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author: Geoff Berridge

England and the Avignon Popes: The practice of diplomacy in late medieval Europe

2005

In England and the Avignon Popes, Karsten Plöger, who is a Research Fellow at the German Historical Institute in London, has provided an invaluable book not only for students of medieval diplomatic method but for students of diplomacy in general. It is a work of immense and meticulous scholarship: exhaustively researched, well organized, carefully worded, penetrating, and beautifully written.
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The author concentrates on the period from 1342 until 1362, when the francophile popes Clement VI and Innocent VI sought to mediate a settlement to the renewed conflict (subsequently dubbed ‘the hundred years war’) between the English and French thrones and Anglo-papal relations were soured by disputes over rights to the wealth attached to ecclesiastical positions in England. These years thus witnessed a marked increase in the tempo of diplomacy between Avignon and London and suit the author’s purpose because they left behind a comparatively rich residue of primary sources, especially in the expense accounts of envoys and messengers.

Plöger begins by providing a detailed account of the strengths and limitations of his sources, both in the British National Archives and those of the Vatican. He then sets the scene with a long chapter of great authority (though perhaps with a little too much detail) dealing mainly with the ‘diplomatic agenda’ of the period. The meat of the book consists of the subsequent chapters on diplomatic personnel; organization of missions; means of communication; and protocol, procedure, and ceremonial. There are also long and juicy appendices, for example on the academic backgrounds of envoys and on diplomatic gifts. The bibliography, too, is lengthy and wide-ranging.

I mention the following points because I found them of particular interest and because they illustrate the riches to be found in this book. Kings’ confessors, Plöger tells his readers, were among the envoys employed in diplomatic communications with the curia. By entrusting messages to the pope to their confessors, the kings were confessing to him ‘by proxy’. This guarded the message en route since a priest could not divulge information imparted in the confessional without the express consent of the penitent. Presumably this form of communication also flattered the pope. This was altogether a brilliant device. Plöger also has an interesting if rather brief discussion (pp. 87-8) of the question of whether or not resident proctors at the papal court were actually the first resident ambassadors; if they were, the origins of this vital institution are to be found over a century earlier than is usually claimed, notably by Garret Mattingly. The author’s slightly hedged position is that while it is a mistake to deny that the proctors had diplomatic as well as purely legal functions, they had ‘no discernible connection’ with the residents who were established at the lay courts of Italy in the second half of the fifteenth century, who were shaped by ‘an entirely different political context’. Thus, he concludes, the curial proctors were not the first resident ambassadors. I shall have to think about this a bit more. Perhaps it is best to class them simply as a different kind of resident diplomat but as a resident diplomat nevertheless. It certainly makes a good exam question. Plöger also provides a most impressive account of the slippery question of diplomatic immunity, pointing out that practice squared with theory; and I was struck by the degree – on which he rightly lays emphasis – to which diplomatic communication continued almost unimpaired despite outbreaks of plague and war.

Drawing the threads of his argument together, Plöger concludes that medieval diplomacy had all the features required of a sophisticated diplomatic system that I had suggested in my chapter in the Cohen and Westbrook volume on Amarna Diplomacy – excepting continuous contact via resident diplomats. However, this did not matter, he maintains, because continuous contact was not always needed and, when it was, it was provided by ‘a rapid succession of missions’. As a follower of the great Richelieu, I am not altogether swayed by this last argument, since who is to say that the presence of capable and respected residents in Avignon might not, among other things, have nipped at least some emerging problems in the bud (when ‘need’ was relatively invisible) and prepared the ground for more effective interventions by special envoys when their presence was nevertheless unavoidable? Besides, in the absence of resident missions it is not merely the number of special missions that should be considered in assessing the quality of the continuous contact they provided but the extent to which they involved the rotation of the same people and the duration of their stays. In fact, Plöger had already shown that the same people tended to be used quite often and that their visits usually extended to months – they were not tourists. This obviously made a difference, so it might have been better had the author summed up his own argument a little more fully by referring to a rapid succession of relatively long-stay visits by persons often already familiar with the curial court. Thus, in any event, does my objection on this point fall away, and I have no hesitation in saying that Karsten Plöger has in general marshalled his voluminous evidence in support of a most convincing argument. This is one of the most important contributions to the history of diplomacy of recent years.

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FDR’s Ambassadors and the Diplomacy of Crisis: From the rise of Hitler to the end of World War II

What effect did personality and circumstance have on US foreign policy during World War II? This incisive account of US envoys residing in the major belligerent countries – Japan, Germany, Italy, China, France, Great Britain, USSR – highlights the fascinating role played by such diplomats as Joseph Grew, William Dodd, William Bullitt, Joseph Kennedy and W. Averell Harriman. Between Hitler's 1933 ascent to power and the 1945 bombing of Nagasaki, US ambassadors sculpted formal policy – occasionally deliberately, other times inadvertently – giving shape and meaning not always intended by ...

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A History of Diplomacy in the International Development of Europe, vol. 3

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International Diplomacy Volume I: Diplomatic Institutions

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The Power of Small States: Diplomacy in World War II

This Is an inquiry into how the governments of small and militarily weak states can resist the strong pressure of great powers even in crisis periods. The continued existence and, in deed, startling increase in the number of small states may seem paradoxical in the age of superpowers and the drastically altered ratio of military strength between them and the rest of the world. It is well known that the ability to use violence does not alone determine the course of world politics. Some of the other determinants can be observed with exceptional clarity in the diplomacy of the small ...

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Room for Diplomacy: The history of Britain’s diplomatic buildings overseas, 1800-2000

Mark Bertram joined the Ministry of Public Buildings and Works after reading architecture at Cambridge and remained in the civil service as architect, project manager, administrator, estate manager and – in his own words – ‘quasi diplomat’ for the next thirty years.

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Under the Wire: How the Telegraph Changed Diplomacy

Review by Geoff Berridge

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The Expansion of International Society

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The Origins of the Diplomatic Corps: Rome to Constantinople

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Diplomacy and Secret Service

Intelligence officers working under diplomatic protection are rarely out of the news for long, and the last two years have been no exception. How did the relationship between diplomacy and secret intelligence come about? What was the impact on it of the bureaucratization of secret intelligence that began in the late nineteenth century? Is diplomatic immunity the only reason why intelligence officers still cluster in embassies and consulates today? What do their diplomatic landlords think about their secret tenants and how do the spooks repay the ambassadors for their lodgings? These are among ...

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A Diplomat in Japan

The first portion of this book was written at intervals between 1885 and 1887, during my tenure of the post of Her Majesty's minister at Bangkok. I had but recently left Japan after a residence extending, with two seasons of home leave, from September 1862 to the last days of December 1882, and my recollection of what had occurred during any part of those twenty years was still quite fresh. A diary kept almost uninterruptedly from the day I quitted home in November 1861 constituted the foundation, while my memory enabled me to supply additional details. It had never been my purpose to...

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The First Resort of Kings: American cultural diplomacy in the twentieth century

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British Diplomacy in Turkey, 1583 to the Present: A Study in the Evolution of the Resident Embassy

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Documenting diplomacy, Evaluating documents: The case of the CSCE

Part of Language and Diplomacy (2001): Rather than individual documents, Dr Keith Hamilton looks at the process and purpose of compiling collections of documents. He focuses on his own experience as the editor of Documents on British Policy Overseas, and particularly on his work publishing a collection of documents concerning the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe from 1972 until 1975.

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The Law of Nations or Principles of the Law of Nature Applied to the Conduct and Affairs of Nations and Sovereigns

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The evolution of diplomacy in the Caribbean

This paper will focus on the development of diplomacy in the Caribbean and how it impacts the development of small Caribbean States, paying attention to the regional, bilateral and multilateral levels of diplomacy.

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The Diplomats, 1939-1979

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

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.

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Finance, Trade and Politics in British Foreign Policy, 1815-1914

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The Ambassadors and America’s Soviet Policy

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The Professional Diplomat

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The Beijing-Washington Back-Channel and Henry Kissinger’s Secret Trip to China

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King Cotton Diplomacy: Foreign Relations of the Confederate States of America

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Evolution of Diplomatic Privileges and Immunities

Excerpt from the lecture 1: Principles and concepts, evolution and instruments; Online course on Diplomatic Law: Privileges and Immunities.

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Tilkidom and the Ottoman Empire: The Letters of Gerald Fitzmaurice to George Lloyd, 1906-15

Gerald Henry Fitzmaurice was Chief Dragoman at the British Embassy in Constantinople before the First World War and George Ambrose Lloyd was a young Honorary Attaché based in the Embassy from the autumn of 1905 until the end of 1906. In Gerald Fitzmaurice (1865-1939), which leans heavily on the private letters that Fitzmaurice wrote to Lloyd between 1906 and 1915, I describe the ups and downs of the close friendship which developed between them. I also deal more or less fully with many of the subjects raised in the letters. Why, then, publish them separately?

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The Invisible Weapon: Telecommunications and International Politics 1851-1945

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Post Cold War diplomatic training

Victor Shale's paper refers to a specific time period: the post-Cold War period which brought about new forms of conflicts, and high levels of terrorism. In the light of the change in traditional diplomacy, his paper examines multistakeholder diplomatic training and its importance as an approach in penetrating different cultures, and examines whether this approach could be used to minimise intractable conflicts.

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The History of Diplomatic Immunity

This is a massive book in more than one sense. It is over 700 pages long, including an invaluable bibliography which itself stretches over 70 pages. While dwelling chiefly on the Western tradition, it also takes in the Ottoman Empire and the Far East. It begins in ancient times (though having less on the second […]

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The Practice of Diplomacy: Its evolution, theory and administration

First published in 1995, the long-awaited second edition of this valuable textbook on the history of diplomacy has at last appeared. The first chapter has been expanded to include non-European traditions, and a wholly new chapter has been added to take account of developments over the last 15 years. It is for the main part a work of relaxed authority, clearly written, and – unusually for an introductory work – full of intriguing detail which it would be difficult if not impossible to find in other secondary sources.

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The Long Affair: Thomas Jefferson and the French Revolution

Thomas Jefferson, author of the Declaration of Independence (1776) and third president of the United States (1801-9), was one of the warmest and most influential American supporters of the French revolution. He had also been a diplomat. In fact, he had joined the American mission in France in 1784, and replaced Benjamin Franklin as minister in the following year. He witnessed the outbreak of the revolution in 1789 and was then appointed secretary of state by George Washington. This scintillating book by Conor Cruise O'Brien, himself a former diplomat, analyses the blossoming and slow - very sl...