Volume 82, Number 4  Winter 2019



Introduction: English Diplomatic Relations and Literary Cultures in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries
Joanna Craigwood, Tracey A. Sowerby


This introduction to the special issue situates its essays within the emergent field of literary-diplomatic studies. It fully discusses the state of current knowledge, providing the first chronological overview of the developing relationship between diplomacy and literary culture across two centuries of English history. Among the subjects addressed are the new literary milieux accessed by resident ambassadors; the use of the press to diplomatic ends; new diplomatic genres such as handbooks and letter-books; diplomacy and controversy on the public stage; literary wit in Restoration diplomacy; and the widening audiences for diplomatic literatures at the end of the seventeenth century. It draws out the findings of this special issue on the development of political publics in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, outlining a complex and multidirectional relationship between the government and public sphere; the role of self-interest in motivating engagement with publics; and the role of imitation in entering public debate.

"Lingua Eius Loquetur Mendacium": Pietro Aretino and the Margins of Reformation Diplomacy
William T. Rossiter


This essay examines how Pietro Aretino used the rhetorical practices of ambassadorial exchange to bring the diplomatic periphery into the center. Drawing together a series of episodes in which Aretino had correspondence with, influence on, or direct dealings with the Tudor court and its representatives, William T. Rossiter shows them to be part of a sustained dialogue instigated by Aretino and maintained by his English respondents. Aretino's use of the printing press was a paradiplomatic force that bypassed traditional channels of influence. It gave agency to an individual who would normally be excluded from international negotiations. This demonstrates how the soft powers of paradiplomacy, exercised through the burgeoning print culture of pre-Tridentine Venice with its transnational reach, could serve as effectively as the hard powers of formal negotiations.

Francis Thynne's Perfect Ambassadour and the Construction of Diplomatic Thought in Elizabethan England
Tracey A. Sowerby


Francis Thynne's Perfect Ambassadour, written in 1578, is the earliest surviving English treatise on the role of the ambassador. Thynne's conception of appropriate diplomatic activity was influenced by historical precedent. Thynne drew directly on ancient Greek and Roman authors; he also included information about classical and medieval diplomacy derived indirectly from more recent publications, such as Theodore Zwinger's Theatrum Vitae Humanae. After briefly outlining the content of the treatise, Tracey A. Sowerby assesses the significance of Thynne's method and explains what it tells us about the mediation of diplomatic knowledge. Sowerby then compares it to other early modern diplomatic treatises and Elizabethan ambassadors' understanding of their activities.

Diplomatic Letters as Political Literature: Copying Sir Henry Unton's Letters
Elizabeth R. Williamson


This essay examines the letter-books that record the correspondence of Sir Henry Unton, resident ambassador to Henry IV of France from 1591–92 and again in 1595–96. Several (different) copies of his letter-book survive, raising questions about their origin and their social, political, and antiquarian value. Evidence of textual elision in one copy suggests conscious editing, supporting a theory that diplomatic letters functioned as more than ephemeral carriers of information. The corpus of letters left by an embassy represented its lasting written record, and the compiling of select letters into a discrete collection was one of several reputation management techniques open to the vulnerable aspirant within the competitive political environment of the late sixteenth century.

Killing the Messenger: Diplomatic Translators in Late Elizabethan Culture
Edward Wilson-Lee


Edward Wilson-Lee examines the structural role of translators in the early modern period, both in actual embassies and in literary representations of diplomacy, analyzing a series of episodes that involve the erasure (violent or otherwise) of the translator. He argues that translators posed a threat in their ability to act as a conduit between nation states and cultures and that the erasure of these figures was necessary to preserve ideas of sovereign equality that were central to early modern conceptions of statehood. The different modes of erasure also shed light on a balancing act performed by England in the early modern period, defining itself both against supposedly barbaric Others while at the same time articulating its own identity by aligning itself with the same barbarous Others in proud opposition to Catholic Europe.

The Literary Glocal: Sir Walter Aston between Staffordshire and Madrid
Alexander Samson


England's ambassador in Madrid from 1620 to 1624 and from 1635 to 1638, Sir Walter Aston was a fluent speaker of Castilian and convert to Catholicism. His interest in Spanish literary culture, in circulation of poetry in manuscript, and in translation played a key role in his negotiation of the religious and political differences that affected him and his circle personally and divided the state he served. The Astons' ambivalent position made them valuable intermediaries and at the same time vulnerably peripheral. Alexander Samson identifies a key performance witnessed by Aston in Spain on the eve of the Spanish match that is linked with a sonnet found in Secretary of State Edward Conway's papers and with the later translation by Aston's secretary, Sir Richard Fanshawe, of Antonio Hurtado de Mendoza's play Querer por sólo querer.

Diplomacy, Poetry, and Publics in the Late Seventeenth Century: Elegies for Mary II by George Stepney and Matthew Prior
Joanna Craigwood


Growing political concern for public opinion toward the close of the seventeenth century intensified the demands on diplomats to address multiple publics, and it affected the ways in which diplomats produced and circulated poetry. Drawing on elegies for Mary II and related correspondence by two late seventeenth-century diplomats, George Stepney and Matthew Prior, Joanna Craigwood interrogates these increasing pressures. In composing poems commissioned by their Whig superiors for London publication, the two diplomat-writers faced competing demands from their English readerships, who expected highly conventionalized elegy, and from their international political publics, who had a more satirical take on William III's incapacitating grief following his wife's death. Stepney solved the dilemma by adhering to domestic norms but circulating manuscript satire on the Continent, Prior by paratextual reframing that allowed him to bypass the domestic poetic economy of the elegies. Their concerns, vacillations, and eventual solutions expose the extent to which diplomatic poetry was characterized by an almost obsessive concern with the ways in which a specific time, place, and audience placed particular demands and constraints on their words.

Afterword: Diplomats as Readers and Writers
John Watkins


This afterword by John Watkins draws together argumentative threads from across the essays and places them within the longer-term context of English and British diplomats' engagement with literature. From Niccolò Machiavelli to Henry Kissinger, diplomats and writers on diplomacy have drawn on humane literatures. Pointing out that the rise of what we generally think of as modern diplomacy coincided with the humanistic educational and cultural reforms of the Renaissance, Watkins asks what today's devaluation of humane learning within an increasingly technocratic diplomatic sphere means for our diplomatic future.

English Diplomacy and Literary Writing ca. 1500–1700: A Guide to Further Reading
Joanna Craigwood, Tracey A. Sowerby