Politics and Diplomacy in Early Modern Italy: The structure of diplomatic practice, 1450-1800

(Cambridge University Press: Cambridge, 2000), pp. 262 incl. index of names [only]. ISBN 0521-56189-2.

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This collection of essays, edited and well introduced by Daniela Frigo of the University of Trieste, reflects the comparatively recent rediscovery of interest in the diplomacy of their own peninsula by Italian historians. (The only non-Italian contributor is Christopher Storrs.) All of the essays are of a high standard and most contain much new research. Adrian Belton is, therefore, also to be congratulated for making them accessible to English readers by means of his excellent translation. It is invidious to pick out particular chapters, so I should make clear that the two I mention below are simply those in which I happen to have a special interest at the moment.

I found Andrea Zannini’s lucid and comprehensive essay on the crisis of Venetian diplomacy in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries a particularly rewarding read. This was not least because, as the author says, the last work specifically devoted to this subject “dates back more than half a century”, while the famous end-of-tour reports of Venetian diplomatists have tended to attract disproportionate scholarly attention. Venetian diplomacy holding such an important place in the history of diplomacy, this is a very valuable essay. I also found stimulating Maria Grazia Maiorini’s chapter on eighteenth century Neapolitan diplomacy, in the shaping of which the secretary of state, Bernardo Tanucci, played such an influential role. I was struck here by the contrast between Tanucci’s very parsimonious attitude to diplomatic representation and that of his earlier counterpart in France, Cardinal Richelieu (see especially p. 192). So, not all of the architects of early modern diplomacy were disciples of the Cardinal.

There are also essays by Fubini on Florence and Venice in the fifteenth century, Contini on Medicean diplomacy in the sixteenth, Frigo on the diplomacy of the small states of Mantua and Modena, Storrs on Savoyard diplomacy in the eighteenth century, and Riccardi on Vatican diplomacy over the whole period. All hold great interest.

My only regret about this excellent collection – apart from the fact that the name of the best known English writer on diplomacy is repeatedly misspelled (Nicolson, not ‘Nicholson’) – is that it only has a ‘name index’. I would not go so far as to suggest that the grave of the person who first dreamed up the idea of a name-only index should be hunted down and desecrated, though the thought is a tempting one. He has, however, a lot for which to answer. Frigo’s book, in which different authors deal with the same topics, is precisely the kind that cries out for a proper index, that is, one which deals with subjects as well as proper names. The absence of such an index in this work will limit its usefulness to students. I also thought it pretty cheap that, while acknowledging on the Contents page that the book has only an ‘Index of names’, the publisher should then have used the misleading sub-head ‘Index’ at the end of the book. If Cambridge University Press does this sort of thing, all hope is lost.