Davide Boerio, Carlotta Paltrinieri, Sara Mansutti, Wouter Kreuze, Lorenzo Allori, Brendan Dooley
Contents (main contributing researchers indicated by initials):
- Introduction (Team)
- Building the Sample (DB)
- Methodology and Results
- Power (BD)
- Commerce (BD)
- Regions (WK)
- Diffusion (SM)
- Language (CP)
- Data Visualization (LA and Team)
- Future Prospects (Team)
Shocking news from Hungary: according to a source in Graz writing on January 17 1600, “By the last letters . . . there is a report that Ibrahim Bassa, after having ordered the chief of the Tatars to be strangled, as was already known, headed from Belgrade to Constantinople, where exactly at that time there arrived another Tatar from the same family, claiming to be the successor of the deceased.” The new Tatar pretendant was moving quickly. At least according to the report, he too was headed to Constantinople, where the Turks ordered him and the rest of the Tatars to go back to the Crimea; but this confirmation of his leadership meant he would be returning to the wars in Hungary next year with even more forces.
We uncovered this data during our analyses of a large body of original material from the year 1600 preserved in the Florence State Archive, as part of a larger study of manuscript news covering the whole period of Medici rule. Regarding the information in this particular newsletter, the consequences for Europe were inestimable at the time, and even more so considering that they were not yet known: the Long Turkish War still had no name; the 1602 siege of Buda had not yet taken place, the second in four years; Sultan Mehmed III was still alive. Rudolf II was still the emperor and István Bocskai had not yet roiled the realm by leading a rebellion in Hungary and Transylvania.
But who was this new Tatar, and when the standard sources seem unhelpful for answering our questions about specific events that may or may not have occurred exactly in the way narrated in the news, what recourse do we have? Indeed, that is not even the chief problem in this study of the ways and means of communicating about current events in the year 1600 as seen from the standpoint of the Tuscan grand duchy. How much news was there? Where did the news come from and where did it go? How did it travel? And when it reached destination what were the possible effects?
Our questions in this instance, and in the further development of our work, call for digging deeply into the culture of early modern cities, including Florence and all the cities connected in some way in the same web of communication, across the length and breadth of Europe and in other areas touched by Europeans. Many of our answers will have to be highly speculative. What was the view shared by Florentines, for instance, in regard to the world outside, and how can we grasp this by looking at how they talked about what they thought they knew? What was their perception of the passage of time? What other sources would we need to go beyond the vaguest answers?
General approach and definition of terms
For answering some of these and still other questions from other periods the EURONEWS project has tapped into a vast resource: all the news documents present in the Mediceo del Principato collection within the Florence State Archives, amounting to some 200 volumes of material covering the period from the early sixteenth to the early eighteenth centuries.
In the project as a whole our prime focus is on the specific archival unit known as the handwritten newsletter or avviso, an early type of news, forerunner of the newspaper, consisting of quarto-sized anonymous sheets, one to six pages in length, bearing place of compilation and date as header, divided into separate paragraphs or rhetorical periods according to the different stories or narratives, and containing information about all manner of events, episodes, occurrences, in many realms of experience--we have counted ten such realms, about which we will say more later on.
Although the bulk of news material in these volumes is from later in the century, we find a wealth of documentation regarding the year 1600, the subject of this report. Limiting our analysis to this specific year, we have tested our methods and drawn some preliminary conclusions, which we offer here.
But before tackling the specific analytical categories embraced by the general organizational themes of regions, power, commerce, diffusion and rhetoric, that are the basis of our approach we now take a moment to define some terms.
News, we might be tempted to say, has a long enough history to render the concept self-explanatory. And yet, a look at historical usages of the various terms across time in the various relevant languages--Italian, French, English, Spanish, German, Dutch--brings us up against the inevitable social science dilemma between actors’ categories and historians’ categories--especially because we will often be letting our sources speak for themselves before launching into our detailed explanations. “Avvisi” and “news” are close friends but not twins. The Italian word for instance does not automatically bear the connotation of newness, which it may have in certain circumstances, in regard to the information or “informazione” of which it speaks. The English word on the other hand does not automatically involve the general idea of information at all, except as related to what the earliest dictionaries called “affairs,” or “things that have been done or that have happened.”
The gradual development of news as a commodity, a phenomenon taking place in the very documents we are talking about here, operates a crucial transformation, bringing together the various separate geographically- and linguistically-specific strands and weaving them into a fabric of meaning basically understood by all, and generally concerning whatever may be thought or said regarding recent events and experiences.
While the handwritten newsletter itself as a physical object seems relatively straightforward, considering that the relevant exemplars may be found in numerous repositories (although still often mistakenly catalogued) and are acknowledged in a growing body of scholarly work, there are aporia here too. Newsletters may be simple, emanating from a single place on a single given date, perhaps with stories internally referenced to other places and dates, or else they may be complex, bearing the customary heading but including a concatenation of seemingly separate accounts each with their own heading. In the latter case, we may be in the presence of a newsletter compiled from numerous other separate newsletters from different locations. As the newsletters often appear in multiple copies in different areas of the archive, the various hands may point to structural features of the production process that may be more or less traceable, depending on the available evidence. Comparison between exemplars in different languages may reveal instances of translation. Other possible entities may be drafts of newsletters found among the papers of particular newsletter writers, or even copy-books compiled for recording or presentation purposes.
For some of the problems regarding just what kind of news writing we are looking at in any given instance, the archives sometimes supply a ready solution when the newsletter comes accompanied by a letter or other document, or even an envelope (in most cases, simply a paper having been folded to serve as a cover) specifying an addressee, or else a chancery note on the page top or bottom specifying provenance. But typology, authorship and origin are only the beginning.
Dating introduces still more problems. Although our documents are almost always dated, which system is being used? From 1582 the Gregorian calendar reform brought about by the administration of Pope Gregory XIII due to astronomical observations connected with the timing of the Easter cycle, removed ten days from the previously valid Julian calendar, so that, for instance 4 October 1582 was followed by Friday 15 October, an aspect relevant in the growing number of places, beginning in the Catholic world, where the reform was accepted. Until 1750 the Florentine new year began on 25 March (Incarnation Style). However, diplomatic correspondence and handwritten newsletters in the Florentine context nonetheless often utilize the Circumcision style, with the year beginning on 1 January, as prescribed, by the way, in the Gregorian system. In cases where the old Florentine system prevails, the nineteenth-century repackaging of archival items may at times involve a reordering by the date actually written on the document, so that January and February of, say, 1601 (old style 1600) may in fact be placed at the beginning of the documents for the year 1600.
And having clarified these issues inasmuch as possible, we are once again confronted with the places of news. Although the Medici Archive Project reference set of geographical names (GeoBase) is at times, for the period in question, due to additions and clarifications made by two generations of researchers, more helpful still than the Getty Foundation Treasury of Geographical Names on which it originally drew, and OpenStreetMap.org adds precious information, nonetheless, idiosyncratic spellings introduce almost as many difficulties as do the convenient shorthands presumably understood only by readers at the time. Where is “The Imperial Court” at any given moment? More to the point, where is “the imperial encampment” on the battlefield? Context, accompanying documentation, and the relevant history must determine.
Regions and polities present other challenges. At times, especially in contexts involving warfare or transportation, expressions such as “Flanders” or “Germany” may seem appropriate. However, the distinction must be kept in mind between a purely geographical expression and an actual political entity--and when dealing with such entities, to keep in mind the relevant border transformations. Like the collaborators on the Oxford-based “Reassembling the Republic of Letters” project, we too are investigating new aids to geographical specificity, such as the World Historical Gazetteer [WHG] begun at the University of Pittsburgh, actually locating the places visually on a map, along with standard tools such as Open Street Map. Particularly sensitive to the issues regarding our period is the Early Modern Places initiative (EM Places), curated by the Cultures of Knowledge project at Oxford University, which attempts to give insight into an actor-centered viewpoint by making use of period maps rather than simply latitude and longitude or GPS.
Our data model allows us a two-tiered approach to dealing with the places mentioned in handwritten newsletters. “NewsHeader” is the title of the document, which has three nested subfields, as follows: the “Hub,” or place where the newsletter originates along with the date of emission; the “Place of Transit” accompanied by the Transit Date; and finally a transcription of the actual title as found in the document. “NewsFrom” is the single news item, again with three subfields: the place where the news is “From,” along with the date of the news; the “Place of Transit” along with the relevant date; and finally the transcription of the item. Here is an example:
<transc>D'Anversa li 15 Gennaio 1600</transc>
<from>Gent, Calais, Saluzzo</from>
<transc>Per lettere di Spagna delli 18 e 26 passato…
Obviously, some bits of information escape our model, as in the case of any work in progress, due to inherent ambiguities or gaps in our knowledge or some other cause, which we hope due diligence will remedy or overall accuracy will excuse.
Between the sometimes elusive reality darkly mirrored in our documents and the hard imperatives of the data collection process lies a zone of uncertainty that presents a constant challenge. Accepting the boundary conditions of this research we proceed to the next levels of our analysis.
2. BUILDING THE SAMPLE
The 1600 experiment stems from some empirical and methodological considerations that the daily practice of research has brought to the attention of the EURONEWS team. Any research project needs to deal with a plurality of factors, which often go beyond the individual and intellectual expectations of researchers. External and internal aspects must be taken into consideration when designing a research strategy: the accessibility of sources; the extent and nature of the documentation involved as well as its preservation; the history of the collection; accessibility to library and archive; the challenge of technology; limited financial and human resources as well as project timetable constraints; all these are not marginal factors, but have a considerable impact on project deliverables. The aims of any research project need to be framed against this background. This section will deal with the rationale underlying the 1600 experiment.
From its initial stages, the EURONEWS project was faced with issues deriving from the enormous mass of documentation accumulated over the course of two centuries, aggravated by previous, sometimes chaotic archival reorganizations, making it almost impossible to derive precise estimates of the extent of manuscript newsletters in the various archival series now conserved, kept today in the State Archive of Florence. For the moment we set aside the complex history of that archive, which impinges strongly on the work of data collection and analysis. Estimates of the entire extent of this source in the archive are based on the 1966 Mediceo del Principato inventory, as well as the 2002, 2006 and 2009 inventories of the Miscellanea Medicea. Early in the project the research identified the range of volumes containing handwritten newsletters as noted in the inventories, as well as volumes of diplomatic correspondence produced by agents and ambassadors scattered throughout Europe which also happened to contain handwritten newsletters, where as other “hidden” avvisi may be found in the Carteggio Universale, a mare magnum of documents comprised of correspondence addressed to the Grand Dukes, written by many different individuals. Furthermore, many volumes of avvisi are kept in the Miscellanea Medicea collection which once formed a unique archival holding with the Mediceo del Principato. Based on these observations, and considering that single volumes of about 400 folios ordinarily contain about 170 handwritten avvisi (such as the volume MdP 4191a containing the avvisi from London from 1679 to 1702), whereas the volumes of avvisi from Rome and Venice contain many more, a preliminary estimate would suggest a total figure of some 100,000 documents.
While developing strategies for dealing with such a mass of documentation with the time and resources at our disposal, the EURONEWS team began pursuing shorter-term subprojects aimed at testing our hypotheses and methodologies for eventual application to the larger mass of material. The present case to develop research strategies that realistically take into account the feasibility Hence the need for the EURONEWS team to develop research strategies that realistically take into account the feasibility of the project considering the financial resources available and the time frame given. In February 2020, the EURONEWS team decided to adopt a research strategy based on the analysis of a single case study therefore undertakes, specifically, it was decided to identify and analyse all the avvisi relating to a single year, namely the year 1600. The choice of this year is due to certain theoretical and practical considerations. Not only does it represent the term ad quem of a period of exceptional vitality for European history, which the sixteenth century was, characterized by a plurality of historical phenomena, but also the term ad quo that opens up a new century, the seventeenth century, criss-crossed by profound contradictions. In terms of media history, the 1600's represents also the litmus test as far as the history of manuscript avvisi is concerned, located halfway between the bull issued by Pius V in 1570, which prohibited the publication of avvisi in Rome (thus confirming the existence of this new communication phenomenon) and the outbreak of the Thirty Years' War in 1618, considered by many scholars as a fundamental year for the history of media, since it witnessed the debut on the European public information scene of new printed publications.
The EURONEWS team accordingly selected volumes on the basis of the chronological information reported on the inventories, thus drawing up a list of volumes where at least hypothetically one could expect to find documents concerning the year 1600. The inquiry has therefore been carried out on a set of 25 volumes of avvisi, 6 volumes of diplomatic correspondence, from the Mediceo del Principato and as well as 17 volumes from the Miscellanea Medicea. In spite of the wide scope of this analysis, the EURONEWS team has identified and analysed 96 avvisi divided as follows: 6 avvisi from Milan; 6 from Madrid; 1 from Venice; 3 from Rome; 32 from Germany; 13 from Genoa; 35 from Flanders.
The first thing we notice is the relatively limited number of cases over the broad span of our inquiry. Such results, however, allow us to make certain further observations on the relationship between archival preservation and supposed production of documents. The small number of avvisi from Rome and the total absence of avvisi from Venice pertaining to the year 1600 is quite striking, especially if compared to the volume Urbinati Latini 1068 preserved at the Vatican Library and available online through this link: https://digi.vatlib.it/view/MSS_Urb.lat.1068.
As far our inquiry into the Florentine collection is concerned, it is not surprising that the majority of avvisi comes from Flanders. At this point in time relations between Flanders and Florence were more than consolidated. The large number of Florentine merchants in Antwerp, reinforcing a dense Florentine presence in the area dating from the fourteenth century, the political-dynastic relations between the House of Medici and leading elements of the House of Austrias, with the consequent sharing of private and strategic interests; the massive contingent of Florentine soldiers in the army of Flanders and of famed condottieri such as Giovanni de' Medici, are all elements that justify a continuous interest of the Medici dynasty in events in those distant lands. The year 1600 also represents a new chapter in the decades-long saga of the Eighty Years' War, the offensive of the northern against the southern provinces culminating in the battle of Nieuwpoort, which attracted the attention of the whole of Europe and marked the beginning of the siege of Ostend, considered by many scholars as one of the first media events of the modern age, due to the extensive use of media as effective psychological weaponry. All these elements must be considered in order to understand the conspicuous presence of avvisi from Flanders in the Medici Grand Ducal archive.
Risk assessment and the Covid-19 emergency
On March 8, 2020, the Italian government issued a decree to counter the spread of the Covid-19 epidemic, which extended the lockdown to the entire national territory. Most of the activities considered non-essential or more at risk due to a greater concentration of people were suspended, imposing smart-working from home on millions of workers. Schools and universities followed suit. On the same day, the State Archives of Florence published a notice in which it announced its closure to the public until 2 April 2020, which was later extended, on the basis of subsequent directives by the Italian government, until 3 June 2020. Thus began an ordeal for dozens of researchers and scholars who were now on top of daily anxiety fuelled by bulletins on the death toll and positive cases, constantly broadcasted on television networks and media, now experienced the frustration of being excluded from their traditional and natural work environment, namely archives and libraries. On 29 May the Florence State Archives website announced its opening to the public on 3 June 2020, under rekindling the hopes of many. These high hopes were immediately dashed by the new regulations on public access put in place by the Italian Ministero per i Beni e le Attività culturali. In addition to imposing a very stringent protocol for access to the Archive, the initial limit of involving temperature measurement and the use of gloves and masks, the new regulations imposed a limit of only 10 users per day, pre-booked through an online platform, one tenth of the usual number, . In order to guarantee access to the largest number of scholars which, in the case of the Florence State Archive, prior to the Covid-19 emergency, could reach around 100 per day, each scholar was has been allowed access only once a week, with the option to request just 5 items at a time. This was a cause of considerable distress and inconvenience for regular users of what is one of the most important archives for Italian and European history, and aggravated a difficult situation, which (due to continual reductions of economic and human resources), had, since the beginning of 2019, imposed a noticeable contraction of timetables and services. For this reason, from its inception in September 2019, the EURONEWS project has developed a research plan for collecting and digitizing a large quantity of avvisi, thus creating a substantial backup of material stored offline and on online cloud services, which together with the digital platform MIA, made available by the Medici Archive Project, proved to be a fundamental means for the continuation of the project during the difficult months of the lockdown.
To date, the EURONEWS team has collected about 20,000 double-page photographs for a total of about 40,000 digitized news sheets. Considering that a single avviso consists of an average of 4 sheets, we estimate a total of about 10,000 digitized avvisi. These documents were then uploaded, numbered and analysed through the MIA platform where at the moment there are about 5000 avvisi, of which 2000 were created by Team EURONEWS, and 3000 previously inserted by MAP researchers. These estimates are important as they give a first approximation of the extent of avvisi in the Grand Ducal archive. As of today, there is in fact no precise estimate of the extent of this documentation in Italian archives, a problem that is not only relevant to the conservation of this material, but which also has repercussions for historiographical debate. An emblematic case is the Universal Short Title Catalogue, which infers the centrality of the printing press on the basis of an extensive survey carried out in many important European libraries. However, if the estimates related to the printed production of England and France are reliable enough, those related to Italian production lack both cataloguing work and platforms that aggregate the results from different places of conservation. Unlike the National Library in Paris and the British Library in London, which have the function of aggregating different collections, the richness of the Italian documentary heritage and the lack of an aggregative online platform that brings together that heritage, scattered as it is in so many different repositories, complicates any sort of analysis. Moreover, the presence in Italian archives of an enormous amount of printed publications that escape bibliographic analysis also demonstrates the essentially dialectical nature of the relationship between the media in the modern age. Their composite nature is linked to the different varieties of public, offering a glimpse into the varied composition of early modern society, which at a certain moment widens its range of action, including within the public sphere different strata of the population, which do not necessarily coincide with the bourgeois subjects identified by Habermas, thus further complicating the analysis of these phenomena.
New prospects for the EURONEWS dataset in time of crisis
Medically conditioned limitations on archive access still in early 2021 temporarily challenge large-scale comparative study of documents other than the handwritten newsletters themselves for elaboration of context and function. Pending the eventual return to normality, in these months of lockdown, the EURONEWS team has pivoted strategically to a research approach taking best advantage of the situation. Based on the results of the 1600 experiment, the EURONEWS team will carry out analyses on several further case studies through which the main research questions of the project will be tested. Other yearly case studies have already been selected and will be further investigated by individual inquiry such as the year 1575, currently being investigated ion by one of the a Ph.D. researchers, as well as the year 1700, which will be carried out by the EURONEWS team as a whole. In the effort to avoid statistical misrepresentation, the forthcoming case studies will select from a wide range of historical periods chosen on the basis of a common theoretical framework. Therefore, upcoming investigations will combine two different levels: the individual and the collective, through a constant dialogue between the members of the project, in order not only to harmonize the results but also to highlight different aspects of the research. For this reason, given the chronological breadth of the documentation, ranging from the mid-sixteenth to the beginning of the eighteenth century, covering roughly the two central centuries of the early modern period, the EURONEWS project will follow specific paths, both adopting the traditional periodization of early modernity while also being guided by the project research agendas, so as to elucidate continuities and discontinuities within the process of the development of information and communication during the ancien regime, and also to characterize the fundamental historical entanglements which characterized European history at large.
3. METHODOLOGY AND RESULTS
Analytical categories serve to organize material for systematic handling but can obviously make no claim to comprehensiveness. The purpose of this research was not necessarily to provide a “total history” of the period or periods in question, nor even a “macrohistory,” but rather, to furnish an account of contemporary understanding in regard to current events, as evidenced in a particular kind of source. Necessarily, there are matters in the life of those times that appear little or not at all, just as there are transversal themes that cross all categories and require treatment in each. Examples of such transversal themes are, religion, disease, natural disaster, gender, family, society. All of these come up in one way or another, although the following selective account cannot take notice of all of them.
To handle the masses of data that are in the purview of EURONEWS, collected, in these early stages, utilizing the Medici Archive Project MIA interface, and extracted into a corpus permitting the deployment of numerous applications, we have grouped our inquiries under the five basic headings of Power, Commerce, Regions, Diffusion and Rhetoric.
The concept of power is certainly one of the most complex and problematic concepts in humanities and social sciences. Despite various attempts at analysis and description over the last thirty years, over a range of disciplines and fields of research, the concept nevertheless resists any attempt at clarification. Things get considerably more complicated when the concept is not only extended to the field of information and communication, but attempts are made to investigate its historical genesis. Historiography as well as the humanities in recent decades have considerably broadened their horizons with regard to this phenomenon, which could be almost seen in its meta-historical aspects, while technological and social transformations have shown the pervasive and problematic character of the ongoing transformation fuelled by the new digital economies. As aptly pointed out by Manuel Castells:
“Power is based on the control of communication and information, be it the macro-power of the state and media corporations or the micro-power of organizations of all sorts… Power is more than communication, and communication is more than power. But power relies on the control of communication, as counterpower depends on breaking through such control. And mass communication, the communication that potentially reaches society at large, is shaped and managed by power relationships, rooted in the business of media and the politics of the state. Communication power is at the heart of the structure and dynamics of society” (Communication Power, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009, p. 3)
To what extent this claim made about our contemporary “Network Society” could be applied to the ancien regime is actually a challenge that deserves to be faced. On this basis, a line of inquiries into the problem of power, seen through the lens of our documentation, could be the analysis of political, religious, military, economic, cultural power dynamics both in time and spaces. In other words, instead if asking ourselves what the ontological nature of power during the ancien regime is , within the limits of our research reach we will analyse a series of case studies and historical phenomena, through a variety of research questions, which ultimately will help us to see practices, representations, and deeds which will shed a new light on this elusive phenomenon. The idea is to create a comprehensive dataset containing, for instance, the avvisi reporting the council of Trent, which can offer an interesting angle through which to see the change in religious power; those avvisi reporting on a particular battles such as the Siege of Ostend which was understood by many contemporaries as a media event per se; other avvisi emanating from the major European courts, in order to see how they dealt with information and what kind of news was shared among elites, illustrating what Pierre Bourdieu defined as habitus; and avvisi describing political and civil strife such as civil wars, conspiracies, revolutions and so on.
The first ten words in our frequency table are mainly about power. Indeed, the exercise of power, arguably, is the stuff of news. Personages whose actions are worth recounting, according to the norms holding sway in the period under study, belong to courts or various sorts of governing bodies capable of turning actions into events and events into news.
Questions abound. How are populations portrayed? What about leaders? What refers to ecclesiastical and what to the political realm? What patterns are discernible from time to time and from place to place in the reporting about ceremonial? What are the major political events, and how do they become events? How are battles portrayed? Where do the patterns for such accounts come from? Is there reuse of certain formulae? Which battles in which years are regarded as decisive? How does a battle account develop? How is partisanship expressed?
We turn for a moment to the theoretical significance of our work, from the standpoint of cataloguing particular forms of human experience. What is narrative, what is an event, and how are they related? According to Paul Ricoeur, human actions can be narrated because they are always already intelligible in terms of values and symbols, also because they emanate from human brains that are oriented that way, such that, practically speaking, we act and make the narrativity that we will be formulating into text or moving image. Also relevant here is the basic unit of experience, namely, mimesis. According to Ricoeur’s model, experience in itself, which he calls mimesis 1 or M1, sits incohate in the brain before being rendered or represented, either for ourselves or others, at M2. Those to whom it is conveyed by means of M2 themselves engage in a process of meaning-making, whereas their coming to terms with this representation constitutes yet a third level, M3, which, again internalized, may become the basis for further actions, in circular fashion, that will occasion another round of M1 becoming M2 and finally M3 and so forth.
But how can we be certain that our narratives are “correct” or correspond to something characterized as “truth”? And even before pen goes to paper, there are problems of perspective. Nothing is more common in the centuries-old discourse about news than the conundrum of fact and representation. Consider the “Soldier’s Life” dialogue between Hanno and Thrysmachus, upon the latter’s return from the wars, in the Colloquies of Erasmus (Library of Liberty classics):
[...] But tell me, how went the Battel? Who got the better on’t?
There was such a Hallooing, Hurly–burly, Noise of Guns, Trumpets and Drums, Neighing of Horses, and Shouting of Men, that I was so far from knowing what others were a doing, that I scarcely knew where I was myself.
How comes it about then that others, after a Fight is over, do paint you out every Circumstance so to the Life, and tell you what such an Officer said, and what t’other did, as tho’ they had been nothing but Lookers on all the Time, and had been every where at the same Time?
It is my Opinion that they lye confoundedly. I can tell you what was done in my own Tent, but as to what was done in the Battel, I know nothing at all of that.
The ineffability of experience per se, is partly at fault, Erasmus now implies, giving consideration to yet another origin of stories from imagined experiences:
Don’t you know how you came to be lame neither?
Scarce that upon my Honour, but I suppose my Knee was hurt by a Stone, or a Horse–heel, or so.
Well, but I can tell you.
You tell me? Why, has any Body told you?
No, but I guess.
In Erasmus’ account, error and falsehood are the warp and woof of battle narrative. In this report as elsewhere in our research we will attempt to account for how narratives are made and transmitted in the texts at our disposal.
Major cases of the exercise of power that we find in the Medici Archive newsletters for the year 1600 fall generally under the categories of War, Internal affairs (including law and order), Diplomacy and negotiations, Court and officialdom. Ongoing matters here include the middle stages of the Eighty Years War between the United Netherlands and allies on the one hand, and, on the other, the Spanish Empire and allies. In addition there is ongoing conflict between France and the duchy of Savoy regarding control over the Marquisate of Saluzzo. Meanwhile the Long Turkish War continues between the Habsburg Monarchy and the Ottoman Empire. Diplomacy, when such there is, often concerns one or another of these three matters. Internal affairs include punishment of crimes and the regulation of religious matters. Ceremonial is similarly circumscribed and local, aimed at building respect for or loyalty to constituted authorities in church and state.
Single episodes take us deep into early modern warfare, including relatively less known practices for instance dealing with mutinies of soldiers, a common occurrence at the time. In 1600 trouble developed in Flanders when soldiers protested the arrears on their pay by rebelling against the pro-Spanish regime and damaging some lands there. According to the item in the news, no solution was likely until sufficient funds could be found to pay what was owed:
"Gli amutinati di Tilimon e Dist … ben armati si sono impatroniti di una terra di …. Mons d'Enao, cosa che a posto in confusione tutto quel paese... vedendosi perplessi più dalli istessi che dovrian diffenderli che da gl'altri sopra di che si fanno diversi juditii con tutto che queste Altezze per qual ne vien detto mostrino dispiacerli molto, e facino ogni diligenza per rimediarli, ma la grossa somma che bisognieria pagarli impedisse e dovrà impedire il lor bon intento per molte settimane e mesi acresendosi ogni giorno più difficultà a meter insieme dannari che possino servire alli quotidiani sborsi, ne voler li statti adosar si un tal carico sopra di loro." [doc. 50868].
[“The mutineers from Tilimon and Dist . . . well armed took over a town called Mons Enao [i.e., Mons Hainaut], which threw the whole country into confusion . . . seeing themselves perplexed by the very people supposed to defend them against the others, and various conclusions are being drawn, whereas Their Highnesses are said to be very displeased, and are doing everything to remedy the situation, but the great sum necessary to pay them impedes and will impede any good intentions for many weeks and months, since getting money together for daily needs is becoming every day more difficult, and the estates do not want to take on such a burden.”]
A particularly important engagement in the ongoing Eighty Years War was the battle of Nieuwpoort which pitted Archduke Albert of Flanders on the Spanish side against Maurice of Nassau leading the Dutch. Here is the first account we get, of the events of the 2nd of July:
"Il 2 di luglio la mattina Sua Altezza si parti da Bruges per andare a seguitare il detto Principe Mauritio, che si diceva esser passato a Ostenden et Nieport, et esser gittato . . . . . . [ellipses in original] come se lui volesse tirar verso Doncherchen con intentioni di combatterlo con buona speranza di metterlo in rotta, ma non è successo ben altrimenti, perche Sua Altezza havendo aggiunto il detto Principe fra il Castello di Nieport et Ostenden ancora che nel principio n' havesse havuto buono, et quasi tutta disfatta la retroguardia dell'inimico, non dimeno havendo voluto seguitar la punta, riscontrò la battaglia che stava ferma la qual havendo dato dentro per la sua cavalleria seguitata da molti mille ammutinati, la detta cavalleria si rovescio sopra li ammutinati, et gli ammutinati sopra il resto dell'infanteria, di modo che tutta l'armata sua in questo modo si misse in rotta, et di poi fu talmente perseguitata dal detto Principe Mauritio, che ne restorno tagliati in pezzi la maggior parte, et Sua Altezza fu forzata di ritirarsi a Bruges con tre cavalli, et di poi a' Gant, dove di presente si trova; la battaglia è stata grandemente sanguinosa per esser stato lungamente combattuto, et si dice che ne siano restati morti più di diecimila huomini dell'una parte et dall'altra; Sua Altezza è stata un poco ferita in duoi luoghi nel viso. L' Ammiraglio d'Aragona [Francisco de Mendoza] è restato morto; Il Duca d'Umala ferito, e tutti li suoi sin à Paggi vi son restati; Don Luigi di Velasco, il Conte di Barlamont, la Barlotta si son salvati Sua Altezza ha perduto tutti li suoi arnesi e bagagli con tutta la sua famiglia." [doc. 50810]
["On the second of July His Highness left Bruges to go and follow the said Prince Maurice, who was said to have gone toward Ostende and Nieuwpoort, and to have turned . . . as though going toward Dunkirk, hoping to fight him with good hopes of putting him to flight, but this did not happen, because His Highness having caught up with the said Prince between Nieuwpoort Castle and Ostenden, although at first he had the advantage, and practically destroyed the enemy's rearguard, nonetheless attempting to engage, ran into the battle which had stalled, and having thrust forward with his cavalry followed by many thousands of mutineers, the said cavalry reversed itself on the mutineers, and the mutineers reversed onto the rest of the infantry, so the whole army was put to flight and then was so hotly pursued by the said Prince Maurice that most were cut to pieces, and His Highness was forced to retreat to Bruges with three horses and then to Ghent, where he now is. The battle was very bloody due to the lengthy combat, and they say ten thousand men were killed on both sides. His Highness was slightly injured in two places on his face. The admiral of Aragon was killed; the Duke of Umala was injured, and all his retinue including the pages was killed; don Luigi di Velasco, the Count of Berleymont, and La Barlotta were saved. His Highness lost all his weapons and baggage, along with all his family."]
In closing, the writer specifies, “Non si sa ancora per il vero le altre particolarità, ma ne saremo informati fra duoi giorni, et ve ne farò parte,” i.e., “Other details are not known for certain, but we will be informed in two days, and I will report.” We will see to what extent he kept his word.
Curiously, this early report on a key battle fails to mention the innovation, considered by Geoffrey Parker to have been the fourth “revolution in military affairs” of early modern times, which saw the use of infantry volley fire, involving lines of soldiers shooting at once and then falling back to load while another line took their place, supposed to have first occurred at Nieuwpoort in July 1600. Perhaps this is what the writer is alluding to when he suggests that elements in the army fell back; but his understanding does not seem to comprehend the particularities of the action, at least in regard to this development, later so highly touted. Some scholarship (Sicilia Cardona and Bouko de Groot) suggests that the military innovation in question was more in the general area of military discipline than in a specific movement. We leave the question open here, noting that the promised follow-up battle reporting, including an account in Spanish transmitted through the same Medici court network entitled “Relación de lo sucedido en el Exercito hasta 3 de julio de 1600” leaves many questions unanswered.
It is tempting to extend the documents in our purview to others in the Medici collection for this year, which are personal or official letters rather than avvisi. Then we could discuss a particularly notorious case of identity appropriation on the scene of power, as described in this brief account of the purported king of Portugal, supposedly in exile and seeking support from various quarters, including the Medici court, where we find several relevant documents:
"[...] Ho esaminato di nuovo questo huomo et é difficile a credere molte cose che dice. Narra in sustanzia che il giorno alla battaglia rimase ferito [...] et finse morto et essendo allontanati i mori si rizzo et camminato un quarto di miglio malamente ferito ritrovó alcuni prencipali portoghesi sin'a undici con li quale se accompagnato et non potendo passare un fiume Magora si aviso con essi lungho la riva del mare d'Affrica, et poco lunghi arrivorno a una nave di fiamminghi sulla quale montarono [...] Lui et un suo compaesano persona santa havere resoluto di venire a Roma a parlare a S.S.tá [Clement VII] per fare cosa in servitio di Dio, che non gl'occurre dirla, essere venuto di Armenia, in Persia, in Terrteria, in Moscovia, in Pollonia, in Ungheria, a Vienna, i Francia dove essendo stato ricognosciuto da un portoghese, per no si scoprire, essere passato in Inghilterra et di qui [...] 'E difficile a potere chiarire se dica il vero o la bugia [...]" 14937
What is important here is to note the difference in tone and expression between such a narrative and the narratives typical of newsletter discourse. Here we have the personal experience of a witness observing a kind of interrogation regarding an episode of great interest, so, in effect, the narration of a narrative; whereas newsletter discourse tends to be more impersonal and straightforward in terms of the relation between event and narration.
Apart from the close analysis of single cases, and the long term trajectory of continuing events, a rough breakdown by month in the power-related categories might reveal some new developments and would look something like this:
Religion appears in our documents mainly when beliefs or structures are under threat. The French Religious Wars are ongoing in our period, and events connected with them become news. Likewise, the battles against Ottoman expansion in Southeastern Europe occasionally take on the character of a crusade, with the Holy Roman Emperor assuming the role of defender of the faith. Confessional actions and disputes within countries as viewed here speak to the political significance of religion and its power as an instrument of order rather than to religion’s essential hold on consciences. In the world we are describing, other genres of writing are more adapted to dealing with the latter.
Women in roles of power occur as queens (Maria de’ Medici queen of France), archduchesses (Maria Anna von Wittelsbach of Inner Austria), princesses and margravines (Sibylle of Jülich-Cleves-Berg and Burgau), and so forth. Decisive functions may occur, revealed in single episodes, such as the one which occurred in Constantinople, reported in a Venice newsletter of 12/02/1600, as follows:
“They write from Constantinople that in the Porte there arrived an ambassador who turned out to be a very astute and wise Persian woman, sent by the King of Persia to tell the Grand Turk that he and his whole empire were currently ruled by women, and that her King on the other hand was ruled by Counsellors and very prudent persons full of judgment, demanding Tauris and other places or there would be war.” [doc. 50847]
For this and similar occurrences there is little confirmation so far from other kinds of documents, but the general tenor suggests current ideas about women in the Turkish context, as well as a certain sentiment of exoticism. Because women as ambassadors did not likely occur in Europe?
Commerce and communication are two sides of the same coin, and at some points intersect, with particular significance in the 1600 world we are describing, situated at the onset of a system in which private and public mail routes are becoming established features, while information itself has become a commodity in exchange.
Not surprisingly, the news we are studying often concerns tangible things, in the form of possessions or goods, which may or may not be situated in their context comprising the relevant persons who are found to be moving, owning, requiring or acquiring them. The sixteenth- seventeenth century seems to lie near the advent of a commodity- filled world. Specialized studies have long debated whether the circulation of goods may in itself serve as an index of economic prosperity, or not. (Lopez vs. Goldthwaite) Our evidence suggests a new side to the question, incorporating knowledge about objects in motion, from both ends of a spectrum whose extremes are defined by luxury products, on the one hand, and, on the other, ordinary merchandise in exchange, from simple clothing to foodstuffs.
Nervos belli, pecuniam infinitam said Cicero: endless money forms the sinews of war; and the costs of properly waging war rise steeply as the invention of new armaments and artillery keeps pace with the design of new fortifications, placing huge burdens on economies from one end of Europe to the other, as well as in the Middle East, throwing smaller powers into the periphery. Developing absolutisms depend for survival on encouraging trade as well as on extracting from it; while at the same time increasing taxable surface through marriage, annexation and conquest.
We are at the tail end of the age of Philip II and the emergence of a world economy, in episodes studied in such painstaking detail by Fernand Braudel and later by Emmanuel Wallerstein, Jean-Yves Grenier and others. New products come to market--apart from the new genres of news themselves. We find traces here. Apart from the seasonal and cyclical topicality of news, a part of our story has to do with what Europeans thought they discovered about the tangible things in the world from week to week, and how that discovery was articulated within different cultures.
Commerce most explicitly becomes news when something negative occurs. And our categories of commerce and power intersect with particular effect in cases of attacks on shipping. For instance, in April 1600 we read,
"I due vascelli quali furono veduti ultimamente in Inghilterra sono arrivati adesso in Olanda, carichi riccamente di spezierie et hanno lasciato due altri vascelli olandesi in dietro . . . carichi delle medesime merci e s'aspetta la venuta loro d'ora in ora. Ancora si scrive che due vascelli olandesi sono partiti dalla loro armata, e sono andati fuora alla ventura, dove hanno riscontrato alcuni vascelli portughesi, che venivano di Bresilia [Brasil], carichi di cassoni di zucchero, e gli hanno presi e svaligiati." [doc. 9622]
["The two ships that were recently seen in England have now arrived in the Netherlands, richly laden with spices, and have left two other vessels behind . . . full of the same merchandise, and their arrival is expected by the hour. Furthermore they write that two Dutch vessels have left their fleet and gone forth on their own, such that they encountered some Portuguese ships coming from Brazil, full of cases of sugar, and they seized and plundered them."]
Apart from sugar, in various forms, we find mention of cloth of various kinds, raw wool, foodstuffs, salt and more-- not to mention gold (in forms rarely specified).
More in general, port city news, as for instance from Genoa, delves into the minutiae of loading and unloading cargo (in other years, occasionally including full or partial lading lists or even lists of sailors).
Fishing fleets and cargo ships are easy prey to belligerents in the various wars, as well as to piracy. The Uskoks are notorious in the Adriatic Sea, bothering anyone who crosses their path out of sight of Venice.
Commerce is also the area where we find discussions of new world discoveries as well as of colonies around the globe. Brazil comes up, if only as an embarkation point.
Movements of the Spanish treasure fleet are of universal interest due to the impact of Spanish royal finances on everything from the banking industry to global international relations.
No news is not necessarily good news; in fact in cases of dearth the worst scenario is regularly feared before the best is hoped. In January “where is the Spanish fleet?” was no doubt being asked with anticipation of shipwreck and catastrophic loss.
War and commerce are also connected in the sense of the devastating effect of the former on the latter. Consider in late June and early July
e l'affrettatione di Sua Altezza per andarseli a opporre, doppo a li tentativi sopra il forte del Sasso. Tirò alla volte del Escluse abruggiando e sachegiando villaggi, e case a che aggiongendosi l' esplotto del Spinola di tutte le barche di monitione, rompimento di quelle d'armata e prigionia de marinari e guastattori in numero di 1000 huomini restò come smarito, e fuor di speranza di cosa buona, per il che procurò d'impatronirsi, come fece di duoi forti d'annansi Ostenda per ritirarsi da quella banda, ma sopragiontovi il giorno istesso che fu al primo stante l'arciduca Alberto con 12 mila huomini tornò a recuperarli ameduoi, cioè il primo per assalto e l'altro per accordo dove erano 800 soldati che senza insegne e tamburi se ne uscirno, li quali forti presidiati che furno l'Arciduca con l'esercito se ne andò, e venuta la notte 5 mila huomini del'inimico per ripigliarli furno posti in mezzo, e tagliati tutti a pezzi.
The laying waste of entire regions by soldiers in the various wars was a regular feature of life in the period, interrupting the flow of goods, the provision of services, the distribution of food, even interfering in public health by the spread of disease, thus constituting a major threat to already precarious early modern economies.
How the unequal distribution of power and prosperity may have impacted regional relations and even identities raises questions deserving of a separate treatment.
The avvisi could not exist without all the geographical locations that appear on their pages. Together with time, these constitute one of the parameters of news. After all, stories do by necessity happen within specific geographical boundaries at a certain moment in time. Moreover, regions do not only feature as the locations of the events reported on in the avvisi, but they make up one of the fundamental building stones in the structure of the avvisi.
The central place of regions in the functioning of avvisi already becomes clear from a list of most common words. After having removed the most common stop words, we find many geographical entities amongst the 100 most frequent terms. These are names of regions and administrative entities, such as ‘Spain,’ ‘Transilvania,’ ‘Holland,’ ‘France,’ and ‘Flanders.’ But also the cities of ‘Vienna’ and ‘Nagykanizsa’ make their appearance. Of course, regions can also be indicated in many other ways, such as by adjectives for its inhabitants or things pertaining to them, in this case ‘Turkish’ and ‘Wallachian.’ An interesting appearance is made by the words that Italian uses for ‘Turkish,’ as it has been attested both in the form of ‘turco’ as well as ‘turchesco.’
This even only goes for the body text of the avvisi. The names of regions and cities are even more common in the titles separating the document in one or several distinctive parts under which the individual news items are listed. This is not the place to discuss the geographical dissemination of the news, as that belongs to its own chapter. But I do think it is worthwhile to consider that through these headers, regions do not only prominently feature in the contents of the documents, but also leave their mark on their formal features.
In addition, avvisi writers also often refer to the geographical origin of the news. Normally, this happens by naming the city or region wherefrom the news writers or people in their surroundings have received letters, or with reference to the place of departure of couriers. It is also here that we see how regions do not appear merely as the necessary location of the news, but are also important indicators of the origin of the news. In that sense, they seem to be invoked in order to give prove of the trustworthiness of the news.
But, as said, also in the body text of the avvisi, regions make a frequent appearance as the stories could not properly be written without them. Geographical entities appear in a great number of varieties, they can be nouns, directly referring to the locations in question, or appear as adjectives, often indicating people, both as groups an individuals.
The news writers practically always try to picture these for their readers. Oftentimes, this might be place names well-known to the public, both modern and contemporary, such as capitals and places of great cultural importance. At other moments, we might find place names that puzzle. They might be of small towns, they maybe used to be of greater importance than they are today or they happened to be merely the accidental theatre of battle. At times, it might be virtually impossible to find its modern equivalent, as languages changed or even because the news writer himself might have misunderstood.
As conflict is one of the most common themes in the avvisi, be it in the form of a full-blown war, a short skirmish, the movements of troops or any other type of political tension, place names also often appear in that capacity. As we will see, through the stories they tell, newsletters often mental borders between groups and people. This is also a consequence of the political bias that the news writers often have for the Spanish Habsburgs.
Naturally, not all proper names of geographical locations do appear equally often in the different hubs of newsletter production. They are invoked in those stories where they are relevant, broadly following the general pattern of newsletter diffusion.
Sometimes, these are very straightforward. The name of Holland, one of the provinces involved in the rebellion against the Spanish monarchy, appears most often from Antwerp and Brussels, that were themselves within the theatre of war, as well as from Cologne, just outside the provinces. References to the Turk, are most commonly found the avvisi from the Graz, Vienna and Prague, where news about new Ottoman threats would arrive sooner. Almost all cases of ‘Transilvania’ are reported from Graz, maybe not directly bordering to that region, but still one of the main hubs most nearby.
But sometimes other reasons might be suspected of a more political nature. It was no secret that the Republic of Genoa had tied its fate closely to the Spanish monarchy and it can therefore also be no surprise that the countries appear particularly often in the reports from that city. One might, for that matter, have expected a more prominent role for Milan, a state directly under Spanish rule. There are, however, more ways to portray divisions from groups of people. There appears, for instance, a clear idea of the catholic world. Bordering on the north on the protestant areas, such as the United Provinces and England, and in the east to the Turks.
Through their language, the avvisi usually distance themselves from these groups, aligning themselves with the catholic world instead. The armies under catholic authority in both of these areas, are generally regarded as fighting for the right side of Christendom. Not rarely, they are identified as ‘our army,’ or their victories or setbacks are equally described as ‘ours.’ In this respect, one sometimes also finds phrases about ‘heretics’ and ‘rebels,’ but much less than one might expect. In that respect, the avvisi maintain their reputation as neutral bringers of the news.
But also from other things it becomes clear that the documents are usually written from the perspective of the Catholic world. A document on the peace negotiations in Bergen op Zoom between the representatives of the King of Spain and those from the revolting provinces, is for example based on the account of the former. This seems to be valid for many of the documents. That is not to say, however, that exceptions do not exist. Also, the document still aims to give a whole account on the current state of matters. They report for instance on an interesting argument made by the deputies of the rebelling states, who claimed that their natural prince, i.e. originally Philips II in his function as Count or Duke of the various provinces, has wronged them by ceding many cities and fortresses in the hands of Spanish noblemen. Instead, they argue, he should have left the country in the hands of its ‘natural masters’ (“li signori naturali del paese”). (avviso doc 50856). The representatives from the King of Spain, on the other hand, do not even recognize their position to legitimately enter into negotiations. For the representatives of the northern provinces, these are therefore also utterly useless. They only alternative to continue warfare that is open to them, is to be more subjected to Spain than they have ever been before.
In the same manner, when describing an event such as the battle of Nieuwpoort; one of the most important, if not the most event of this year. Almost all the avvisi in the collection, describe this event not only from the perspective of the Spanish monarchy, but they also empathize with their fate. An avviso from as far away as Prague, for example, sets out to assess who is to blame for the loss (docID 51225).
In many cases that when people are named by their region of origin, be it Italians, Germans, French, Flemish or whichever part of Europe or beyond they were from, it is because they are soldiers. This is another obvious example where place names are used in the context of conflict. In these cases, they often appear in large numbers, such as “4 thousand Swiss” (avviso 52066). At other times, it seems that the specific denominators do not necessarily refer to the birthplace of the soldiers in question. When an avviso, for example, talks about “due terzi de Lombardi” (docId 52281), this seems intended to the place where they were stationed rather then where they were born.
A very unique case where place and conflict meet is in a battle map inserted in one of the newsletters. It has been indicated amongst others where the troops of Sigismund Báthory, prince of Transylvania, and his adversaries had lined up and gives the reader a rare visual understanding of what otherwise is only painted in words.
Language in general is used to distinguish between concepts that we encounter in the world around us. This is, as we have seen, even more true for names belonging to geographical entities. First of all, one needs a place in order to understand the basic framework of a story, which is what a news item basically comes down to. The reader needs to understand the ‘where’ and ‘when’ of an event. Providing him with the time only, would make him question ‘where’ something happened. Many of the stories centre around conflict, whether it is the place of battle, such as Nieuwpoort, or whether it refers to soldiers or their movements. In their reports, the avvisi writers often show a preference for one side or the other. As a result, they create differentiate between different groups of people, creating something of a mental map.
Considering the 92 avvisi found in the Medici collection for the year 1600, it is worth representing visually the distribution of the hubs and the relationship between the hubs and the places where the news items come from.
The main hub is Graz, followed by Genoa, Cologne, Antwerp and Milan, while, as stated above, the data are not reliable to illustrate the role of Rome and Venice, maybe due to the loss of some archival volumes during the long history of the Medici Archive. Alongside mapping the hubs, the data collected for the 1600 Project enable us to represent and interrogate the news net created between the hubs and the places from where the information is sourced.
The pink points represent the hubs, while the blue ones stand for the NewsFrom. The places are gathered around the most important hubs, forming three clusters which mirror how each European area only pours the information into one hub or hubs close to each other, belonging to the same cluster. Austria, Hungary, Bohemia, Poland, Transylvania communicate with Graz and, to a lesser extent, with Prague and Vienna. Genoa and Milan gather information from the Italian States, Switzerland and France, whereas news from the Netherlands, Flanders, France, England and German cities flows into Cologne, Antwerp and Brussels. The avvisi show how the news circulated vibrantly in Europe but always via the hub, which functioned like a funnel: usually the information was not sent directly from the battlefield to Florence, but was collected in a major city, for example Graz or Vienna as regards the war in Hungary.
What happened in these hubs? Who collected the pieces of news and how? Who wrote them? Difficult to say, especially because the avvisi report countless news items but tell a little about themselves as a document typology. However, some paragraphs in the avvisi specify the source of the news item and allow us to understand how the dissemination of information occurred. For instance, a newsletter from Genoa, written on January 8, 1600, reports information from Spain received through letters, as well as what is being said in the port city “Si va dicendo che anche il Principe Doria sia per andare a Roma in quest'anno santo.” The means of communication with which the news item is transported does not affect its being news, and for this reason it is included in the avviso.
Receiving information from outside the diplomatic network was not unusual, since not only the rulers took advantage from reading the avvisi, but also the merchants, as the remarkable collection of newsletters gathered by the brothers Octavian Secundus (1549-1600) and Philipp Eduard Fugger (1546-1618) testifies. The merchants were both consumers of newsletters and bearers of news, as another paragraph of the Genoa avviso reveals: “In alcuni di questi mercanti thedeschi pare ci siano lettere di Amsterdam ch’avisano come l’armata olandese in li mari dell’Indie havesse incontrato la flotta e combattutola con affondamento di 7 navi et 3 prese riche di molti cremise et oro, però fino a qui non è molto creduto, e pur si sarà vero si doverà comparire di qualche riscontro.” The uncertainty of the source, i.e. the letters from Amsterdam in the hands of the German merchants, combined with the dubious content makes the news item uncertain, requiring further confirmation. We will return later on the reliability of the news sources, but making a comparison with today’s newspapers, printed or online, we contemporary readers expect what is published to be certain and reliable, and admit uncertainties only in the exceptional case of breaking news about events still in progress, such as a terrorist attack or an earthquake. In the early modern manuscript newsletters, instead, true news is juxtaposed with uncertain, perhaps false, information.
The news was also brought by couriers (“Questa settimana è arrivato corriere spedito dal Gran Duca a questo Serenissimo con aviso del matrimonio concluso della nipote Prencipessa co'l Re di Francia”) or spies (“Si ha per spie et avisi segreti di Constantinopoli che il Gran Turco habbi preso moltitudine di navi ad impresto anco per particolari bisogni della sua Casa, così si truova questa città in angustia di navi per la continua guerra.”): in these examples it is difficult to decipher the role of these figures, if they were mere carriers of letters and avvisi written by others, or if they also played a role in writing and reporting information viva voce.
In other cases, the distinction between letter and avviso is less defined and an avviso may be written starting from the content of a letter. As the collection of newsletters in the Medici Archive attests, it happens often around the middle of the Sixteenth Century, when the avvisi genre has yet to consolidate: the newsletter’s informative content is simply copied from a letter, ignoring the initial and final formulas typical of the correspondence. Also in the 1600 corpus of newsletters analysed for this study, an avviso from Cologne, dated March 12, presents some features that make one suspect that it is taken from a letter:
Di Colonia xii di Marzo 1600
Alli giorni passati il Console Nardenzadio col solito zelo non senza pericolo della sua vita scoprì in Colonia una Predica di Calvnisti, tutti fiamminghi, et rebelli; fu cercato il Predicante, et notati gli altri per haverne la multa secondo l'ordinario. […] Inteso da me questo progresso mi restrinsi con un senatore confidentissimo et zelantissimo, et per spaventare i temporeggianti et sostenere i zelanti concludemmo, che fusse bene di supplicare la Santità di Nostro Signore che interponesse la sua authorità et operasse che Sua Maestà Cesarea scrivesse una buona lettera al Senato di Colonia, et laudasse questo principio di esamina, et inquisitione, et li comandasse seriamente che procedesse innanzi constantemente per ritrovare la verità et scoprire questa ulcera innanzi che diventasse più maligna. Questo offitio ho fatto io già xvi giorni, et son certo che il Zelo di Nostro Signore non mancherà a quanto s'è ricercato […]
First, it is written in the first person, which is very uncommon in the avvisi, which try to remain anonymous. Moreover, both the link with a member of the Cologne Senate, the request made to the Pope and the content make it plausible that the original is a letter of Coriolano Garzadori (1543-1618), Apostolic Nuncio at Cologne. Unfortunately, the original has not been found yet, but the conclusion of the newsletter shows the presence of a recipient of the text and that therefore the avviso was certainly copied from a letter: “Ho voluto dar conto a Vostra Signoria Illustrissima di questo fatto, acciò venendo l'ordine di Roma resti informata di quanto è successo […]”
The manuscript newsletters do not only report news from written sources, but also rumours that spread in a city, a region, a battlefield. Compared to letters and written reports, oral transmission is more often defined as uncertain, to such an extent that a newswriter warned his reader by writing “though uncertain” in round brackets before reporting the piece of news: “Ultimamente s'è sparsa voce (se ben incerta) che gli Turchi si preparino vicino a Canisa […]”. In addition to uncertainty, another typical feature of rumours is their spread. Only rarely it is clarified the person who reports these rumors (“Non habbiamo qui alcuna cosa di certo del negozio della pace, solo certa voce che corre di qualche speranza di buon effetto, et un franzese ch' è passato per qui lo riferisce, ma per le cose che si veggono pare che sia voce che non ha fondamento”); more often it is written generically “a rumour was spread” (“fu sparsa voce”). In this newsletter from Graz, dated October 30, 1600, the news item rumoured, and therefore uncertain, is clearly opposed to the news story arrived with a letter sent to the Archduke of Austria in Graz, which was believed to be true:
Di Canisa fu sparsa voce che si fosse resa al Turco, ma poi non è andato più oltre il rumore, nè di certo si sa altro, se non che l'Hermestain Generale di Schiavonia scrive a quest'Arciduca di haver ritratto da una spia venuta dal campo Turchesco, che havendo il Paradaiser Generale di Canisa spedito dalla fortezza due soldati uno alemanno et l'altro unghero con lettere siano ambidue stati presi dai turchi tenendosi per fermo ch'essi haveranno riferto il vero stato della piazza, et delli assediati […]
The news item is therefore considered reliable because it came on paper and because it was addressed to the Archduke, therefore arrived in the same city where the newswriter is settled, while the fact that the primary source is a spy is not given any weight. But why report the news even if not confirmed? In some cases, a rumour, although still dubious at the time of writing, could prove to be true. At the end of this newsletter, indeed, an update confirming the loss of Nagykanizsa was added with a darker ink, proof that this breaking piece of news came only in a second time. The rumour therefore turned out to be true, thus motivating why also dubious pieces of news were reported in avvisi anyway.
The two features that the newswriters emphasize to highlight the quality of their newsletters are the reliability of the sources and the newness of the information reported. For instance, an avviso from Graz, dated April 24, 1600, opens with the words “Con freschissimo aviso di Vienna, portato da persona qualificata, s'intende che'l Turco faccia apparecchi grandissimi per passarsene in Ungaria […]” The term “aviso” means both the document and the information: here the meaning is ambiguous, because the qualified person could have brought from Vienna the physical newsletter or the mere information regarding the Ottoman army. What is notable is the use of the superlative “freschissimo” to stress the novelty of the news story, because the nouns “notizia” and “aviso” in Italian means information and does not always imply something recent, unlike the English word “news”. The adjective “fresco”, in this context, means recent, just happened, and this meaning has a long tradition, just remember the verse of Petrarch “né d’aspettato ben fresche novelle” (nor fresh news of some hoped-for good) in the sonnet 312 of the Rerum Vulgaria Fragmenta. It may happen that fresher news confirms news already written in the avvisi allowing us to understand how the writing of these documents was not an one-act process but a continuous enrichment of the text in time between the sending of a newsletter and the next one, thanks to the continuous arrival or collection of new information. Another avviso from Graz, dated August 7, 1600, announces the news of the death of the imperial general Adolf von Schwarzenberg, happened in Pàpa, Hungary, on July 29, arrived through information from Vienna. The news travelled from Pàpa to Vienna to Graz (around 270 kilometres as the crow flies) in ten days; however, after two other news items, the newsletter’s writer announces that “con altri avvisi più freschi”, arrived probably directly from Pàpa, the death of Schwarzenberg has been confirmed and Ferencz Nádasdy has been appointed his successor. The arrival of more recent news that confirm the first one makes the story of the event more reliable and credible, because supported by several sources; at the same time this attests to the quality and professionality of the anonymous news writer. When instead the news is old, it loses importance and attractiveness in the eyes of the writer and of the readers. A newsletter from Genoa, December 12, 1600, ends with the annotation of the arrival of a ship from Valencia which, being long time on the voyage, reported nothing new. The news items, then, before being included in the newsletter, are evaluated by the writer according to how "fresh" or "old" they were.
As we have seen previously in the first avviso from Graz, the source of the news also plays an important role. It is in the newswriter's interest to write that the news comes from a qualified person, for two reasons: both to support the truthfulness of what he writes and to show the value of his work. Introducing the news item about the Archduke Mathias with “Per quello che s'intende di persona assai sicura et ben informata”, the writer lets glimpse a personal connection with someone close to the court, making his report more reliable than an anonymous rumour spread throughout the city or a piece of news reported without stating the source. However, even uncertain or only whispered news received some interest from the avvisi’s readers: the Medici, for instance, in their letters to ambassadors and agents, asked to be informed about every news story that circulates, whether it is false or true. Even what we call today fake news had an informative and political role because it could allow the governors to explore the moods of the population and make a comparison with information arrived from other hubs.
Concerning this theme, a news item in an avviso from Cologne, dated September 11, 1600, leads to a reflection: “Si ragiona ma senza authore, et con non molto fondamento che tra li Stati d'Olanda, et Zelanda et il Conte Mauritiio per forza corrono differenze et difficoltà, se la guerra di Francia non va innanzi gli Olandesi non possono durar molto tempo.” For its importance, the piece of news is reported even if uncertain; however, as well as without foundation, it is also defined without author, probably meaning a news item that reached the writer's ear but whose source was unknown. The use of the word “autore” evokes authorship and raises questions about who were considered the authors of the news. This example and the previous ones suggest that the writer of avvisi did not consider himself the author of the news, but gave this authoritative role to the person who provided him with the news, i.e. the reliable and well informed person of the above mentioned newsletter from Graz. Who provides the newswriter with information has therefore a role of his own, but, as it has been illustrated, also the newsletter’s writer has its own weight, since he chooses the news items to be included in the avvisi, he evaluates the relevant ones although uncertain or discards those too old and consequently no longer useful.
The time of travel and the diffusion of news is certainly also linked to material aspects. The establishment and organisation of postal systems that connected Europe from North to South played a crucial role in the diffusion of both news, often recounted by couriers, and handwritten newsletters, that were sent regularly once or twice a week from the major information centres to the subscribers. Reading the text of the avvisi, allows us to find out how fast these news items travelled. For example, in September 1600, information of the 20th from Vienna took five days to reach Graz, from where an avviso dated September 25 departed. Other newsletters may be even more specific about the journey that makes the news: between the 16th and 17th of September 1600, a battle took place between the imperial troops and the Voivode of Walacchia in Turda, 50 kilometres far from Alba Iulia, while the imperials managed to enter in Alba Iulia. On the 19th letters reporting these news items were sent from Transylvania and reached Graz before the 2nd of October, which is the date of the avviso: although the letters from Transylvania were sent immediately after the events, it is necessary to take into account the travel time of early modernity, which is very different from today. There were faster channels of communication, such as sending an extraordinary courier, but a normal news item concerning events happening in Transylvania took about a month to reach Florence, without getting there directly, but passing through Graz first. Analysing a large number of avvisi, not only at the hub level, but at the capillary level of the individual pieces of news that make up a newsletter, enables to understand the network and the infrastructure that allowed the dissemination and longevity of this kind of documents.
Regarding the impact of news, the manuscript newsletters are very reticent on this point because their purpose is to report the facts. However, here and there, rarely, some sentences, almost small comments made by the newswriter, allow to understand that the people talked about the news that arrived in the city (“Qui si tiene per ferma, ne si ragiona d'altro, che della pace seguita tra Francia et Savoia con gran dispiacere degli Heretici”) or that they were affected by local crime, which caused a great whispering (“Che nel Milanese e suo stato li ladri havevano incomenciato per rubbare le case avalendo del pettardo [...] con esso in Cremona havevano gettato giù la porta ad un orefice, che la teneva quanto più poteva assicurata col haver pres scudi 12 mila amazzata la moglie et un figliuolo […] perciò nel populo [illegible] restato per simile successo gran bisbiglio”). The searching for other sources, such as letters, diaries, iconographic sources, will give a more complete picture of the real impact of news and avvisi inside and outside the courts.
Whilst there are several studies on the language and rhetoric of printed newsletters and newspapers (especially those written in English1) and on the changing terminology for the description of newsletters themselves, manuscript avvisi have yet to be explored through a linguistic and rhetorical lens.2
For this project, I have started to study the language (formulae, recurrent vocabulary, word choice, levels of reported speech) used in avvisi from 1600. I have been exploring the self- and meta-references within the avviso, which give us a glimpse into the world of newsletter exchanges: there are often explanations of delays, excuses for not bringing the most up-to-date news, and parallels between content and medium. Curiously, although some types of information were clearly more sought-after than others, their content does not seem to have affected the register deployed by their compiler. The avvisi’s linguistic variations and changes in form depend greatly on the proximity to the source, its reliability, and the chain of transmission; but also on the compiler’s imagination, poetic freedom, and above all, their level of literacy and knowledge.
Methodology and Data3
The linguistic and rhetorical analysis was based on the content of the avvisi, and any quantitative study has relied heavily on their full transcription. The main aspect at the center of this analysis is the typologies of openings of each piece of news within a sheet of avvisi, which helps us understand the relationship between the source, the ‘reporter’, and the reader. By “opening” I mean the first sentence presenting the piece of information, which often supports a reported clause (see Reporting formulae, and their ‘directness’). Although the majority of avvisi are written in Italian, there are a few examples of avvisi written in Spanish (see Languages Other Than Italian). We have detected no other languages in our sample, although there could be cases of avvisi translated into Italian.
The relatively limited corpus of avvisi within this experiment has not allowed for a thorough analysis of other aspects, such as:
- the use of metaphors, hyperboles, and other rhetorical devices
To assess the impact of sensationalism over the diffusion of specific themes and the relationship between rhetoric and topics
- The use of idiomatic expressions
To track the standardization of a ‘language of news’ against their regional nature
These aspects are at the center of the larger study of the avvisi (see Future Directions).
1. Reporting formulae, and their ‘directness’
(a) Openings using the verbs to say (and similar reporting clauses). Examples: “Come altro dettosi” (Fiandre, DocID#50837); “Si dice che li Spagnoli…” (Rome, DocID#50866); “Di Spagna dicono che…” (Rome, DocID#24161); “Qua si dice che…” (Milano, DocID#52069); “Sono alcuni che dicono…” (Germany, DocID#51248).
(b) Opening in medias res, indicating that the reader has already a knowledge of the events, or relating to something already discussed in previous exchanges. Examples: “Il giorno sequente alli 2 del mese essendosi risoluto l'archiduca..” (Fiandre, DocID#25874); “In Fiandra la moneta non avea fatto variazione..” (Fiandre, DocID#25873); “Il signor Giovan Francesco Aldobrandini si trova…” (Rome, DocID#24161).
(c) Openings expressing wish, usually in future tense. Example: “Si spera che S.A. uscirà…” (DocID#25872/Fiandra); “Si spera una straordinaria provisione di denari di Spagna..” (DocID#50855, Fiandra); “Si spera che l'Arciduca…” (DociID#50813, Fiandra).
(d) Openings using believe, think, assume, seem like (...), expressing a lesser degree of certainty. Examples: “Si crede che alcuni mercanti…” (Germany, DocID#50840); “Pare che ultimamente…” (Germany, DocID#50838); “Pare che il contante…” (Genoa, DocID#50850).
(e) Openings voicing the public opinion. Examples: “e’ opinione comune…” (Fiandra, DocID#50868); “Si dice pubblicamente ch'i…” (Germany, DocID#51225).
(f) Openings expressing certainty. Example: “Si tiene per certo…” (Fiandra, DocID#9622); “Si conferma che…” (Fiandra, DocID#50816); “Qui si tiene per ferma che…” (DociID#50813, Fiandra); “Fu vero che morì…” (Germany, DocID#50840); “Non è stato vero che…” (Rome, DocID#50866); “Si ha la confirmatione…” (Rome, DocID#24161).
(g) Openings expressing uncertainty or lack of information. Example: “Non s’e’ per anco inteso..” (Fiandra, DocID#50868); “Non si ha per anco aviso..” (DocID#50851, Fiandra); “Per lettere di Spagna delli 18 e 26 passato non s'intende nuova alcuna... “ (DocID#50839, Fiandra); “Si ragiona ma senza authore, et con non molto fondamento…” (Fiandra, DocID#50816); “Qui non v' è nova che…” (Milan, DocID#52064); “Non habbiamo qui alcuna cosa di certo…” (Milan, DocID#52066); “Ultimamente s'è sparsa voce (se ben incerta) che…” (Germany, DocID#51240).
(h) Openings expressing freshness or trustworthiness of news. Example: “Con freschissimo aviso di Vienna, portato da persona qualificata...” (Germany, DocID#50875); “Ci è avviso di Vienna da buona parte…” (Germany, DocID#50865); “Per quello che s'intende di persona assai sicura et ben informata…” (Germany, DocID#51255); “Con altri avvisi piu freschi…” (Germany, DocID#51239).
(i) Openings with direct reference to the courier who carries the news. Example: “L'ultimo messaggiero, che fu spedito d'Inghilterra…” (DocID#50818, Fiandra); “L'ordinario di Vienna ha portato avviso che…” (Rome, DocID#50866); “Per il Corriero straordinario di Parma…” (Rome, DocID#24161); “L'ordinario di Spagna giunto Domenica…” (DocID#50843).
2. Languages other than Italian
(a) Fiandra: DocID#50899; DocID#50811
(b) Madrid: DocID#52368; DocID#52067; DocID#51649; DocID#14925; DocID#963; DocID#14924
Observations on the Data
Due to the nature of our corpus, meaning a series of events happened in one single year, the in medias res openings are the most frequent. Out of 93, all but 6 sheets of avvisi contain 80% or more avvisi opening in medias res. A feature of this opening is the lack of a reporting clause: this could imply that the compiler is taking for granted that the reader will know that these are reported news; or that the piece of news that they are reporting comes directly from their knowledge (there is no specific case in this corpus in which the compiler makes this direct knowledge explicit). Out of all the avvisi in the 1600 corpus, only one reports the first person in the opening4.
45% (42 out of 93) of the sheets of avvisi include reporting clauses, followed by indirect speech (there is no example of direct speech). These reporting clauses include several types of verbs, as specified above, which carry different meanings and express different degrees of certainty of the news reported. Out of the avvisi presenting a reporting clause, 20 use verbs such as to say, to tell; 3 express wish or hope; 2 used the verbs to think, to seem like; and 2 channeled the public opinion.
Overall, the distribution of openings was even across the different news hubs, indicating that the ‘reporting style’ in 1600 was pretty homogeneous. There seems to be no significant correlation between the topic and the way it is reported5.
We are interested in contextualising this linguistic and rhetorical analysis into the wider movement of codification and standardisation of the Italian vernacular - started in the early 16th century with Pietro Bembo’s questione della lingua, and culminated in the first dictionary of the Italian language published by the Accademia della Crusca6 in 1612. As Peter Burke points out, behind the very foundation of early modern language academies lies the “desire for fixity” that substantiated the codification of language.7 The idea is to focus on avvisi compiled between the 1590s linguistic debates that resulted in the first Vocabolario, and the decline of interest in codification and standardisation in the 1650s - resulting in regional dictionaries and the rediscovery of local dialects.
We will retrace the echoes of the codification of the Italian vernacular, especially in the use of technical vocabulary (medical, mercantile, and legal) and of idiomatic expressions (particularly frequent in news). We will explore the terminologies and idioms of the avvisi in relation to the Vocabolario della Crusca and its precursors,8 post-Bembian treatises on the Italian vernacular and its use,9 and contemporary treatises on diplomatic language.10
Unlike other ‘diplomatic outputs’, such as ambassadorial correspondence, pamphlets, and official relazioni - reserved to the high ranks of European courts11 - avvisi were meant for a wider geographic and social circulation, and were available to whoever could afford the service. This was seen, both from below and above, as an opportunity to establish the Italian vernacular as a lingua franca, as was already the case among scholars and artists: avvisi themselves thus became itinerant ambassadors for the Italian language. An analysis of the evolution of language and style in the avvisi will allow us to assess the extent of this enterprise over the years, and the resultant shifts in the intended audience.
The foreign-language avvisi within the same archival collection (prevalently in Spanish, French, and English) play an important role in investigating the success of Italian as lingua franca. As pointed out by Nicholas Brownlees and Brendan Dooley in their comparison of Italian and English avvisi, Italian avvisi appear to be the linguistic scaffolds for the writing and diffusion of news in other languages; a phenomenon hinted at by the translation and gradual assimilation of Italian idioms.12 Comparing the level of codification and standardisation of these foreign documents, as well as their re-use of Italian expressions, will bring new insights to the broader question of the European competition for cultural hegemony through language.13
The data collection process is composed of different separate tasks: (i) manuscript digitization and upload: the ENP Fellows go to the Florence State Archive, request a particular volume, and start digitizing it with their mobile device and upload them to a specific archive location inside MIA, creating what is called a qualified upload14; (ii) basic document qualification: they start creating document records by numbering and aggregating digitized manuscript folios and by attaching basic metadata, such as document category/typology15 and document dates; (iii) advanced document qualification: they fully transcribe and contextualize those documents, and add people and places involved in the news. The document transcriptions made by ENP Fellows are enriched with XML fragments, to be able to define additional metadata fields that specifically deal with the News and that has been defined by the ENP. A specific set of guidelines has been defined to help the researchers in this task.16
Data Pre-processing: creating the dataset
To perform this task we coded a python script which queries MIA’s mysql database, extract the information from each document record involved and create an XML corpus that constitutes the dataset which will be used for data analysis.
This file is structured to reflect the basic building blocks of the manuscript newspapers. This is an example digitized document which has been qualified in MIA (https://mia.medici.org/Mia/index.html#/mia/document-entity/50851):
Image 1 - Florence State Archive, Italy, Mediceo del Principato 4256, f. 69 r., detail
Following an XML fragment describing an entire document:
As stated above the XML code reflects the newsletter structure. Keep in mind that this is only an example to show the xml structure; the transcription field has been truncated for this purpose.
The <newsDocument> tag describes the whole document, in this case the document with <docid> 50851; the <repository>, <collection>, and <volume> tags output the archival properties; the <newsHeader> tag contains the information concerning the initial composition of the subordinate news items. Every document contains one or more newsHeader tags, indicating the location of the sources used by the newsletter's author; each <newsFrom> tag contain single news coming from a place (<from>), on a certain date (<date>), and its transcription (<transc>); <wordCount> is the number of words contained in the news, <position> instead i the position of the news in the document. (A document may have more than one newsHeader section and therefore can contain news coming from more that one hub.)
- Data Processing - python script - puts documents inside Elasticsearch
- After creating the dataset, we created a python script
As specified in the grant application materials, given the vast quantity and chronological breadth of the available documentation, ranging from the mid-sixteenth to the beginning of the eighteenth century, covering roughly the two central centuries of the early modern period, the EURONEWS project is following specific paths, adopting the traditional periodization of early modernity while also being guided by the project research agendas, so as to elucidate both the continuity of, and the interstices within the process of the development of information and communication during the ancien regime, and also to unravel the fundamental historical entanglements which characterized European history at large.
The 1600 Experiment has suggested numerous new avenues of research and several approaches. For instance, going forward, we will be creating a dataset one third of which will comprise specific case studies chosen according to the five categories of analysis identified by the EURONEWS project (Regions, Power, Commerce, Dissemination and Rhetoric) and two thirds of which will comprise a random selection of documents covering the extent of the timeframe and the extent of the geographical range.
- Facchinetti, Brownlees, Bös, and Fries. News as changing texts: corpora, methodologies and analysis, 2015; Brownlees, The Language of Periodical News in Seventeenth-Century England, 2014.
- Hayez, Avviso, informazione, novella, nuova: la notion d’information dans les correspondances toscanes vers 1400, 2004; Petitjean, Mots et pratiques de l’information. Ce que aviser veut dire (XVIe-XVIIe siècles), 2013; Infelise, The History of the Word Gazzetta; Arblaster, Belo, Espejo, Haffemayer, Infelise, Moxham, Raymond, and Schobesberger, The Lexicon of Early Modern News, - both in Raymond and Moxham, News Networks in Early Modern Europe, 2016.
- An up-to-date dataset can be found at this link: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/19f3zXng53NE2RnKZ1crvBMd5PEmiZ4lWkRt5fhxfZdI/edit?usp=sharing
- DocID#52281 - Avvisi di Milano
- 7 expressed a degree of uncertainty, often caused by lack of further information, while 5 expressed absolute certainty of the truthfulness of the news. On the reliability of news and their sources see Sara Mansutti’s essay on the distribution of news.
- Paul Kristeller, ‘The Origin and Development of the Language of Italian Prose’, 1965.
- Burke, Languages and Communities in Early Modern Europe, 2004.
- Francesco Alunno’s Della fabrica del mondo and Pergamini’s II Memoriale della lingua italiana.
- e.g. Vincenzo Borghini’s history of Italian language (unpublished); Benedetto Varchi’s L’Ercolano; Celso Cittadini’s Le origini della volgar toscana fauella.
- e.g Francesco Sansovino’s Il Secretario overo formulario di lettere missive e responsive; Idea del perfetto ambasciatore, the Italian translation from the French of Juan Antonio de Vera y Zúñiga’s El Embaxador.
- Lazzarini, Communication and Conflict. Italian Diplomacy in the Early Renaissance, 2015; De Caprio, Lingua, testi e discorsi della negoziazione politica e della prassi amministrativa.
- Brownlees, The Language of Periodical News in Seventeenth-Century England, 2014
- Folena, Il linguaggio del caos: studi sul plurilinguismo rinascimentale, 1991; Louis-Jean Calvet, Language Wars and Linguistic Politics, 1999.
- This means that the images upload pertain to a specific archival location and therefore can be used to crowdsource it.
- MIA supports almost all early modern document categories and typologies. In this article we will focus