Fatal Diplomacy, 1541

The murder of two French envoys on the river Po in the summer of 1541 not only provoked a diplomatic whodunnit round the courts of Europe, but also throws light on attitudes to diplomacy in the Renaissance world. Linda and Marsha Frey tell the story and its implications.

Concerns about the safety of diplomats have surfaced recently in the news. Diplomacy, it seems, can be a hazardous profession. Today diplomats face danger from terrorists, rebels and unfriendly powers. In the sixteenth century envoys had similar fears and similar problems. Consider one of the famous murders in the Renaissance, the slaying of two French envoys, Rincon and Fregoso.

In the summer of 1541, two of Francis I's most successful and most notorious diplomatic agents, the Spaniard, Antonio Rincon, and the Genoese, Cesare Fregoso, left the French court at Blois for their respective posts at Constantinople and Venice. Rincon had taken leave of the king in early May, Fregoso the beginning of June. Rincon lingered at Lyon and Fregoso at Susa. The two joined forces and, travelling together, reached Rivoli on July 1st. Meanwhile rumours circulated that those favoring the Habsburg emperor, Charles V, planned to attack the duo. As far away as Venice, Guillaume Pellicier, the French ambassador, expressed grave misgivings. Always wary of the imperialists, Pellicier's concerns only deepened after receiving a note from Charles’ ambassador urging him to prepare his lodgings for guests. This sinister pleasantry, Pellicier feared, could only imply the worst. If the imperialists were well served by their spies so were the French. The French governor of Piedmont, Guillaume Du Bellay, learned of the imperial preparations, of the sinister projects of the imperialists and warned Rincon and Fregoso. He urged them to take a longer, safer route and pass through Church territory. Because of his enormous size, Rincon preferred to travel comfortably by water rather than through the rugged Swiss countryside by horseback. Fregoso was equally intractable. Not bulk but stubbornness persuaded Fregoso to respect his companion's wishes and take the easier but less secure route. Fregoso did not want to make the arduous journey any longer.

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