Researching Early Modern History

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Research blog entry 4 – T.D. Jacobs

I have come up with a way to gain information about diplomatic practices and key ceremonial events in the Commonwealth and Charles Stuart’s court in exile without having to rely on the somewhat spotty and disorganised English records from the period. Namely, I am going to employ diplomatic records. This seems an obvious solution to the problem of gaps in the English documentation, yet implementation was a little less self-evident. My first hurdle to overcome was purely a matter of heuristic choice: where to start?

I settled on Dutch diplomats stationed in London for several reasons. First, I can read early modern Dutch. Linguistic skills are obviously a consideration in this area given that the kind of information I’m looking for is probably going to be ‘in the margins,’ as it were. I intend to use French, and – if possible – Italian and Spanish records as well, but I am more confident in my Dutch skills. Second, Den Haag is relatively nearby, making my investigations easier. I wish that time and expense were not concerns, but as with all doctoral research, they are. Third, the Dutch embassies to England are relatively well documented for the period, with few complete gaps. While collecting and analysing these documents, it is my plan to also begin identifying possible sources from those dealing with Charles Stuart. In this way, I will be able to progress on at least front in my research.

The first step in implementing my plan – following the identification of the Dutch ambassadors, and a check of the online inventories available on the website of the National Archive in Den Haag – was to go to the archive, and start looking at sources to see if they have the kind of information I’m interested in. I planned my preliminary trip for the first week of April, arranging to stay with friends in Amsterdam since a train ticket was less expensive than a hotel room. I travelled on up on Monday, since that was the archive’s closing day, and made my first visit the following day. I was armed with hard copies of the inventories for the relevant fonds, a list of the reading room regulations, my laptop, pencils, a notebook, and a camera stand for my iPhone. Unfortunately, the last item was not permitted. Instead, I had to use one of the stands provided, which are not actually designed for smartphones. The wireless shutter release I had purchased in advance made it possible to (somewhat precariously) perch my phone above the records and swiftly obtain the necessary images.

The preliminary research went well. The ‘verbals’ prepared by Willem Nieupoort proved interesting in that they contain copies of documents no longer extant in English archives. However, of greater value to my research are the ‘notations’ and ‘journals’ kept by the ambassadors. The ‘verbals’ are drafted, formal reports made later to the States General, and focus on specific negotiations, primarily treaties and the handling of disputes with the Admiralty Court. The ‘notations’ and ‘journals’ contain more of the day-to-day activities and details on the treatment of the ambassadors. There was more available than I had planned for, and it will be necessary to make at least two further trips to Den Haag in order to collect images of the relevant source materials, particularly those prepared by Nieupoort’s predecessor, and dispatches to the States General.

My apologies for the hiatus in updates, but I was on sick leave. Now that I’m recovered, I fully intend to resume posting on a biweekly basis.

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