In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Diplomacy

  • Introduction
  • General Studies
  • Espionage and Intelligence-Gathering
  • Diplomatic Chanceries, Secretariats, and Archives
  • Studies of Diplomats
  • Diplomatic Treatises
  • Transcultural Diplomacy
  • Women and Diplomacy
  • Diplomacy, Literature, and Cultural History
  • Diplomacy and Material Culture
  • Online Resources

Renaissance and Reformation Diplomacy
Paul M. Dover
  • LAST REVIEWED: 22 September 2021
  • LAST MODIFIED: 22 September 2021
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195399301-0471


Early modern Europe witnessed profound changes in the institutions, conduct, and personnel of diplomatic relations between polities. In general, there was a shift to diplomacy becoming a constant, regular activity of the state, and, bureaucracies, protocols, and archives related to the conduct of diplomacy emerged across Europe. While it was far from universal, the exchange of resident ambassadors, attached to foreign courts and governments more or less permanently, became a regular feature in European statecraft. Many diplomatic exchanges remained ad hoc, carried out by extraordinary envoys, and asymmetric diplomacy was still common into the 17th century. Although genuine professionalism in diplomatic service was hard to detect, by the end of the 17th century the major European states had developed secretariats of state and foreign ministries, sectors of government dedicated to the prosecution of overseas affairs. A genuine “culture of diplomacy” was in place. This view of an emerging modern European diplomacy was shaped, and largely remains so, by a seminal work from the mid-20th century, Garret Mattingly’s Renaissance Diplomacy, first published in 1955. While Mattingly did not evince a comprehensively Burckhardtian break between the Middle Ages and Renaissance, he did locate the origins of modern diplomacy in 15th century Italy, with the use of residency by Italian territorial states. He saw the Habsburgs as the chief heirs to the Italian diplomatic system in the 16th century, with a Europe-wide model based on the principle of balance of power in place after the Treaty of Westphalia (1648). The bibliography that follows reflects the deep and abiding influence of Mattingly’s state-centered model, but also the many innovations and departures associated with the “new diplomatic history.” This recent work has embraced a more expansive understanding of what constitutes diplomacy, who qualifies as a diplomatic agent, how diplomatic sources should be interpreted, and what facets of diplomatic exchanges are worthy of study. In so doing it has complicated and refined Mattingly’s vision. Several of the sections below concern specific historiographical thrusts of the new diplomatic history. The best work in early modern diplomatic history, however, remains rooted in the extraordinary richness of its source material, especially the millions of pages of correspondence that provide a real-time window into the early modern world. Vincent Ilardi, who did so much to bring attention to the enormous promise of examining Renaissance Italian diplomatic correspondence, once wrote, paraphrasing Braudel and with tongue wedged only half in cheek, that Renaissance diplomatic history might in fact offer a sort of histoire totale. There is something in it for everyone.

General Studies

The following is a selection of broad studies of diplomacy and international affairs in the early modern period. The current understanding of early modern diplomacy really began with Mattingly 1955, and this overview only considers works published since then. Mattingly emphasizes the importance of the emergence of resident embassies and the Italian origins of this practice. He also regards the Habsburgs as the genuine heirs to the Italian system. These general studies largely follow Mattingly’s model but Dover and Scott 2015 and Tallon 2010 also reflect some of the influences of the “new diplomatic history” (see Renaissance Italian Diplomacy). Anderson 1993 is a traditional approach that covers the longue durée up to the First World War, while Tallon is focused on the 16th century as a period of change. The focus of Bély 2007 is chiefly 17th century.

  • Anderson, M. S. The Rise of Modern Diplomacy, 1450–1919. London: Longman, 1993.

    This is a useful and general survey of European diplomacy from the Renaissance through the First World War. It is very much a traditional account, representing a view of international affairs predating the emphases of the “new diplomatic history.” Anderson is especially interested in the origins of the concept of the balance of power as a principle in international relations.

  • Bély, Lucien. L’Art de la paix en Europe. Naissance de la diplomatie moderne, XVIe- XVIIIe siècles. Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 2007.

    DOI: 10.3917/puf.bely.2007.01

    A lengthy and sweeping treatment of three centuries of European diplomacy, blending social, cultural, and intellectual history with political history. The period between the Peace of Westphalia (1648) and the Peace of Utrecht (1714) receives particular attention, as do developments in France. The author traces the construction of a so-called “art of peace,” an intellectual and procedural framework to go alongside the “art of war.”

  • Dover, Paul, and Hamish Scott. “The Emergence of Diplomacy.” In The Oxford Handbook of Early Modern History 1350–1750. Vol. 2. Edited by Hamish Scott, 663–695. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015.

    A chapter in a two-volume reference work for the period, providing an overview of the key developments in diplomacy from the Renaissance to the French Revolution. It suggests that diplomacy as we understand it today—the peaceful conduct of relations between states—was born in the early modern period, and that by the 18th century there was a common European diplomatic culture.

  • Mattingly, Garrett. Renaissance Diplomacy. London: J. Cape, 1955.

    The seminal work, the findings of which still largely shape the historiographical discussion. Its twin emphases are Italian precursors and the central importance of resident embassies in early modern diplomacy. The French invasion of Italy in 1494 is deemed especially important for the dissemination of Italian diplomatic precepts, among which Mattingly identifies the balance of power. Based largely on statutory material, rather than diplomatic correspondence.

  • Tallon, Alain. L’Europe au XVIe Siècle. États et relations internationals. Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 2010.

    DOI: 10.3917/puf.marti.2010.01

    A survey of international relations in the long 16th century that focuses especially on the foreign relations of Charles V and Philip II. Tallon identifies permanent resident ambassadors, direct encounters between princes, and dynastic marriage as the chief themes of 16th century foreign affairs. He traces the emergence of uniform models and practices that came to prevail in the ancien régime. The book includes an extremely useful and comprehensive bibliography of relevant works.

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