2014 Diplomatic writing: reflecting (on) foreign policy in the 17th century

Renaissance Society of America (New York, 26 March 2014)

Session Organiser: Nathalie Rivere de Carles (Toulouse Jean Jaurès)

Chair:  Jane Newman (UC Irvine)

Session Description: This session will focus on the role of writers as ambassadors in 17th century Europe as well as the critical perceptions of diplomatic affairs provided by philosophical and literary writings. While acknowledging the theoretical inheritance of the 16th century, the session will analyse the impact of emergent rationalization of diplomacy during the first half of the 17th century, and the development of new ideas regarding national statesmanship and geopolitical strategies. Questioning the types of regime and the role of the principal and the diplomatic agent, the papers will explore how diplomatic activity can put national politics into perspective. The session will consider political philosophy as a methodological entry into this debate but will also follow a less explored, but highly complementary route provided by literary works involving the investigation of diplomatic activity. These literary works will serve as reflectors of explicit debates around statesmanship and diplomacy, but will also reveal the potency of theoretical undercurrents which sometimes led to the radical reconsideration of political systems in 17th century Europe. The session will consider the links between the ambassadorial role of a writer and the development of their political thinking.

  • Frédéric Herrmann (Université Lyon 2 Lumière, TRIANGLE UMR 5206), Milton as ambassador: self-reinvention and the status of his ‘State Papers’ within the republican canon

John Milton’s tenure as Secretary for Foreign Languages during the 1650s resulted in the production of a substantial number of government materials, mainly correspondence with foreign powers, which show that Milton was not merely a scribe or translator for the young English Republic but could also be seen as taking on an ambassadorial role for the régime. The issue as to whether Milton himself penned every single one of those documents remains a vexed one, but it is connected to his attempt to publish a selection of them after the Restoration. Milton forging his own literary canon can thus be viewed as an act of political significance, beyond the mere celebration of his ‘Latin style’ that such a publication potentially offered, and this paper will examine how this body of work fits within the context of his 1650s republican writings and their intention to defend the English Republic abroad.

John Milton – Latin Secretary – Secretary for Foreign Languages – State Papers – Ambassador – Diplomacy – Republicanism – Literary canon – English Commonwealth

  • Nathalie Rivère de Carles (Université Toulouse Jean Jaurès; CAS, EA 801), Questioning solitary and shared principality in diplomatic affairs in 17th century European drama 

 Through plays such as Hamlet, Measure for Measure, A Game at Chess, and poems like “To Sir Henry Wotton at his going ambassador to Venice”, William Shakespeare, Thomas Middleton and John Donne all offer a very public look at the secrecy and the complexity of the roles of both principals and diplomatic agents in 17th century politics. Such literary reflectors will be analyzed regarding their relationship with the positions of Grotius, Macchiavelli, Callieres and Richelieu on the necessity of a flexible framework for diplomatic activity and of a definition of the statesman’s role. These theoretical dialogues between fiction and philosophy will be considered in the light of the choice between a republican or a monarchic system of government and its influence on the management of geopolitical activity. The paper will also investigate dual figures like Dirk Rodenburg who superimposed literature and diplomacy through their translating activities and deepened a new form of diplomatic activity away from their principals. Questioning the types of regime and the role of the principal and the diplomatic agent, we will explore how diplomatic activity can put national politics into perspective.

Diplomatic Agents, Principal, Shakespeare, Middleton, Machiavelli, Grotius, Republicanism, Intervention, Absolutism, Statesmanship

  • Stéphane Miglierina (Paris Sorbonne), Delimitation of diplomatic spaces: jurisdictional conflicts and triumphal entries in Spanish Milan of the Counter-Reformation

The figure of Juan Fernández de Velasco, Duke of Frias (1550-1613), governor of Milan, the representative of the Spanish crown in Lombardy, questions the link between diplomatic office and cultural development in Milan, in the bellicose era of the Counter-Reformation. His involvement in judicial disputes with both local civil and ecclesiastical Borromean institutions, his role in the organization of festivities for the wedding of Margaret of Austria in 1598, and his regulation of the conditions of theatrical performances raise the issue of what relationship such a diplomatic agent entertains with central power within this endogenous context. Far from being a stricto sensu ambassador, as he is the de facto ruler of Milan, the governor is not least the organizer of the intermediate places, those specific to ambassadors: the street, the square, the theater, the masquerades and he thus constructs, composes and frames the meaning of such a political urban geography.

Keywords : Counter-Reformation, Milan, Italian theatre history, Spanish diplomacy.