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The Economic Predicament of Italian Renaissance Ambassadors

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image of Journal of Early Modern History

This article examines the character and sources of the many complaints about money heard in the dispatches of ambassadors in the second half of the fifteenth century in Italy. In a period when ambassadors increasingly served for long periods of time as residents in a single locale, infrequency of regular remuneration became commonplace, as Italian states, with their lengthening list of pecuniary obligations, were notoriously unreliable paymasters. This article suggests that the language of complaint reflected the dynamics of Renaissance patron-client relationships and the rhetorical conventions that were shaped both by the medieval ars dictaminis and humanistic topoi. While the laments could reflect real deprivation, ambassadorial service often provided a real path to office, influence and enrichment. It also demonstrates that the financial concerns of ambassadors differed whether they were short-term or long-term ambassadors, and whether they were sent by princely or republican regimes. Based on diplomatic correspondence of ambassadors from several Italian states, the essay argues that the economic situation of these diplomatic envoys is analogous to that of condottieri: both served the cash-strapped Renaissance territorial state in areas of activity where institutions were becoming permanent.

Affiliations: 1: Kennesaw State University


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