The Art of Diplomacy: Kevin Sharpe Revisits an Article by C.V. Wedgwood, First Published in History Today in 1960, That Looks at the Diplomatic Mission Made by the Artist Peter Paul Rubens to the Court of Charles I

By Sharpe, Kevin | History Today, November 2010 | Go to article overview

The Art of Diplomacy: Kevin Sharpe Revisits an Article by C.V. Wedgwood, First Published in History Today in 1960, That Looks at the Diplomatic Mission Made by the Artist Peter Paul Rubens to the Court of Charles I


Sharpe, Kevin, History Today


In her article of 50 years ago, Veronica Wedgwood focused on a moment in 1629 when one of the greatest artists of Europe, the Flemish painter Peter Paul Rubens, was sent by Philip IV of Spain on a diplomatic mission to Charles I. Rubens prepared the ground for England's treaty with Spain, which was signed in November 1630. Wedgwood had no doubt that the artist was chosen skilfully to secure accord from the connoisseur king. Charles I, she observed, was (after breaking with his Parliament) desperately in need of peace and ready to secure it by any means that even half salved his honour, despite his earlier insistence on the restoration of his brother-in-law, Frederick, to the Rhenish Palatinate.

Wedgwood dismissed Charles I's foreign policy as 'weak and egotistical'. While I endeavoured nearly 20 years ago, in The Personal Rule of Charles I, to at least qualify that verdict, the consensus has not moved far from Wedgwood, who underestimates Charles' commitment to his brother-in-law and England's potential to cause problems for other powers. In other respects, however, Wedgwood reads--perhaps surprisingly--freshly. Anticipating the revisionist scholarship of the 1970s, she laid much of the blame for the failures of English campaigns in the 1620s on 'a restive and critical Parliament refusing the necessary grants of money to wage' them. Like Charles I and Archbishop Laud, but against recent historiographical trends, she regarded the Puritans as a fundamental danger to the crown. And contrary to Whig historians, who seemed surprised that England did not erupt into violence in 1629, she quotes Rubens reporting 'a people rich and happy in the lap of peace'.

Most importantly, Wedgwood rightly connected scholarship and aesthetics to the business of diplomacy and politics. Rubens had a high opinion of scholars like John Selden and Sir Robert Cotton, who had been confined for their political involvements at the time of the Petition of Right in 1628, and greatly admired the taste of the king and his courtiers.

Since Wedgwood's time, the histories of scholarship, connoisseurship and politics have regrettably become more detached. …

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The Art of Diplomacy: Kevin Sharpe Revisits an Article by C.V. Wedgwood, First Published in History Today in 1960, That Looks at the Diplomatic Mission Made by the Artist Peter Paul Rubens to the Court of Charles I
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