Universiteit Leiden

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Research project

Public Diplomacy in Early Modern Europe: Theatrical Entertainments for the State Journeys of English and French Royals into the Low Countries, 1577-1642

One way for governments to conduct foreign policy and promote national interests is through direct outreach and communication with the population of a foreign country. This is called public diplomacy. Historians such as Helmer Helmers and William T. Rossiter have shown that printed media were already widely used for public diplomacy by European governments and their diplomats in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. However, the role that pageantry, such as ballets, firework dramas, and mock tournaments, played in early modern foreign relations is often overlooked. Knowledge of this tradition helps to increase historical awareness about ideas and practices of diplomatic communication prior to the foundation of the European Union. This EU-funded project will explore the diplomatic function and reception of early modern pageantry. The focus will be on the theatrical entertainments staged for the state journeys of the English and French monarchy into the Low Countries between 1577 and 1642.

Duration
2021 - 2023
Contact
Bram van Leuveren
Funding
Marie-Skłodowska-Curie Actions: Marie-Skłodowska-Curie Individual Fellowship

Dramatising diplomacy

The diplomatic function and reception of the state voyages that members of the English and French monarchy made into the Low Countries between 1577 and 1642 have not been studied in depth before, nor alongside each other. The itineraries of the French crown, undertaken by Princess Marguerite de Valois, Duke François d’Anjou, and Queen Mother Marie de Médicis, and the English crown, completed by Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, Princess Elizabeth Stuart, and Queen Henrietta Maria, constitute excellent examples of early modern public diplomacy. Coinciding with the ceremonial entries of the English and French visitors into major cities across the Low Countries, the journeys were accompanied by series of theatrical entertainments that advertised the diplomatic collaboration of the Low Countries with England and France to a European audience of diplomats, rulers, magistrates, and common citizens. The period between 1577 and 1642 marked the intensification of that collaboration, which developed primarily in response to the Dutch Revolt against Habsburg Spain and the latter’s aggressive expansionism in Europe. 

The theatrical entertainments were organised by the Dutch city councils. They included tableaux vivants (largely mute and static scenes) that dramatised the diplomatic collaboration between England, France, and the Dutch authorities, triumphal processions of civic guards and magistrates, mock naval battles against Spanish troops, and after-dinner balls and ballets that were meant to produce conviviality among the international participants. Scholarship on such performances has been pioneered by Dirk Snoep, Roy Strong and Jan van Dorsten, Margit Thøfner, and Stijn Bussels,  among others. These historians have mostly focussed on the artistic aspects of the individual entertainments staged for the itineraries and the role of printed media in advertising their ceremonial and ritual significance. The project adds to the existing scholarship on Netherlandish pageantry by bringing the hitherto overlooked dimension of public diplomacy into the discussion.

Tools for public diplomacy

This project asks two main questions:

  • How did the state journeys of the English and French monarchy into the Low Countries feature diplomatic messages specific to a European audience of ambassadors, rulers, civil officers, and urban citizens?
  • How was the journeys’ diplomatic content interpreted and evaluated by that audience in printed material, such as broadsheets, chronicles, and pamphlets, and visual artefacts, including etchings, paintings, and commemorative coins?

This project aims to demonstrate that Dutch city councils not only staged pageants such as ballets, mock battles, and dramatic scenes to entertain their English and French guests, but to use them primarily as tools for public diplomacy. In other words, theatre served to manage diplomatic relations between England, France, and the Low Countries, and to represent those relations to a richly varied and international audience. This audience featured rulers, councillors, ambassadors, priests, rabbis, university students, and members of the urban population, including merchants, sailors, shopkeepers, and even mendicants. They would either attend the festivities in person or learn about it in a wide array of printed and visual media, such as commemorative books and medals, which were often commissioned by the Dutch authorities themselves and sometimes distributed among spectators beforehand.

The project is particularly interested in how these varied individuals, and occasionally the institutions that they represented, reacted to the diplomatic programme of the theatrical performances staged for the English and French visitors, and how the literate among them used the printing press to communicate their own vision of, or participation in, the festive occasions to a larger – sometimes global – audience.

Related research output

  • Academic monograph, provisionally entitled Public Diplomacy in Early Modern Europe: Theatrical Entertainments for the State Journeys of English and French Royals into the Low Countries, 1577-1642.
  • One-day conference, provisionally entitled Public Diplomacy in Early Modern Europe: Pageantry and Print.
  • Special journal issue, provisionally entitled Public Diplomacy in Early Modern Europe: Pageantry and Print.
  • Public engagement programme on the diplomatic context of the royal journeys at the Regionaal Archief Alkmaar, The Netherlands, featuring a public lecture and hands-on workshop.

This section will be updated during the project.

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