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Published online by Cambridge University Press:  16 November 2018

The Open University
Department of History, Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, The Open University, Walton Hall, Milton Keynes, mk7


This article reveals how the ambassadress became an important part of early modern diplomatic culture, from the invention of the role in the early sixteenth century. As resident embassies became common across the early modern period, wives increasingly accompanied these diplomatic postings. Such a development has, however, received almost no scholarly attention to date, despite recent intense engagement with the social and cultural dimensions of early modern diplomacy. By considering the activities of English ambassadresses from the 1530s to 1700, accompanying embassies both inside and outside of Europe, it is possible not only to integrate them into narratives of diplomacy, but also to place their activities within broader global and political histories of the period. The presence of the ambassadress changed early modern diplomatic culture, through the creation of gendered diplomatic courtesies, gendered gift-giving practices, and gendered intelligence-gathering networks. Through female sociability networks at their host court, ambassadresses were able to access diplomatic intelligence otherwise restricted from their husbands. This was never more true than for those ambassadresses who held bonds of friendship with politically influential women at their host or home court, allowing them to influence political decision-making central to the success of the diplomatic mission.

Research Article
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2018 

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Aspects of this article were given to seminar and conference audiences in Bristol, Cambridge, London, and Plymouth and I am grateful for all their insights and suggestions. I would also like to thank Susan Brigden, Rosalind Crone, Jonathan Healey, and Sarah Ward Clavier for their assistance, and I am particularly indebted to Felicity Heal, Tracey Sowerby, and the journal referees for their valuable comments on drafts of this article. All pre-1800 works were published in London unless otherwise stated.


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24 See, for example, Machiavelli, N., ‘Advice to Raffaello Girolami when he went as ambassador to the emperor’, in Machiavelli, N., The chief works and others, trans. Gilbert, A. (3 vols., Durham, NC, and London, 1965), i, pp. 116–19Google Scholar.

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43 CSP Venetian, xx, 1626–8, p. 214; Loftis, ed., Memoirs, p. 174.

44 Mary, Queen of Scots, to Anne Throckmorton, 13 Aug. 1561, TNA, SP 70/30, fo. 30r.

45 Throckmorton to Elizabeth I, 11 Sept. 1561, TNA, SP 70/30, fo. 26v.

46 For food gifts, see Heal, The power of gifts, pp. 35–43, 173.

47 HMC, Report on the manuscripts of the marquess of Downshire, ii, p. 69.

48 CSP Venetian, xxxiv, 1664–6, p. 259.

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71 See the Bodleian copy of J. Sanford, Propylaion, or An entrance to the Spanish tongue (1611), Wood 310 (3), dedicated to Beatrice Digby on sigs. A2r–A4r.

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76 For an example, see ‘Bill of travelling and other expenses', 1566, BL, Additional MS 18764, fo. 1v.

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83 Stafford to Elizabeth I, 26 Dec. 1583, BL, Cotton Galba MS e/vi, fo. 194r.

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87 Leimon and Parker, ‘Treason and plot', p. 1157.

88 For Lionel Fanshawe, see Loftis, ed., Memoirs, p. 180.

89 Ibid., pp. 180–1.

90 HMC, The manuscripts of J. M. Heathcote, pp. 231, 234–5.

91 For Anne's request, see ibid., p. 227. For the cipher itself, see ibid., p. 228.

92 CSP Venetian, xxxiv, 1664–6, p. 259.

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103 TNA, SP 70/107, fo. 28r.

104 For Margery's intelligence, see Henry Norris to Cecil, 19 Dec. 1569, TNA, SP 70/109, fo. 49r–v.

105 Margery Norris to Cecil, 18 Dec. 1569, TNA, SP 70/109, fo. 45r.

106 For intelligence reaching Henry Norris, see idem to Cecil, 22 Dec. 1569, TNA, SP 70/109, fo. 56r.

107 Rogers to Cecil, 7 Mar. 1569, TNA, SP 70/106, fos. 19r–22r; Margery Norris to Cecil, 7 Mar. 1569, TNA, SP 70/106, fo. 27r.

108 TNA, SP 70/106, fo. 20r.

109 TNA, SP 78/4A, unfoliated.

110 Throckmorton to Cecil, 4 Aug. 1559, TNA, SP 70/6, fo. 38r.

111 Anne to Nicholas Throckmorton, 10 July 1562, TNA, SP 70/39, fo. 21r.

112 Burghley to Walsingham, 25 Sept. 1572, BL, Harley MS 260, fo. 335v.

113 Jacobsen, Luxury and power, p. 58.

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