The Rise of the Ambassadress: English Ambassadorial Wives and Early Modern Diplomatic Culture

Allen, Gemma (2019). The Rise of the Ambassadress: English Ambassadorial Wives and Early Modern Diplomatic Culture. The Historical Journal, 62(3) pp. 617–638.



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.

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