Read also "Les tentatives de pacification dans l’Europe des troubles religieux" in the EHNE.
The development of the political and social order in pre-modern Europe was shaped by multi-layered peace processes. These processes established various instruments and institutional orders to bring an end to, to prevent, or to at least regulate the violent pursuit of conflict in very varied social contexts. Historical research into the early modern period has primarily thematized peace processes in the context of conflict between states and the emergence of "international" relationships.1 However, these are embedded in a more comprehensive structure of peace processes, which can be found equally in the interpersonal and group spheres, and within society at large. Domestic peace, urban peace, general peace, and religious and confessional peace refer to fundamental processes involving the formation of institutions in the pre-modern era that were intended to regulate and restrict the application of violent force as a legitimate means of the pursuit of conflict, and to replace it with new institutional structures in the legal sphere. These processes are closely connected with processes of state formation and state consolidation, in which a clear separation between 'internal' and 'external' was only just emerging in the diversification of the political realm.
The different peace processes were thus directly related to each other and exhibit common core elements in their normative, ethical basis, as well as in their practices for the promotion of peace. These practices developed from late-classical antiquity onward and were situated in the tension between Christian peace ethics on the one hand, and, on the other hand, legal-cultural contexts in which the violent resolution of conflict was very much rooted – feuds, blood vengeance, duelling and fundamentally the ideal of a warrior society.2 This two-fold rooting in an ethics that guided action and that was focused on the individual, on the one hand, and in a legal culture that was based on collectives as the institutional context, on the other hand, defined the core of pre-modern political culture.
During the course of the 17th century, the term "peace" was increasingly applied in political language to conflicts between states, a trend that remains prevalent up to the present. However, this should itself be understood as a historical process because references to peace in other social contexts did not disappear completely or were subsequently revived.
In this article, the focus is on the structural characteristics of these pre-modern peace processes: the social conditions in which they occurred in, approaches to resolution, instruments and models of order, as well as their interconnection with core processes of the early modern period, such as pluralization, the media revolution and globalisation. As the primary challenges that peace processes faced were broadly similar in most of the polities and kingdoms of Europe, many interconnections and transfer processes can be observed.
Peace Processes and Legal Orders
From the late medieval period, various peace processes can be identified that were attempts to confront the general lack of peace by implementing measures to establish greater order through new laws. These included the regulation of interpersonal violence, attempts to strengthen the general peace, and also the challenges of confessional pluralization.
In the late medieval and early modern periods, peace processes did not exclusively relate to forms of collective violence, but they also related to violent interpersonal conflicts. These included, in particular, confrontations in the "public" space – in taverns, on streets and squares. These often escalated to conflicts about honour, which could only be restored by means of a showdown.3 This often involved members of different groups, who were then not only defending their own personal honour, but also the honour of the groups: apprentice craftsmen against students, city dwellers against soldiers, or members of different guilds against each other.4 The way the conflict unfolded was often ritualized and rooted in the respective social norms, which exercised a strong cohesive force within the structure of society. Such forms of ritualized violence were increasingly forced back and combated, initially in the context of maintaining urban peace and village peace,5 then throughout territories in the general peace and the "gute Policey" ("good policy").6 This also affected forms of communal punishment, in which the transgressions of individual community members were punished in violent ways.7 By contrast, the duel only emerged as a ritualized way of pursuing conflict among the nobility during the 16th and 17th centuries. The authorities sought to suppress it by means of mandates and criminal prosecution.8
The situation in relation to domestic violence was somewhat different. While the house was fundamentally protected against violence from without through the principle of domestic peace, it was a precarious space as regards violence within the home. The right of the male head of the household to use violence to discipline other members of the household was subject to very little regulation. It was at the discretion of the respective judge to decide whether the violence was proportionate or not. Due to the absence of legal provisions in this regard, intensive peace processes can be observed at the domestic level in particular, which not only involved secular and ecclesiastical courts in efforts to restore peace and stability, but also the respective social networks such as neighbours and extended families. Restoring peace and stability at the domestic level was in turn viewed as stabilizing the peaceful basis of the polity.9
The peace processes outlined here were defined by clear references to existing models of order based on estate hierarchy and the normative role of Christianity. In this way, law-based peaceful orders emerged, in which non-violent means of the pursuit of conflict were institutionalized and options for the legitimate use of force were unambiguously limited to the authorities and their executive organs. The consensus regarding the fundamental validity of these orders then enabled these to be adapted to changing social contexts and conditions, be it by integrating in new actor groups (feuds), by the temporal and spatial extension of validity ("eternal" general peace), or by applying it to completely new types of conflicts (confession).
Through establishing comprehensive, lasting orders for the general peace, rulers were reacting to the ubiquitous lack of peace, which was the result of feuding and the superficial nature of their control. These lasting peace orders were based on general peace orders that were valid for a limited period or for a limited area, or they were based on urban peace orders.10 Central elements of these more limited orders were adopted in order to implement the non-violent regulation of conflict more generally. This consisted primarily of the establishment of functioning court and arbitration systems, which were responsible for upholding and enforcing legal claims and punishing transgressions, and which replaced the previous practice of exacting retribution oneself. In regions with strong central structures of rule, the authorities were able to implement this themselves – for example in England with the establishment of justices of the peace and in France.11 In regions that were more federal is structure, such as the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation and the Swiss Confederation, forms of "collective security"12 became established to maintain and enforce the general peace, and with it the non-violent pursuit of conflict through the relevant adjudicating authorities. It is here in particular that the nature of this process can best be observed. It moved from group-specific, small-scale and time-limited models to permanent concepts that applied across estates and regions. However, establishing the order for the general peace, establishing courts at the various levels, and securing recognition of these as the only legitimate means of conflict resolution – these processes were themselves not without conflict. They were closely connected with the delegitimization and criminalization of violent forms of conflict that had previously been legitimate and thus involved a direct loss of power for some low-level actors. It is no coincidence that the most famous feuding parties in the German Empire in the 16th century were Franz von Sickingen (1481–1523), Götz von Berlichingen (ca. 1480–1562) and Wilhelm von Grumbach (1503–1567), knights who were delegitimized and criminalized for having broken the general peace.
In addition to the court system, the academic literature also specifically identifies the establishment of permanent means of communication as a central element in the long-term and lasting introduction and securing of the peaceful order. These means of communication enabled regular exchange between all parties and thus had the effect of regulating conflict.13 Even conflicts subjects were in with their authorities were increasingly dealt with by legal means after the so-called "Peasants' War" of 1524–1526.14
Religious Peace and the Regulation of Confessional Plurality
The political response to religious differences represented an altogether bigger challenge. After all, both the understanding of peace based on religious doctrine and the social order itself were at their core dependent on the unity of the church. It was thus scarcely possible to include heretics in a religious peace.15 If dissident groups became too large and influential, and if efforts to deal with them by inquisitorial persecution or military suppression were not successful, efforts to find peace were made. Prior to the great religious peace of the 16th century, the initial paths of a peace process relating to religion can be traced in the so-called compacts of Basel (1433) and of Iglau (1436), in which both kinds of communion were permitted for the first time.16 As with subsequent religious peace settlements, it quickly became apparent that defining what was acceptable religious doctrine and practice was an important first step, but it only sustained the peaceful order for as long as the actors involved continued to have a political interest in the peace.17 The subsequent Religious Peace of Kutna Hora of 1485 was also repeatedly called into question, challenged and finally revoked in 1567. However, what was noteworthy and seminal for subsequent religious peace settlements was that the point of departure for ending violent forms of conflict, which posed a fundamental threat to the social order, was to integrate religious conflicts into the legal-political structure of the general peace, to embed provisions relating to these conflicts in the fundamental laws of the polity in order to enable processes of negotiation. This was emulated in the first and second Peace of Kappel of 1529 and 1531, the Religious Peace of Augsburg of 1555, and the Edict of Nantes of 1598.18
Even if, as was the case in law codes for general peace, most religious peace settlements stipulated an arbitration authority to rule on future conflicts, the problem was of a different kind. Incorporating these conflicts into the hierarchical structure of rule was not decisive. The question of confessional affiliation cut across the political and social order as each religion laid exclusive claim to truth. As ground-breaking and innovative as it was to separate the confessional question from the political-legal order and to guarantee stability by incorporating the confessional problem into the respective general peace provisions, differences and competition between the confessions nevertheless continued to hold strong potential for conflict and to regularly have the effect of exacerbating conflicts.19
Peace Processes for Regulating Conflicts between States
These processes were somewhat different when it came to regulating violent confrontations between rulers, who were no longer in a relationship of dependence based on feudal ties. The pre-modern processes of "state formation" and the "consolidation of states" and the degree of conflict these involved20 marked a phase of transformation. The traditional order of Europe as the "Christian occident"and its hierarchical model with the emperor and the pope at the top no longer held any symbolic power for the practical political order or were cast into doubt due to the prevailing power relations.
The overlapping frames of reference of politics were particularly challenging in this context. On the one hand, clearly distinct polities emerged with their own political cultures, and their authorities now viewed themselves as "sovereign"21. On the other hand, the fundamentally hierarchical understanding of an estates-based social order also emerged, which manifested itself performatively in the visibility of the rank and status of the respective dynasty. Additionally, monarchical polities were closely bound up with the dynastic politics of the ruling dynasty, and consequently different legal principles came into play – international law and dynastic private law.22
Various instruments emerged during the early modern period for dealing with these challenges. These instruments could be applied in different phases of peace processes and were repeatedly adapted to changed conditions. Among the instruments that enabled communication between rulers and conflicting parties and that also guided these communications were envoys and diplomacy, the attendant ceremonial, and the format of peace congresses. Legal conditions and approaches to establishing order gave rise to specific treaty formulas as well as rules for peacekeeping and international law as the normative basis.
Diplomatic Missions and Diplomacy
The emergence of permanent diplomatic missions in Europe was characterized by a marked intensification of communication between political centres in the 15th century. The first permanent missions were established in Italy at this time.23 The backdrop to this increased need for communication and, in particular, information were the multifaceted conflicts between the Italian polities, the re-establishment of the papacy in Rome as the political centre of Christianity, and the expansion of the Ottoman Empire after the fall of Constantinople in 1453, which was increasingly viewed as a threat.
The task of these permanent envoys was initially to supply information to their own courts on all developments relevant to their own ruler's political actions, such as dynastic connections, trade developments and political contacts. In the event of conflict, they functioned as important communications channels through which the chances for peace negotiations could be probed and the groundwork could be laid for the ambassadors and support could be offered to the latter. Among the first of these envoys were Dietisalvi Neroni (1403–1482) representing Florence in Venice, Anello Arcamone as envoy for Naples in Rome, and Stefano Taverna representing Milan in Rome.24
In contrast with resident envoys, ambassadors emerged as representatives for specific occasions or purposes, who – armed with letters of instruction and letters of authorization – spoke on behalf of their masters. If a peace process had progressed to the stage where official negotiations had begun, these negotiations were conducted by the ambassadors in close contact with their own courts. The importance of envoys thus lay in their capacity to make communication possible, to initiate it and maintain it, particularly in the event of conflict. In the best-case scenario, this communication would then lead to peace negotiations.
The central importance of envoys as a communicative interface between the courts and political centres was very apparent to those contemporaries who from the 15th century onward wrote frequent treatises on the duties, rules of behaviour, challenges and conditions of these envoys.25 As a rule, it was the confidants of the ruler that were rooted in the high nobility that performed this role. They needed to have a broad social network and resources to finance these undertakings themselves. It was only in the 18th century that diplomatic representatives finally became distinct and well-established to the point where it is possible to speak of professionalization and a recognized field of activity and professional profile. It was only from this point that "diplomat" and "diplomacy" appeared as terms in the historical sources.26
The role and function of diplomats as central negotiators in peace processes grew as direct negotiations between rulers became less common. The increasing complexity of conflicts from the perspective of dynastic and alliance politics made it increasingly difficult, even impossible, to arrange a ceremonial for face-to-face meetings between rulers, and negotiations were thus entrusted to plenipotentiaries, who in turn were bound by the emerging diplomatic etiquette in their communicative scope for action.
Envoy and Diplomatic Ceremonial
In pre-modern Europe, communication between rulers was governed by ceremonial etiquette. It served to display the hierarchical order of the estates-based society, which was reflected in the status and function of the actors within the ceremonial. Rank and status were manifested definitively in the ceremonial interactions through the recognition or denial of assigned forms of ceremonial interaction. This was particularly the case when envoys of foreign rulers had to be incorporated into the ceremonial of a court. The chosen form of ceremonial contact had the function of signalling where one viewed one's position in the hierarchy of Christendom in relation to one's counterpart. As the struggle for a new order in Europe was particularly bound up with a ruler being recognized as a sovereign, diplomatic ceremonial served as a seismograph of the political mood. Only sovereigns had the right to dispatch a diplomat with the legal status of an ambassadeur, and the ceremonial status assigned to a ruler's representative made it clear whether his counterpart recognized him as a sovereign or not.27
At its core, what was at issue – and this was of enormous significance for its function in peace processes – was the central resource of honour. Successful negotiations depended on being recognized by one's counterpart as an honourable person and thus as a negotiating partner of equal standing. In this, the honour of a person was not expressed in the sense of parity of rank, but as a recognition corresponding to the particular social and political status of the counterpart, which in the context of an estates hierarchy could express itself in asymmetrical structures in spite of recognized sovereignty.
For peace processes, the specific diplomatic ceremonial was thus a central medium for enabling communication, signalling a readiness to negotiate, and exploring potential positions. Equally, it could play a large role in escalating conflicts, or at least extending them, as in many cases the question of sovereignty, rank and status in the European polities was itself the object or at least an aspect of the conflict. At the Council of Basel, for example, the issue of precedence itself led to considerable delays. Similarly, the peace congress of Westphalia was only able to open considerably later than planned due to the resolution of ceremonial questions, which held considerable potential for conflict.28
Political actors dealt with this ambivalence through a variety of strategies, which had in common that they employed other additional forms of interaction that occurred outside the ceremonial protocol. These forms were therefore invisible, offered different scope for action, and enabled a higher degree of flexibility and adaptation.29 This is why, in addition to official envoys, all courts also maintained a broad network of factors and agents, who were responsible for all kinds of mediation and procurement in various cities, but acted outside of the formal political communication channels. They procured luxury goods, credit, artworks and books, marriage options, information, and also the initiation of negotiations. These included Genoese merchants, Swedish agents, and people like John Methuen (1650–1706), who, having come from an influential cloth merchant family, negotiated in 1702/1703 a treaty between England and Portugal that was named after him.30
Another strategy consisted of using the patronage and clientele relationships of the female members of court and of their female households. They were central interfaces within the social networks, but they rarely assumed official functions within diplomatic missions. While the aunt of Charles V (1500–1558), Margaret of Austria (1480–1530), and the mother of Francis I (1494–1547), Louise of Savoy (1476–1531), negotiated the "Ladies' Peace" of Cambrai in 1529 as official plenipotentiaries,31 ladies frequently served as correspondence partners in order to launch, prepare the way for, or critically discuss political positions.32 As hostesses of gatherings and receptions, they offered envoys, agents and other representatives of court and diplomatic society opportunities for informal, unregulated exchange. The core and foundation of this strategy was the often Europe-wide interconnections between the families of ruling dynasties, of the high nobility and economic elites. These interconnections made it possible to mobilize and utilize the material and immaterial resources required for political tasks.33
The increasing entanglement and overlapping of the different conflict levels and conflict dynamics meant that the traditional practice of conducting peace negotiations bilaterally – possibly with the involvement of a mediator – between the parties involved in the conflict became less and less effective. The agreement at the preliminary negotiations in Hamburg in 1641 to organize the official peace negotiations to end the war as a multilateral congress was a seminal moment that affected political practice over the subsequent 150 years.34 While negotiations involving multiple parties had occurred before and after this period, the term congress was applied to gatherings involving a majority of European rulers.
This new format had the great advantage that, due to the presence of so many rulers, it was possible to react in a flexible and speedy manner during complex negotiations, in order to resolve complexities that were blocking a resolution. However, it also presented new organizational challenges, not only regarding logistics, but primarily regarding the ceremonial. The challenge described above of balancing recognition and hierarchy in the ceremonial was considerably more complex in multilateral contexts.35 Not the least for this reason, negotiations in Westphalia and at the subsequent congresses in Nijmegen and Rijswijk were conducted through intermediaries, who not only carried the respective propositions between the negotiating parties, but also moderated the content and formulation of these propositions or supplemented them as they saw fit, in order to aid the continuity of the peace process and its progression towards a successful conclusion.36 The ceremonial framework, which was increasingly viewed as not being conducive to the progress of the respective peace processes, was supplemented with arrangements that enabled more direct communication between the participants. The Congress of Utrecht of 1712–1714 in particular was characterized by a much reduced ceremonial, which in addition to bilateral negotiations between individual parties placed a much greater emphasis on plenary assemblies in an attempt to use their dynamics to accelerate negotiations.37
In addition to the formal decision-making processes, the particular social configuration in the hosting cities also played an important role. Many envoys were accompanied by their wives, who were important not only because of their own networks, but also because they organized the receptions, gatherings and soirées in this uniquely concentrated form of the European courtly world. These social events were incredibly important for the image and standing of their husbands, both as a honnête homme and as a ministre public.38
Congresses were usually convened to bring an end to military conflicts. In the early 18th century, there were also a number of attempts to use this format pre-emptively in an attempt to resolve emerging and escalating disputes before they came to a military confrontation. Congresses were convened at Cambrai (1722–1725) and Soissons (1728/29) to discuss conflicts that had essentially emerged as a result of deficiencies in the provisions of the Treaty of Utrecht – however, these efforts did not lead to lasting success.
Legal Orders and Peace Plans
In addition to these institutions that structured peace communications and gave them dependable forms, the legal orders that were taking shape in the treaties also played a central role in the peace processes – particularly with regard to the implementation of a post-war order, as well as structural approaches to creating an overarching order above the level of state relations.
These included the conclusion of treaties and the positive law of political practice with its peace-securing aspects,39 which were repeatedly cited as a frame of reference in subsequent negotiations. They also included scholarly engagement with and concepts for an international legal order, as well as "peace projects" that discussed the possibilities of a political institutionalization of superordinate authorities for maintaining peace.40
In the context of peace processes, international law initially governed the normative foundations of peace, the question of peace law, as well as aspects of inter-state relationships in peacetime, such as treaty and diplomatic law, but also the law pertaining to foreign subjects, trade and seas.41
In spite of various strategies to ensure the legally binding nature of concluded peace treaties, even contemporaries recognized that only a superordinate arbitration authority could give appreciably more stability and security to peace processes. While Dante Alighieri (1265–1321) and Tommasso Campanella (1568–1639) had imagined this authority as a monarchia universalis,42 the suggestions of William Penn (1644–1718) and Charles Irénée Castel de Saint-Pierre (1658–1743) were based on representative organs similar to an assembly of the estates.43 The idea of, and claim to, universal monarchy was at the centre of legitimizing the rhetoric of conflict from the 16th century onward.44 Universal monarchy constituted a negative foil to new concepts of order that entered the discussion as convenance, balance of power or Gleichgewicht.45
What was characteristic of all of these concepts was that they were closely connected with developments outside Europe, both in their practical and theoretical dimensions. Francisco de Vitoria (1483–1546) and Hugo Grotius (1583–1645) developed their concepts of international law against the backdrop of European expansion and colonial rule. And during the course of the 18th century theoretical and practical aspects also increasingly fused together, and the world beyond Europe was increasingly incorporated into European peace processes as a sphere of interest and influence.46
Peace Processes between European and Non-European Rulers
The fundamental question of whether peace was at all possible outside of the christianitas initially played a subordinate role in conflicts with non-European rulers. The latter, in particular the Ottoman Empire, were considered enemies of Christianity, who should be fought in a "just war". Indeed, from the time of the crusades, the Ottoman Empire had served in reports of threats as a reference point for internal European unity and appeals for peace.47 During the early modern period, the Ottoman Empire remained a central actor in European peace processes whether as a party to conflicts or as an ally. However, during the course of European expansion, a broad range of transcultural strategies developed for communicating with rulers from very different cultures, for resolving conflicts, and for initiating peace processes.
The challenges of dealing with one another lay in the fact that, due to the cultural and religious differences, the common basis of peace norms and peace practices that European rulers shared was absent. A sophisticated translation culture developed, both with regard to diplomatic communication and the shaping of peace treaties. In the context of symbolic communication, it was a particularly delicate balancing act to appropriately interpret and translate gestures and rituals that in one culture signify recognition, respect and honour, but could be interpreted as a humiliation or rejection in the other culture. This was necessary in order to avoid misunderstandings, or, if desired, to cause provocation.48 The extent to which this was subject to one's own political understanding is demonstrated by diplomatic relations with Russia, which at times was viewed as part of, and at other times as an enemy of Christian Europe.49 Kowtowing to the Chinese emperor, and kissing the sultan's hand and wearing ceremonial dress in his presence were fundamental components of the respective ceremonials, and symbolized subjugation and subordination, which actually contradicted the European understanding of the parity of esteem of the negotiating parties. It was thus down to the skill of the envoy to create bonds on both sides in order to achieve the desired results.50
Missionaries, who often also served as envoys, played an important role in this process of cultural mediation which was so fundamental for peace processes. In their travel accounts and their letters, they communicated the cultural peculiarities that they had encountered during their stay, which it was important to observe in order to communicate successfully – and to evaluate the likely success of missionary activity.
Media Representations of Peace and Peace Processes
The central significance of peace and peace processes for the legitimization of rule and for a stable societal order is apparent in the media representations of the topic. As a subject of the iconography of rule, it had a particularly conspicuous effect on the decoration of townhalls and palaces, as well as on more ephemeral and performative manifestations of rule in rides past and ceremonial entries into cities, as well as the liturgical adornment of church feasts.
As the media system diversified, not only did the composition of the various pre-modern audiences change, but also the representations of peace and peace processes in them. Peace processes were observed, followed and commented upon in broadsheets, pamphlets, calendars, newspapers and journals. While newspapers and news sheets initially provided information primarily to the functionary elites of court and municipal advisors, administrators, envoys and secretaries, over the course of the 18th century they developed into a medium for a broader readership. Consequently, urban audiences in particular were well informed about peace processes.51 These media were market-oriented and reacted to the expectations of their readers, which meant that they performed an opinion-making function.52 Even in France with its strict censorship, Louis XIV (1638–1715) reacted to the unfavourable mood in the country with a targeted media campaign in 1709/1710, in which his image was shifted from a war hero to a peaceful ruler.53 Pamphlets – and from the 17th century increasingly also newspapers and journals – informed their readers of developments in, and commented on the respective peace processes and negotiations, while broadsheets and handbills documented and recorded in particular the successful conclusion of treaties and the subsequent peace celebrations.54 In addition to these, from the late-17th century onward publications also emerged that can be viewed as a cultural memory of European peace processes: publications that documented the most important acts, documents of concluded negotiations,55 or portrait series of the main actors involved, which thus commemorated the achievements of such pacificatores.
Treatise literature was also of particular significance in this context. It included many scholarly debates, but also informative teaching on peace processes, not only the peace projects of the 18th century referred to above, but also publications such as Erasmus of Rotterdam's (1466–1536) Querela Pacis (1516), Paul Rebhun's (1505–1546) Vom lieben Hausfrieden (1541), Andreas Gail's (1526–1587) De pace publica (1586), Fabio Albergati's (1538–1606) Del modo di ridurre a pace l'inimicitie private (1583) and Nicolaus Schaffshausen's (1599–1657) De pace in genere (1629).
While these general works primarily discussed the characteristics and challenges of peace processes in different social contexts, the news media were particularly important in the context of the conclusion of European peace treaties. For all who were not present but who had been impacted by the war, they documented the fact that the war was now finally over, the transition from a state of war to a state of peace had been made and was official. It was the documenting, depicting and dissemination of this rite de passage in particular that highlighted the performative character of peace processes.
This examination of European peace processes in the pre-modern era has shown that these were not limited to inter-state contexts but fitted into a comprehensive context of processes of societal transformation. It is also clear that these processes were all bound to a specific, normative understanding of peace that in its ethical dimension of peace-making referenced the Christian religion, and in its implementation of institutional forms depended on legal orders.56 In peace processes within societies, this was so successful that in the language of political theory the concept of "peace" was gradually replaced by the terms "security" and "welfare". However, efforts to find a legal order binding on all sovereign rulers remained a big challenge and there was only limited means with which to oppose the prevalence of conflict between states.