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Elizabethan Diplomatic Compensation: Its Nature and Variety

  • Gary M. Bell (a1)


In view of the large number of financial complaints in Tudor diplomatic correspondence, it is entirely understandable why compensation might be considered a central problem of sixteenth-century foreign service. The feeling conveyed by the diplomats is that their pay was haphazard in its conception, irregular in its distribution, and utterly insufficient in its magnitude; that is, it was thoroughly unsatisfactory in every respect. So consistent and so forceful did these envoys make their case that today it is virtually axiomatic for historians to assume that compensation was chaotic, and that service abroad was always financially debilitating. “Upon none of the royal servants did the disorder of sixteenth century fiscal administration bear harder [than upon the ambassadors],” Professor Mattingly notes. Moreover, “for an ambassador, the chance of financial embarrassment was almost a certainty.” Sir John Neale, another of only a few who have addressed this issue directly, is persuaded that, “it was not exceptional for an Elizabethan ambassador to get into financial straits … generally ambassadors had to face making inroads into their private estates.” Or: “His [the ambassador's] was not a happy lot. His profit and loss account was a statement in two terms of which one was never operative …. Their pay was often irregular and never adequate, and they were lucky if their private estates were not hopelessly mortgaged at the end of an embassy.” Other historians, making only passing reference to diplomatic compensation, simply assume the worst.

Yet the diplomats of Elizabeth served, frequently for extended periods, and often repeatedly as well.



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1 Mattingly, Garrett, Renaissance Diplomacy (London, 1962), pp. 231, 233.

2 SirNeale, John, “The Fame of Sir Edward Stafford,” E.H.R., XLIV (1929), 207; and, SirNeale, John, “The Diplomatic Envoy,” History, new series, XIII (1928), 218 (italics mine for emphasis). The same sentiments, only more forcefully expressed are to found in: Meyer, A. O., Die Englische Diplomatic in Deutschland zur Zeit Edward VI & Mariens (Breslau, 1900), pp. 918. The severe financial difficulties of the government to be found during the Edwardian and Marian periods lends some verisimilitude to these assertions for the mid-century period, however.

3 As seen, for example, in: Miller, Amos C., Sir Henry Killigrew: Elizabethan Soldier and Diplomat (Leicester, 1963), p. 168; and Sargent, Ralph M., At the Court of Queen Elizabeth: The Life and Lyrics of Sir Edward Dyer (London, 1935), p. 50, where the author asserts that ambassadors paid all their own expenses.

4 At the same time, a discussion of compensation necessitates a description of such things as the types of representatives and the conditions of service, all of whichit is hoped will make more intelligible the nature of Elizabethan diplomatic practice in general.

5 PRO, Exchequer (hereafter, E) 403/2559, f. 223.

6 PRO, E 405/511, f. 63; E 403/2421, [f. 67].

7 The exception was Sir Thomas Chamberlain, who received sixty shillings per diem, perhaps because he was one of Elizabeth's earliest residents, and no norm for compensation had yet been established. Conceivably, it was his supposed financial difficulties in Spain that persuaded the government that a somewhat higher rate was desirable. PRO, E 405/511, f. 47.

8 PRO, E 405/511, f. 46.

9 PRO, E 403/2559, f. 133.

10 PRO, E 403/2559, ff. 113, 115.

11 PRO, E 403/2425, f. 20. Sidney in fact embarked on this mission to France in 1584, but was turned back at Dover with the news that the irritated French currently would receive no envoys from Elizabeth.

12 Randolph's diets and financial situation in Scotland can be gleaned from PRO, State Papers (hereafter, S.P.) 52/6, ff. 37, 144; B.L., Add. 35830, f. 83; H.M.C., Calendar of the Manuscripts of the Marquis of Bath, Preserved at Longleat, Wiltshire, II, 16; PRO, Calendar of State Papers Relating to Scotland and Mary, Queen of Scots (hereafter, C.S.P.Scot.), I, 514-15, 553, 583; PRO, Calendar of State Papers, Foreign Series, of the Reign of Elizabeth …, 1562 (hereafter, C.S.P.F.), no. 896; C.S.P.F., 1569-71, no. 1279; PRO, E 405/511, ff. 53, 62.

13 B.L., Egerton 2723, ff. 47, 59-60; PRO, E 403/2422, f. 54.

14 C.S.P.F., 1562, no. 485; C.S.P.F., 1558-59, nos. 111-12; C.S.P.F., 1569-71, no. 2011.

15 PRO. E 405/511, f. 67.

16 Computed from data available for ten special embassies and the extensive records of five resident embassies which were spread throughout the reign. The records are not sufficiently complete for other missions to include them in the average.

17 C.S.P.F., 1569-71, no. 1508.

18 B.L., Cotton, Julius, C. IX. f. 83.

19 C.S.P.F., 1577-78, no. 184.

20 PRO, E 403/2420, ff. 32-33. Some of Walsingham's extrordinary charges are undifferentiated, but since, in the middle of a mission, these usually consisted almost entirely of intelligence costs, the average seems accurate. The extraordinaries that are itemized verify the assumption.

21 These averages have been compiled from dormant privy seal books found in: PRO, E 403; and C.S.P.F., 1575-77, no. 1214.

22 B.L. Egerton 2723, ff. 58-59; PRO, E 403/2421, f. 65; E 403/2422, f. 40.

23 PRO, E 403/2421, f. 47.

24 For a full treatment of diplomatic couriers, including Elizabethan servants, see: Allen, E. John B., Post and Courier Service in the Diplomacy of Early Modern Europe (The Hague, 1972).

25 As seen in: PRO, Acts of the Privy Council of England, 1558-70 (hereafter, A.P.C.), pp. 132–33.

26 As seen in: B.L. Lansd. 25, f. 116; PRO, E 403/2559, f. 176. Typically the crown provided large collections of plate to ambassadors to enhance the dignity of the embassy.

27 As seen in: C.S.P.F., 1575-77, nos. 955-56; B.L., Add. 18764, ff. 1-2 (where Lady Hoby's expenses for conveying her ambassador husband's body back from France to Bisham, Surrey, in 1566 are itemized and allowed).

28 C.S.P.F., 1575-77, no. 1214.

29 PRO, S.P. 70/4, f. 19 (italics mine for emphasis).

30 For a full description of this incident, see: Ramsay, G.D., The City of London in International Politics at the Accession of Elizabeth Tudor (Manchester, 1975), pp. 99100.

31 The dormant privy seal books, or, more formally, the “Posting Books of Issues Upon Dormant Privy Seals” consist of compilations by the tellers of the exchequer of recurring disbursements originally warranted by a “dormant” privy seal, that is, a privy seal authorizing actions over a period of time. These records are bound in books according to the exchequer year (October 1 to September 30) and are found scattered among various British record repositories.

32 The first dormant privy seal book appears in late 1569. There are no really comparable sources for testing the regularity of pay hypothesis prior to that date. The pells of issue, for instance, merely give names to whom payments were made (was it for the man's ambassade or his duties as clerk of the council?) and tend to summarize rather than detail payments.

33 PRO, S.P. 70/32, ff. 21, 71; also C.S.P.F., 1561-62, nos. 650, 678.

34 PRO, S.P. 70/8, f. 74; PRO, S.P. 70/27, f. 92. See also C.S.P.F., 1559-60, no. 104; C.S.P.F., 1561-62, no. 279

35 PRO, S.P. 12/208, f. 30.

36 Christopher Mundt, a long-time servant of the Tudors, received letters patent in 1558 to be Elizabeth's special agent in central Europe, and served in that capacity until his death in 1572.

37 PRO, E 403/2422, f. 43.

38 B.L., Add. 37999, f. 2.

39 PRO, E 403/2422, f. 38.

40 Meyer, , Englische Diplomatie, p. 15.

41 C.S.P.F., 1558-59, nos. 732, 740.

42 C.S.P.F., 1575-77, no. 684.

43 C.S.P.F., 1566-68, no. 546.

44 “Ayudas de costas” are mentioned several times in the diplomatic correspondence. The only specific reference we have to their helping an English ambassador is the Spanish court's undertaking to pay Ambassador John Man's lodging after his expulsion from Madrid to Barajas, where he resided in 1568 until his recall by the queen: PRO, Calendar of Letters and State Papers … Preserved Principally in the Archives of Simancas … 1568-79, no. 32.

45 C.S.P.F., 1563, no. 847.

46 C.S.P.F., 1579-80, no. 32.

47 B.L., Lansd. 64, f. 151.

48 Talbot Papers, Vol. E, f. 189, as cited in: Lodge, Edmund, Illustrations of British History (London, 1791), I, 359 (italics mine); B.L. Stowe 570, f. 94.

49 PRO, S.P. 70/17, f. 128.

50 C.S.P.F., 1562, no. 168. The question of loans is an interesting one in itself, for if Sir Nicholas failed to meet his obligation he would have been in fairly substantial company. It would seem that several of the queen's servants, and not just her diplomats of course, were her debtors and died with borrowed money unpaid. Either they had successfully and repeatedly postponed the day of reckoning, or in several cases, Elizabeth had excused their debts outright. In cases of postponements, it is entirely possible that the man's heirs assumed the burden. But from the number of references to borrowed money expended in the queen's service and for which the debtor demanded excusal because of how it was spent, it would be an intriguing and worthy consideration to discover to what extent royal money lending became a de facto system of rewards for service.

51 He received such a license in July, 1559, just after he left on his mission (PRO, Calendar of the Patent Rolls … 1558-1560 [hereafter, C.P.R.], p. 93) and may have received another four months later for overdue diets (C.S.P.F., 1559-60, no. 279).

52 C.S.P.F., 1569-71, no. 1607.

53 C.S.P.F., 1582, no. 156.

54 C.S.P.F., 1583, no. 170.

55 C.P.R., 1566-69, nos. 918, 691. Later Randolph received the office of chamberlain of the exchequer for the same reasons, and as a gift, as it was termed, of the queen: B.L., Lansd. 171, f. 408.

56 B.L., Cotton, Galba, E. VI, f. 397, as cited in: Neale, , “The Fame,” E.H.R., XLIV, 219.

57 C.S.P.F., 1562, no. 17; C.S.P.F., 1563, no. 187 (italics mine).

58 C.S.P.F., 1584-85, p. 44.

59 C.S.P.F., 1577-78, no. 887.

60 C.S.P.F., 1561-62, no. 858.

61 C.S.P.F., 1584-85, p. 385; C.S.P.F., 1583-84, no. 707.

62 A.P.C., 1577-78, pp. 385-86. This principle of legal immunity is enunciated in: Jones, W.J., The Elizabethan Court of Chancery (Oxford, 1967), pp. 205–06.

63 C.S.P.F., 1581-82, no. 18.

64 A.P.C., 1592-93, p. 44.

65 C.S.P.F., 1594-97, p. 347.

66 C.S.P.F., 1569-71, no. 1408.

67 Mattingly, , Renaissance Diplomacy, p. 328. In the obvious absence, he feels, of any monetary incentive. Indeed, the allure of involvement abroad would have proved a poor substitute, in my opinion, for sound financial provisions.

68 Frescoln, Katharine, “Thomas Randolph, An Elizabethan in Scotland,” (Ph.D. thesis, University of West Virginia, 1971), pp. 179–80.

69 Sargent, , Dyer, p. 150.

70 Based on extensive information found in Bell, Gary M., “The Men and Their Rewards in Elizabethan Diplomatic Service, 1558-1585,” (Ph.D. thesis, University of California at Los Angeles, 1974), where the biographies of most Elizabethan diplomats are presented and analyzed.

71 In contrast to Mattingly, 's assertion in Renaissance Diplomacy, p. 236.

72 H.M.C., Report on the Manuscripts of Lord Montagu of Beaulieu, pp. 5455.

73 See especially: MacCaffrey, Wallace T., “Place and Patronage in Elizabethan England,” in Elizabethan Government and Society, eds. Bindoff, al (London, 1964), pp. 111-12, 117–18.

74 Read, Conyers, “The Fame of Sir Edward Stafford,” A.H.R., XX (1915), 292313.

75 Based on figures in: Dietz, Frederick, The Exchequer in Elizabeth's Reign [Smith College Studies in History, VIII, no. 2] (Northampton, Mass., 1923), pp. 97103. His figures are problematical at best, but I judge that the magnitude and relative weight of those figures are within the realms of usefulness.

76 A fact elaborated upon in some detail in Bell, Gary M., “Sir Thomas Chaloner's Diplomatic Expenses in Spain,” Bull. Inst. Hist. Res., LII, no. 127 (May, 1980).

77 Based on the information in: Bell, “Rewards.”

78 Diplomats seem to have benefitted from the English patronage system to a greater degree, on the whole, than most other crown servants, judging from the largess with which they were treated as compared to the restraints on royal bounty that most other courtiers experienced. Again see: MacCaffrey, , “Patronage,” pp. 95126.

When considering the question of 16th century inflation and changing patterns of compensation in response, it should be noted that diplomatic diets for comparable service remained constant throughout the reign. But as with domestic service, there were compensatory factors. The “extraordinaries” escalated with the rise in prices, gifts tended to increase in value towards the end of the reign, and most importantly, the diplomats who served later could demonstrably count on more supplementary grants from the crown than could their earlier counterparts.

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