chapter  2
24 Pages

The diplomacy of the Renaissance and the resident ambassador

This kind of observation, of which this is perhaps a somewhat extreme example, was part of a large-scale discussion which opened up at the end of the fifteenth century and lasted until the early eighteenth century. The most desirable characteristics, the most suitable training, the most correct behaviour of ambassadors were all minutely, even tediously, examined; so also was the moral dimension inherent in the job. To whom or what did the first loyalty of an ambassador lie? How significant was the moral duty of honesty in reporting, in exchanging information with other ambassadors or officials, where advantage might be gained by not doing so? How far should envoys intervene in the domestic affairs of the rulers to whom they were accredited? To what extent could espionage, or even assassination be resorted to? All these matters were endlessly discussed, often in tracts replete with weighty – and obscure – references to biblical and classical sources in order to support arguments both complex and tenuous. The better examples can be found frequently cited: Bernard du Rosier, Philippe de Commynes, Maulde la Clavière.1 The fact of such an explosion of debate was more significant than its content – which tended to conclude that ambassadors ought to be well connected, well educated (particularly in languages), elegant orators, good entertainers, skilful at gathering news and effective – and frequent – in reporting home; and that the moral problem was best solved by seeking the greatest advantage for one’s ruler via generally common-sense means. When it came to advice about negotiation, du Rosier and many others offered entirely familiar ideas, albeit wrapped in the flowery clichés of the period. Mattingly summarizes him thus:

One must be as clear as possible in exposition, but one need not say everything one has in mind at once before feeling out the opposite point

of view. One must listen attentively, and look especially for points of possible agreement; these it is usually desirable to settle first. One must adjust one’s methods to circumstances, and be prepared to make all concessions consistent with the dignity and real interests of one’s principal and the clear tenor of one’s instructions. One must press steadily and persistently but patiently towards an agreement, remembering that the more quickly a just solution is arrived at, the more valuable it will be, since time is always an element in politics, and undue delay may in itself be a kind of failure. But one must always be polite and considerate of one’s colleagues, not prod them or irritate them unnecessarily, not make a fuss over trifles, not allow oneself to be carried away by the vain desire to triumph in an argument or to score off an antagonist. Above all, one must not lose one’s temper. One must remember that the diplomat’s hope is in man’s reason and goodwill.2