Megan Williams (Columbia University)

"PEREGRINATIO RELIGIONIS ERGO"?: Violations of Diplomatic Immunity and Pilgrimage in a DividedEurope, 1526-41

This paper examines how, between 1526 and 1541, a series of Hungarian diplomats accredited to non-Habsburg-aligned courts used the pretext of pilgrimage to enhance their geographic mobility in a Europe divided by intense confessional and political conflict. The years between the rise of the Habsburg Empire in 1519 and the temporary resolution of continental dynastic rivalry in 1559 were a key period of competitive state-building and confessional contestation. Both pilgrimage, vehemently rejected by Protestant theologians, and a newly expanded diplomacy transcended the boundaries of the era's nascent territorial states. The fundamental ways in which these practices were reevaluated in the early sixteenth century attest to rapidly shifting conceptions of religious practice, sovereignty, international legal convention, and diplomacy.

The delineation of diplomatic immunities was a formative element in the early modern definition of state sovereignty and in the complementary development of an international legal framework regulating and ordering relations between these nascent sovereign states. Yet the secondary literature on sixteenth-century diplomacy, with its strong emphasis on the intellectual genealogy of diplomatic immunity, has largely neglected the practical challenges diplomats faced in a divided Europe. Following the breakdown of the papally-mediated, universal "Christian Commonwealth" which had regulated medieval Europe's diplomatic relations, yet prior to the early seventeenth-century emergence of a new "international" order governing the interactions of sovereign states, the broad protections guaranteed diplomats under late-medieval law suffered. The Achilles' heel of the sixteenth-century ambassador was his vulnerability while in transit. When captured, diplomats were not infrequently detained, tortured, and even killed. By contrast, pilgrims journeying to Rome, Compostela, or Loreto continued to enjoy unimpeded passage across much of the continent, even as Protestant censure of pilgrimage intensified.

This paper suggests that abuses and violations of diplomatic immunity were far more systematic and disruptive of relations between states in the sixteenth century than theorists and historians of the international legal order and of early modern state-formation have previously assumed. Although alleviated to some degree by 1559, the recurrent danger of a pan-European conflict sparked by diplomatic violations was not resolved until a body of international legal norms regulating diplomatic relations emerged in the first decades of the seventeenth century.