"Those Who Give Are Not All Generous": Tips and bribes at the sixteenth-century papal court
Title: "Those Who Give Are Not All Generous": Tips and bribes at the sixteenth-century papal court
Author: FLETCHER, Catherine
Series/Number: EUI MWP; 2011/15
Ambassadors in early modern Europe were frequent disbursers of tips, rewards and bribes, and usually expected something in return for their liberality. This paper considers the conventions, both written and unwritten, that governed such activities in Renaissance Rome, setting them in the context of the extensive literature on gift-giving. While official, ceremonial gifts were often recorded in writing, the less licit payments with which this article is concerned were often not. However, there is enough of a paper trail to reconstruct at least some of the gift-giving practices at the papal court, and the essay considers diplomatic letters, trial records and prescriptive treatises in order to do so. Its first section examines the extent to which gift-giving at the papal court was subject to regulation, where the boundary between legitimate and illegitimate gifts lay, and what constituted ‘corruption’ in this period, drawing in particular on evidence about the tipping of lower-ranking officials. Its second section looks at the language used by diplomats to justify their gift-giving, in particular the concept of liberality and the reciprocal pair ‘reward’ and ‘service’. Here the discussion focuses on two instances in the course of negotiations over Henry VIII’s ‘divorce’ from Catherine of Aragon when Henry’s diplomats offered gifts to cardinals but subsequently encountered problems, enabling a consideration of the ways that gifts might, as Natalie Zemon Davis has put it, ‘go wrong’.
Subject: diplomacy; Rome; gift; bribe; corruption
Type of Access: openAccess