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Paper Coverage of Interregnum Diplomacy, RBE 16 – T.D. Jacobs

The public entrance and initial public audience of a visiting ambassador extraordinary was closely followed in the Mercurius Politicus during the Protectorate, but – oddly – not during the Commonwealth period. Of the public entrance of the initial Dutch embassy, the editor of the Merucrius had nothing to say but “This day also the Dutch-Ambassadors came to London” (MP, 12.12.1651). The Royalist leaning French Intelligencer, on the other hand, published an extensive report on the arrival and entertainment of the Dutch embassy, noting that “The 18 instant, the Dutch Embassadors, vis. Minier Catz, Minier Schaep, and Minier Par, landed at Tower-Wharf; together with the Swedish Embassadour Monsieur Spiering: They were attended from Gravesend by Sr Oliver Fleming by Order of Parliament, who accompanied them through the City, to Sr Abraham Williams his house in the old Palace yard, where they were triumphantly entertained” (16-23.12.1651, French Intelligencer). Of the public audience of Cats, Schaep, and ‘Par,’ the Intelligencer further reported:

”On Fryday according to order, the States Ambassadors had their Audience in Parliament; the Parliament-house was beautified with extraordinary rich hangings, and very rich Chaires and Foot-Clothes, set on the North part of the House for the said Ambassadors between ten and eleven of the clock, three Members of Parliament, viz. The Early of Salisbury, Sir Iohn D’Anvers, and Sir Henry Mildmay were sent by the house, to accompany the said Ambassadors from Sir Abraham Williams his house (where they lodge) to the Parliament, about eleven they came, accompanied with the said Members, and attended by the Master of the Ceremonies, about thirty Gentlemen of their own Retinew, and a like number of their Laquies, with many Gentlemen that attended our Counsel of State, when the Ambassadors came as far as the Barre of the Parliament: uncovered, the Speaker and all the Members of Parliament rose up from their Seats, and answered their civilities with many salutes. The Ambassadors being desired to sit downe and be covered” (16-23.12.1651, French Intelligencer).

The Mercurius, on the other hand, had little say regarding the public audience of the Dutch embassy apart from nothing that Parliament was considering its reply. This is a clear difference between the two papers in their diplomatic coverage. The French Intelligencer devoted significant space to the ceremonial reception of ambassadors, while the Mercurius Politicus was somewhat stingy in its reporting. At least at this point in the Interregnum.

Later, during the Protectorate, the Mercurius gave full coverage to embassy after embassy, choosing to snub only the Venetian representative Sagredo – in part, I think, because he had postponed his official entry, and indeed, the Republic of Venice had delayed sending an official representative for some time. By contrast, the Mercurius devoted significant space to the arrival of a new Spanish ambassador, who – it was hoped – would negotiate an end to the conflict with Philip IV. In breathless expectation, the paper reported from Brussel that the Marquis of Lede had departed, and even provided his resumé to its readers, before reporting in the same paper on both his public entrance, and his public audience in the Banquet House,” where was an extraordinary presence of Lords, Ladies and Gentlemen” (3-10.5.1655, Mercurius Politicus).

I do not think at this point in my research that there is any great mystery in the evolution of the Mercurius Politicus’s coverage. Simply put, during the initial phase of the Interregnum, the paper was part of Parliament’s attempts to craft an austere Republican image, both at home and abroad. Later, during the Protectorate, the paper became part of the campaign to reproduce courtly splendour. The entrances and receptions took place throughout – that was simply part of the diplomatic practice of the time – but it was not deemed desirable to publish about them at a time in which the government was attempting to distance itself from the wasteful displays of the Stuarts. The short-lived French Intelligencer, on the other hand, was quite willing to inform readers at home and abroad that despite claims to the contrary, the newly minted English Republic was willing to do business as usual.


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