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‘Furnished with gentlemen’: the ambassador's house in sixteenth-century Italy

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This article responds to recent calls for a ‘new diplomatic history’ of early modern Europe with an investigation of an important subset of Renaissance diplomatic practices: those related to the house, household and hospitality. It considers the prescriptive sources, including treatises on the office of ambassador by Ermolao Barbaro and √Čtienne Dolet, in light of the practice of a small number of diplomats active in the 1520s and 30s, in particular Gregorio Casali, a well-connected member of a Bolognese patrician family who acted as Henry VIII's resident ambassador at the papal court from 1525 to 1533. The article draws on a range of archive evidence, including diplomatic correspondence, notarial records and trial witness statements, and begins by assessing how diplomats in sixteenth-century Italy understood the house and household, highlighting the symbolic and instrumental functions of sociability. It then turns to some characteristics of diplomatic entertainment, examining attitudes towards splendour and the interplay between the diplomat's official and familial concerns. Third, it asks why the authors of treatises on diplomacy were preoccupied by the proper conduct of members of the ambassador's household, arguing that contemporary conceptions of the household as a microcosm of the polity have a particular resonance in the case of the Renaissance ambassador, a point neglected in recent studies of the treatises on diplomacy.

Keywords: diplomacy; hospitality; house; household; liberality

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: Birkbeck, University of London

Publication date: 2010-09-01

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