“Being” James I
Herbert of Cherbury’s vexed diplomacy
in Edward and George Herbert in the European Republic of Letters
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This chapter explores the events of Edward Herbert’s ambassadorship, making use of primary documents rarely discussed or analyzed, reassessing the Ambassador’s integrity. This reassessment leads to new conclusions about Edward’s developing understanding of truth, conscience, and the unity of the general and personal good. Past accounts of his ambassadorship have stressed Edward’s rashness and failure as a diplomat. However, such accounts adopt historiographical approaches that tend to divorce the study of facts from philosophical and moral thought. This chapter shows, on the contrary, that Edward’s blindness or “mistakes” as a diplomat may well stem from his (perhaps excessive) faith in and commitment to a continuum between the individual conscience and the general good. The Wars of Religion taught him to distrust corrupt political and ecclesiastical bodies. Bent on a quest for peace, he placed his trust instead in truthful individuals (such as himself), thinking they might be more apt to bridge the divides created by religious strife. He provided James with useful, valid, and accurate information on European ambassadors’ visits and their implications, French views on Palatinate issues, reports of Spanish and French troop movements, Catholic influence at the French court, and the status of Protestants in France, acting in the sovereign’s stead and in the sovereign’s as well as what he considered the nation’s interest. Yet his faith in the universal individual’s conscience and actions (including his own) also led him to neglect the complexities of political representativeness, thus accounting for his diplomatic faux pas.


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