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Research blog entry 15 – T.D. Jacobs

Two weeks ago, I had my first end-of-year progress report with my promoter, Prof. Dr René Vermeir. Following my discussion with him, I have finalised my research question  and my methodology for my doctoral thesis, and it is as follows: 

Diplomacy in general, and diplomatic practice and culture, has already had a great deal of work done with regard to both the Early and Late Stuart periods. However, the Interregnum remains a conspicuous gap in the English historiography. For example, Maija Jansson writes that “during the seventeenth century in the ambassadorial audiences in England there was a continuation and regularization of hat etiquette that was uninterrupted by the mid-century political upheavals”[1]. However, Jansson does nothing to establish that this was indeed the case, skipping over the 1650s entirely in their analysis. This assumption that the Interregnum was either entirely aberrant or typical, and either way need not be analysed, appears quite common.

I think that there are two primary reasons for this lacuna. First of all, the study of the English governments – both in England, and that of Charles II in exile – have been hampered by a lack of key source materials, and the inaccessibility of others. Political historians have been forced to rely on two key archives – that of the Thurloe State Papers, and the Clarendon Papers, neither of which are complete records of governmental affairs for the 1650s. The shortcomings of the English archives in this area are the result of both wanton destruction of documents by those associated with the rebel government, and the practice on both sides of not maintaining a central archive into which correspondence was deposited. ‘Papers of State’ were considered the property of the recipient, rather than the government itself.

The second issue that has arisen- partially in response to the first problem – is far too much focus on the figure of Oliver Cromwell. As Antonia Fraser pointed out in the 2008 edition’s preface of her classic 1973 biography of the Lord Protector, post-Restoration English historiography not only continues to centre on the Cromwell as the primary figure of government to the exclusion of almost all others, but his controversial nature has led to some serious misconceptions[2]. Recently, more works are appearing that problematize the nature of Cromwell’s rule in relation to other government actors and the frameworks in which they operated[3], as well as the more ‘courtly’ aspects of the Protectorate[4]. In addition to which, there has been some research carried out using non-governmental sources, such as works examining the Civil War through the use of pamphlets published by actors on both sides of the conflict[5], thus demonstrating that it is indeed possible to find ways around the evidentiary problems.

The advantage of this research project is that does not concern traditional diplomatic history by attempting to follow the detailed back and forth of negotiations. While that work is important, it is already being attempted by scholars such as Igor Pérez Tostado, using diplomatic sources found elsewhere[6]. Nor do I have time or skills to produce an entire account of English foreign policy under Cromwell. Rather, I have elected to focus on two aspects of New Diplomatic History: ceremonial analysis, such as that elucidated by William Roosen in his seminal article, “Early modern diplomatic ceremonial. A systems approach”[7], and the importance of both contestation and continuity within the formal boundaries of ceremonial or protocol practices, as is being uncovered Barbara Stollberg-Rilinger and Jan Hennings[8], among others. With one possible exception, these approaches have not been systematically applied to the English Interregnum: in 1997, Sean Kelsey published an initial analysis of Interregnum political culture and the relationship between power and the representation of power[9], and it is quite similar to Stollberg-Rilinger’s work with regard to theoretical considerations. However, they only covered the first four years of the period, and did not focus on diplomatic culture and practice in particular. I intend to expand on Kelsey’s research in many ways, broadening the period covered by including the early Parliamentarian era, and extending it to the return of Charles II to England, and focussing specifically on diplomacy.

While I want to do as thorough an analysis of the evolution of diplomatic culture and practice during the English Interregnum, there are two areas that I will have to set aside for now. Firstly, I don’t think there is much opportunity for studying the role of women in Interregnum diplomacy; ‘Lady’ Elizabeth Cromwell is very rarely mentioned in the source materials of the time, unlike her counterpart, Henriette Maria of France. I have found mention of women making formal requests of ambassadors, and women who were in close contact with ambassadors, such as Walter Strickland’s wife, or the various woman Lodewijk Huygens encountered while working for the Dutch ambassadors extraordinary on their initial embassy to England. However, these references are entirely sporadic, such that I doubt that there is enough data to be gleaned from the sources to produce any kind of a meaningful analysis.

Secondly, I am absolutely certain that a detailed comparative analysis of the diplomatic practices and strategies of Parliament and the two Cromwells, with those used by Charles II in exile, would quite clearly show the manner in which individuals and governments competed for sovereignty in the realm of diplomacy. However, the source materials pertaining to Charles’s period in exile are even scarcer and more widely scattered than those originating from the English government. Within the context of a six-year research project, one year of which has now been expended, I simply do not think that I have time to give this aspect of affairs its due consideration, outside of a carefully delineated analysis of the practices towards the competing governments’ representatives on the part of foreign governments.  

With these goals and caveats in mind, my primary research question in this doctoral research is as follows: “how did English diplomatic culture and practice evolve over the course of the Interregnum, and what continuity – if any – was there from diplomatic culture and practice under the Early Stuarts?” Answering this question will not only help to fill in a major lacuna in English history with regard to the seventeenth century, but examining this period in particular – just following the Peace of Westphalia, in which certain protocols were laid down with regard to diplomatic exchanges and the relative relationships between certain ‘new’ nation-states, such as the Dutch Republic, and older ones, such as the Venetian Republic and Spain – will help to elucidate how diplomatic practices were established, contested, and consciously used as additional tools of negotiation, both by central governments, and the diplomats concerned. An initial survey of the primary source materials quickly demonstrates that the English Republic, and later both the Commonwealth and the Protectorate, provided a new playing field for diplomatic competition, including among those governments seeking to establish their own sovereignty. For example, representatives from the ‘Duke of Braganza’, and the Prince de Condé – both of dubious legitimacy, at least according to their rivals, were among the first of the foreign envoys to arrive in London upon the establishment of the new government.

In order to answer the primary question, a number of sub-questions must be examined. First, what was the influence of the two senior, Parliamentary diplomatic agents, Oliver Fleming and Walter Strickland? Both had served Parliament as ambassadors during the early stage of the Civil War, Fleming in Switzerland, and Strickland in the Dutch Republic. At the outset of the Interregnum, Strickland was charged with formulating the protocol for ambassadorial reception, while Fleming was charge with the task of carrying out this directive in his newly appointed role as the Master of Ceremonies. What did Strickland base these rules on? And how did Fleming carry out his duties when compared to his predecessors in the office? Did they, as the Dutch Republic did with Venice upon its own inception[10], base their practices and protocols upon established non-monarchical examples to any great degree? And did this change under the more monarchical Protectorate?

Secondly, what role did the exchange of gifts – the traditional ‘grease’ of diplomacy – play? Parliament initially directed that no English officials were to accept gifts from foreign agents, but it is clear from the sources that gifts were indeed offered, received, and – most interestingly – displayed. Cromwell, as Lord Protector, was given horses by at least two parties, and he in turn sent small gifts to ambassadors. Moreover, diplomats gave gifts to one another, some of which were accepted, and in at least one instance, exchanged for money – which was both more readily useful, and less conspicuous. An important consideration seeing as how the recipient worked for a rival government and had no wish to be seeing a chain of service from the Venetian Republic. The art historical aspect of the Interregnum as thus far centred on the sale of the late king’s goods, but scientific literature pertaining to the Early Stuarts has demonstrated quite clearly the links between the art work and diplomatic encounters. Was this true of the Interregnum in its various guises as well?

Thirdly, there is the matter of credentialing. A glance at the correspondence of the Venetian representatives shows that much was made of proper credentialing, particularly at the start of the period, with at least one envoy having been turned away for not having properly addressed credentials – having used merely ‘the Republic of England, rather than the established ‘Parliament of the Republic of England’.  He was refused audience despite the fact that he was well known to both Fleming, who was initially entrusted with checking credentials, and the diplomatic corps in general. Did each successive government of the English Interregnum handle credentialing in the same officious fashion, and was there some strategy involved in the form of credentials demanded, and which were accepted and who was not? Certainly, the governments sending representatives or agents were well aware of the importance of credentials, and at the start of the Interregnum, two sent purposefully un-credentialed agents to London, one of whom was expelled from the country, while the other was continuously harassed to obtain proper credentials, or to write his superiors to dispatch a real representative. How did foreign governments play the credential game to their benefit in this turbulent period, and did this differ from previous periods?

Fourthly, and relatedly, the titles claimed by both diplomats and the English government appear to have been contested. The Dutch diplomat, William Nieuwpoort, for example, complained that he was not granted his proper honorific of ‘excellency’ by the Venetian ambassador extraordinary, and even threatened to write to the States General with regard to the matter. Even more interestingly, he referred to the negotiations held in the prelude to Peace of Westphalia, in which it was established that provided that Philip IV did not object, the Dutch envoys to the conference would be granted the same titling as the representatives of other sovereign powers. This is remarkable, considering the almost formulaic and ritualistic statement at the start of almost initial diplomatic encounters outside of an official audience that protocol and punctilio would be dispensed with as inconsequential, and a hindrance to negotiations. Clearly, forms of address meant more than what was indicated. In such a competitive arena, did their importance increase in comparison to under the previous regime? And did the Peace of Westphalia actually play any part in their forms?

Fifthly, physical and spatial expressions of diplomatic rank in the form of ceremonial staging are of interest here. There is a well-known incident that took place the reign of Charles II upon his return to London, which resulted in a brawl between the French and Spanish ambassadors over who had the right to go first in a procession. Less violently, during the Protectorate, one of the Venetian envoys recorded an incident in which an ambassador seeking to claim higher status attempted to manipulate hat protocol in an audience with the Lord Protector, only to have Fleming, in his role of Master of Ceremonies, twice snatch the offending item from his head, to the shock of all present. Were such disputes – minor, and possibly major – common in the Interregnum, as both the government and the foreign representatives sought to materialize their claims to power via ceremonial, thus modelling Thomas Hobbes’s adage that ‘the display of power, is power’?

Sixthly, what role did diplomats play in helping to legitimize the English government? Records indicate that they took part in state functions and ceremonial occasions, such as Oliver Cromwell’s ‘coronation’, and that they attended his funeral, albeit unwillingly in at least one instance. It is clear that Fleming, in his role as Master of Ceremonies, goaded ambassadors towards greater display – was the English government helping to finance its public presence off the backs of foreign representatives? This in turn brings me to the seventh, and closely related, area requiring further investigation: how was diplomacy represented to the public, both by the government, which arranged and staged public processions and receptions, and published information on the arrival and departure of various diplomats in the two government controlled newspapers published in London at the time. Equally interesting is attempts on the parts of ambassadors to sway public opinion in their favour, whether among a home audience, or the English themselves. Cardenas, for example, is known to have done so on several occasions, publishing his proposals under Charles I, sending home a book recording the English festivities following a victory under Cromwell, and finally – following his own expulsion from England – a book outlining his views of the new government. Was this a common activity among ambassadors?

Lastly, what effect did the spectre of Charles “II” have upon these practices, both in London and abroad? An initial reading of the sources shows that following the death of Oliver Cromwell, diplomats in London began to behave differently towards the government in terms of their willingness to participate in the state’s ceremonies, and in their degree of courtesy – already anticipating the return of the Stuarts. And it is equally clear that they were cautious in terms of diplomatic practices at the start of the Interregnum, in case the new regime were to collapse. Yet how did this play out elsewhere in Europe, particularly in situations where there were representatives of both governments competing for legitimacy on the international stage?   

 My methodology in this research consists of examining a variety of diplomatic accounts, both in order to supplement the incomplete government records, such as the Parliamentary diaries, Thurloe Papers, and Clarendon Papers, and in order to bridge the gap between proscriptive regulations established by institutions and diplomatic practice and culture as it actually was. Moreover, there were few permanent embassies in the period. The Venetians had no one immediately on the scene, the Dutch did not arrive until later – and they left shortly thereafter upon the outbreak of the first Anglo-Dutch War, the French too took their time, and the Spanish Ambassador was expelled roughly halfway through the period. It appears that the Tuscan representative was the only ambassador of long standing, and given that he had been present since the start of Charles I’s reign, his insights regarding developments during the Interregnum will prove particularly invaluable to this analysis. In that vein, I also plan to examine the records pertaining to, and produced by, the previous Masters of Ceremonies, Lewis Lewkenor, John Finet, and Balthazar Gerbier. This will enable me to construct a basis for comparison with Oliver Fleming’s performance in that office. I will examine the Interregnum situation abroad in Venice, Spain, the Netherlands, and France, using correspondence and government records detailing policies and practices towards the competing English envoys. Finally, I intend to read the contemporary diplomatic literature describing the ‘ideal’ situation as conceptualized by diplomats and theoreticians.

My specific method of analysis will largely follow the recommendations of Barbara Stollberg-Rilinger and Jeroen Duindam, given at a masterclass on “The Cultural History of Politics” in Den Hague on November 29, of 2017. Namely, that in order to perform this kind of analysis, one must first construct a model of how things were supposed to work, and then test that against the sources regarding how things did work. Therefore, it is important to try to uncover what the proscribed practice was meant to be by using the English governmental records – filled in with ambassadorial accounts where necessary – and uncover the actual practices and strategizing employed by reading those same ambassadorial accounts ‘against the grain’. In particular, by looking for descriptions and disputes that cause a sense of unease, in that they are foreign, appear trivial on the face of it, or for which I simply have no immediate explanation for. The incident involving the diplomat’s hat, described above, is one such place in the primary sources that I was at a loss to explain, and in fact is what led me to this line of questioning to start with. Moreover, I will look for diplomatic accounts that contain conflicting symbolic systems, since that is when all parties involved are forced to make their practices explicit, as opposed to implicit – such as in the case of the Dutch ambassador’s missing title.

In order to give some structure to this ‘close reading’ technique, I intend to apply an adjusted version of Normal Fairclough’s framework for discourse analysis. This will ensure that I methodologically examine each ‘source’ (or diplomatic encounter or exchange) with an eye towards the overall context of developments in diplomacy, the actors and audiences concerned, and specific indications of semiotic intertextuality, thus remaining on the lookout for continuity, and not just looking for change.

Finally, the number of documents involved in this research could prove overwhelming. I think that the most efficient way in which to proceed would be to identify key diplomatic encounters, and thus decreasing the amount of materials to be gone through to a more reasonable number. These encounters include the arrival and reception of a new diplomat, the first public audience, the initial visits of envoys to other members of the diplomatic corps in London, their departure, and state ceremonial events. This should provide me with at least a framework from which to begin searching.


[1] Maija Jansson, “The hat is no expression of honor,” Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society 133, no. 1 (1989): 26.

[2] Antonia Fraser, Cromwell, our chief of men (London: Orion Publishing, 2008).  

[3] Christopher Durston, Cromwell’s major-generals. Godly government during the English Revolution (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2001); Austin Woolrych, “The Cromwellian Protectorate: A military dictatorship?” in Cromwell and the Interregnum. The essential readings, ed. David Lee Smith (Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2003), 61-90.

[4] Andre Barclay, “The Lord Protector and his court,” in Oliver Cromwell. New Perspectives, ed. Patrick Little (Houndmills: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009), 195-214.

[5] See the classic study in this area: Christopher Hill, The world turned upside down. Radical ideas during the English Revolution (London: Viking Press, 1972).

[6] Igor Pérez Tostado, Anglo-Spanish relations during the English Civil Wars. Assassination, war and diplomacy in Early Modern Europe (London: I.B. Tauris: forthcoming).

[7] William Roosen, “Early modern diplomatic ceremonial. A systems approach,” The Journal of Modern History 52, no. 3 (1980): 452-76.

[8] B. Stollberg-Rilinger, The emperor’s old clothes. Constitutional history and the symbolic language of the Holy Roman Empire, Thomas Dunlap, trans. (New York: Berghahn, 2015); Jan Hennings, “The semiotics of diplomatic dialogue: pomp and circumstance in Tsar Peter I’s visit to Vienna in 1698,” The International History Review 30, no. 3 (2008): 515-44.

[9] Sean Kelsey, Inventing a republic. The political culture of the English Commonwealth, 1649-1653 (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1997).

[10] For an early work on the relationship between the Dutch Republic and the Republic of Venice, see O.G. Haitsma Mulier, The myth of Venice and Dutch republican thought in the seventeenth century (Assen: Van Gorcum, 1980).

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