Mapping France’s Diplomatic Geography in the 16th and 17th Centuries: An Introduction

At the beginning of the sixteenth century, French diplomacy dramatically increased. This development is observable in the number of permanent embassies maintained across Europe. When Francis I (r. 1515-1547) ascended to the throne in 1515, France only had one residential ambassador abroad, located at the court of the Holy Roman Empire. When Francis I died in 1547, France maintained at least ten ambassadors in residence across Europe (the Holy Roman Empire beginning in 1509; Venice, 1517; England, 1525; the Swiss Cantons, 1522; Portugal, 1522; Rome, 1530; The Ottoman Empire, 1535; the Grisons, 1537; Denmark 1541; and the Netherlands, intermittently after 1538). Using Fleury Vindry’s collections of ambassadors abroad, we can view the explosion of France’s diplomacy abroad. Arranging these embassies by total years present, we can also see France’s diplomatic priorities and how some interests changed and others remained the same in Figures 1 and 2.

Figure 1: Map of Years Ambassador(s) were present in Countries (1517-1559)
Figure 2: Map of Years Ambassador(s) were present in Countries (1559-1600)

What becomes clear from Figures 1 and 2 is that France established an axis of embassies stretching from England through the Swiss Cantons and Venice to the Ottoman Empir between 1517 and the 1530s in direct response to the ongoing conflict with the Habsburgs centered in Italy. This axis of embassies was diplomatically predominant throughout the entire sixteenth century despite the changing circumstances around 1559 from the conflict in Italy to the civil war in France. This axis represents the nucleus of French diplomacy during the sixteenth century.

“Mapping France’s Diplomatic Geography” will expand on these maps of ambassadors to include the network of French diplomatic correspondence during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries using ArcGIS. The project will provide interactive maps of this correspondence (weighted by average days of letter travel to destination) for readers to explore the extent of French diplomacy. The project will begin by focusing on Henri III’s (r. 1574-1589) diplomatic correspondence with ambassadors abroad and foreign courtiers. Henri III’s letters have been collected in a series of volumes, making it a natural place to begin since the letters already compiled. I will then begin expanding out from Henri III’s letters to French monarchs on either side. I then plan to expand the network analysis to prominent French courtiers such as the Guise family, Cardinal Richelieu, and Cardinal Mazarin. The goal of this project is to demonstrate the expansive nature of early modern French (and by extension European) foreign policy.