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The Correspondence(s) of Count and Countess Lorenzi: What Was the Extent of an Early Modern Ambassadress’ Autonomy?

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Abstract

Scholarship aiming to reassess the role played by the wives of early modern ambassadors normally draws on two different kinds of sources: diaries and correspondences. Those who base their analysis on letters are usually compelled to look at their ambassadresses through the eyes of a third party, be it the ambassadress’ husband or any other members of his epistolary network. The personal archives of Count Luigi Lorenzi, French resident minister to the Grand Duchy of Tuscany from 1735 to 1765, are in this sense exceptional, as they contain not only hundreds of letters addressed to Luigi’s wife, Countess Minerva Ughi, but also drafts of many of her letters. Crucially, most of these drafts bear clear marks of Luigi’s intervention and some of them even appear to be entirely in his hand. In this paper, I shall ask whether Luigi’s intervention in his wife’s letter writing practices is indicative of her lack of autonomy or diplomatic importance, concluding that Minerva’s letters (and conceivably Luigi’s, too) are best interpreted as the result of the joint efforts of a ‘diplomatic working couple’, simultaneously acting in the best interest of the household and of the sovereign (and state) they represented. Even so, Minerva’s (and Luigi’s) drafts remind us that we ought to be extremely careful when analysing the diplomatic activity of early modern ambassadresses and diplomatic agents more broadly. They further invite us to reconsider the notion that we can categorically distinguish between women’s and men’s correspondences, prompt us to question the extent to which early modern diplomacy was gendered, and also encourage us to reflect on the possible links between diplomacy and literature.

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