Revolts and Revolutions in early modern Diplomacy – forthcoming collective volume

Following our three inspiring conferences on revolts and revolutions, we are now hoping to publish two collective books in order to give a public résumé of our research results.

In our second book, entitled “Ink and blood – writing rebellion in early modern diplomacy”, we will consider the role of early modern diplomats in revolts and revolutions. Differentiating regional cultures of diplomatic agency and diplomatic reporting in early modern Europe, we hope to show that arcane and public communication in times of crisis were not necessarily neatly separated. Diplomats did not only act as careful observers but actively shaped the course of events as spies, news publishers, historians and determined politicians.

In the first chapter, Malte Griesse (University of Konstanz), Lucien Bély (Sorbonne, Paris), Nils Eric Villstrand (Åbo Akademi) and Miriam Rönnqvist (Åbo Akademi) will discuss transitions from neutral reporting to active foreign policy in France and Scandinavia.

Schering Rosenhane, portrait published in "Hommes Illustres" by Anselmus van Hulle, after 1647, (c) public domain, Wikimedia

Schering Rosenhane, portrait published in “Hommes Illustres” by Anselmus van Hulle, after 1647, (c) public domain, Wikimedia

In their capacity as ‘partisans’ and loyal servants to their masters, ambassadors and residents countered prevailing public opinion and ‘fama’ with their own propaganda and directly interfered in the production and dissemination of early modern distance media.

But such public engagement was not necessarily encouraged by their own governments. In some cases, diplomats published their writings rather independently and exposed themselves to criticism at home and abroad. Schering Rosenhane, Swedish ambassador to Paris, chose a wide range of literary genres to influence aristocrats in both countries and even wrote popular memoirs.

The second chapter of our book pursues this line and presents two Central European media producers in diplomatic service.

Stéphane Haffemayer (Université de Caen) presents German refugee and diplomat Samuel Hartlib as a creative media entrepreneur and agitator who became engrossed in parliamentary politics of the English Civil War. David de Boer (University of Konstanz/University of Leiden) shows how Lieuwe von Aitzema and his Dutch contemporaries turned diplomatic reports into popular historiography.

Both articles reveal that in spite of their own political bias, early modern diplomats tried not to let themselves be influenced by questionable informers and manipulatory reports but formed and communicated their own opinions. They may have seen themselves as the elite of a rising informational age and claimed truthfulness in spite of their national duties.

Printed sources as well as popular rumours were received with general suspicion whereas intercepted letters were considered to be more reliable. The prominent cases of forged letters, however, show that there was no indubitable proof. Furthermore, many diplomats anticipated that their own reports would eventually fall into the enemies’ hands. And in such cases, early modern diplomatic activity was always prone to conspiracy and espionage.


Lieuwe van Aitzema, (c) public domain, Wikimedia

How famous diplomats reacted to plotting at foreign courts and how they themselves became more or less incidentally involved is the central theme of our third chapter.

Jason Peacey (University College London) and Enrique Corredera Nilsson (University of Konstanz) describe the complex early modern demarcations between public and arcane information as well as incidents of ambassadorial self-censorship in the face of crisis. As Philip IV’s envoy to Copenhagen, Bernardino de Rebolledo was confronted with a scandal of sex and violence at the Danish court and had to decide very carefully what aspects of the affair should be reported home.

Such complex interrelations of national defence, domestic peace-keeping and foreign diplomacy are likewise demonstrated by the example of seventeenth-century British intelligence records. Peacey’s article recounts that  exiled dissenting communities in the Low Countries were suspected of conspiracy and closely observed by the London government, who made sure that their efforts would not remain entirely secret but sufficiently intimidated English Presbyterians abroad.  All in all, royal diplomats played a decisive role in conceptualizing unlawful opposition as they perpetuated the common denunciation of political and religious dissenters as ‘fanaticks’.

Bernardino de Rebolledo, portrait published in «Retratos de Españoles ilustres», Real Imprenta de Madrid, 1791

Bernardino de Rebolledo, portrait published in «Retratos de Españoles ilustres», Real Imprenta de Madrid, 1791

Our fourth chapter hopes to elaborate further how diplomatic reports could broaden local uprisings to events of international relevance and what impact the religious division of Europe in the post-Reformation age had on foreign policy.

Although Daniel Szechi (University of Manchester) highlights the importance of religious allegiance in French reports on the Jacobite Rebellion of 1715, he also points out that Catholic solidarity and political partisanship for the exiled Stuart family did not blind French envoy d’Iberville to failures of the British Jacobites. Successful diplomats all across Europe sought to establish long-standing networks of oral communication and personal bonds of trust, which frequently bridged religious, ethnic and social boundaries.

In this vein, Adrian Selin (Higher School of Economics, Russia) portrays Swedish and Russian negotiations on the status of religious dissenters in the boderland province of Ingria, and Stefania Gargioni (University of Kent) stresses the international and transconfessional dimensions of regicide reports.

masaniello, by Pieter de Jode, after 1674, (c) Public domain, wikimedia

Masaniello of Naples, by Pieter de Jode, after 1674, (c) public domain, Wikimedia

Long-term interpretations of revolts abroad will also be at the centre of our final chapter. Monika Barget (University of Konstanz) gives insight into early Hanoverian perceptions of the Glorious Revolution while Francesco Benigno tackles Italian media responses to Masaniello’s revolt in Naples. The tightly knot European network of diplomacy preserved and spread knowledge of defeated insurgents’ motives against all odds. Although censorship was strictly enforced until at least the late 17th century, early modern authorities could hardly ever prevent the publication and circulation of foreign diplomatic accounts.

Kuzma Kukushkin, for his part, will explain how the Polish Siege of Smolensk was perceived in Russian diplomatic relations and shaped Eastern European concepts of lawful opposition. All three essays have a focus on the legitimation of rule and resistance, understanding early modern diplomacy as an important contribution to political theory.

Siege of Smolensk 1609, (c) Public domain, wikimedia

Siege of Smolensk, 1609, (c) public domain, Wikimedia

Please visit our blog again to be informed of our up-coming publications. If you have any questions or suggestions, do not hesitate to contact us.


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