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

Practices 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 is now under contract with Routledge.

Table of contents

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

Section One: Status and Sovereignty beyond the Nation-state

1: Between International Diplomacy and Regional Political Culture: Burgundian Clients in the South-western Holy Roman Empire, c. 1388–1477. Duncan Hardy (Institute of Historical Research, London)

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

3: Literary Representations of Diplomacy in Sixteenth- and Seventeenth-century Dubrovnik. Lovro Kunčević (Croatian Academy of Sciences and Arts)

4. Staged Sovereignty: Aristocratic Values and Diplomatic Ceremonial at the Westphalian Peace Negotiations (1643-1648). Niels F. May (Institut français d’histoire en Allemagne, Frankfurt)

Section Two: Familiarity, Entertainment, and Role-switching

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’: Ambassadrices at the Turn of the Eighteenth Century. Florian Kühnel (Humboldt Universität zu Berlin)

8: The Merchant-diplomat in Comparative Perspective: Dircq van Adrichem’s Embassy to the Court of Aurangzeb (1662). Guido van Meersbergen (University of Amsterdam)

9: Familiarity in Cross-Cultural Diplomacy: Ottoman Ambassadorships in Vienna and the Rise of a Trans-imperial Elite, 1740–92. 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 Exchange, Self-Presentation and the Political Use of Objects in the Reign of Ferdinand the Catholic. 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, 1660–1663. Jan Hennings (CEU Budapest)

Afterword by Christian Windler (University of Bern)

Chapter abstracts

Section One: Status and Sovereignty beyond the Nation-state

Chapter 1: Between International Diplomacy and Regional Political Culture: Burgundian Clients in the South-western Holy Roman Empire, c. 1410–1477. 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: Relations between 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: Literary Representations of Diplomacy in Sixteenth- and Seventeenth-century 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: Aristocratic Values and Diplomatic Ceremonial at the Westphalian Peace Negotiations (16431648). 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 Role-switching

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’: Ambassadrices 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 Merchant-diplomat in Comparative Perspective: Dircq van Adrichem’s Embassy to the Court of Aurangzeb (1662). 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: Familiarity in Cross-Cultural Diplomacy: Ottoman Ambassadorships in Vienna and the Rise of a Trans-imperial Elite, 174092. 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 Exchange, Self-Presentation and the Political Use of Objects in the Reign of Ferdinand the Catholic. 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 (hereafter against France) and the incorporation of new techniques from Italian culture owing to the Aragonese connection with Naples. Indeed, traditional scholarship has considered the reign of Ferdinand the Catholic (1468-1516) as an important turning point in the evolution of Spanish diplomacy.

Historians have studied this phenomenon in depth, mainly focusing on major events. Taking new perspectives into account, for instance Latour’s actor-network theory, can shed important new light on this topic, and raises many questions. How far, for instance, can we consider objects as actors in early modern diplomacy? How did Spanish rulers use such objects? This essay analyses how material culture became not only a medium of symbolic messages in diplomatic relationships but acted as a symbolic agent itself. To do so, the use of royal luxury goods is analysed from three different perspectives: firstly, the role of the royal entourage in diplomatic encounters and embassy receptions; secondly, the differentiated use of gift giving in the Spanish foreign service and the images that the sovereigns sent to other European and non-European rulers; finally, the political use of material culture in the ‘domestic’ diplomacy between the sovereigns and their subjects. The political connection between Castile and Aragon, which each had their own traditions, highlights some Iberian peculiarities and provides a new perspective on our focus on diplomatic relationships in Early Modern Europe. Understanding the connection between these two practices and the political evolution of the Spanish monarchy allows us to better understand the international image projected by the Spanish monarchy prior to establishing the Habsburg dynasty.

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 1660–1663. 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: Christian Windler

Professor Windler will provide an afterword that will build upon the common threads woven throughout our book and discuss new trajectories in the field. He will also situate the essays against other ongoing, state of the art work by Anglophone and European scholars.