An odd comment in the Venetian records attracted my attention, and I have been sidetracked the last few days in search of an explanation – hence the tardiness of this extremely long blog post. Paulucci, the Venetian Secretary in London, was alarmed by news of an expected ambassador extraordinary from the Republic of Genoa. The resident was attempting to “stipulate the manner of reception, that it should be the same as observed with other powers or in any case, as with Venice,” and Paulucci – who was doing his best to uphold the dignity of Venice despite his own lack of ambassadorial status (ordinary or otherwise) – deemed this “ridiculous pretensions” on the part of Genoa. He brought the matter up with Fleming, the Master of Ceremonies, who told him that the Council of State “would not trouble about the matter as this government [Venice] paid no attention to forms and ceremonies” but that “an ambassador from the most serene republic would always be received with the forms observed towards those of other kings.”
This struck me as a significant comment in relation to my research because Paulucci routinely reported dissatisfaction among the ambassadorial corps with regard to how foreigners and their affairs were handled by the evolving regime, which he described at one point as “utterly raw.” Yet while I have little doubt that the constantly fluctuating structures of state in the first half the decade did have a negative impact on diplomacy, I have equally little doubt that there really was either ignorance of – let alone unconcern for – ceremonial and protocol by those involved. Rather, my evolving thesis is that the government was quite consciously manipulating ceremonial encounters – their timing, attendance, content, and termination – to its own advantage, and that Fleming was a key player in this game. Moreover, I think that foreign representatives and governments, despite their complaints, were quite willing to take advantage of this unexpected opening, as it were, in the European wide competition for ceremonial (and hence material) prestige and power. The demands made by the Genoese certainly indicate that this was the case.
Returning to this conflict between Italian representatives, I was curious as to how the new envoy was received. Paulucci’s account of this event does not indicate that he was granted any particular marks of distinction (or disfavour for that matter) as compared to other of the ambassadorial receptions at that point, despite the resident’s maneuvering on his behalf. He had a public entry, the Protector’s transportation conveyed him in procession to the state residence where extraordinary embassies were briefly entertained at the government’s expense, and he had a public audience in Whitehall “where audience is given to all ambassadors.”
Then I began to wonder how the government itself presented such receptions to the public, so I decided to see what kinds of information could be found in the “Mercurius Politicus.” The briefest of glimpses at the entries in this publication make it clear that much of what it contains pertains both to the activities of diplomats as well as ceremonial elsewhere, such as Christina of Sweden’s entry into Brussels and Archduke Leopold’s reception of her. An examination of two different diplomatic encounters in London from roughly the same time indicates that while the form of reception may have been roughly the same, the presentation to the public of these events was dependent upon the status of the ambassador. Genoa’s representative’s reception is treated almost perfunctorily, as demonstrated by this entry:
“This day, the Count Hugo de Fiesco, Lord Ambassador to his highnes from the State of Genoa, was brought by water, and 2 Members of the Councill with him, the the landing-place at the Tower, from whence he was attended in good equipage, with a numerous Traine of Coaches, to Westminster, to be entertained for some dates at the publick charge.”
The reception of the Marquis of Lede, ambassador extraordinary of Philip IV of Spain, on the other hand, is accounted for in greater detail by the “Mercurius,” including detailed word of his departure from the Spanish Netherlands and their own hopes for the embassy:
“From Brussels May 17. Stilo novo. The Marquis of Lede is now gone for England, where wee hope he may procure a peace betwixt the two Nations. He is a person of great worth and Estate, an experienced Soldier both by Land and Sea; he was Governor of Maestricht at that time when it was besieged by the Prince of Orange, where he behaved himself with much gallantry to the honor of his Nation: they doe hope here he will be able to doe great things for the benefit of the Crown of Spain.”
And there was rather more information published about his entry, including his exclusive address:
“In the afternoon, the Marquis of Leyd, Ambassador extraordinary for the King of Spain, was attended by the Master of the Ceremonies, and divers Gentlemen of his Highness, from the Greenwich by water to the Tower-warf, where he was met and conducted thence with a stately Train of Coaches. The Ambassador himself rode in his Highnesses Coach of State, with some of the Lords of the Council, and the Master of the Ceremonies, being followed by many persons of honour to the Publike-house in the Pallace yard Westminster, where he is to receive the usual entertainment for three days, Afterwards, his excellency is to remove to Dorset house in Salisbury Court.”
In addition to which, the marquis was honoured in panegyric by Payne Fisher, “Cromwell’s poet” – who took the opportunity afforded by the marquis’s embassy to praise the Protector as well. When taken all together, it seems to me that the government actually paid a great deal of attention to forms and ceremony, but used them as a way to uphold the dignity of the fledgling state, and that Fleming’s private remarks may at times have served less to smooth over tensions between competitors in this field of interaction than to goad them towards greater displays.
Given these initial findings, I intend to continue to use the “Mercurius” as a source in conjunction with diplomat’s own accounts and correspondence, and public records. Incidentally, while working on this blog post, I came across a recent doctoral thesis that makes a detailed analysis of media reports of diplomacy during the 1650s, including in the “Mercurius.” I look forward to reading it and seeing whether the author’s findings support my own initial conclusions in this area.
Calendar of State Papers Relating To English Affairs in the Archives of Venice, Volume 28, 1647-1652. Allen B Hinds, ed. London: His Majesty’s Stationery Office, 1927.
Calendar of State Papers Relating To English Affairs in the Archives of Venice, Volume 29, 1653-1654. Allen B Hinds, ed. London: His Majesty’s Stationery Office, 1929.
Calendar of State Papers Relating To English Affairs in the Archives of Venice, Volume 30, 1655-1656. Allen B Hinds, ed. London: His Majesty’s Stationery Office, 1930.
“Mercurius Politicus.” Nos. 238-242 and 255-259. Available at Early English Books Online.
Côté, Marie-Hélène. La culture diplomatique des années 1650, ou son imaginaire. McGill University: unpublished doctoral thesis, 2012.
Fisher, Payne. Apobaterion. London: Typis Newcombianis excusum, 1655. Availble at Early English Books Online.
Moul, Victoria. “Andrew Marvell and Payne Fisher.” The Review of English Studies (2017). DOI: https://doi.org/10.1093/res/hgw144.