (sadly I only have a black and white image). But some idea of how vivid English letters to Russia were can be gained from this image of one of Charles I’s letters.

Elizabeth’s letter was written in Latin. An English translation was published by Richard Hakluyt in the later sixteenth century in one of his volumes on the English ‘discoveries’ of the non-European world.[4] It was one of the most elaborately decorated letters sent by Elizabeth.[5]

Elizabeth’s letter complicates our task of understanding the role of royal correspondence because the two rulers did not share a common language.[6] French, Italian and Latin were widely used in European diplomacy in the sixteenth century. English, however, was not considered important enough to be mentioned in diplomatic handbooks as a useful language. Elizabeth once boasted that Russian looked like Greek (which she knew) so she was sure that if she had enough time she would be able to learn it very quickly.[7] But she never did.

While Elizabeth was fluent in Latin, Ivan was not. Indeed Ivan knew only Russian.[8] Why then did she write in a language that Ivan did not understand and that the Russians refused to use? Latin was widely used in European diplomacy and was understood by many churchmen and civil servants. In the earliest years of Anglo-Russian relations there was therefore every reason to suspect that it would be easier to find someone at Ivan’s court who could translate Latin than English. But Richard Chancellor, who had established direct contact between the English and the Russian tsar, had already found that the Russians would not use Latin in their diplomacy.

There are two further possible motives for Elizabeth’s choice of language. First, it might be a subtle way of asserting her greater cultural sophistication. Secondly, her diplomats’ Latinity gave them greater control in determining the meaning of the letter’s translation into Russian. This may seem like a moot point, as we might expect translations to be an accurate reflection of the text on which they were based. But recent scholarship has shown that translations could differ quite considerably from the original, to the extent that we might want to think of them as original works in their own right.[9] There is even evidence that at least one of Elizabeth’s ambassadors took some liberties when translating her letters for far distant powers.[10] So Elizabeth might well have been wary of surrendering control of the translation to another ruler’s bureaucrats.

As Elizabeth and Ivan did not share a common language we might expect him simply to have consulted a translation prepared by his foreign office staff. Yet we can be fairly confident that he did see the original and gave it some scrutiny. Anthony Jenkinson, the diplomat who delivered the letter, insisted that he would only present it to Ivan and refused to let anyone else see it in advance. Jenkinson was eventually allowed to deliver it to Ivan directly and reported that the tsar had received the letter gratefully.[11]

Early modern diplomatic conventions meant that royal letters were considered precious. They represented the rulers who sent them and so diplomatic etiquette required that they be shown respect. Spending some time perusing the letter was one way to show that it had been favourably received, meaning that even Elizabeth’s English letters were highly likely to be scrutinised, however briefly, by the tsar. 

image2This letter’s appearance was intended to communicate messages about Elizabeth and her intentions towards Ivan. First let’s consider what the layout of the letter tells us. The formatting of the letter suggests bureaucratic control: the calligraphy is neat, ordered and the text is framed by decoration. Elizabeth’s name appears in a larger font than the main body of the letter, suggesting it is the most important text on the page, an impression reinforced by the large decorated capital E that opens the letter. In Russia, like in Europe, manuscripts often contained historiated (i.e. decorated) letters, so Ivan would have understood its meaning. He might also have appreciated that Elizabeth had put personal consideration and time into the letter – as indicated by her signature at the bottom – and had thereby shown him due respect, even if he later expressed exasperation at the English queen’s habit of not using a consistent seal to sign her letters.


The decoration reveals more about Elizabeth, her rule, and her dynastic credentials. The symbol of the closed crown, which denoted imperial rule, appears several times in the illumination, where it usually emphasises one of Elizabeth’s royal symbols. In the letter, Elizabeth flattered Ivan by recognising his imperial status as ‘Emperour of all Russia’. She thanked him for the favours that had been shown to Englishmen in Ivan’s empire and for the tsar writing letters under ‘your Imperiall seale’ that had recommended Jenkinson to other rulers. The inclusion of imperial crowns in the decoration of the letter visually asserted Elizabeth’s equal status with Ivan: it suggested that Elizabeth also ruled over an empire.

image6Much of the decoration asserts Elizabeth’s dynastic claims through Tudor badges and her legitimacy through royal motifs. The wreathed portcullis on the left alluded to Elizabeth’s Beaufort ancestors (from whom her grandfather Henry VII was descended); the wreathed Tudor rose that mirrors it on the right symbolised the joining of the houses of York and Lancaster in the Tudor line. The capital E opening letter contained the royal motto – dieu et mon droit (God and my right) – under the English royal arms. Some of the motifs were more personal to Elizabeth, such as the wreathed ER with knotwork was a monogram of Elizabetha Regina (Queen Elizabeth).

The floral decoration also made claims. The roses were a common symbol used by the Tudors, while the lilies alluded to the English claim to the French throne. Pansies were a favourite flower of Elizabeth and probably also symbolised thoughtfulness.[12] Other decoration in the border contains flowers including the red (Lancastrian) rose, while lilies allude to claims to France. If Ivan had not understood the precise meaning of the Tudor badges and the floral decoration, he could have asked Jenkinson to explain them to him, which would have given the ambassador an opportunity to relate an abridged history of the Tudor dynasty. Certainly, when Ivan had received his first letters from an English monarch, he had used these as a prompt to learn more about England and its king.[13]

Here then, we can see just how much importance rulers attached to the physical nature of their letters when negotiating with foreign rulers. The elaborate decoration implied that Elizabeth was a magnificent ruler, but that such effort had been put into the letter suggested that she considered Ivan to be a worthy and important ruler too. This reinforced the language Elizabeth used in the letter, which praised the ‘goodnesse’ of Ivan’s nature, his magnificence, abundant grace, and benevolence.

Indeed, the visual rhetoric of the letter complemented the relationship that Elizabeth sought to construct with Ivan through its text. She thanked Ivan for the privileges he had granted to English merchants trading in Russia and for the personal favour he had shown to Elizabeth’s ‘welbeloved’ servant, Jenkinson. Elizabeth also suggested that she would reciprocate, advocating a meet and mutual trading relationship. She hoped that their friendship would ‘endure to the praise of God, to both our glories, to the publike great commoditie of our Realmes on either part, and to the private desired hope, and certeine felicitie of all our subjects’.

While almost all of Elizabeth’s extant letters to Ivan have some form of decoration, this one is unusually elaborate. The reason for this is found in the text of the letter. Elizabeth was not only thanking Ivan for granting English merchants favourable trading privileges in Russia  but also asking that he allow Jenkinson to travel through his lands on a speculative mission to Persia to establish trade relations there. It had the desired effect: Jenkinson soon left for Persia with introductory letters from the tsar.


[1] Giora Sternberg has written about this. See G. Sternberg, ‘Epistolary Ceremonial: Corresponding Status at the Court of Louis XIV’, Past and Present, 204 (2009), pp. 33-88.

[2] For instance James Daybell & Peter Hinds (eds), Material Readings of Early Modern Culture: Texts and Social Practices, 1580-1730 (Basingstoke, 2010).

[3] For example Jason Powell, ‘Thomas Wyatt’s Poetry in Embassy: Egerton 2711 and the Production of Literary Manuscripts Abroad’, Huntington Library Quarterly, 67.2 (2004), pp. 261-84.

[4] A transcription of the Latin text is printed in Y. Tolstoi, The First Forty Years of Intercourse between England and Russia (St Petersburg, 1875), pp. 17-19. The original survives in Moscow and there is a copy in the National Archives. A Latin transcription and English translation are published in R. Hakluyt, The principal nauigations, voyages, traffiques and discoueries of the English nation (London, 1599-1600), pp. 338-340. (Also available in Morgan and Coote (eds.), Early Voyages to Russia and Persia (London, 1886), vol. 1, pp. 109-112.)

[5] Many of Elizabeth’s letters to Russia contained some decoration, most commonly historiated initials.

[6] Anna Riehl Bertolet, ‘The Tsar and the Queen: “ You speak a language that I understand not’, in Charles Beem (ed.), The Foreign Relations of Elizabeth I (Basingstoke, 2011), pp. 109-112.

[7] Rayne Allinson, A Monarchy of Letters: Royal Correspondence and English Diplomacy in the Reign of Elizabeth I (Basingstoke, 2012), pp. 114-5.

[8] Tolstoi, First Forty Years, p. 85. In a later letter Elizabeth explained that she wrote in English because she had been informed that it was easier to translate than Latin (see Tolstoi, First Forty Years, p. 312).

[9] See for example F. Schurinck (ed.), Tudor Translation (Basingstoke, 2011).

[10] Allinson, Monarchy of Letters, pp. 147-8.

[11] Hakluyt, Principal nauigations, p. 344.

[12] Lisa Klein, ”Your Humble Handmaid: Elizabethan Gifts of Needlework,” Renaissance Quarterly, 50 (1997), pp. 477-8.

[13] Hakluyt, Principal nauigations, p. 249.


Tracey Sowerby writes: I recently attended a very interesting workshop on ‘Spaces of Diplomacy’ at UCL organised by the Diplomatic Cultures Research Network. This proved fascinating on a number of levels. In part because the participants were drawn from many different disciplines — international relations, literary studies, geography, history, etc. And also because several of the speakers were practitioners. So this was a useful opportunity to learn about the modern day workings of diplomacy and the cultural concerns contemporary diplomats have.

Prof Iver Neumann discussed sites of diplomacy. He suggested that diplomacy as a lived practice involves different types of sites (embassies, palaces, and  even local restaurants!) which have different meanings making them suitable for different types of diplomatic activity. Prof Herman van der Wusten considered how diplomatic networks and practices are influenced by new geo-political configurations and co-ordinated diplomatic bodies representing more than one state. Several other papers raised questions about how governments might balance security concerns with productive communications with other embassies. In recent years there has been a gradual move away from basing embassies at expensive and more vulnerable properties in the centre of cities towards more secure, less expensive and more disparate areas on the outskirts. But the indications are that embassies coordinate and cooperate more easily with one another when it is easier for their diplomats to meet. My own short paper considered how early modern rulers used the political meanings of space in their palaces as a non-verbal means of communicating political messages to visiting diplomats.

Several papers at the workshop were very relevant to the core concerns of the Textual Ambassadors network. Prof John Watkins, one of our network members, discussed how the early modern stage could act as a space for exploring and expressing diplomatic concerns in the early modern period, focussing in particular on pre-modern interdynastic marriage. One of the conference themes was how new spaces of ‘virtual diplomacy’, such as Facebook and YouTube, are impacting on diplomatic practice and how modern governments can respond. This raised some interesting questions. In what ways do new technologies of communication change diplomatic practice? How can they be used to extend the range and reach of ‘cultural diplomacy’? How might diplomacy itself play a role in the cultural transfer of information, ideas and literature as a result of such technologies? How might these developments impact on the decisions governments and diplomats make about how to present themselves? And how might this influence how the broader public views diplomats and diplomacy?

The Textual Ambassadors network is more likely to be pondering the printing press or the emergence of newspapers than Twitter. But we are thinking about some similar issues. For early modern governments, like their modern successors, had to confront new modes of communication and the greater availability of texts and information outside the narrow circle of the negotiating elites, albeit on a less expansive scale.

To learn more about the workshop click here. It has been podcast, so if you would like to listen to any of the papers, please click here.

Mapping the Field programme

Friday 9 August

9.30 Welcome and introductions

10.00 Panel one: chair Tracey Sowerby

Papers by Timothy Hampton (UC Berkeley), Joanna Craigwood
(Cambridge), and Diego Pirillo (UC Berkeley)

11.20 Coffee

11.50 Panel two: chair Jan Hennings

Papers by Christopher Warren (Carnegie Mellon), Edward
Holberton (Cambridge), and André Krisher (Münster)

1.10 Lunch

2.10 Panel three: chair Jo Craigwood

Papers by Warren Boutcher (QMUL), Edward Wilson Lee
(Cambridge), Joad Raymond (QMUL)

3.30 Coffee

4.00-4.45 Discussion of the day’s papers: chair Tracey


Saturday 10 August

9.30 Panel four: chair TBC

Papers by Susan Brigden (Oxford), Jason Powell (St Joseph’s
University), and Will Rossiter (Liverpool Hope)

10.50 Coffee

11.20-12.40 Panel five: chair Timothy Hampton

Papers by Nandini Das (Liverpool), Jan Hennings (Oxford),
and José Maria Pérez Fernandez (Granada)

12.40-1.40 lunch

1.40-3.00 Panel six: chair Susan Brigden

Papers by John Watkins (University of Minnesota), Glenn
Richardson (St Mary’s University College), and Tracey Sowerby (Oxford)

3.00-3.45 discussion: chair Jo Craigwood


Conference: Diplomacy and Culture in the Early Modern World

Location: TORCH, University of Oxford   Dates: 31 July to 2 August 2014

The final network event will be an international conference dedicated to diplomacy in the early modern world. It will build upon the recent ‘cultural turn’ in diplomatic studies that has seen more innovative, interdisciplinary approaches to a subject that was once viewed in heavily bureaucratic and constitutional terms. Scholars are increasingly appreciating the importance of ritual and other forms of symbolic communication in diplomatic practices and the role of diplomatic processes in cultural exchanges. Diplomats were important political brokers whose actions could have profound implications for international relations, but they played an equally important role in the transfer and adaptation of cultural ideas and artefacts through their activities as cultural agents, authors and brokers. The profound impact of diplomacy on culture in this period is, moreover, seen in the increasing prominence of representations of diplomacy in literature and a range of other media. The aim of this conference is to further our understanding of early modern diplomatic practices, of the dynamics of diplomatic exchanges both within and without Europe, and how diplomatic ideas and practices interacted with other cultural and political processes. The conference will feature two extended panel discussions. One, led by John Watkins, will be dedicated to new approaches to diplomatic studies. A second will examine Timothy Hampton’s idea of a ‘diplomatic moment’ in Renaissance literature. The conference will set the network’s findings in broader context.

We will consider papers on any aspect of early modern diplomacy, but we will particularly welcome proposals for papers and panels on the following topics:

  • The impact of literary developments on, and use of literary texts in, diplomatic practice
  • The role of diplomatic processes and channels in the circulation of texts and literary ideas
  • Diplomacy and translation
  • Representations of diplomacy in literary texts and art
  • The wider cultural reception of diplomacy and evolving
    diplomatic practices
  • The material culture of early modern diplomacy
  • Ritual and protocol in diplomatic encounters
  • Diplomatic personnel, training, and careers
  • Diplomacy and cross-cultural exchange
  • Cultures of diplomatic practice and exchange
  • Gender and diplomacy
  • Early modern legal and philosophical attitudes to, and influences on, diplomacy

Proposals for 20 minute papers or panels of 3-4 papers should be sent to Tracey Sowerby and Jo Craigwood by 21 March 2014. Individual paper proposals should be no more than 300 words. Panel proposals should include abstracts of all papers (max 300 words) and a brief rationale (max 100 words) for the panel. All proposals should be accompanied by a short statement of affiliation and career. Delegates will be notified by 15 April 2014. All enquiries should be addressed to Tracey Sowerby.

Please note that the call for papers has now closed. For details of the conference, a provisional programme and links to the registration page, please click here.