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Archives and Information in the Early Modern World$

Kate Peters, Alexandra Walsham, and Liesbeth Corens

Print publication date: 2018

Print ISBN-13: 9780197266250

Published to British Academy Scholarship Online: September 2018

DOI: 10.5871/bacad/9780197266250.001.0001

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Archival Intelligence: Diplomatic Correspondence, Information Overload, and Information Management in Italy, 1450–1650

Archival Intelligence: Diplomatic Correspondence, Information Overload, and Information Management in Italy, 1450–1650

(p.53) 3 Archival Intelligence: Diplomatic Correspondence, Information Overload, and Information Management in Italy, 1450–1650
Archives and Information in the Early Modern World

Filippo de Vivo

British Academy

Abstract and Keywords

The rise of permanent diplomacy in the 15th century and the expansion of diplomatic networks in the 16th resulted in a massive surge in correspondence between ambassadors and their masters back home. Historians justly inscribe this phenomenon in the early modern information revolution, but news only turns into information and information into useful knowledge if it is packaged and retrieved for re-circulation. Information overload requires new management techniques, which were honed by chancellors and secretaries. Archives were centres of information long before they became repositories of sources for historians. Focusing on Italy in the period 1450–1650, this article discusses the gathering and circulation of diplomatic letters and dispatches, systems for managing correspondence on receipt, techniques for processing information, and the storage of correspondence in archives. It compares the arrangements adopted in republics and principalities to underline their differences as well as similarities.

Keywords:   diplomacy, early modern Italy, information management, information overload, archives, ambassadors, correspondence, chancelleries, secretaries, chancellors

IN 1579 THE Duke of Ferrara ordered his chancellor and archivist Alfonso Moro to search through all the letters he and his predecessors had received from their ambassadors in Rome. The duke had been asked to allow the passage of a military escort of prisoners bound for the papal capital and, unsure about the appropriate answer, he wanted to know what the precedents were. Moro found none and apologised that ‘trying one’s luck at searching (il cercare a ventura) through so many letters [written] over so many years requires greater time than one thinks’.1 His failure derived from no lack of goodwill, he assured the duke. On being appointed to the job, he had found the letters ‘in great confusion’ and worked on ‘ordering them all in bundles year by year … because I know how important and useful to Your service it is to be able to see easily all the matters and the substance of such a great machinery of writings (poter con facilità vedere tutte le materie et le sostanze di così gran machina di scritture)’. As a result of his efforts, he proclaimed, no prince, ‘great as he may be’, had as well ordered an archive as that of the Este—an advantage that nonetheless failed to get him the information he was after.2 Perhaps inspired by this failure, and after the transfer of yet more letters from Rome to his archive, Moro set out in the following months to prepare a new inventory of the archive under his responsibility, indexed by subject matter.3

(p.54) Moro’s letter is a rare articulation both of the determination of early modern governments to utilise the information they received in growing bulks of letters, and also of the challenge they faced in doing so. Beginning in Italy in the second half of the 15th century, they began maintaining ambassadors abroad on an increasingly permanent basis; the practice extended to the rest of Europe in the following century, and ambassadors multiplied into more and more ramified networks. Unlike earlier representatives sent on special missions, resident ambassadors had the task of gathering and regularly sending back information through letters generally known as dispatches. Thus, the increase in diplomatic activity brought about a substantial growth in the quantity, frequency, and size of diplomatic correspondence. This presented governments with the problem of information management. How did early modern officers manage the correspondence they received, and how did they process its contents? Which dispatches did they store, how long, and why? And how did they retrieve information at a later date? Finally, did these methods evolve over time and did they vary as a consequence of different political cultures and forms of government?

In asking these questions, we need to understand archives as not only repositories of sources or sites of research, but as objects of enquiry in their own right, a change in approach sometimes described as the ‘archival turn’.4 Historians since Leopold von Ranke have used archives of diplomatic dispatches to learn about particular periods, but rarely have they stopped to consider how those archives were arranged and used at the time. Until recently, even the many large editions of dispatches had little to say about the ways in which those dispatches have been handed down to us.5 And yet, as we shall see, dispatches were selected and often summarised on receipt, then filed, stored, and occasionally rearranged, each time with a view to using them, then or in the future. Archives worked as systems for the organisation of information—and as such, they were not just tools for the preservation of knowledge, but also for its construction.

In studying early modern archives, I suggest that the notion of ‘archival intelligence’ can be particularly useful. First, this has to do with contents and secrecy of preservation. Archives stored documentary information that was sensitive or reserved, namely intelligence. When they were still part of functioning organisations—states but also guilds or merchant firms—archives were meant to help those organisations retain exclusive control over precious information.6 The (p.55) second, equally important, aspect of ‘archival intelligence’ is the intelligence of archives themselves, namely the ability of archivists and the propensity of the tools and arrangements they devised in enabling readers to process, store, retrieve, and use documents. An essential element of archival as much as human intelligence is the ability to manage information and transform it into useful knowledge. Finally, as archivists know, understanding the rationale with which documents were stored, arranged, or discarded over time—honing our own archival intelligence—is useful to historians today, whatever their field of study, because it helps plan research, explain cases of documentary abundance or dearth, understand gaps.7 Bearing this in mind means we not only do history in archives, nor only history of archives, but we do better history in general with archives.

Understanding the intelligence of diplomatic archives is especially important. In moving away from their old focus on institutions towards the study of practices, historians of diplomacy have emphasised the importance of information gathering as one of the ambassador’s main preoccupations.8 But equally important were the information processing practices of the secretaries back home with whom ambassadors corresponded. Thanks to Francesco Senatore, Isabella Lazzarini, and Paul Dover, we know that 15th-century Italian chanceries developed sophisticated tools for managing diplomatic correspondence.9 But we know too little about the management of diplomatic information for more long-term uses, and especially in the following centuries, despite the fact that it was then that diplomatic networks reached their maximum expansion—indeed, the quantity rather than the scarcity of sources may well explain the lack of systematic studies of chanceries and secretariats in the early modern age.10 Diplomatic dispatches constituted the state’s primary means of obtaining information from abroad, so they are also central to the history of what historians of England, France, and Spain have recently (p.56) described as early modern ‘information states’.11 These governments increasingly accumulated data that they regarded as instrumental, for example, to fiscal, military, or policing needs, mostly collecting it from either the population at home or from far-flung colonies. In both cases information was a tool to maintain power, in the state or the empire. But we also need to ask how governments managed information which they drew from other, equally or more important states, in situations where relations of power were far from obvious. Italy has not been studied in this vein, yet its many small and medium states are particularly apt to such an enquiry. In Italy too information was a primary concern of rulers, from Francesco Sforza of Milan, who in the 1450s wanted to be ‘lord of the news’, to Ferdinand I of Tuscany who in the 1590s asked his ambassadors to report ‘everything’.12 But (as Alfonso Moro knew) in order to use that information, they needed well-functioning archives.

Beyond politics, the study of diplomatic correspondence is relevant to cultural history more generally. Histories of early modern letter-writing have underlined the importance of the act of corresponding in organising trade, conducting politics, and definining status, whether in merchant networks in courtly settings, or in the republic of letters.13 Studying the construction of archives of diplomatic correspondence allows us to glimpse the point of view of the letters’ recipients, to investigate how they read and processed letters to select information and preserve it for later use.14 Historians of information have recently underlined the preeminence of diplomatic networks in the manuscript circulation of news in early modern Europe, alongside the professional distribution of handwritten newsletters (p.57) and before the diffusion of printed gazettes.15 But we still know too little about how information was processed on receipt. Johann Petitjean has emphasised the importance of information management, for example the Venetian practice of compiling extracts of newsletters in registers known as sommari and, as we shall see, this led to more substantial compilations relating to diplomatic dispatches.16 Historians justly inscribe this phenomenon in the early modern information revolution. Finally, historians of knowledge have studied early modern techniques for culling and preserving information for later use such as commonplace books.17 Ann Blair in particular has demonstrated that Renaissance scholars worried about information overload and devised methods for coping with growing bulks of texts through compilations, anthologies, and note-taking.18 This is a topic which is worth studying especially at a time when we are worried about our own ability to master and preserve ever-increasing masses of data. In similar ways, it has been argued, academics and bureaucrats in the age of Enlightenment developed ‘little tools of knowledge’ to collect and store information and then to assert their authority in their respective spheres.19 This chapter draws from these insights to add a new dimension to our understanding of the problem of information overload in the intervening period. On a far larger and more systematic scale than in the scholar’s study, managing information was the pre-eminent activity of mostly forgotten administrators, who produced indexes, inventories, summaries, and collections of excerpts while professionally maintaining the huge archives of the government offices in charge of diplomatic correspondence.

Tackling these historiographical issues from the vantage point of Italy affords a number of advantages. First, Italy’s political fragmentation required a high degree of diplomatic contacts between different states, so ambassadorial networks were exceptionally thick, and the correspondences very frequent. Unsurprisingly, Italian chanceries produced many inventories and other meta-archival documents that richly (p.58) illustrate the history of information management.20 Given the early development of diplomacy in Italy and its strong vitality in the 16th century and later, concentrating on Italian case studies makes it possible to trace long-term developments. As has been argued, resident diplomacy arose out of instability in the 15th century. But instability grew worse in the more than three decades of war following the ‘descent’ of Charles VIII’s army in 1494. Diplomatic activity increased correspondingly, and then, as we shall see, at an even greater pace after the peace of Bologna sanctioned Habsburg predominance in 1530. The following eighty years saw a very unstable peace, which required the constant efforts of diplomats who helped states maintain the balance of power. Finally, Italy offers rich opportunities for comparison, because it included different forms of government: city-states, republican regional powers, and principalities. Because most post-unification archivists preserved records roughly in the order in which they inherited them, Italy’s archives are not just rich, they are also very diverse, making it possible to ask comparative questions.21 Several scholars have demonstrated the interest of comparing forms of documentary writing across Italy for the late Middle Ages, and for example we know that dispatches were fairly homogeneous as a genre throughout Italy.22 But how did the methods for managing, storing, and using those dispatches change from place to place? As I shall argue, there were important differences between republican and princely forms of government. Even though they both tried to grapple with the same problem, information overload, they came up with different solutions for information management. To demonstrate this, I will consider the construction and use of diplomatic archives in principalities (Ferrara and Mantua), large and small republics (Venice and Lucca), states which underwent regime change (Florence), newly established and suddenly disappearing dynasties (respectively, Parma and Urbino).23

(p.59) Gathering Information: The Growth of Diplomatic Correspondence

Diplomatic archives consist of a variety of documentary genres including credentials, instructions, treatises and their many drafts, ceremonial books, as well as the originals, drafts, and copies of outgoing and incoming correspondence.24 Many ambassadors summarised long-term information, for example on the wealth and forces of a country, in substantial end-of-mission reports, sometimes known as relazioni. But letters constituted the principal means for all early modern governments both to follow rapidly evolving situations abroad, and to redistribute that day-to-day information to other ambassadors, together with home news. Ambassadors’ dispatches regularly covered a variety of political, military, and economic themes: from the movement of armies to the arrival of fleets, the births of heirs, the emergence of factional leaders, epidemics, famines, social upheavals, and, increasingly in the 16th century, religious unrest. Technological innovations, publications, and art also featured, especially when they reflected on the status or interests of the ambassador’s master back home.25 Ambassadors sent information ranging from publicly available news—they often enclosed avvisi, or summarised them in their dispatches—to reserved reports obtained in personal encounters. On top of all this, they also wrote about their negotiations and described in detail and at length the audiences they had with local sovereigns or principal ministers, as well as meetings with other important figures. Negotiation took place mostly through oral communication in face-to-face encounters—presenting a challenge of its own to record-keeping.26 By contrast, ambassadors had to send information to their distant masters in writing.

In the 15th century diplomatic dispatches went through two intertwined transformations. One is qualitative. Ambassadors switched from Latin to vernacular, simplified the forms of address, and developed a vocabulary that allowed them to describe quickly evolving political situations: writing ‘ala cancellaresca’, as opposed to the classic style of personal letter-writing ‘ala domestica’.27 Meanwhile, they also devised more or less common ways of organising their text by subject matter, assigning different topics to different paragraphs, and writing different letters on different matters. Finally, ambassadors increasingly resorted to (p.60) parallel dispatches: one which could be shared, and the other with more reserved information; the use of cypher also expanded to ensure secrecy. These developments made the ambassadorial dispatch into a specially apt tool of information.

The other transformation is quantitative. So long as diplomatic missions were brief and aimed at specific goals, governments provided a departing ambassador with more or less detailed commissions, but on the whole did not expect him to report back prior to coming home; only when missions extended their foreseen duration did ambassadors write a certain number of letters, but most covered specific negotiations. As far as regular information is concerned, it is likely that, especially in city oligarchies, governments relied on the oral reports of a range of agents, including merchants who had their own networks of informers. With the gradual growth of protracted and then permanent embassies in the second half of the century, then, the rate of diplomatic correspondence grew massively, as ambassadors increasingly regarded the local gathering of information and its supply by letter as daily duties. Mantuan representatives in Milan—a crucial ally and a neighbouring state, and therefore the seat of an early resident ambassador—were especially prolific, with Vincenzo della Scalona writing more than 360 letters in a year.28 At the very beginning of the 16th century, Antonio Giustinian, Venetian ambassador in Rome, wrote more than 1,200 dispatches in less than three years, and Niccolò Machiavelli wrote forty letters during a two-month mission in 1506.29 Aggregate figures are staggering: Vincent Ilardi, who spent a lifetime tracking diplomatic documents in and relating to Italy, put together a microfilmed collection of some two million photograms for the period 1451–99.30

Even such numbers pale when compared with later developments, which make an enteprise like Ilardi’s all but impossible for the following centuries. Over an equivalent timespan in Venice alone, 1565–1613, a rough estimate suggests that ambassadors sent the Senate a quarter of a million written pages, to which we should add a similar number for the replies.31 Meanwhile, ambassadors also corresponded with other magistracies—from the Council of Ten in charge of (p.61) state security to the Health Proveditors concerned with tracking epidemics.32 The many Mantuan dispatches from Milan mentioned above are contained in thirteen bundles for the 15th century, including also letters from other figures at the Sforza court. Thereafter numbers grew to half a bundle every year in the early 1500s, to one every year by mid-century, and nearly two a year by the 1600s (they decreased again following the crisis of the war of the Mantuan succession in 1628–31).33 Of course, uneven survival rates may hinder comparisons. In Florence, for example, the fall of the republic in 1530 led to the transfer and partial dispersal of its archives, so the losses may be incalculable.34 In Venice in 1574 a fire destroyed almost all dispatches written before the 1560s. But indirect evidence confirms the growth of correspondence. Thus, a 1546 Venetian inventory mentions two cabinets storing dispatches collected over the previous century, but a 1669 inventory lists fifteen for an equal period.35 Similar examples could be multiplied across both large and small states, ancient or newly established. If anything, the increase in correspondence resulted in discontinuing the practice of making copies of outgoing letters; in Mantua the famous Gonzaga copialettere ceased at the turn of the century.36

The quantitative explosion of diplomatic correspondence had two immediate reasons. First, while some 15th-century ambassadors marked themselves out for their prolific writing, they were exceptions: many of their colleagues had to be repeatedly commanded to greater frequency by their masters back home.37 By the 16th century, ambassadors regarded the regular writing of dispatches as a routine part of their jobs. Size grew as much as rate. A great deal of the dispatches of 15th-century ambassadors are short notes while, later, the average dispatch increased to several pages. On the whole this made for a substantially heavier workload, so it is not surprising that while 15th-century ambassadors often wrote in their own hand, their successors almost invariably dictated to secretaries. Sebastiano Del Piombo’s famous portrait of imperial ambassador Ferry Carondelet, now in the Thyssen-Bornemisza collection in Madrid, was painted around 1510, during the ambassador’s mission to Rome: it shows him not just surrounded by letters, but also accompanied by a man taking dictation, presumably (p.62) his secretary. This was to become the rule. As a Venetian ambassador explained to his son in a 1550 text of advice, the secretary was ‘the interpreter in writing of the ambassador’s ideas’, ‘most assiduous and diligent in writing’.38 As he went on to explain, secretaries themselves often only wrote the most sensitive dispatches, in cypher, and delegated the rest to scriveners lower down the embassy staff.

Secondly, if each ambassador wrote more, even more laborious from the point of view of receiving chanceries was the fact that there were more ambassadors. The 16th century saw a marked increase in the number of protracted diplomatic relations that each Italian state entertained with others, both in Italy and beyond. Since the 1460s, the Este had more or less permanent representatives in Venice, Milan, and Florence, and occasionally in Naples and Rome, but in the 16th century they also kept permanent ambassadors in Rome, France, Spain, and at the imperial court. All the dispatches from Rome to the Este are held in eleven bundles for the 15th century, thirty-seven for the following half century, and from the 1550s onwards there are between one and two bundles every year, for a total (by 1795) of 473 bundles.39 Before 1500, the Gonzaga only had a permanent ambassador in Milan, but later began keeping representatives in Venice, Rome, and Genoa, France, Spain, and the imperial court, as well as other agents elsewhere.40 As Dover calculated, the overall diplomatic correspondence held in Mantua—from all locations—amounted to an average of one volume every two years for 1450–1500.41 Later, the rate grew exponentially, to a total of about 200 volumes for the first half of the 16th century and nearly 250 for the second half. The letters from the imperial court alone are a good case in point. They amount to two bundles before 1500: one from the emperor and his family, the other from occasional informers. In the 16th century, as the Gonzaga appointed a stable representative there and made an alliance with the Habsburgs, the letters grew, respectively, to six and fifty-five bundles, with a peak in the 1570s.42

Of course, in some states formal diplomacy declined or disappeared, as in Naples and Milan (conquered by the Spanish in 1503 and 1535 respectively), or Siena (conquered by the Medici in 1555).43 In Milan the embattled last duke, (p.63) Francesco II, failed to keep up the diplomatic networks of his predecessors, and struggled even to fund his ambassador in London.44 But new states arose too, that rested on cultivating high-flying connections at the European level, such as the Duchy of Parma (see below, p. 67). Moreover, in the Spanish composite monarchy, dependencies kept representatives at court, who provided many of the basic functions which had been carried out previously by ambassadors, especially information gathering. Milan sent a total of seventy-four representatives to Madrid in 1535–1707, and also kept consuls in Naples, Venice, and Genoa.45 A representative from each of the Spanish dominions in Italy resided with the Consejo de Italia in the Spanish capital.46 In turn, thanks to its strategic and economic importance in the middle of the Po Valley on the way to the Alpine passes, Milan remained a valued centre of information. As an ambassador from Lucca noticed in 1602, ‘the government of Milan is arbiter in the affairs of Italy, because Venice has a permanent resident, Savoy an ambassador, the Granduke [of Tuscany] an agent, the Dukes of Parma and Mantua an ambassador each, the Duke of Urbino a secretary, and the Duke of Modena an agent’. Whatever their differences in status, these figures were equally active in information gathering. It was for this reason that, the ambassador from Lucca added, ‘they all show up at the [governor’s] court almost every day’.47

Receiving Information: The Specialisation of Chanceries and Secretariats

Quantitative changes in the amount of correspondence only tell us so much. Ambassadors would have little point in writing ever more letters were there no offices capable of dealing with them at the receiving end. Between the 15th and the 16th centuries, the offices in charge of correspondence underwent a process of expansion and division of labour. These reforms have been studied especially for the earlier part of the period, partly because they coincided with the activities of famous humanist chancellors such as Leonardo Bruni in Florence (p.64) or Cicco Simonetta in Milan. But they took place throughout Italy and escalated in the following century, leading to the establishment of separate branches, or the appointment of special functionaries, in charge specifically of ambassadorial correspondence. Let us try to review these developments, identifying the main differences between republics and principalities, as well as the similarities.

In a stable republic such as Venice, a state that operated a particularly extensive diplomatic network, the Senate emerged in the 15th century as the principal body corresponding with ambassadors abroad, assisted by up to eighty and later a hundred secretaries employed in the Cancelleria. Since the mid-15th century, a separate branch known as Cancelleria segreta, staffed by fewer trusted secretaries, took charge of sensitive business including writing and receiving ambassadorial dispatches.48 From the mid-16th century, they divided their responsibilities, with different secretaries in charge of the correspondence relating to the Ottoman Empire, Rome, and other foreign states, resulting as we shall see in separate series of dispatches and registers.49 Even a small city-state like Lucca saw the emergence of special offices for the management of foreign correspondence. This was the prerogative of the sovereign council of the Anziani, which rotated every two months. In the mid-16th century, they attempted to improve continuity by instructing their chancellor to deal personally with the letters. Other magistracies also began keeping separate correspondence with ambassadors, notably the Segretari, which took responsibility for home security following successive waves of unrest.50 Recurrently from 1532 and then permanently from 1601, a special magistracy was created, the Offizio sopra le differenze di confini, nominally for resolving border disputes with neighbouring states, but in fact responsible for all ambassadors and agents abroad. The size of its correspondence was such that the Offizio was given funds to appoint its own cancelliere, who put together a large archive in which he and his successors stored all documents relating to particular negotiations as well as correspondence with ambassadors, arranged by provenance and date.51

In many places, office reforms resulted from political transformations. Florence’s long and tormented transition from republic to principality is a good case in point. Leonardo Bruni’s famous reform of the chancery in 1437 coincided with the informal rise of the Medici to power. He established two separate offices for processing the republic’s correspondence with, respectively, foreign princes and government representatives in the territories.52 Fifty years later Bartolomeo (p.65) Scala intended to subdivide further the management of the correspondence with ambassadors into four series of two parallel registers each, respectively for outgoing and incoming letters, and including correspondence with foreign rulers as well as ambassadors, but it is unclear whether the principle was implemented in practice.53 In the meantime, however, much of the correspondence was being dealt with by the Medici themselves, through their own secretaries. Interestingly, the only extant register of summaries of outgoing letters (relating to the years 1459–68) ends with annotations taken in the Medici palace rather than the public Palazzo della Signoria, thus effectively recording the transfer of power.54 These parallel diplomatic channels came to clash again with the troubles surrounding the fall and then the return of the Medici. After the demise of the anti-Medici republican regime of Piero Soderini in 1512, the Medici ally Paolo Vettori famously advised them to ‘re-order’ the chancery—in the sense of both giving a new order to, and taking command of the office. He explicitly suggested that particular attention be paid to the chancery’s role in managing diplomatic relations.55 Initially, the reforms took the form of staffing changes, as the Medici placed faithful clients in the chancery, leading for example to the dismissal of Niccolò Machiavelli and the appointment of Lorenzo the Magnificent’s old secretary. Equally important was the role played by their own personal secretaries. One of them, Goro Gheri, kept copies of the letters written in the public chancery even though he was not technically a member of its staff; another, Angelo Marzi, managed to subtract the city’s official seals when the Medici were again banished in 1527, briefly hindering the new (and last) republic’s handling of its correspondence.56

After the final Medici return three years later, office infiltration gave way to complete overhaul as foreign policy became the remit of the new dukes and their secretaries. Cosimo I (1537–74) seized control of all diplomatic relations. Every morning he received foreign ambassadors and went through the correspondence (p.66) together with his secretaries; he instructed them to file the most sensitive documents in a special chest, of which he kept the key, and apparently he wrote the letters to the King of Spain and the pope in his own hand.57 But he entrusted the correspondence with ambassadors to secretaries, some of whom themselves often served abroad in that function. Secretaries further specialised later on, increasingly dividing the correspondence among themselves by state or set of states. In 1587 the most important relations, with the Holy See and Spain, were assigned to the first secretary.58 In 1613, a clear division between home and foreign affairs emerged, as a principal secretary took charge of the latter, and assigned the correspondence with different courts to different aides.59 These developments had a direct impact on the material arrangement of letters. The miscellaneous nature of the secretaries’ work under Cosimo initially resulted in mixed files including letters from ambassadors together with many others without any apparent order. By contrast, later in the century the ambassadors’ dispatches began to be sewn in bound files ordered in separate sequences according to state; they survive to this day, even though the original consecutive numbers are no longer in use.60

Thus while republics established increasingly specialised offices, princely leaders relied on secretaries. But they too tried to clarify and specialise their secretaries’ functions. Already in 15th-century Milan, Cicco Simonetta’s chancery regulations, or Ordines, minutely regulated letter-writing including the systematic registration of outgoing correspondence, with separate registers for letters destined inside and outside the duchy; under his successor, different officers were put in charge of the correspondence with different states, an arrangement which turned the Sforza chancery into a brilliant information system.61 As Giacomo Giudici has recently shown, the last Sforza duke, Francesco II, tried to follow the same model, though lack of resources hindered him.62 To some extent, thus, in principalities, bureaucratic change was tied to the vagaries of dynastic discontinuity. Just as (p.67) in Florence the Medici, so in Parma the newly established Farnese (dukes since 1545) established a Segreteria whose head distributed tasks amongst five secretaries, one of whom was also put in charge of all cyphers for the correspondence with ambassadors abroad. While other councils came and went according to the whims of successive dukes, the Segreteria stayed, and in 1595 was divided into two branches, Giustizia and Stato; the latter was in charge of the correspondence with ambassadors.63 But the point to note is that similar reforms also took place with striking chronological coincidence in the courts of old and enduring dynasties.64 In 15th-century Ferrara, the Este had several secretaries cover multiple aspects of administration, including correspondence with ambassadors; the duke gave them a variety of other roles and adapted their tasks to his changing priorities.65 By contrast, as they expanded their diplomatic network, they increasingly entrusted the correspondence to a small but specialised number of secretaries who also assisted (and occasionally were elected to) the duke’s secret council. The first, Giovambattista Pigna, carried at all times the ducal seal and the key to the correspondence’s archive. In 1617, a rotation was introduced, with three secretaries taking turns for foreign correspondence.66 Under the secretaries, a staff of clerks, sometimes known as chancellors, dealt with the actual writing of letters; in the 1560s their number increased from four to twelve.67 In 1582 secretary Antonio Montecatini—who originated the request for archival research from which we started—asked for four or five more assistants to deal specifically with external correspondence, which he proposed to separate from internal letters.68

Special mention must be made of Mantua, which developed a particularly complex system for the management of correspondence. As Isabella Lazzarini has shown, the 15th century saw a rise in number and importance of secretaries. But the division of roles was vague and the same secretary could be responsible (p.68) for any aspect of the chancery’s work.69 In the 1490s there was a first attempt at dividing dispatches into ordinary and special (riservato), under the responsibility of separate secretaries.70 The Gonzaga dealt with foreign relations through family contacts and marriage alliances, but even these required the intermediary of a secretary. Thus when Marquis Federico II received an autograph letter from his cousin, Francesco II, Duke of Milan, he needed a secretary to transcribe it in neat handwriting.71 The greatest reforms took place at the time of the Gonzaga’s greatest influence with the conferment of the ducal title and the annexation of the strategically located Monferrato. In the 1550s the chancery was completely overhauled, with the separation of secretarial tasks into home and foreign affairs. By the following decade, different secretaries acquired responsibility for processing the correspondence relating to different foreign capitals. As a result, from those years, the correspondence is registered in different volumes not by author but by the court to which it is addressed.72 Finally in 1591, the jurist, counsellor, and secretary Tullio Petrozzani again reformed the chancery’s management of foreign affairs: he required each of seven representatives residing abroad to write weekly, assigned the correspondence with each to different members of staff, and distinguished between purely ceremonial and more substantive correspondence. He also effectively separated the Cancelleria comune with administrative functions, from the Cancelleria di sopra, charged with dealing with foreign correspondence and superior in both location and hierarchy because closer to the duke’s apartments (literally on a higher floor of the palace); it was staffed by two councillors, a secretary, two chancellors, two scribes, and two servants.73

Thus, reforms in the offices managing diplomatic correspondence took place across different kinds of regimes and in situations of both political change and stability; in turn these developments affected record-keeping, leading to the inauguration of special archival series for the preservation of correspondence for immediate and future use. On the whole, in republics the reforms were dominated by the need to create strong offices that could ensure continuity despite the rotation of the elected members of the oligarchy. By contrast, princely leaders relied less on offices than on the personal allegiance of secretaries; but they too assigned increasingly specialised tasks. In both cases, specialisation was meant to ensure the expertise of the functionaries in charge of diplomatic correspondence. So even (p.69) though differences are important, the concurrent intensification in reforms across the political spectrum of early modern Italy suggests that all these regimes tried to grapple with the same problem of information overload and management.

Processing Information: The Refinement of Record-Keeping Techniques

Macro-administrative reforms went together with the refinement and wider deployment of micro-techniques for processing correspondence. Fifteenth-century chancery regulations addressed expeditio, or the preparation of outgoing letters rather than the management of incoming ones, including the proper form of address, the registration of copies in copialettere, or the proper storage of drafts in minutari.74 This is because regulations aimed above all to ensure the implementation of the lord’s (or republican council’s) will through the authentication and recording of his (or its) orders. In the second half of the century, however, the processing of incoming letters for information also began attracting attention. Many chanceries began preparing short lists of brief entries summarising the contents of dispatches, as if in bullet points. Generally described as sommari, they were inscribed on separate slips of paper or on the verso of the letters themselves, sometimes in the blank space next to the address. These techniques facilitated the retrieval of particular topics once dispatches were folded and filed in boxes. Historians of diplomacy have given little attention to sommari because, given the choice, they are interested in full texts rather than summaries, yet they constituted an important documentary device for effective information retrieval.75 Francesco Senatore has studied how the Sforza chancery collated summaries from many letters into notebooks, generally in elongated form similar to notarial ledgers, which attempted to organise information according to content under different headings, including locations, persons, and occasionally specific issues.76 Such compilations were useful not just for highlighting information, but also for organising it for further use.

In the 16th century summarising dispatches became standard practice and the collation of sommari in volumes was also recommended in manuals for secretaries, although it seems that only some chanceries actually practised it.77 The secretaries of the Dukes of Ferrara refined the process further. The oldest such (p.70) volumes date to 1502, but as in Sforza Milan they were arranged by date and indexed by place without further indications or cross-referencing. Beginning in the 1560s, the summaries of most incoming, and drafts of outgoing, letters began to be arranged by headings (capi). They were then copied into volumes known as registri, which repeated the summaries word for word, but organised contents thematically and chronologically for ease of retrieval.78 Each volume was subdivided into different headings, in alphabetical order—for example, ‘complaints’, ‘embassies’, ‘marriages’, ‘precedence’, ‘rivers’, and so forth. Summaries were divided by state under each heading, and by date under each state. Some volumes also contained indexes which made it possible to retrieve names or topics across sections. Unlike the earlier Sforza example, the Este registri were no mere notebooks, but large volumes meant for protracted use. Some rough drafts are extant which show that they were then copied in a neat handwriting for ease of reading.79 Initially a single volume contained the summaries of both outgoing and incoming correspondence, but in 1582 the already mentioned secretary Montecatini instituted two parallel series of volumes; as he acknowledged, the task was extremely time-consuming.80

Information processing underwent especially sophisticated refinement in the Republic of Venice probably, once again, because the larger number of people in charge of conducting foreign policy there required especially detailed and consistent guides for deliberating. The republic passed no further administrative reform after the creation of the Cancelleria segreta (above, p. 64), but substantially refined record-keeping techniques for both outgoing and incoming correspondence. Transcripts of the former were stored since 1402 in a series of registers and bundles known at the time as Secreti. The order was chronological, but specially prepared summaries indexed by subject matter were collated in separate calendars sewn inside each register. Every few years these calendars were also transcribed into alphabetically organised volumes known as rubriche. Complete with precise archival references, they made large quantities of information more easily manageable: thus, 135 Secreti registers were indexed in only ten rubriche. Made in parchment rather than paper, they were meant to endure frequent use.81 Both Secreti and their rubriche were miscellanies, including letters to ambassadors abroad as well as other records deemed worthy of particular secrecy. But further specialisation took place in the mid-16th century. In 1556 Senate secretaries started filing separately all records relating to affairs with the Ottoman Empire, and in 1560 those with Rome, the two most important players in Venice’s foreign (p.71) policy: the two series included dispatches sent to Venetian ambassadors in the two capitals, but also to governors of neighbouring Venetian territories, letters to the pope or the sultan, as well as other letters relating to those states but sent elsewhere. The series grew substantially over the following decades.82 The older Secreti series continued until 1630, when it was substituted by two new series; one of them, entitled Corti, included all correspondence relating to foreign states (other than Rome and the Ottomans, which continued to be recorded in separate series).

If the subdivision of records identified major areas of foreign policy, referencing tools were also created for the purpose of charting information across multiple series of records. Noting in 1586 how difficult it was ‘to retrieve documents and other things pertaining to specific affairs because of the interruptions in negotiations and the profusion of writings’, the Council of Ten instructed a secretary to compile an index of records relating to foreign policy ‘distinguished by subject-matters and headings’.83 Because of the magnitude of the task, a second secretary was added in 1600.84 The indexes were described in this second measure as rubriche generali. In effect, like the rubriche described earlier, they were alphabetical indexes of calendars spanning different volumes, but for the first time they spanned not just multiple registers within the same series but also multiple series, including not just letters but also, for example, the records of audiences granted to foreign ambassadors. For this reason, the volumes were eventually entitled not rubriche but Indici generali della Secreta. Thus they can be seen as guide-books to foreign affairs, which they thereby marked out for the first time archivally as a separate and comprehensive area of government policy.85

As we have already seen for Ferrara, innovations in record-keeping were labour-intensive. In 1602 the superintendent of Venice’s Secret Chancery wrote that, in the 1550s, ‘the toil began growing greater, and one secretary has now become insufficient to register all the affairs of the Senate, because only one book used to be kept, while little by little others have been added, and now secret affairs are divided in five [series of] registers’.86 After the 1620s, the practice of compiling general indexes lagged, but it was taken up again in the 1650s, when secretary Antonio de Negri compiled a set of twelve indexes, known as rubriche generali, covering all records relating to foreign policy and produced over the (p.72) previous forty years.87 This work required an imaginative effort in classification and cross-referencing devices, as de Negri explained in the dedication to the doge. He recounted having spent ‘days in writing and hours in thinking … knowing very well that the essence of my toil is not the material collection, but rather the arrangement and distinction [of the records] which facilitate the retrieval of affairs’. As he explained, he followed tradition (‘changing it would have caused confusion’), but tried to improve it by adding more headings, grouping them in sections, and listing the same document under several headings: ‘so that it may more easily fall under the eye of those who search for it’.

The Venetian measures discussed so far concerned the management of outgoing correspondence; but new techniques were also adopted for processing dispatches received from ambassadors abroad. As in other chanceries, the contents of each dispatch may well have been listed in brief summaries already in the 15th century. While most dispatches before the 1560s are now lost, as we have seen, the patrician diarist Marin Sanudo occasionally mentioned sommari when reporting lists of points from ambassadors’ letters, to which he had special access. In 1556—the year in which separate record-keeping was inaugurated for relations with the Ottoman empire—the Senate instructed secretaries to transcribe the summaries daily onto special ledgers known as rubricari; the pages were divided vertically down the middle, to make space for Venice’s two great spheres of action, Terra and Mar.88 The following year, separate rubricari were inaugurated for incoming dispatches, one for each permanent embassy abroad; secretaries were to note the principal headings on both the dispatches’ verso and in the rubricari. On the former, secretaries seem to have mostly limited themselves to brief chancery notes such as dates of receipt, council where the dispatches were read, and sequence numbering.89 Rubricari are much richer. They include fairly long summaries of each dispatch, in one or two pages, arranged chronologically; in the left-hand margin the summaries are highlighted by subject headings and occasionally other referencing signs, such as manicules and asterisks.90 Rubricari are generally written in a succession of hands, because secretaries rotated over time; they contain few corrections, thus demonstrating confidence in summarising, and they are written neatly, clearly because they are meant for consultation. Leaves are gathered in quires, which were probably kept in folders spanning several months, then bound after a certain amount of time; but size varies greatly: some reach 500 leaves and include up to a dozen years’ worth of dispatches, but (p.73) very many are small, possibly reflecting the form in which they were originally kept for ease of consultation. Some are written onto double-sized leaves, so each page offers a quick glance of information spanning several dispatches.91

Preparing rubricari also was a time-consuming task, as the Ten noted when they nominated a second secretary in 1601; for the purpose he was freed of other jobs.92 This may explain why some are written in a neat, continuous hand over long periods.93 Judging from extant holdings, however, they continued to be kept until the mid-18th century, resulting in a total of 324 volumes. The Senate explained that rubricari were necessary in order to ensure that the requests, advice, and information contained in incoming letters were properly followed up. For this reason, rubricari were to be consulted regularly by the Savi di settimana, the patricians entrusted on a weekly basis with chairing the proceedings of the Collegio, the Senate’s steering council. To ensure continuity in information and policy-making despite this quick rotation, the volumes were kept in a cabinet in the Collegio hall. Each series of rubricari was marked with capital letters (starting with the Holy See, ‘A’), showing that they were stored together, and separately from dispatches. In 1636 the two patricians in charge of the Secreta suggested changing this system and tieing the ‘small quires’ (quinternetti) of rubricari into each corresponding bundle of dispatches. But clearly dispatches continued to be filed away, while rubricari were kept for consultation in the Collegio.94 Only after the fall of the republic were rubricari stored—as they are now—in the same bookcases as the dispatches to which they refer, a relocation which illustrates a change in logic: from that of an office’s current archive to that of a historical archive for scholars. The overall order was also changed: the Rome series no longer comes first, for example, but is stored in alphabetical order, after Poland and before Savoy.95

Storing Information: New Archives for Old Letters

Thus, from the day-to-day processing of information contained in documents, we move to the construction and arrangement of archives meant for the longterm preservation of those documents. Here too the growth of correspondence presented new challenges and in some cases occasioned important transformations. Unfortunately, it is not always possible to say how the letters were stored (p.74) and organised, because (as we have just seen) present archival arrangements do not always match past ones. But we can investigate the original shape of archives from contemporary descriptions, decrees concerning their physical location and inventories, as well as from the material features of extant original bindings. Inventories of archives include no dispatches in the 15th century, when they only list deeds and charters, but they often do in the following centuries.96 This may reflect a new awareness of the importance of preserving documents no longer just as legal proofs of properties or prerogatives, but as sources of retrievable information.

The growth of paperwork required investment in new storage facilities. For example, in 1590 Parma, the future Ranuccio I ordered the construction of a larger archive in the Rocchetta castle and over the following few years commissioned new furniture and refurbishments for the purpose.97 The ducal secretaries (discussed above, p. 67) were given offices in the castle, thus establishing a spatial separation between the capital’s administrative and courtly functions, hosted in the ducal palace. Moreover, the archive was placed after 1593 under the custodianship of a specially nominated ‘archivist and custodian of all the writings of our states and other [papers] that will be handed over to him so he can preserve them in the place designed for this task, in the best arrangement he can devise’. The measure envisaged the periodical transfer of records to the archive. Diplomatic letters are not mentioned in an inventory of 1597, but the correspondence was probably stored separately, and there is no doubt that it was arranged for consultation at the time.98 Thus, after the death of Alessandro Farnese in 1592, the archivist made a selection of the letters the duke had written over the previous fifteen years to relatives, to the King of Spain, and to various ambassadors in order to hand them over to Philip II (as requested following a period of disgrace).99 In fact, the death over the previous few years of the dynasty’s great champions—Alessandro himself, his mother Margaret of Austria (1586), and his uncle Cardinal Alessandro (1589)—may well have made it imperative to inventory and preserve their extensive correspondence as a cherished sign of the family’s connections and aspirations.100

(p.75) In Mantua too, new rooms were devoted to the archive and new arrangements put in place for its organisation in 1576–82. Following the new division of labour in the chancery (see ‘Receiving Information’, p. 68), the correspondence was arranged according to large areas rather than specific places, with for example all the correspondence from German-speaking territories grouped under the Imperial court. Present divisions such as that between the letters from Innsbruck and from Vienna, date to 18th-century archivists, who (under the new Habsburg regime) were keen to organise minutely that particular part of the archive.101 A 1582 proposal suggested drawing advantage (utile e frutto) from old letters by dividing them too into different series according to their origin, identifying the principal affairs (capi e materie principali), and calendaring them in large volumes to retrieve useful information. In 1591 the post of archivist was created, charged with the custody of the documents passed on by secretaries and chancellors; he was also to file letters in separate containers, tag them, and compile an inventory, which would help him retrieve useful material. He was to reside in the castle, next to the archive, and to keep a register of all the documents that were borrowed and the dates on which each document was returned.

A new way of dealing with growing bodies of ongoing correspondence was to arrange for the separation of old from new letters: that is, with the specifically archival question, in the modern sense, of ensuring preservation of documents that are no longer in use. In the 16th century some series of current records were for the first time ‘closed’, that is, deposited in separate rooms, out of the way. Florence provides perhaps the most visually stunning example of the early modern separation between old and current archives. When the Medici moved their court out of the old republican seat of the Signoria to the Palazzo Pitti across the river in 1550, the duke’s secretaries moved too, but left behind all no-longer relevant papers; from then on, they worked at Pitti, but they also regularly transferred papers which they regarded as ‘non più utili’ to the ‘Old Palace’ (as it now became known), possibly through the covered corridor designed by Giorgio Vasari in the mid-1560s above the Ponte Vecchio. Four rooms were prepared there for the purpose, described by 1592 as ‘segreteria vecchia’ and clearly distinct from the working ‘segreteria ne’ Pitti’. A large table was provided for appraisal operations, to lay out the documents, and identify those worthy of retention or disposal.102

(p.76) Other cases are less well known. In 16th-century Ferrara, two archives were separated not as a result of regime change or the court’s relocation, but because of the sheer growth in the paperwork. Recent letters were kept together with other current records in an archive inside the chancery, known as Camerino probably because of its size. But in 1574 a presumably larger area of the ducal palace known as the Grotta was refurbished as a storage archive.103 Minutes of outgoing correspondence and bundles of letters from ambassadors abroad were periodically transferred there together with other records. The archivist calculated the annual transfer at twenty-five to thirty boxes, as we know because he ordered the boxes made; in 1589 he warned that, at more than 300 boxes, the Grotta had reached full capacity and petitioned for an additional room: ‘wherever that may be … so long as it is large’.104 The regular transfer of diplomatic correspondence helped with its retrieval when it led to inventorying, as may well have been often the case. If in September 1579 Alfonso Moro was unable to find information in the archive (as we saw at the beginning of this chapter), a few months later he inventoried all the letters held there for the previous twenty years and indexed them by subject matter.105 In 1586 the new archivist Ettore Fiornovelli successfully searched through recent dispatches from the ambassador in France, and four years later, when asked to retrieve others, he could confidently say that they had not been deposited yet.106

After the Este’s move from Ferrara to Modena—where the old castle required serious work before it could properly accommodate the court and its offices—current and old archives were both placed under the supervision of the same archivist, but continued to be stored separately, with the papers of the old Grotta now moved to a turret.107 If, as Filippo Valenti noticed, the muniments attracted the greatest inventorying efforts—unsurprising for a dynasty that had recently lost so much out of legal disputes—one inventory (not mentioned by Valenti) was devoted to the correspondence with foreign states, which it described as stored at the time ‘on the upper floor behind the rails, from the second room onward, opposite the entrance door’. Probably compiled shortly after 1650, it shows that the correspondence was held by country—with countries listed in alphabetical (p.77) order—and, inside each country, the letters were arranged in separate containers in (rough) chronological order.108

So far, this section has concentrated on princely courts. If we turn to a republic such as Venice, we see that it too devoted serious attention to the storage of diplomatic correspondence. Ambassadorial dispatches were divided by state and stuck on spikes in chronological order; each was marked at the back with the dates of writing and receipt, as well as the name of the assembly (or assemblies) to which it was read. They were sewn together every year or more often if there were too many, in files known as filze from the thread used to run through them; for ease of retrieval the files were arranged along shelves in continuous series, each marked on the spine with a running number, the dates covered, and the name of the ambassador. In 1605 it was decreed that incoming dispatches be sewn together with preceding ones immediately after reading, so as to avoid accidental losses.109 Cyphered letters enclosed the sheets with the decyphering, keyed into the text by signs such as asterisks or crosses. A degree of separation between old and recent letters must have been normal in the 16th century, since those from the mid-1560s consistently escaped the fire of 1574 which destroyed all earlier ones, and since the dispatches dated 1572 are lost across almost all embassies: a sign that they must have been kept, and lost, together. However, separation was never formally stipulated, and a 1669 inventory shows that the letters were almost invariably kept on shelves spanning from the earliest to the most recent.110 Perhaps Venice was more conservative in its archival arrangements. In line with a government that cherished its longevity and continuity, archival arrangements envisaged no breaks between current and old records: in Venice, the chancery was one big archive and the archive as a whole was a working chancery.

And yet problems of space applied in Venice as elsewhere. In 1570, the Council of Ten ordered some of its old records moved, if not to different rooms, at least to higher shelves so as to clear space for more recent ones.111 When in 1619 the Ten commissioned an inventory of the Secret Chancery holdings, they found scores of duplicate letters ‘kept in chaos and taking up several cabinets’; they then ordered their burning—in the future, only one copy should be kept of each letter.112 This is a rare example of a document articulating disposal policy, which must have been normal at the time throughout all archives just as today.113 On the (p.78) other hand, the Senate also passed measures precisely in the same years, to ensure against accidental losses, instructing ambassadors to use a new numbering system when writing their dispatches.114 Disposal and preservation are two aspects of the same job, as archivists knew already at the time.

As the preceding discussion shows, the shape of archives changed over time. Most historians point to transformations between the 18th and the 19th centuries, as the age of revolution and restoration put an end to the states of the ancien régime and suppressed, damaged, or relocated their archives.115 After unification, for example, the first director of the newly established Archivio di Stato in Parma found the old Farnese correspondence with ambassadors scattered on the floor, and filed it in nearly 500 bundles according to the place where the letters were written rather than the state to which they referred (as presumably was the case earlier).116 But even before these upheavals, many archives underwent successive phases of reorganisation in the early modern period itself, for a number of reasons. Sometimes archives were moved for practical reasons, as after the 1553 fall of the tower where chancery documents were kept in Ferrara.117 Conquest and regime changes also occasioned transformations. A few years after seizing power in Florence, Cosimo I brought his family papers from the Medici palace on the Via Larga to the old Palazzo dei Signori, in a move that powerfully symbolised his new sovereign power.118 At the same time, he also ordered old republican documents inventoried and locked up in the Archivio delle Riformagioni: in this way he closed a documentary series and created a historical archive, while at the same time denying the long-standing function of that archive as a tool of republican government.119 Two centuries later, the new Lorraine dynasty did to the Medici papers what the Medici had done to the Florentine Republic’s, when in 1784 their archivists created the Archivio mediceo del Principato.120

Princely archives were often partitioned following the vagaries of inheritance, thus demonstrating the proprietorial attitude of ruling families to the archives of government: a little explored aspect of the well-known entwinement between private and public in early modern Italian principalities.121 When the Este ceded (p.79) Ferrara to the Holy See following the extinction of the direct male line in 1598, they agreed to leave behind fiscal and administrative records concerning that city and its territory, but carried away their archivio segreto including all correspondence.122 The archive of the Dukes of Urbino was similarly partitioned in 1631 following the duchy’s devolution to the Holy See. In line with the last duke’s testament, part stayed, part went to his grand-daughter in Florence, and part to Rome; the copialettere were kept in the old capital, but sixty boxes of documents made it to Florence in 1638, including the dispatches.123 That in both cases the Holy See agreed to renounce the archives of diplomatic letters (but not others) to the departing dynasty, shows that the pope recognised those archives as part of the family estate, evidently in line with a widespread attitude. This had dramatic consequences for long-term preservation. For example, the archivist who rearranged Florence’s Medici archives under the new Lorraine dynasty in the 1770s, ruled out inventorying the Urbino papers and described them as ‘useless’.124 Today, only fragments of ambassadorial dispatches remain, especially those pertaining to Urbino’s relations with Florence: clearly Florentine archivists only chose to retain the documents they thought most interesting from their point of view.125

Conclusion: Using Information

The establishment of resident diplomacy in the second half of the 15th century occasioned the exponential growth in the quantity of dispatches, followed by intensifying attempts to improve their organisation. These ranged from the administrative reform of the offices responsible for the macro-management of correspondence, to the refinement of techniques for the micro-processing of its contents, to the creation of new archival repositories for old letters, to be stored for the first time separately from current ones. If dispatches emerged in the 15th century as a fairly homogeneous documentary genre across Italy, in the following period their management varied from state to state. In general, princely governments delegated the handling of correspondence to increasingly specialised officers and their aides, who reported largely in voice to the ruler and his council. They stored diplomatic correspondence as the property of the ruling dynasty, together with and sometimes indistinguishable from letters of family members, some of whom after all themselves acted as formally accredited or de facto representatives abroad. Information management posed greater challenges in republics, where decision-making was in the hands of larger groups of people, who had less direct contacts with secretaries and could lay no personal claim on the letters. While Cosimo de (p.80) Medici went through the correspondence with his secretaries, the doges of Venice and Genoa were not even allowed to open letters outside numerous councils.126 This made for the proliferation of paperwork, as secretaries prepared transcripts and summaries for reading out in one or more councils. Moreover, because decision-makers rotated on a regular basis, the secretaries of republics had to develop tools for ensuring continuity in information supply and, crucially, information retrieval. On the other hand, the archives of many ruling dynasties followed the fates of those dynasties—including dispersal, as in the case of the Della Rovere in Urbino or the Farnese of Parma. Instead, those of republics were more stable, tied to place rather than people.

Nevertheless, for all its variations, information management grew across boundaries and often with striking chronological coincidences in the long 16th century, whatever the form of government and whether governments moved, changed, or remained stable. The underlying reasons for this were not technical, since information processing techniques were not all new: as we have seen, what changed was the scale to which they were employed. Rather, change originated in politics and in the predicament of Italian states in the age of foreign influence and domination. This is traditionally described as a time of decline and increasing subjection. But focusing on the production and preservation of archives has shown that military weakness and political fragmentation, far from coinciding with indolence, resulted in great organisational experimentation in the conduct of foreign relations and in the management of the resulting correspondence. Ambassadors helped weak states resort to other and superior authorities, both in Italy and abroad, to bolster their power against external and internal challenges. Their constant activities prepared the way for the concession of new territories or grander titles, as with the Medici, the Farnese, or the Gonzaga. These arrangements were not limited to princely dynasties. In 1576 Genoa’s new constitution was guaranteed by international agreements with the pope, the King of Spain, and the Emperor. Lucca’s sovereignty was founded on an imperial privilege, which ambassadors had to renew at the accession of every new emperor.127 All these negotiations both produced and required information, in and from scores of letters.

In these circumstances, and in the face of shrinking resources, the attempt to implement labour-intensive and time-consuming information management can only be explained with the heightened perception of the use of letters at a time when they were becoming increasingly abundant. In the short and medium term, diplomatic intelligence helped governments follow the movement of armies, plan dynastic alliances, or prepare for the unexpected, from changes of rulers to the (p.81) outbreak of epidemics. If, as historians of diplomacy have recently underlined,128 international relations influenced everyday decision-making at home, this could only be true so long as decision-makers mastered the information contained in ambassadorial dispatches. As we have seen this meant keeping them close at hand and preparing compilations of summaries for quick consultation. Beyond the councils receiving letters, day-to-day information could also be circulated and shared with friends. In the 15th century, summaries of dispatches were prepared for reading out and sending to ambassadors.129 In the late 16th century, at the same time as they implemented major reforms in the chancery and its archives, the Gonzaga also established a service for the regular distribution of news to ambassadors abroad; the responsible officer was also in charge of the archives.130 According to an early 17th-century account, segreterie later began sharing news not just with ambassadors but with wider groups of people so as to prevent the curious from making unwelcome allegations.131 This point raises the fascinating possibility that the archival arrangements we have seen helped establish public information services on the basis of manipulated versions of government intelligence.

Even more important for the organisation of early modern archives were the long-term uses of information. If gathering information helped prevent wars, in turn, its proper preservation and retrieval over time made it possible to wage different and more protracted kinds of conflicts. Precise accounts of past negotiations were stored because they would help negotiate better in the future, from border disputes to competition for ceremonial precedence. Ministers, secretaries, ambassadors, or their aides had three ways of putting archives to long-term use. One consisted in culling information on particular questions and filing it in special documentary collections, in originals or copies. In Florence, for example, secretaries collected together dispatches from representatives in different courts concerning the Council of Trent, clearly because they prioritised that theme over the notion of archival consistency.132 In Lucca, the Ufficio sopra confini collated relevant passages from miscellaneous correspondence stretching back several years, and arranged them by area for ready use, while the Segretari prepared fourteen volumes of lists of useful information culled from a range of records, (p.82) including letters, divided by subject and arranged chronologically.133 In Ferrara secretaries made copies of dispatches relevant to a whole range of controversies, which they then filed according to subject matter, ranging from the precedence conflict with the Medici to the disputed possession of the Po river estuary.134 In Mantua registers of letters to do with special events were also assembled, not by date, but by subject.135

In a second mode, large quantities of archival information were condensed into new and shorter texts. On their return many ambassadors prepared reports, called relazioni in Venice but also known, if not as common, elsewhere. In these texts, ambassadors summarised the most important information on the country they visited and outlined the main points which they had negotiated; many included precise references to their dispatches.136 For their part, secretaries at home used previous dispatches to compile instructions and prepare departing ambassadors on what to expect at the court they would join.137 The archives of many Italian capitals include small sections of even more general texts, which should be studied further as evidence of the self-conscious attempt to distill political knowledge. For example, the Anziani of Lucca prepared Ricordi or memoranda summarising information from a range of activities, including diplomatic relations, for the sake of their successors, and the Offizio dei confini collected a small library of manuscripts and books relating to international law, history, and jurisdictional controversies, clearly meant as reference works.138 In Mantua, every major series in the correspondence with ambassadors abroad includes a section of pareri, or opinions, on matters analysed at length in the dispatches. The sub-series was constituted in the 18th century, but it would be interesting to know more about the intended use of pareri at the time they were prepared.

Finally, long before our time, archives became places for reading and study. In Venice, the secretaries in charge of the Indici generali (above, p. 71) also had the task of custodians, ensuring that the Secret Chancery stay open on fixed hours every day, that only those with permission access the files, and that the files be shelved back after reading; they were to keep a list of readers and the material (p.83) they read.139 Since 1524 the Venetian Senate insisted on the written deposit of orally delivered relazioni precisely in order to allow future patricians to read them, and it must have been for this reason that they were stored in a special cabinet. Ambassadors-elect were allowed to consult secret chancery records, prior to departure, ‘to instruct themselves about the affairs of the world’.140 In 1605 the ambassador departing for France took advantage of this measure and also asked a secretary to make copies to take on his mission. Judging from the inventory of these copies, he identified around eighty passages from twenty-five of his predecessor’s dispatches stretching back two years, thus clearly showing that the archive could be read widely but information extracted selectively.141 In 1619, the Chancery had a special reading room.142 Similar practices occurred elsewhere. In Ferrara courtiers could not access the Grotta but asked the archivist to search for specific documents, which they could then take on loan.143 In Lucca readers needed special permission to consult all dispatches and only the most sensitive end-of-mission reports—others were made freely available.144

Culling, condensing, consulting: once stored in archives, the growing mass of dispatches of early modern ambassadors lent itself to a multiplicity of uses that enabled archivists and readers to turn news into information and information into useful knowledge, to be adapted to changing circumstances. If the early modern age witnessed a revolution in information vehicled by letters, as many historians have argued, this was true only in so far as letters could be processed, and information overload mastered through a variety of information managing techniques.145 When it comes to the 16th and 17th centuries, the notion of information revolution is often tied to the northern European imperial powers and to emerging publishing centres such as London and Amsterdam. But the evidence of archival intelligence we have considered suggests that chancellors, secretaries, and clerks of small and medium states in early modern Italy—a period normally dismissed as one of political decline in the peninsula—were at the forefront in these developments.

(p.84) On the other hand, this should also remind us that we are not dealing with the triumphal rise of ever more modern, efficient, or centralised states. The growth of information gathering and the consequent specialisation in the reception and processing of letters were a consequence of political insecurity, as suspicious princely rulers like the Medici employed not just ambassadors but also competing agents in foreign capitals, to some extent in order to have one check on the other.146 For their part, the special government branches that watched over the security of republican oligarchies, such as the Segretari in Lucca or the Inquisitori di stato in Venice, also entertained their own correspondence with ambassadors, conducted in secret and so stored separately. The extant dispatches of the Venetian Inquisitori amount to over 500 volumes, which were never mixed with the dispatches of other councils such as the Senate. Secondly, archives multiplied because different figures contended for the ownership of ambassadorial correspondence. Government institutions throughout Italy repeatedly commanded recently returned ambassadors, often to no avail, to deliver the letters they had received and the registers of drafts or copialettere they had prepared while on their missions. Yet, just as ruling princes, ambassadors also displayed a proprietorial attitude towards their papers, which they wished to preserve in their own family archives, whether for their informational or symbolic value.147 Thirdly, developments in information management could also slow down or stop altogether. In both Mantua and Ferrara the practice of registering outgoing letters decreased and then disappeared in the 1590s, and two decades later the outbreak of the greatest conflict of the early modern world brought about first an increase in diplomatic correspondence, but later its reduction.148 In Ferrara even summarising individual incoming letters became infrequent, and in 1630 the ducal secretary painfully described the archive as un caos di confusione.149

Finally—though this is a subject that will have to be developed elsewhere—one has the impression that summaries, indexes, and other paper technologies played a psychological as much as a practical function, as a source of reassurance. They helped assuage the fear of decline as much as support the desire to expand. In some cases, the deployment of information processing techniques was meant less to signal the glories of a dynasty than to mask its decline, as with (p.85) the inventories made in Parma after the death of the greatest Farnese leaders in 1586–92 (above, p. 74). In similar fashion, beautifully illuminated at the time of Venice’s reversals against the Ottoman Empire over the island of Crete, Antonio de Negri’s rubriche generali (above, p. 71) celebrated Venice’s foreign policy just when the republic most needed its allies. As much as a working document, they constitute a nostalgic monument to past glories. This may seem the opposite of archival ‘intelligence’, but as we know intelligence and consciousness, control and denial, rationality and wishful thinking, are inextricably linked. The next step, then, will be to study the ‘archival mind’.


This chapter could not have been completed without the research carried out in the project ‘A comparative history of archives in late medieval and early modern Italy’ funded by the European Research Council under the European Union’s Seventh Framework Programme (FP/2007–2013)/ERC Grant Agreement n. 284338. For numerous references and helpful comments, I would like to thank the project team’s members, Fabio Antonini, Andrea Guidi, Giacomo Giudici, and Alessandro Silvestri. (p.86)


(1) All translations are my own unless otherwise specified.

(2) Letter of 27 September 1579, in Archivio di Stato, Modena (hereafter ASMo), Cancelleria, Sezione generale, Archivio segreto estense, b. 23, unnumbered fol.

(3) Letter of 18 October 1579, in ASMo, Cancelleria, Sezione generale, Archivio segreto estense, b. 23, unnumbered fol., and ‘Inventarium archivi secreti’, dating to early 1580, ibid., vol. 5.

(4) For a recent discussion of the archival turn in historical studies, see Filippo de Vivo, Andrea Guidi, and Alessandro Silvestri, ‘Archival Transformations in Early Modern European History’, introduction to the special issue on ‘Archival Transformations in Early Modern Europe’, European History Quarterly, 46 (2016), 421–34.

(5) The trend is partially corrected in recent editions, e. g. A. Contini, C. Galasso, F. Martelli, and P. Volpini (eds), Istruzioni agli ambasciatori e inviati medicei in Spagna e nell’‘Italia spagnola’ (1536–1648), 2 vols (Rome, Ministero per i beni e le attività culturali, 2007); for a recent discussion (confined to the 15th century), see the special issue ‘Diplomazia edita. Le edizioni delle corrispondenze diplomatiche quattrocentesche’, Bullettino dell’Istituto storico italiano per il Medio evo, 110 (2008), 1–143.

(6) Common in English, this meaning of the word ‘intelligence’ was not unknown in 16th-century Italian, see G. Battaglia and G. Bàrberi Squarotti (eds), Grande dizionario della lingua italiana (Turin, UTET, 1961–2002), v. 8, p. 188.

(7) E. Yakel and D. A. Torres, ‘AI, Archival Intelligence and User Expertise’, American Archivist, 66 (2003), 51–78.

(8) Cf. E. Fasano Guarini and M. Rosa (eds), Informazione politica in Italia (Pisa, Scuola Normale Superiore, 2001).

(9) F. Senatore, ‘Uno mundo de carta’. Forme e strutture della diplomazia sforzesca (Naples, Liguori, 1998); I. Lazzarini, ‘Materiali per una didattica delle scritture pubbliche di cancelleria nell’Italia del Quattrocento’, Scrineum. Saggi e materiali online di scienze del documento e del libro medievale, 2 (2004), 1–85; P. M. Dover, ‘Decyphering the Diplomatic Archives of Fifteenth-Century Italy’, Archival Science, 7 (2007), 297–316; and idem (ed.), Secretaries and Statecraft in the Early Modern World (Edinburgh, Edinburgh University Press, 2016). Cf. the discussion in F. de Vivo, A. Guidi, and A. Silvestri, ‘Introduzione a un percorso di studio’, in F. de Vivo, A. Guidi and A. Silvestri (eds), Archivi e archivisti in Italia tra medioevo ed età moderna (Rome, Viella, 2015), pp. 9–39.

(10) On the history of early modern Italian diplomacy, see D. Frigo (ed.), Politics and Diplomacy in Early Modern Italy: The Structure of Diplomatic Practice, 1450–1800 (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1999); R. Sabbatini and P. Volpini (eds), Sulla diplomazia in età moderna. Politica, economia, religione (Milan, Angeli, 2011); and I. Lazzarini, Communication and Conflict: Italian Diplomacy in the Early Renaissance (Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2015).

(11) On information inside the state, see E. Higgs, The Information State in England: the Central Collection of Information on Citizens, 1500–2000 (Basingstoke, Palgrave Macmillan, 2004); J. S. Soll, The Information Master: Jean-Baptiste Colbert’s Secret State Intelligence System (Ann Arbor, University of Michigan Press, 2009); J. C. Rule and B. S. Trotter, A World of Paper (Montreal and Kingston, McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2014). On information and empire, see C. A. Bayly, Empire and Information: Intelligence Gathering and Social Communication in India, 1780–1870 (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1996); A. Brendecke, Imperium und Empirie. Funktionen des Wissens in der spanischen Kolonialherrschaft (Cologne, Bohlau Verlag, 2009); László Kontler, Antonella Romano, Silvia Sebastiani, and Borbála Zsuzsanna Török (eds), Negotiating Knowledge in Early Modern Empires (New York, Palgrave Macmillan, 2014).

(12) Senatore, ‘Uno mundo’, p. 253; Istruzioni agli ambasciatori e inviati medicei, vol. 2, p. 26; P. Volpini, ‘Risorse e limiti della diplomazia di Ferdinando I de’ Medici alla corte di Spagna’, Dimensioni e problemi della ricerca storica, 1 (2014), 62.

(13) D. Shemek, ‘“Ci Ci” and “Pa Pa”: Script, Mimicry, and Mediation in Isabella d’Este’s Letters’, Rinascimento, 43 (2005), 75–91; F. Bethencourt and F. Egmond (eds), Correspondence and Cultural Exchange in Europe 1400–1700 (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2007); J. Boutier, S. Landi, and O. Rouchon (eds), La politique par correspondance. Les usages politiques de la lettre en Italie (XIVe–XVIIIe siècle) (Rennes, Presses Universitaires de Rennes, 2008); A. Petrucci, Scrivere lettere. Una storia plurimillenaria (Rome and Bari, Laterza, 2008); G. Sternberg, ‘Epistolary Ceremonial: Corresponding Status at the Time of Louis XIV’, Past & Present, 204 (2009), 33–88.

(14) Cf. the discussion in P. Miller, Peiresc’s Mediterranean World (Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press, 2015), esp. chapter 5.

(15) M. Infelise, Prima dei giornali. Alle origini della pubblica informazione (secoli XVI e XVII) (Bari, Laterza, 2002); J. Raymond and N. Moxham (eds), News Networks in Early Modern Europe (Leiden and Boston, Brill, 2016).

(16) J. Petitjean, L’intelligence des choses: Une histoire de l’information entre Italie et Méditerranée (XVIe–XVIIe siècles) (Rome, Ecole française de Rome, 2013). For earlier occurrences, see M. Infelise, ‘La circolazione dell’informazione commerciale’, in F. Franceschi, A. Goldthwhite, and R. M. Mueller (eds), Commercio e cultura mercantile, vol. 4: Il Rinascimento italiano e l’Europa (Treviso, Cassamarca, 2007), pp. 499–522.

(17) A. Moss, Printed Commonplace-Books and the Structuring of Renaissance Thought (Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1996); D. Cowling (ed.), Commonplace Culture in Western Europe in the Early Modern Period, 3 vols (Leuven, Peeters, 2011).

(18) A. Blair, Too Much to Know: Managing Scholarly Information before the Modern Age (New Haven, CT, Yale University Press, 2010).

(19) P. Becker and W. Clark (eds), Little Tools of Knowledge: Historical Essay on Academic and Bureaucratic Practices (Ann Arbor, University of Michigan Press, 2001). Cf. now the ongoing project Écritures grises: Les instruments de travail administratifs en Europe méridionale (XIIe–XVIIe siècles), http://ecrituresgrises.hypotheses.org.

(20) On early inventories of princely archives, see P. Rück, L’ordinamento degli archivi ducali di Savoia sotto Amedeo VIII, 1398–1451 (Rome, Ministero per i beni culturali, 1977); A. Behne, Antichi Inventari dell’Archivio Gonzaga (Rome, Ministero per i beni culturali, 1993). A comparative approach is in I. Lazzarini, ‘Materiali per una didattica’.

(21) A summary list of pre-unification Italy’s diplomatic archives, made on the basis of the then recently completed Guida generale degli Archivi di Stato italiani (Rome, Istituto poligrafico dello Stato, 1981–94), can be found in P. Carucci, ‘La documentazione degli Archivi di Stato per la storia delle relazioni internazionali’, in Le fonti diplomatiche in età moderna e contemporanea (Rome, Ministero per i beni culturali e ambientali, 1995), pp. 40–56.

(22) P. Cammarosano, Italia medievale. Struttura e geografia delle fonti scritte (Rome, La Nuova Italia, 1991); Lazzarini, ‘Materiali’; N. Covini, B. Figliuolo, I. Lazzarini, and F. Senatore, ‘Pratiche e norme di comportamento nella diplomazia italiana: i carteggi di Napoli, Firenze, Milano, Mantova e Ferrara tra fine XIV e fine XV secolo’, in S. Andretta, S. Péquignot, and J.-Cl. Waquet (eds), De l’ambassadeur: Les écrits relatifs à l’ambassadeur et à l’art de négocier du Moyen Âge au début du xixe siècle (Rome, Ecole française de Rome, 2015), pp. 113–61.

(23) Other cases will be discussed in passing, but in the space at my disposal I will refrain from addressing papal diplomacy, which burgeoned at precisely this time, cf. P. Blet, Histoire de la représentation diplomatique du Saint Siège des origines à l’aube du XIXe siècle (Vatican City, Vatican Archive, 1982). A valuable study of papal diplomatic archives is in Pier Paolo Piergentili, ‘Christi nomine invocato’. La cancelleria della Nunziatura di Savoia e il suo archivio (secc. XVI–XVIII) (Vatican City, Vatican Archive, 2014).

(24) A survey in P. Volpini, Ambasciatori, cerimoniali e informazione politica: il sistema diplomatico e le sue fonti, in M. P. Paoli (ed.), Nel laboratorio della storia. Una guida alle fonti dell’età moderna (Rome, Carocci, 2013), pp. 237–64.

(25) Eight volumes of extracts from dispatches concerning the collections of the Gonzaga of Mantua have been published under the general editorship of R. Morselli (ed.), Le collezioni Gonzaga (Milan, Silvana, 2000–3).

(26) In another article, written in parallel with this, I have discussed the recording of orally conducted negotiations; see F. de Vivo, ‘Archives of Speech: Recording Diplomatic Negotiation in Late Medieval and Early Modern Italy’, European History Quarterly, 46 (2016), 519–44.

(27) Senatore, ‘Uno mundo’, p. 194; for a recent synthesis of the documentary transformations, see F. Senatore, ‘Ai confini del “mundo de carta”. Origine e diffusione della lettera cancelleresca italiana (XIII–XVI secolo)’, Reti Medievali Rivista, 10 (2009), 239–91.

(28) I. Lazzarini (ed.), Carteggio degli oratori mantovani alla corte sforzesca, vol. 3 (1461) (Rome, Ministero per i beni e le attività culturali, 2000), and cf. I. Lazzarini (ed.), Fra un principe e altri stati: relazioni di potere e forme di servizio a Mantova nell’età di Ludovico Gonzaga (Rome, Istituto storico italiano per il Medio Evo, 1996), pp. 77–9.

(29) P. Villari (ed.), Dispacci di Antonio Giustinian, ambasciatore veneto in Roma dal 1502 al 1505 (Florence, Le Monnier, 1876); N. Machiavelli, Legazioni. Commissarie. Scritti di governo, ed. J.-J. Marchand, A. Guidi, and M. Melera-Morettini (Rome, Salerno, 2008), pp. 431–527.

(30) ‘The Ilardi Microfilm Collection of Renaissance Italian Documents’, at http://www.library.yale.edu/Ilardi/il-toc.htm (accessed 1 September 2014), and cf. V. Ilardi, ‘Fifteenth-Century Diplomatic Documents in Western European Archives and Libraries (1450–1494)’, Studies in the Renaissance, 9 (1962), 64–112.

(31) The number is based on an average 300 leaves per bundle of dispatches from Istanbul (76 bundles), Rome (70), the imperial court (47), France (45), Milan (44), Spain (44), Savoy (36), Naples (29), Florence (25), Grisons and Switzerland (10), see R. Morozzo Della Rocca (ed.), Archivio di Stato di Venezia. Dispacci degli ambasciatori al senato. Indice (Rome, 1959).

(32) The extant dispatches directed to the Chiefs of the Ten amount to 30 bundles; those to the Health board, to 375; Guida generale, vol. 4, p. 900; S. Carbone, Provveditori e Sopraprovveditori alla Sanità della Repubblica di Venezia. Carteggio con i rappresentanti diplomatici e consolari veneti all’estero e con uffici di sanità esteri. Inventario (Rome, 1962).

(33) A. Luzio, L’Archivio Gonzaga di Mantova (Verona, Mondadori, 1922), pp. 240–327. On the growth of Mantuan diplomacy, see R. Quazza, La diplomazia gonzaghesca (Milan, 1941).

(34) An analysis of the surviving archives of the Signoria, the Dieci di balia, and the Otto di pratica indicates around 300 files of incoming correspondence for the period up to 1530, but most mix letters of ambassadors with those of governors inside the Republic.

(35) The two inventories are in Archivio di Stato, Venice (herafter ASVe), Secreta, Indici, b. 4 and b. 6.

(36) Luzio, L’Archivio Gonzaga, p. 73. The copialettere to ambassadors are in Archivio di Stato, Mantua (hereafter ASMn), Archivio Gonzaga, bb. 2979–2990, cf. Luzio, L’Archivio Gonzaga, pp. 384–6.

(38) M. Cavalli, Informatione dell’offitio dell’Ambasciatore di Marin Cavalli il Vecchio, ed. T. Bertelé (Florence, Olschki, 1935), p. 88.

(39) ASMo, Archivio segreto estense, Cancelleria, Sezione estero, Ambasciatori Roma. On Este diplomacy in the 15th and 16th centuries, see respectively Marco Folin, ‘Gli oratori estensi nel sistema politico italiano (1440–1505)’, in G. Fragnito and M. Miegge (eds), Girolamo Savonarola da Ferrara e l’Europa (Florence, Sismel, 2001), pp. 51–84, and D. Frigo, ‘Small States and Diplomacy: Mantua and Modena’, in Frigo (ed.), Politics and Diplomacy in Early Modern Italy, pp. 147–75.

(40) D. Frigo and A. Mortari, ‘Nobiltà, diplomazia e cerimoniale alla corte di Mantova’, in C. Mozzarelli, R. Oresko, and A. Ventura (eds), La corte di Mantova nell’età di Andrea Mantegna (Rome, Bulzoni, 1997), p. 127.

(43) On the diplomacy of the Kingdom of Naples, see P. M. Dover, ‘Royal Diplomacy in Renaissance Italy: Ferrante d’Aragona (1458–1494) and His Ambassadors’, Mediterranean Studies, 14 (2005), 57–94.

(44) See the letters of 1526–7 by Agostino Scarpinelli in A. B. Hinds (ed.), Calendar of State Papers and Manuscripts in the Archives and Collections of Milan 1385–1618 (London, HM Stationery Office, 1912), pp. 442–517.

(45) G. L. Barni, ‘I rapporti internazionali dello Stato di Milano durante il periodo delle preponderanze straniere’, Archivio Storico Lombardo, 70 (1943), 19–71.

(46) A. Alvarez Ossorio, ‘Ceremonial de palacio y constitución de monarquía: las embajadas de las provincias en la corte de Carlos II’, Annali di storia moderna e contemporanea, 6 (2000), 227–358, and on Naples in particular, I. Mauro, ‘“Mirando le difficoltà di ristorare le rovine del nostro honore”. La nobiltà napoletana e le ambasciate della città di Napoli’, in P. Volpini (ed.), Ambasciate ‘minori’ nella Spagna di età moderna. Uno sguardo europeo, special issue of Dimensioni e problemi della ricerca storica (Rome, Carocci, 2014), pp. 25–50.

(47) G. Calvi, ‘I Toscani e la Milano barocca’, in A. De Maddalena (ed.), ‘Millain the Great’: Milano nelle brume del Seicento (Milan, Cariplo, 1989), p. 170, and cf. G. Signorotto, Milano spagnola. Guerra, istituzioni, uomini di governo (1635–1660) (Florence, Sansoni, 2001).

(48) F. de Vivo, ‘Coeur de l’Etat, lieu de tension. Le tournant archivistique vu de Venise (XVe–XVIIe siècle)’, Annales HSS, 68 (2013), 699–728.

(49) For an explanation of the resulting separations in the records’ series, see below, pp. 70–1 in ‘Processing Information’.

(50) S. Bongi, Inventario del R. Archivio di Stato in Lucca (Lucca, Giusti, 1872–88), vol. 1, p. 178.

(51) Bongi, Inventario del R. Archivio di Stato in Lucca, pp. 265–81, and R. Sabbatini, Le mura e l’Europa: Aspetti della politica estera della Repubblica di Lucca (1500–1799) (Milan, Angeli, 2012), pp. 53–61.

(52) F. P. Luiso, ‘Riforma della Cancelleria Fiorentina nel 1437’, Archivio Storico Italiano, series V, 21 (1898), 132–41.

(53) D. Marzi, La cancelleria della Repubblica fiorentina (Rocca San Casciano, Cappelli, 1910), pp. 604–7. I have found no trace of copiari of incoming letters (the two extant date from before 1483), and the copiari of outgoing correspondence remained undivided; Alison Brown suggests that the bulk of the copying work was in fact delegated to secretaries of ambassadors abroad: A. Brown, Bartolomeo Scala, 1430–1497, Chancellor of Florence: The Humanist as a Bureaucrat (Princeton, NJ, Princeton University Press, 1979), pp. 185–90.

(54) M. Del Piazzo, Il protocollo del carteggio della signoria di Firenze, 1459–1468 (Rome, Quaderni della Rassegna degli Archivi di stato, 1969). For a recent assessment of the power of the Medici inside the republican form of Florentine government, see Robert Black and John E. Law (eds), The Medici: Citizens and Masters (Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press, 2015).

(55) The original ‘riordiniate’ (R. von Albertini, Firenze dalla Repubblica al Principato (Turin, Einaudi, 1970), p. 359), is translated as ‘reorganize’ in P. Vettori, ‘Memorandum to Cardinal de’ Medici about the Affairs of Florence’, in J. Kraye (ed.), Cambridge Translations of Renaissance Philosophical Texts (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1997), vol. 2, p. 241.

(56) V. Arrighi, ‘Dopo Machiavelli: la cancelleria fiorentina al ritorno dei Medici (1512–1527)’, in de Vivo, Guidi, and Silvestri (eds), Archivi e archivisti, pp. 199–216; on Marzi, see Andrea Guidi, ‘The Chancellor Angelo Marzi da San Gimignano: Record-Keeping and Autocracy in Medicean Florence’ (forthcoming).

(57) See the 1561 report by the Venetian representative in F. de Vivo, A. Guidi, and A. Silvestri (eds), Fonti per la storia degli archivi degli antichi Stati italiani (Rome, Ministero dei beni e delle attività culturali e del turismo, Direzione generale per gli archivi, 2016), pp. 57–8; the same point struck a Venetian ambassador about the Duke of Savoy, see E. Albèri (ed.), Relazioni degli ambasciatori veneti al Senato, second series, vol. 1 (Florence, 1839), pp. 432–3.

(58) The text of the reform is published in L. Cantini (ed.), Legislazione toscana (Florence, 1800–8), vol. 12, pp. 10–12.

(59) G. Pansini, ‘Le segretarie nel principato mediceo’, in A. Bellinazzi and C. Lamioni (eds), Carteggio universale di Cosimo I de Medici (Florence, La Nuova Italia, 1982), vol. 1, pp. xxxiv–xxxvii.

(60) A. Panella, ‘Introduzione’, in M. Del Piazzo (ed.), Archivio mediceo del principato. Inventario sommario (Rome, Ministero dell ’Interno, 1966), pp. v–xxxiii, and A. Bellinazzi and C. Lamioni, ‘Carteggi politici dell’età moderna: appunti critici e di metodo. L’Archivio mediceo del principato’, in C. Vivoli (ed.), Dagli archivi all’archivio. Appunti di storia degli archivi fiorentini (Florence, Archivio di Stato, 1991), pp. 53–68, at p. 58.

(62) G. Giudici, ‘The Chancery of Francesco II Sforza (1522–1535)’, PhD thesis (Birkbeck, University of London, 2016), and ‘The Writing of Renaissance Politics: Sharing, Appropriating and Asserting Authorship in the Letters of Francesco II Sforza Duke of Milan’, Renaissance Studies, 31 (2017) doi: 10.1111/rest12296.

(63) G. Drei, L’Archivio di Stato di Parma. Indice generale, storico, descrittivo ed analitico (Rome, Biblioteca d’arte, 1941), pp. 39–41. For a broader overview of the court’s structure, see M. A. Romani, ‘Finanza pubblica e potere politico: il caso dei Farnese (1545–1593)’, in M. A. Romani (ed.), Le corti farnesiane di Parma e Piacenza (1545–1622) (Rome, Bulzoni, 1978), vol. 1, pp. 3–41.

(64) For a comparative analysis of courts of Ferrara and Mantua, see M. Cattini and M. A. Romani, ‘Le corti parallele: per una tipologia delle corti padane dal XIII al XVI secolo’, in G. Papagno and A. Quondam (eds), La corte e lo spazio: Ferrara estense (Rome, Bulzoni, 1982), vol. 1, pp. 47–82.

(65) F. Valenti, ‘Note storiche sulla cancelleria degli Estensi a Ferrara dalle origini alla metà del sec. XVI’, Bullettino dell’Archivio Paleografico Italiano, 2–3 (1956–7), 357–65, and M. Folin, Rinascimento estense. Politica, cultura, istituzioni di un antico Stato italiano (Rome and Bari, Laterza, 2001), pp. 150–6.

(66) F. Valenti, ‘I consigli di governo presso gli Estensi dalle origini alla devoluzione di Ferrara’, in Scritti e lezioni di archivistica, diplomatica e storia istituzionale (Rome, Ministero per i beni e le attività culturali, 2000), pp. 412–15; D. Grana, ‘Gli organi centrali del governo estense nel periodo modenese’, Rassegna degli Archivi di Stato, 55 (1995), 304–33.

(67) On the chancery and its numbers, see G. Guerzoni, Le corti estensi e la devoluzione di Ferrara del 1598 (Modena, Archivio storico, 2000), pp. 89–92 and 253–316.

(68) L. Turchi, ‘Un archivio scomparso e il suo creatore? La Grotta di Alfonso II d’Este e Giovan Battista Pigna’, in De Vivo, Guidi, and Silvestri (eds), Archivi e archivisti, pp. 217–37, at 232.

(69) I. Lazzarini, ‘Introduzione’, in Carteggio (Rome, Ministero per i beni e le attività culturali, 1999), vol. 1, pp. 16–27.

(70) D. Ferrari, ‘La cancelleria gonzaghesca tra Cinque e Seicento. Carriere e strategie parentali al servizio dei duchi’, in R. Morselli (ed.), La celeste galeria. L’esercizio del collezionismo. Catalogo della mostra (Milan, Skira, 2002), pp. 297–318.

(72) D. Ferrari, ‘Interventi di riordinamento tra Cinque e Settecento. Il caso mantovano’, in G. Tori (ed.), Salvatore Bongi nella cultura dell’Ottocento. Archivistica, storiografia, bibliologia (Rome, Ministero per i Beni Culturali e Ambientali, 2003), pp. 809–33.

(73) In the original document, the expression ‘cancelleria di stato’ was corrected into ‘di sopra’, see the facsimile in Ferrari, ‘La cancelleria’, p. 299.

(74) See section above, ‘Receiving Information’, pp. 65–6, and the discussion in R. Black, Benedetto Accolti and the Florentine Renaissance (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1985), pp. 152–5. In 1480 Lucca the Anziani introduced special copybooks for correspondence to ambassadors, Bongi, Inventario, vol. 1, p. 178.

(75) But see the discussion of sommari of commercial and other newsletters in Infelise, ‘La circolazione dell’informazione commerciale’, and Petitjean, L’intelligence des choses, esp. pp. 182–9.

(77) See the manuals cited in Senatore, ‘Uno mundo’, p. 241n.

(79) L. Turchi, ‘Storia della diplomazia e fonti estensi: note a margine’, in Quaderni Estensi. Rivista online degli Istituti culturali estensi, 6 (2014), 389n, http://www.quaderniestensi.beniculturali.it/QE6/QE6_andarpercarte_turchi.pdf (accessed 28 July 2016).

(80) De Vivo, Guidi, and Silvestri (eds), Fonti, p. 148.

(81) F. de Vivo, ‘Ordering the Archive in Early Modern Venice (1400–1650)’, Archival Science, 10 (2010), 231–48.

(82) Eventually, they reached 95 and 272 files respectively (and 60 and 122 parchment registers). The Roma series was later subdivided twice, in 1674 and 1784, giving rise to a further 190 volumes relating mostly to ecclesiastical benefices.

(84) Decree dated 21 April 1600, in ASVe, Compilazione delle leggi, b. 108, fols. 6–9, partially edited in A. von Reumont, Della diplomazia italiana dal secolo XIII al XVI (Florence, Barbera, 1857), pp. 317–19.

(85) Eleven volumes spanning the years from 1600 to 1619 are held in ASVe, Secreta, Indici generali della secreta; the last volumes are largely empty except for the subject headings which were drawn up as templates in advance.

(86) Report by Andrea Morosini published in Reumont, Della diplomazia, pp. 322–5.

(87) Decree dated 23 August 1651, in ASVe, Consiglio di Dieci, Deliberazioni segrete, r. 19, cc. 203v–205r; De Negri’s rubriche generali are in Senato, Corti, rubriche; the following quotation is taken from r. 8, fols. 24r–v.

(88) De Vivo, Guidi, and Silvestri (eds), Fonti, pp. 186–7.

(89) R. Morozzo Della Rocca (ed.), Dispacci, p. xiii, and cf. the decree dated 20 September 1570 in ASVe, Compilazione delle leggi, b. 107, fol. 501. For an example of extensive summaries at the back of dispatches, cf. Senato, Dispacci ambasciatori, Inghilterra, f. 23, fol. 275v.

(90) E.g. ASVe, Senato, Dispacci Svizzera, Rubricari, f. 8.

(91) E.g. ASVe, Senato, Dispacci Inghilterra, Rubricari, f. 3. An inventory of rubricari, including indications of size, can be found in Morozzo Della Rocca (ed.), Dispacci, pp. 349–404.

(94) De Vivo, Guidi, and Silvestri (eds), Fonti, pp. 197–8; a cabinet located in the Collegio and storing sommari and rubricari is also mentioned in 1598, De Vivo, Guidi, and Silvestri (eds), Fonti, p. 87.

(95) I am also grateful to Claudia Salmini and Alessandra Schiavon for taking me on a tour of the stacks of the Archivio di Stato of Venice, which at a glance clarified many of the points made in this section.

(96) E.g. Behne, Antichi Inventari and P. Cremonini, ‘Il più antico, compiuto, inventario dell’Archivio Segreto Estense. Pellegrino Prisciani, 4 gennaio 1488’, Quaderni Estensi. Rivista online degli Istituti culturali estensi, V (2013), 366: http://www.quaderniestensi.beniculturali.it/QE5/QE5_lavori_cremonini.pdf (accessed 14 June 2016).

(98) On this inventory, see A. Cauchie and L. Van Der Essen, Inventaire des Archives Farnésiennes de Naples au point de vue de l’histoire des anciens PaysBas catholiques (Brussels, Commission Royale d’Histoire, 1911), p. xliii

(99) A contemporary inventory, listing plentiful correspondence with various ambassadors, Cauchie and Van Der Essen, Inventaire des Archives Farnésiennes de Naples, pp. xxv–xxix.

(100) On the Farnese’s role in European affairs, see the summary in G. Hanlon, The Hero of Italy: Odoardo Farnese, Duke of Parma, His Soldiers, and His Subjects in the Thirty Years’ War (Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2014), pp. 10–20. Margaret’s correspondence constituted the bulk of her archives as inventoried in 1586, see A. Cauchie, ‘Inventaires des Archives de Marguerite de Parme, dressés après la mort de cette princesse, précédés d’une liste d’anciens inventaires d’archives et de joyaux conservés aux archives farnésiennes à Naples’, Bulletin de la Commission royale d’histoire, 76 (1907), 61–135.

(101) The rest of this paragraph is based on Ferrari, ‘Interventi di riordinamento’.

(102) As mentioned in a 1640 report cited in D’Addario, ‘L’archivio del Ducato di Urbino’, p. 599; more on this in E. Goldberg, ‘On the Early Years of the Medici Granducal Archive’, Bulletin of the Society for Renaissance Studies, 18 (2000), 8–17. Appraisal tables are also mentioned elsewhere in early modern Italy, cf. De Vivo, Guidi, and Silvestri (eds), Fonti, p. 530.

(103) The name could derive from the room’s previous destination or imitate the use in other courts, for example the crota domini of the dukes of Savoy. Valenti, ‘Profilo’, pp. 354–9, and Turchi, ‘Un archivio scomparso’.

(104) 1589 letter of Ercole Fiornovelli, ASMo, Archivio segreto estense, Cancelleria, Sezione generale, Archivio segreto estense, b. 7, unnumbered fol.

(105) ‘Inventarium archivi secreti’, cited above, n. 2.

(106) Letters of 7 April 1586, 21 November 1586 and 2 August 1590, ASMo, Archivio segreto estense, Cancelleria, Sezione generale, Archivio segreto estense, b. 7, unnumbered fols.; cf. Valenti, ‘Profilo’, p. 355.

(107) Valenti ‘Profilo’, p. 363. Gerolamo Torre was archivist ‘nella grotta archivio e cancelleria’ in 1606–7, Guerzoni, Le corti estensi, p. 311.

(110) The letters from the ambassador in France were the only exception: the oldest were allocated to a shelf inside a separate cabinet. Most states were assigned their own cabinet, and some more than one; Andrea De Negri’s inventory in ASVe, Secreta, Indici, reg. 6.

(111) G. Lorenzi, Monumenti per servire alla storia del Palazzo Ducale di Venezia (Venice, Visentini, 1868), pp. 366–7.

(115) G. M. Varanini, ‘Public Written Records’, in A. Gamberini and I. Lazzarini (eds), The Italian Renaissance State (Cambridge, 2012), pp. 385–405.

(116) Drei, L’Archivio di Stato di Parma, pp. 42–4, and A. Ronchini, ‘Relazione officiale intorno all’Archivio governativo di Parma’, Archivio storico ìtaliano, s. 3, 5 (1867), pp. 182–8 and 230–2.

(118) S. Baggio and P. Marchi (eds), Miscellanea medicea I (1–200) (Rome, Ministero per i beni e le attività culturali, 2002), pp. 4–5.

(119) De Vivo, Guidi, and Silvestri (eds), Fonti, p. xxxviii. The Medici also needed the information contained in the old republic’s administrative records, and in 1559–60 ordered the inventory of the old Camera, in charge notably of fiscal revenues, L. Cantini, Legislazione toscana (Florence, Stamperia Albizziniana, 1800–8), vol. 4, pp. 11–19.

(120) A. Panella, ‘Introduzione’, in M. Del Piazzo and G. Antonelli (eds), Archivio di Stato di Firenze. Archivio Mediceo del Principato. Inventario sommario (Rome, 1951), pp. iii–xxxiii.

(121) Cf. C. Mozzarelli (ed.), ‘Familia’ del principe e famiglia aristocratica, 2 vols (Rome, Bulzoni, 1988).

(122) Valenti, ‘Profilo’, p. 359, and above, p. 76.

(125) A. D’Addario, ‘L’archivio del Ducato di Urbino. Un problema di storia e di diritto archivistico’, in Miscellanea in memoria di Giorgio Cencetti (Turin, Bottega d’Erasmo, 1973), pp. 579–637.

(126) For Genoa, see Guida, vol. 2, p. 316 and A. Roccatagliata, ‘L’archivio del governo della Repubblica di Genova in età moderna’, in A. Assini and P. Caroli (eds), Spazi per la memoria storica. La storia di Genova attraverso le vicende delle sedi e dei documenti dell’Archivio di Stato (Rome, Ministero per i beni e le attività culturali, 2009), pp. 427–500.

(127) R. Sabbatini, ‘La diplomazia come strumento di autoconservazione: considerazioni sulla politica estera della Repubblica di Lucca’, in Sabbatini and Volpini (eds), Sulla diplomazia, p. 105.

(128) D. Carriò Invernizzi, ‘A New Diplomatic History and the Networks of Spanish Diplomacy in the Baroque Era’, International History Review, 36 (2014), 603–18.

(131) P. Persico, Del segretario libri quattro (Venice, Zenaro, 1620), pp. 189–90. By 1664 in Mantua, the duke sponsored the printed publication of a gazette that compiled information received by the government, though mostly from newswriters rather than ambassadors, M. Infelise, ‘L’origine della gazzetta e l’informazione a Mantova in Antico Regime’, in D. Ferrari and C. Guerra, Gazzetta di Mantova. 1664–2014 trecentocinquant’anni avanti (Mantua, Paolini, 2014), pp. 19–24.

(132) A. D’Addario, ‘Il carteggio degli ambasciatori e degli informatori medicei da Trento’, Archivio storico italiano, 122 (1964), 13.

(133) Above, p. 64 and M. Giuli, ‘Le contrôle par les listes en Italie’, Mélanges de la Casa de Velázquez, 44 (2014), 15–39.

(134) ASMo, Archivio segreto estense, Controversie di stato: a series of seventy-nine bundles spanning 1231–1795, see Guida (Modena), vol. 3, p. 1005.

(135) E.g. ASMn, Archivio Gonzaga, bb. 2977–8, relating to the war of 1521–3.

(136) In 1636 the patricians in charge of the Chancery suggested that, for ease of reference, ambassadors could prepare an index of their relazioni, and an archivist one of older relazioni; F. de Vivo, ‘How to Read Venetian relazioni’, Renaissance and Reformation/Renaissance et Réforme, 34 (2011), 37. On other cases see Turchi, ‘Storia della diplomazia’, 392–3, for Modena and for Florence, Volpini, ‘Risorse e limiti’, 64.

(137) See for example Ferrara, De Vivo, Guidi, and Silvestri (eds), Fonti, pp. 148–9, and for Venice, D. Caccamo, ‘I documenti diplomatici veneziani’, in Le fonti diplomatiche, p. 267, and D. Caccamo (ed.), Il carteggio di Giovanni Tiepolo ambasciatore veneto in Polonia (1645–1647) (Milan, Giuffrè, 1984), pp. 57–61.

(141) Letter of 27 September 1605 and undated inventory, in ASVe, Capi del Consiglio di Dieci, Dispacci ambasciatori, b. 11, fols. 198–204.

(143) Letter of 7 April 1586 in ASMo, Archivio segreto estense, Cancelleria, Sezione generale, Archivio segreto estense, b. 7, unnumbered fol. For a testimony of a 15th-century research on diplomatic dispatches in Milan, see Senatore, ‘Uno mundo’, p. 303. Other examples in De Vivo, Guidi, and Silvestri (eds), Fonti, pp. 475, 502.

(145) W. Behringer, ‘Communications Revolution: A Historiographical Concept’, Germany History, 24 (2006), 333–74, and, for an excellent overview, see A. Blair and D. Fitzgerald, ‘A Revolution in Information?’, in H. Scott (ed.), The Oxford Handbook of Early Modern European History, 1350–1750 (Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2015), vol. 1, pp. 244–65. The subject of techniques for documentary management is now attracting important work; for an ongoing comparative project on the worktools of chanceries and secretary offices see http://ecrituresgrises.hypotheses.org (accessed 28 July 2016).

(146) A. Contini, ‘“Correre la fortuna” di Cesare. Instabilità, diplomazia ed informazione politica nel principato di Cosimo I’, in F. Cantù and M. A. Visceglia (eds), L’Italia di Carlo V. Guerra, religione e politica nel primo Cinquecento (Rome, Viella, 2003), pp. 391–410; Volpini, ‘Risorse e limiti’, 54–7.

(147) F. de Vivo, Information and Communication in Venice: Rethinking Early Modern Politics (Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2007), pp. 55–6, and D. Raines, ‘The Private Political Archives of the Venetian Patriciate—Storing, Retrieving and Recordkeeping in the Fifteenth–Eighteenth Centuries’, Journal of the Society of Archivists, 32 (2011), 131–42; cf. the discussion in De Vivo, Guidi, and Silvestri (eds), Fonti, pp. 389–93.